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Review and Renew in 2011

Janus at Tower Hill Botanic Garden

Janus, the Roman god whose two faces could look backward to the past, and forward to the future, gave his name to the month of January. He is a god of doorways, and the special patron of all new beginnings,  a perfect symbol for the new year, when all things seem possible and sure of success.

The month of January is a good time for the gardener to look backward to review the events of the past year, trials and successes, and then make plans for the new year. I have been reviewing, and thinking about the future this past week.

The first big and discrete project we carried out this year was creating a Front Garden. The first week of April I laid out two lasagna garden beds right in front of the house where I thought I could start early and hardy greens. The second of those two beds touched the edge of the Daylily Bank to make a whole cultivated section to the left of our front door.

The Daylily Bank was begun in 2009. This grassy bank had always been very difficult to mow and earlier attempts as planting some kind of tough groundcover did not succeed. With the help of daughter Diane who was willing to break sod, two springs in a row, I planted daylilies, one of the toughest perennials around.  While not usually listed under the category of groundcover, daylilies do increase prolifically and, once established,  can be counted on to keep down unwanted weeds.

By the middle of the summer I was able to count this whole area a great success. I was so pleased. Lettuces grew in the bed nearest the house, broccoli and parsley in the second bed, edged with nasturtiums as a transition to the daylilies. It was very pretty and productive.  Very little weeding was necessary.

The Daylily Bank touches the new Rose Bank, also started last year and continued this year. Like the Daylily Bank, the Rose Bank is intended to cut down on difficult mowing – and give me a new space for roses.  I added Hawkeye Belle, a Buck sub-zero rose, and Linda Campbell, a small red rugosa that I dug out of the Sunken Garden where it had almost completely disappeared into the weeds.

The second big project was a lean-to kind of garden shed added on the back of the Tractor Shed. This required the help of the men in the family, husband, son and son-in-law but it was pretty well finished one beautiful autumn weekend.  It is just big enough to hold tools, mowers, garden carts, pots and a potting shelf, by the single little window. The shed was a great gift!

Having reviewed those successes, my husband and I are considering a big project for the spring.  For years we have endured the winter winds that roar across our hill, battering the house.  We were familiar with the concept of windbreaks. Indeed, we successfully planted a long wind and snow-break in the field below the house using tiny evergreens from the conservation district.  They have grown tall and thick to prevent the snow from blowing and drifting across the field onto the road making it impassable.

We also planted some conservation district seedlings to the northwest of the house to act as a windbreak many years ago. Only one tree survived, and we never tried again. However, after talking to Sue Reed, author of Energy Wise Landscape Design last month, we are inspired again.

When I started talking about calculating the placement of the windbreak based on the 100 foot mature height of pines, my husband had to rein me in. It is true that trees take time to mature, but he pointed out that even should we live to see our trees reach full maturity, no trees in the woods around us grow to that great a height.

Considering our age, and our desire to actually reap some benefit from planting a windbreak, we will be choosing fast growing evergreens, buy trees that are already taller than six inches, and calculate their placement based on a 50 foot height. Now the research begins. I need to find a nursery that sells small trees for a moderate price, and make a selection for a mixed planting. This is a more expensive project than we usually embark on, but the hope is that there will be a financial as well as an aesthetic benefit.

In addition to reviewing Reed’s book, I am reading The Wild Garden, first published by William Robinson, a noted British gardener and author in 1870, and expanded by Rick Darke with new glorious photographs.  Robinson and Darke make the point that they are not talking about the wilderness, but a wildness that is defined by hardy, often native, plants, from trees to perennials, that will sustain themselves with little work

I have been bemoaning the lack of shade for 30 years, but inspired by Reed and Darke I now see an opportunity for a shady grove.  Since it will be close to the house, it may provide a shady place to sit.

Of course, at this time of the year we are all getting new catalogs emblazoned with the names of new varieties. We can all have something new!

Do you have a project for 2011? Do you desire new plants? What is your dream for the new year?

Between the Rows   January 1, 2011

Daylilies for All

Siloam Double Classic

Daylily season is upon us.  Even those who can’t name many flowers recognize dayliles, those growing in glorious organce by the road side, and those in shades of cream and pink, coral, gold and deep reds and burgundies in cultivated gardens. Some daylilies have the classic simple trumpet shape and some are ruffled.  Because daylilies are so hardy as well and beautiful in their variety, many small growers sell them in full bloom, dug out of the garden right before your eyes.

Richard Willard at Silver Daylily Gardens

I bought some dayliles from Richard Willard at Silver Garden Daylilies earlier this spring. He is having another digging day on Saturday, July 10 from 9 am to 4 pm. The daylily farm is on Glenbrook Road out towards the Greenfield Pumping Station. On July 17 Richard is holding his annual Daylily Festival which will include edible daylily treats dished up by Mary Ellen and Denise of Stockbridge Herb Farm.  Pre-registration for the daylily meal ($18) is required.

Lorraine Brennan's Daylilies

Last summer daughter Kate and I visited Lorraine Brennan on Rt 10 in Northfield and bought a carload of daylilies. She is selling daylilies on July 10 and 11 from 9 to 1 pm, and again the following weekend, July 17 and 18 from 9-1 pm. Lorraine will have a sign out on the road. Don’t drive too fast.

Last year I also bought a small yellow daylily at Shelburne Farm and Garden. It is named Happy Returns. One of my Buckland library patrons gave this daylily to the library. We thought the name was just perfect for a library.

Hyperion daylily

My tall clear yellow daylily is the classic Hyperion. It was given to me by Elsa Bakalar many years ago. We are deconstructing a daylily bed and moving my favorite daylilies to the new Daylily Bank. My husband will no longer have to mow that difficult area.

The beauty of daylilies lies not only in their color and form, but in their hardiness. They are not bothered by extremes in weather. They need only ordinary soil. They are not bothered by disease or bugs. Hybridizers are coming up with varieties that bloom early and late so you can have daylilies blossoms  all summer long.

Beautiful for a Day

Hemerocallis - beautiful for a day

Hemerocallis - beautiful for a day


Lorraine Brennan is not a woman daunted by a challenge. When she and her husband bought a house by the side of the road in Northfield 20 years ago, it was surrounded by what seemed to be acres of blacktop parking lot. Now it is surrounded by what seems to be acres of garden – trees, shrubs, and perennials. Especially daylilies.

The house by the side of the road, Route 10, was perfect for Brennan’s antiques business. That location also makes it perfectly easy for garden and daylily lovers to find her Second Annual Garden Days and Daylily Sale on July 18 and 19, and July 25 and 26 from 9 am to 5 pm, each day.

Brennan said collections of antiques and daylilies eventually grow so big you just have to start selling some of them. She can name some of her daylilies, but “I just plant what I like. I don’t care about the name,” she said.

Visitors to the garden will be able to admire the gardens that are so welcoming to birds, butterflies and other wild life including foxes and raccoons. If a daylily takes their fancy they can choose one, named or not, that has already been potted up, or is growing in a nursery bed. Brennan will even dig up a clump from a garden bed, and divide it right before your eyes. “I just pop the mother plant back in the ground. It doesn’t seem to mind,” she said.

Needless to say, this is not a garden that was planned or planted all at once. After the blacktop was carted away, leaving only sand and rocks, truckloads of compost were brought in. Trees and shrubs like magnolias and viburnams were planted. Brennan’s daughter Jennifer said that when the cedar waxwings come in the fall, and light on the viburnam to eat the berries it is an amazing sight.

Jennifer is supplying a lot of the labor in the garden right now. “My mom has the big ideas, and I try to assist in managing them,” she said.

There are many shrubs including liliacs, spirea and hydrangeas. A huge climbing hydrangea nearly covers the wall of the old antique shop.

Although there is a bright and chaotic flower garden in front of the shop, it is just a taste of the perennials hidden behind the house. Here huge clumps of bright red bee balm attract the dancing hummingbirds, and the achilleas, veronicas, feverfew, artemesias and other perennials serve to frame the hundreds of daylilies.

Brennan said, “I like a garden that looks like it just dropped there. I like a natural look. That’s my own taste.”

Daylilies are the obvious favorite. Their hardiness is only one measure of their appeal. Brennan told me how she acquired one of her daylilies. “Once I saw a plastic pot with a dried out daylily in it at the dump. I asked if I could take it away, and did. When I got it home I had to break the pot with a hammer and then had to smash the soil, it was baked like cement. That daylily still blooms in the garden. I’ve labeled it Dump Daylily.”

Brennan can say that daylilies will adapt to any soil, and she is right that they will survive anywhere. It is also true that we have to remember all the compost that has been brought in, and the compost pile that they make themselves. Caring for our soil, feeding our soil, is the best way to insure success in the garden.

There is color and bloom in the garden all through the season, but in mid-July the garden is an explosion of daylily color. There are pale varieties, sunny yellow varieties and lots of pinks and reds, which happen to be my favorites. It is a sight to behold, and you are all invited.


Garden Open Today! That has to be one of the happiest notices a gardener can see.

There are other open gardens this weekend. On Sunday, July 19, from 10 am to 3 pm ten gardens in the New Salem area will be open to benefit the Millers River Environmental Center. There will be gardens of every sort, including shade gardens, water gardens, and butterfly gardens, just the kind of welcoming gardens I would expect from bird and nature lovers. Many will also offer spectacular views of the Quabbin. Tickets (suggested donation $5 each or $15 for a carload) are available at the New Salem General Store on Route 202 or Hamilton’s Orchard on West Street. For more information contact Susan Heinricher 978-544-6372 or

This tour is organized by the Athol Bird and Nature Club; members will be hand in the gardens to answers questions about birds, butterflies and more.

Those who want to make a comfortable day of touring can buy lunch at the New Salem General Store and Hamilton’s Orchard.

July 18, 2009  Between the Rows

The Most Important Crop

Ty, Major, Rory, Betsy

Ty, Major, Rory, Betsy

No matter how devoted we are to our gardens, most of us would admit that the most important crop we tend is the children in our lives. The Major and I are happy to let the gardens take a back seat to grandson pleasures on these cool summer days.  We had to say farewell to Tynan, but we met our daughter Betsy and her older son, Rory, in Amherst for lunch and a ‘backyard circus at the Emily Dickinson Museum.

Tim Van Egmond

Tim Van Egmond

Tim Van Egmond was the star performer at the ‘circus’ singing songs, playing instruments and telling stories like why mosquitoes buzz in people’s ears. But there were games, and hat making and free kazoos.  I got mine.

Ty on stilts

Ty on stilts

Both boys tried to use the stilts. It is very hard.

We bid farewell to Ty and Betsy, but went on to an elegant barbecue with friends. After so much excitement we were happy to spend Sunday  taking care of the chickens, weeding the garden, picking sugar snap peas and visiting our neighbor Sheila and her goats.

Sheila invited us down to visit the goats at milking time.  Rory got to feed the goats, haul water, and give them a little brushing.  For his efforts he got a kiss.  And Sheila sent us home with some delicious chevre (that’s what you call fresh goat cheese) that she made herself.

Today we went to Northfield to visit Lorraine Brennan and her daughter Jennifer. Lorraine has beautiful gardens with so many daylilies in so many colors that she is about to hold her Second Annual Open Garden and Daylily Sale on July 18 & 19, and 25 & 26.  Of course, she has many other shrubs, trees and perennials, where once there was only a blacktop parking lot.  There is no question that gardeners produce miracles.

And that is this week’s Monday Report.