New England Artists and Their Gardens

It was a very wet & windy January when I made my way out to Massachusetts Horticultural Society headquarters at Elm Bank in Wellesley. There would be no walking around the gardens enjoying a bit of vanishingly rare winter sunshine today, what with the rain and melting snow, Elm Bank looked more akin to a swamp. Such is New England in winter and what better time to attend a lecture on Artists of New England and their Gardens.

To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee, one clover and a bee, And Revery. The Revery alone will do if the bee are few.

Emily Dickinson
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Snowflake cookies in March

Think what a better world it would be if we all, the whole world, had cookies and milk about three o’clock every afternoon and then lay down on our blankets for a nap.

Barbara Jordan
Snowflake cookies

Who doesn’t like cookies and milk. We have a tradition of baking snowflake cookies on snow days, which is not terribly original but very tasty. The Snowflake Cookie recipe I use came from an old Southern Living magazine dated December 1989, some things just can not be improved upon. What is great about this recipe is you make the dough ahead of time then you can just give the bowl of dough to your kids and say go to town. You shape the dough with your hands, which can get very messy with small hot hands and then roll it into powered sugar or as they say on Great British Baking show icing sugar. Kids love to get messy then to lick their hands when they are finished, at least you hope they wait until they are finished to lick their hands. Enough talk, let’s just bake.

Snowflake cookie recipe

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1⁄2 cup vegetable oil
  • 4(1 ounce) unsweetened chocolate squares, melted
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 12 teaspoon salt
  • 34 cup sifted powdered sugar


  1. Combine sugar, oil, and melted chocolate in a large mixing bowl; beat at medium speed of an electric mixer until blended.
  2. Add eggs and vanilla, mixing well.
  3. Combine flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl.
  4. Add about one-fourth of dry mixture at a time to chocolate mixture, mixing after each addition.
  5. Cover and let chill at least 2 hours.
  6. Shape dough into 1-inch balls, and roll in powdered sugar.
  7. Place cookies 2 inches apart on lightly greased cookie sheets.
  8. Bake at 350 degrees F.
  9. for 10 to 12 minutes.
  10. Cool on wire racks.

Winter Gardening

Away in a meadow all covered with snow
The little old groundhog looks for his shadow
The clouds in the sky determine our fate
If winter will leave us all early or late.
–  Don Halley

Arbor day evergreen tree my daughter planted

Dealing with the long, cold winters of the North can really be a struggle for Massachusetts gardeners. Short days, long nights, almost no sunshine, and a complete lack of any warmth can really drive you nuts. As a Florida girl, I’ve had to develop many winter coping strategies over the years, ranging from researching the perfect Caribbean getaway to trying to embrace winter and start doing winter sports. The latter tactic always starts out strong and gets progressively less enthusiastic as shoveling snow and clearing out frozen gutters takes up more and more of my time.

What I’ve found that consistently helps get me through the long winters is visiting my garden through the window. One of my favorite things to do in the morning is sit down with a cup of tea on my frosty back porch and look at all the birds and squirrels searching for food amongst the snowdrifts. Recently I spotted a huge red tailed hawk sitting on my Weeping Katsura tree, looking back at me with his big golden eyes. It was -4 degrees out, so he was all fluffed up to stay warm. As I write this, I just saw him swoop down again into the yard. It’s always an honor to catch a glimpse of such a gorgeous bird. I just hope he’ll stay long enough to put a damper on the local rabbit population – what a lucky break that would be!

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Bulbs in the grass!!!

I’m really quite simple. I plant flowers and watch them grow… I stay at home and watch the river flow.

George Harrison
Last year early spring

Lately, I’ve become interested in an even more abstract style of gardening. I was inspired by the film “Five Seasons: the Gardens of Piet Oudolf”, which is an absolutely gorgeous documentary about the New Perennial gardening movement. I decided I needed to add a meadow in my backyard. While researching what I wanted to put in the meadow, I came across the idea of Stinzenplanten – a gardening technique involving planting bulbs in turf grass (lawn) that bloom as early as February and die back by June.


Ever evolving

Flowers always make people better, happier and more helpful; they are sunshine, food and medicine for the soul.

Luther Burbank
Rhododendron ‘Karens’

My current garden is quite different from my original vision. It is more organic in shape and style then a typical English style garden would be. The majority of the plantings are specifically intended to attract beneficial insects. I am also very interested in increasing biodiversity, sustainability and ease of care. The plants flower at different times of the year, so there is (almost) always something in bloom. I’m always seeking to change and improve my garden – I move plants around my garden the way some people move their furniture. My mantra is that if you don’t like where it is you can always dig it up and move it. Perhaps the plant is just not thriving in its current location. Change is an important part of any garden – after all, nature is always growing and evolving, we should try to evolve with it.

Of course, it’s far easier to move small perennials than large trees, but in my younger days I would endeavor to relocate large rhododendrons and lilacs by myself with just a tarp and a shovel. I even managed to successfully move a small dogwood tree, which was just about my upwards limit. As I’ve become older and wiser I no longer move big shrubs or trees by myself, but I still rearrange plantings with some frequency, tweaking this and that and even rearranging entire areas on a yearly basis.


Ode to a Beech Tree

Trees are poems the earth writes upon the sky.

Kahlil Gibran
Copper Beech in background behind weeping Katsura

When we first saw our house, the beech tree barely drew attention, standing off to one side, neglected and unassuming in a way that belied its age and stature.  There were scars across its mighty trunk where the previous owners had wrapped a chain around it to keep their large dog under control. They had paved over its root system with asphalt and laid a driveway of pea stones right up to the edges of its trunk. After we bought the house, we immediately hired an arborist out to assess the trees in our yard. He told us the beech was looking very stressed, and that without immediate intervention it wouldn’t survive much longer. We were not able to immediately remove the asphalt driveway, but did administer the liquid fertilizer the arborist recommended.

Still looking beautiful

After two years we were finally able to remove the driveway and replace it with a water permeable surface. We stopped using the garage and the area under the beech tree as our parking lot. With the continued use of fertilizers the tree began to improve and was losing less large branches each year. The beech remained in a very stable place for years, but unfortunately this was not to last. Winter moths began eating its beautiful leaves, weakening an already vulnerable tree that was being attacked beech scale. We tried spraying the leaves and watering only with soaker hoses, but the tree just wasn’t responding to any of the treatments.

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Backyard Cheerleader?

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter.

— Izaak Walton
Delicate Swallowtail Butterfly

Hello, and welcome to my gardening blog! I’ve been working on my current garden for over twenty years. I got the idea of writing a blog as a way to share my love and enthusiasm for cultivating plants. My garden truly is my happy place, and I hope to inspire more people to get out into in their own little bit of nature. If more people focus on planting native plants and providing food and shelter for local fauna, perhaps we can start to reverse some consequences of the environmental damage that has already been done. Of course, fixing all ills humanity has done to the Earth is not an achievable goal for individual gardeners, but raising awareness and providing the tools for nature to help heal itself,  we all are capable of that.

Nature really can repair the damage we have done, it’s been documented that plants can clean the air, filter polluted soil, clean our waterways and thrive. Nature is a balm to the crazy speed of todays world, a mediation if you will. My hope is that my musing will encourage you to get out into your garden whether to do actual garden work or just stop a moment and gaze at the clouds, feel the breeze, hear the birds, taste the sweet mint and for goodness sakes smell the roses. There is no wrong garden design it’s your self expression, your sense of whimsy. You can create a colorful magical paradise for you and all sorts of beneficial creatures that call your backyard home. Go outside, play, take pictures, get a little dirt on your hands and have some fun. Get to the root of the matter and become your own Backyard Garden Cheerleader.

Monarda ‘Marshal’s Delight’, Filipendula rubra ‘Queen of the Praire’

Down the rocky road

As far as what I do love, I love birds; I love lavender.

Michael Moore

Driving down a rocky road in France and we came upon a beautiful, aromatic lavender field in full bloom. We all piled out of the manual drive Ford Fiesta, grabbed out picnic gear and headed into the field. We spread our blankets and laid out the food and wine as the children ran among the straight, purple rows of beautiful blooms. After lunch and short snooze, we reluctantly packed up the car and drove away from the fields. Just another beautiful, sunny day with one of nature’s true wonders.