Boston Flower Show: Lectures, Designs, Displays, Plants

I attended day three (Friday) of the Boston Flower Show this year. The show was presented, as usual for 5 days, from Wednesday, 22 March, to Sunday, 26 March, at the Boston World Trade Center in the Seaport. There were actually more interesting-sounding lectures scheduled for other days — “Nibbling on Natives in Your Backyard & Beyond,” “Growing and Using Edible Flowers,” “Growing Food in Urban Settings,”, “Superheroes of Our New England Foodscapes,” “Ecological Landscaping: New Trends in Landscape Design and Management,” “A Camel’s Garden: Planning & Planting for Drought,” “The Benefits of Botanical, Compost and Enzyme Teas” —  but Friday was the day that worked for me, and I looked forward to “Striking, Uncommon Plants and Awe-Inspiring Design Tips” by Kerry Ann Mendez, who lives in Kennebunk, ME, and particularly to “Permaculture Gardening: Learn to Work with Nature to Create an Integrated Ecological Design on Your Landscape” by Marie Stella, a landscape historian and designer who lives in an LEED house in Shelburne Falls, MA.


Mendez is a dynamic and organized speaker. Her slides are instructive and beautiful (and my photos of them in the odd lighting don’t do them justice). She provided the audience with a handout of suggested plants and some design tips (though the audience was so large that only about half those attending got the handout), and her ideas were genuinely different from the run-of-the-mill perennials and shrubs often recommended.


(I particularly like the Fine Line and had to take a photo of that slide. Here it is in my garden, in May 2015. I have only one so far, but I love the idea of using it in place of tall grasses for a longer season of display:



On the other hand, Stella’s permaculture talk was disappointing. I have no doubt that she walks the talk and has done great things with her property, and I liked her emphasis on experimentation. But the lecture was not a success, in my opinion.


To begin with, the topic advertised as the lecture title (“Permaculture Gardening: Learn to Work with Nature to Create an Integrated Ecological Design on Your Landscape”) was not the same as the topic of the actual lecture, which was “A Permaculture Perspective: Hydrology at Beaver Lodge.” Huh? There were many fewer in the audience to start with than at other talks I noticed that day, and more than a handful left within the first half-hour. I wasn’t clear what audience Stella had geared her talk for. I assumed that, given the advertised title, it would be mostly people who didn’t know much about permaculture and wanted an introduction. But instead of giving us the permaculture basics, she alternated between talking about her house and property — with emphasis on collecting, storing, and using water as sustainably as possible — and throwing up a few hard-to-see text slides of unclear permaculture principles and concepts (which she didn’t say much about), USDA maps and climate info,  and poor photographs of her yard, pond, and gardens.


The cute beaver in her beaver pond:


In contrast to Mendez’s dynamism, organisation, useful slides, and inspiring content, Stella’s lecture was disorganised, her slides did little to illuminate her words, and her scattered delivery confused me. It’s probably fun and instructive to visit and tour her property with her, but there are many other permaculture speakers who would have been better able to deliver an Intro to Permaculture talk with copious examples (and great photos) from their yards and lives. It was doubly disappointing because this was the only overtly permaculture module in the show — though there are talks featuring mushroom cultivation, soil, organics, native plants, etc. — and it would have been a great opportunity to inspire people to learn more.


On to the designs, displays, and plants! Of which, while I’m finding fault, there are never enough; I overheard a lot of folks noticing how few gardens and how many vendors there are at the show. That evening, I ran into a saleswoman at Copley Mall who had come to the show on Thursday for the first time, with her mother; they were both surprised to find that it was mostly things for sale, with the gardens taking up about 1/4 of the total show floor space. I don’t know how the show can incorporate more gardens, plants, and designs, but I think they should consider it, at least removing the vendors who have nothing to do with gardening, yard care, or flowers and who aren’t giving away or selling food and drink.


Unusually for me, this year I really didn’t have a favourite display garden. In fact, after all that railing about too many vendors, I actually thought Hudson Valley Seed Company had one the best displays in the main area, partnering their beautifully illustrated seed packets with the original artwork and the plant grown from the seed. A brilliant idea!

artwork and seed packet covers for Blue Jade sweet corn, Emerite pole beans, and Long Island Cheese pumpkin
artwork and seed packet art for stinging nettle and Shanghai baby bok choy seeds … and a woman whose clothes match the art!
Sweet Siberian watermelon art and seed packet
Nozaki Chinese cabbage watercolour, seed packet, and plant
Midnight Garden flower mix seed packet and owl art (night-blooming annual flowers: Candytuft, White Four O’Clocks, White Cosmos, Sweet Mignonette, Bishop’s Flower, Evening Scented Stock, Sensation Mixed Nicotiana)

Above, spotted trout lettuce art and seed packet (photo credit: T. Williams).

Bishop’s Children dahlia and lemon balm seeds, art, plants


Samantha’s Gardens and Jamaica Cottage Shop went in on a display together, with Samantha’s Gardens providing the plantings for Jamaica Cottage Shop’s tiny house, which could be toured. In fact, the first time I tried to get into the tiny house, the line was too long (extends much farther than shown),


but when I came back around 4:15, I got right in. The house, at 8×16 feet (128 sq. ft., plus two tiny lofts), was more like a sweetly decorated shed and felt very crowded with 5 people in it. Still, I managed to get up the stairs into the main loft to take a shot looking down at the main floor.


Below is the kitchen, bathroom, and stairs up:


And the dining table:


This is the view of the smaller loft from the larger one:


And the outside, including plantings, patio, window boxes, and a very large container garden:



Martignetti Enterprises, in Woburn and Amesbury MA, made the most of their small, narrow space allocation with a unique water table — water in the table and an intentional and quite large pool of water under the table, hence the flip flops, I think, because anyone sitting at the table would have wet feet. They also managed to fit a fire nook in.


(photo credit: T. Williams)



Heimlich’s Nurseries in Woburn, MA, had another interesting garden display this year. They were paying homage to their founder and had some of his poems printed and posted around the garden (I’m sorry I didn’t get a picture of any) . What I especially liked about this garden were the juxtaposition of neon colours.

pond, pink azaleas, chartreuse maple, daffofils
purple hyacinths, pink azaleas, chartreuse maple, white rhododendrons ‘Milky Way,” weeping larch (I think)
weeping larch (I think), pink azaleas, umbrella pine (I think)
white rhododendron ‘Milky Way’ and salmon-pink azaleas et al.
hostas ‘Aureo marginata,’ pieris japonica ‘Bowers Beauty,’ salmon-pink azaleas, hellebore, white rhododendron, pink tulips
blazing orange ‘Tradition’ azalea with ‘Brown Sugar’ heuchera
gold-orange ‘Bloodgold’ Japanese maple with pink azalea
pink tulips, chartreuse heuchera, hellebore, salmon-pink azalea


Maine Stonework, in Kennebunkport, ME, went all out with their material, building a stone house everyone wanted to visit. I also liked their little bog garden inside a large stone slab, and their mosses, in particular, and the ferns, pitcher plants, and other boggy/woodland plantings among rocks and on logs, plus hellebore, muscari, and white cyclamen.



Massachusetts Horticultural Society, which hosts the show, supervises the floral design and ikebana competitions, the photography competition, the amateur horticulture competition, and also presents a display garden. This year, in keeping with the show’s overall theme of “Superheroes of the Garden,” they featured school gardens, garden mentors, and super plants. John Forti, the Mass Hort Society’s director of horticulture and education, and vice chair of the show, was on hand answering questions and talking about their display gardens. (Probably others were too but I recognise him from his time with Strawbery Bank in Portsmouth, NH. I would have loved to have heard his talk on Saturday on New England foodscapes.)

I took very few photos of the competitive floral designs (and none of the other competitions) but did like the idea of a steampunk design:

And I thought this one captured the superpower of “Invisiblity” well:


At the Mass Hort display garden, they showcased raised beds of edible plants:


squash, sweet potato, coriander, chard, among others
three sisters: corn, pole beans, squash

Here’s John Forti talking with attendees:



John Gray Stonework and Sculpture (Stratham, NH), with Pleasant View Gardens (Loudon, NH) providing plants, of course focused on Gray’s stone and metal sculpture, much of it whimsical, like the spitting Easter Island head. I’m partial to his heron sculptures.



Rutland Nurseries, in Rutland and Wellesley MA, offered a pavilion with pergola, with a little fire on the table inside, and a water feature:


I particularly liked some of their plants:

‘Black Tower’ elderberry (‘Nigra Eiffel’ Sambuca)
‘Rainbow’ leucothoe (which I love), with other plants
‘Montgomery’ blue spruce, tulips, muscari
a weeping winter pine tree  (with muscari, narccisus)
pink, red, orange ruffled tulips


GardenUp (Boston), I gather from their website and what I saw of their display, asks customers questions about their yard conditions and garden desires, and from the responses uses an algorithm to suggest appropriate designs; once the design is chosen, they deliver and install the plants to make it a reality.  The display featured computer presentations, design schemes (including for the shady border, below), plus plants and garden art.


I loved this bunny statuary from Aardvark Antiques, and the ‘Platinum Blonde’ lavender plant.



I didn’t take many photos of Oakwood Landscape & Construction (Millis, MA) or Liquid Landscape Designs (Westford and Carlisle, MA).

Three from Oakwood:

pergolapatiofirepitOakwoodLandscapeBostonFlowerShow24March2017 patiogrilldrinksstonehedgeOakwoodLandscapeBostonFlowerShow24March2017

(photo credit: T. Williams)

It’s possible this ‘Hosford’s Dwarf’ white pine tree, whose light colour and thick needle bundles I liked, also came from Oakwood; I lost track:


And here are a few of the Liquid Landscapes display:


‘Bloodgood” Japanese maple leaves
Cyperus altrenifolia (umbrella palm)


Some floral displays on the main floor:

floral mosaics and arrangements, Massachusetts Florists’ Coalition
more floral mosaics and arrangements, Massachusetts Florists’ Coalition
pink azalea bonsai, Bonsai Study Group
monkey floral design, Florists’ Invitational
Patriots’ jersey and floral football, Florists’ Invitational — “Living Legends” was their theme (photo credit: T. Williams)


There were chickens, native flower seeds, bee-keeping equipment, etc., in the urban homesteading pavilion:

Make-your-own native seed packet
chicken coop with chickens


Mass Wildlife offered their usual table of mammal pelts and stuffed mammals, with fact sheets on each. It’s sad to see, but they are so soft and soothing to stroke.

stuffed groundhog (aka woodchuck)
skunk, raccoon, coyote, bobcat pelts
coyote, bobcat, fox, squirrel pelts


Massachusetts Master Gardeners Association made the best use of the theme (“Superheroes of the Garden”), I think, with their stations asking “What’s Your Superpower?” They demonstrated and provided instructional information on composting, vermicomposting (with worms), raised bed gardening, wise watering and drought-tolerant gardens, etc.


drought-tolerant sedum/rock garden


And finally,

giant Crinium asiaticum bulb for sale


And finally, finally, not at the flower show but close by, at the Legal Seafoods Test Kitchen (LTK), which is a great place for lunch when attending the show, this adorable poster advertising their Easter dinner:


Featured image at top of page: display garden of Minuteman Regional Vocational-Technical School, Lexington, MA

Wednesday Vignette

The day after the vernal equinox,
a crane fly is outside
with the cold snow drifts,
and I am inside,
watching through delicate wings
for evidence of spring.


(Wednesday vignette is brought to us by Flutter & Hum.)

Field Trip: Butterfield Pond Trail in Winter

Here’s what the Butterfield Pond trail looked like in mid-September.

And here’s what it looked like a week or so ago, on the coldest day I can recall this winter — the high was 16F, the low was 2F, and the wind was brisk, even gusty, so the temperature with wind chill was well below 0F. I wore my usual gloves but my hands were never warm for the whole 1-1/2 hours we walked, covering two miles.

Our progress was slowed by me, taking photos, and by me again, taking the long way around slick steep trails, preferring my chances in slightly crunchier snow and lots of tree trunks to hang onto. We wore stabilicers (attachments for the bottom of our boots with metal spikes in them; this is the kind I have … my next pair will be the Hike version) but there were spots of pure ice where they just didn’t give enough traction on a downhill slope. Here’s my spouse reattaching one of his after it came off:



The bridge from the parking lot to the trail was icy (photo taken looking back at the parking lot):


The brook was icy, too, but also had some open — and at times, rushing — water:


And the pond – yes, also icy (spouse is actually walking on the pond here):


People keep canoes and fishing boats stashed all along the pond, because the walk-in is about 1/2 a mile:



The trail was more icy than snowy, but there was still plenty of snow in the woods:


This was the steepest, iciest section, but it’s hard to see in a photo:



This trail has many trees growing over rocks and boulders:


There was quite a lot of bright green moss showing through the ice and snow:


And some black lichen (maybe rock tripe lichen?) on this boulder:


I saw lots of  wintergreen plants (Gaultheria procumbens), some with cheerful red berries still attached (and lycopodium, or club moss, also in view):



We came upon this scat, which looked a lot like Cheetoes but we weren’t fooled; turns out (per Mary Holland) that it’s ruffed grouse scat, a long pellet with a uric acid whitewash:



This bird’s nest lying on the snow was a sweet little find:


And this gorgeous rock:



I was pretty happy to get back to the car:



Garden Blogger’s Bloomday — March 2017

Well, no blooms here yet. In fact, yesterday, just when we were seeing snow melt and some bare ground, another 14-18″ of snow fell (measurements varied around the yard). But the day before this nor’easter, I spotted some daffodils poking their heads tentatively above the ground. I can’t imagine what they are thinking now.


The only other flower action in the garden now is the budding of the Pieris japonica (Andromeda) shrubs, which, in bud and leaf, is quite stunning against the snow.


Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day is hosted by May Dreams Gardens.

See some real blooms at danger garden in Portland OR; A Guide to Northeastern Gardening in Long Island NY (hellebore!); The Nature of Things – zone 9a; rusty duck in SW England (more hellebore, plus muscari, camellias, pieris in bloom, more) …

Get Your Hoe Ready!

DSTGetYourHoeReadyposter.jpgTonight, most of us in the U.S. will set our clocks one hour ahead (or they will be automagically set ahead to match the time of an atomic clock operated by National Institute of Standards and Technology  in Boulder, CO).

Daylight saving time (DST) in the U.S. — by which clocks are advanced one hour in the spring and moved back one hour in fall when we return to standard time — was formally written into U.S. law in 1918 (only 25 years after the U.S. was divided into time zones), after countries in Europe instituted it during World War I as an energy savings measure, though even before that, Benjamin Franklin’s 1784 essay “An Economical Project for Diminishing the Cost of Light” (in the The Journal of Paris) suggests, “although jokingly, that Parisians could economize candle usage by getting people out of bed earlier in the morning, making use of the natural morning light instead.” Others, including New Zealand George Vernon Hudson in 1895 and British builder William Willett in 1905, also suggested changes to time in spring and fall, and it was Willett’s scheme that eventually led to DST in the UK, adopted in May 1916.

Although proponents could briefly claim “Victory!” when DST became U.S. law in 1918 under President Woodrow Wilson, only seven months later the federal law was repealed. However, cities including Pittsburgh, Boston, and New York  continued to use it (was this not confusing?) until President Franklin D. Roosevelt reinstituted it in 1942.

7:30 p.m. on 1 May 2013

Before 1966, there was really no continuity of standards concerning DST in the U.S., causing “widespread confusion especially for trains, buses, and the broadcasting industry. As a result, the Uniform Time Act of 1966 was established by Congress,” mandating that DST begin the last Sunday of April and end on the last Sunday of October. Briefly, following the 1973 oil embargo, Congress extended DST to a 10-month period in 1974 (from 6 Jan to 27 Oct) and an eight-month period in 1975 (23 Feb to 26 Oct), which did save energy (perhaps the equivalent of 10,000 barrels of oil per day) but meant children walked to school and to bus stops in the dark most of the year. From 1976 to 2006, DST reverted to its previous length from the last Sunday in April to the last Sunday in October, but in 2007, it changed again, in accordance with the Energy Policy Act of 2005, so that the length is now about a month longer, from the second Sunday of March to the first Sunday of November, about 67% of the year — so it’s actually more standard than Standard Time, right?

6:50 p.m. on 14 July 2013 — borage and sand cherry in the fruit guild

Even with the national law in place, states could still pass their own ordinances to exempt themselves from the law. The only states that don’t participate now are Hawaii and Arizona (though the Navajo Indian Reservation does). Indiana held out for a long time but finally instituted it in 2006.

7:05 p.m. on 4 July 2011 — front border

The plan — the point of which is to give us more daylight in the evening during months when the weather is the warmest, so we’ll be doing things outdoors and not using energy (and candles) inside — was not without much controversy then, or now. In the early part of the 20th century, it was “popular with some and wildly unpopular with others. In general, city dwellers and factory workers appreciated the extra hour of daylight in the evening that allowed them to work in their Victory Gardens and to attend afternoon ball games. In the country, farmers — whose days conformed to sunlight, not a clock —  complained that Daylight Saving actually cost them an hour of daylight, making farm workers an hour late getting to the fields” (excerpted from cached copy of “Playing With Time: The Introduction of Daylight Saving Time in Connecticut”)

6:05 p.m. on 21 June 2012 – blooming dianthus, iris, ‘Olga Mezitt’ rhododendron, hellebore foliage
7 p.m. on 1 July 2011 – new back border with veronicastrum (Culver’s Root) and various yarrow
7 pm on 10 Aug 2016 – front border with ‘Hab Grey’ sedum, ‘Gold Standard’ hostas, zinnias

Just yesterday, an article published in the Portland (ME) Press Herald, “Now there’s proof daylight saving time is dumb, dangerous and costly,” asserts that “[t]he case for daylight saving time has been shaky for a while. The biannual time change was originally implemented to save energy. Yet dozens of studies around the world have found that changing the clocks has either minuscule or non-existent effects on energy use.” Another article notes that “‘When you give Americans more daylight at the end of the day, they get into their cars,'” which “why the petroleum industry [and allied gas station-convenience stores] has been a longtime supporter of the time change.” Not only does it possibly not save energy use or oil consumption (and may increase it), but there can be harmful effects of losing and gaining an hour, including the loss of an hour of sleep and the disruption to our biological clocks (“Car accidents, strokes, and heart attacks spike in the days after the March time change”) and economic impacts (“After the autumn time change, shoppers made far fewer trips to the store, especially during the week”).

5:30 p.m. on 13 April 2016 – blooming crocuses
6:40 p.m. on 30 June 2015 – shade garden
8:25 p.m. on 6 July 2011
6:40 p.m. on 14 July 2013 – ‘Blue Cadet’ hosta in shade garden

I’m not really sure how I feel about DST. I am not a morning person, so the sudden darkness of March and April mornings doesn’t bother me much. I don’t work away from home, so I don’t really need another hour of light in the warmer months (after work and dinner) in which to garden, and even if I did, there is really very little outdoor gardening to be done here in northern New England until June anyway. What I do like is that “certain slant of light,” not only on a winter’s (non-DST) afternoon but also on a March afternoon, in the sunroom,

sunroom on the afternoon of 4 March 2016

and on a summer evening outside in the garden, with the possibility of patio parties extending well into the evening in July and August.

patio party prep at 4 p.m. on 6 July 2013
patio and backyard at 5:35 p.m. on 4 Aug 2016

I think for me the hardest part is losing the precious little evening light in the fall, but by November here (and even October), gardening is finished and I am starting to feel a bit like hibernating anyway. On the whole, I guess I like it. If I lived some place with a minor-league baseball team, I would like it even more.

7:10 p.m. on 4 July 2011 — ‘Rozanne’ geraniums
8:30 p.m. on 12 July 2013 – raspberries
8:20 p.m. on 7 July 2012 – ‘Dark Towers’ penstemon, shed, lawn
7:15 p.m. on 26 June 2016 – amsonia, ‘Vermillionaire’ firecracker annual, ‘So Sweet’ hosta
7 p.m. on 24 Aug 2015 – purple cosmos

(Poster from LOC collection.)


Someone Was Looking

The garden motion camera — a source of wonder, surprise, and pleasure for me. I eagerly anticipate checking the photos it’s taken, which I do about once a week. What will appear? Who will have visited?

At night there are almost always fox, and now that spring approaches, raccoon, and soon deer, skunk, and maybe bear and coyote (rare visitors).

But daytime captures are often just as interesting and fun to see: squirrels leaping, crows soaring low, mourning doves and blue jays coming in for a landing, and all of them caught in a momentary pose that I probably wouldn’t notice with my eyes alone.


Grey Squirrel

grey squirrel on the move, 13 January morning
grey squirrel leaping, 25 January morning
grey squirrel, 23 February morning
grey squirrel, 6 March morning


Blue Jay

blue jay, 8 January morning
blue jay and mourning dove, 13 January morning


More Mourning Dove

mourning doves, 3 March afternoon



crow landing, 5 January morning
crow landing, 5 January morning
crow, 3 March morning
crow silhouetted in flight, with snow shadow, 4 March morning
crows, 3 March morning
murder of crows in falling snow, 9 March morning


“What was
the photo meant
to document? Not
that we were there—
or anywhere—but that
someone was looking.”
— Andrea Cohen, closing lines to “Shadow of”

%d bloggers like this: