February 8, 2009

A Home, a Garden, a Family, a Lifetime.

This weekend my Dad turned 95 years old.
Here he is, in a photo from 1929 at thier clubhouse, up on Packachoag Hill, behind our house. This is the location where Robert Goddard ( Of Goddard Space Center fame), fired his first fuel-powered rocket, that marked the beginning of the space age. Or something like that....anyway, my dad and many of his brothers are in the famous photo, which was taken at this field, which now is a golf course, on the hill behind our home. A monument stands where Goddard fired the rocket, ( remember the film October Skies?)( Different rocketeer, but same story). My dad tells me the the rocket landed on Mr.s Hooks barn, and burned it down, which I hear, almost ended the dawn of the space age.

Dad is still healthy, in fact, amazingly so....picking and eating all of those wild blueberries which he keeps in the freezer in the cellar and eats ever day, does the trick....he lives with us, in this same house that he was raised in, along with his seven brothers, Ted, Joe John, Frank, Vincent and Robert ( Bobby)m the youngest of the Mattus clan who turned 8o this year, and who came up to visit the house and garden that he was born in, and to surprise, his older brother,(my Dad) Vitty. All of the rest are gone now, but all of thier children and grandchildren and great grandchildren came to celebrate at Dad's big 95 fete.

Uncle Bob, now 80, ( young kid here on the left, showing our house as it did in the 1930's before the addition of the studio.

Dad is still healthy, he has a girl friend,( she's 80) and goes ballroom dancing every weekend. Being so vital, he has a large circle of friends, so this weekend we hosted a party. Bobby and Vitty are the last of the seven brother alive, yet all of their offsring and their offsring, so on and so on, came to the party Saturday night. With lot of wine, lots of old Photographs and lots of memories shared amongst the many relatives, we all became a bit sentimental but also joyful, after all, it is often so easy to only make time to be get together at less cheerful events during these late phases of our short lifespans.

My Uncle Frank Mattus, with his Gardening Business Truck in 1924 on our property. He won an award at the New England Spring Flower Show.

Our home when it was first constructed in 1918, notice that there are no trees. Dad tells me that they had no electricity or running water until two years later, because the city had not run the pipes yet. Image.....7 boys, a wood stove, and a wash basin with no running water, just a well and no electricity........Oh that reminds me.. We ran our of Fresh Linen scented Tide this weeked, but I drove to Target and bought some, along with some Febreze and Paper towels...Time sure has changed. And I yell at Dad for keeping a Pee jar in his room! (shhh).

Our home circa 1945, the trees are getting taller.

In many of the photos, I was reminded of the strong gardening heritage which exists in my family. Last night, we realized that all of us garden like our Dads did, even my cousin Penny from Florida was commenting on my Uncle Bobs garden, and his organic mindset towards healthy living. SInce I was raised in the same house and garden that all seven of my Uncles had been, and the same house that my Grandfather had built in 1918, I feel a deep connection to the garden, a rare thing in any American garden, for each of the trees and shrubs, or tall spruces that many of you comment on, we're planted by these seven during the early 20th Century. These old noble trees, were already tall by 1959 when I was born, and today are as tall as any tree in an Olmsted park in New England.

Our storeroom, in our cellar where my parents stored all of the canned goods and many squash varieties they grew for the winter. The room also held barrels of apples, and had a zinc pipe that bring in the cold winter air from the outside along with a thick, cork door. The room is still there, and we still use it for home made preserves, for forcing bulbs and for forcing trays of winter greens like Belgian Endive. Before stores carried it, we grew it ourselves, not knowing it was so trendy.

A vase of Nerine undulata and some fragrant Tulbaghia fragrans on my desk as I type this.

Joy. Spring is near. I can feel it, I can smell it, and I can even hear it. Finally, winters frigid grip has relented, just a bit, enough for the two inch sheet of ice that coats our stone walks and drives, to at least, reach a temperature where now a little bit of sand, will actually stick to it. Today, here in New England, where temperatures have remained far below zero degrees F. since Christmas, it reached a balmy 48 Deg f. I saw two robins, heard the cardinals, and even smelled spring, although, it was indoors, and rather a surprise....I picked some Nerine undulata and placed it in a bottle in my office, along with a stem of a species Clivia C. caulescens, and a stem from a rather sad looking pot of Tulbaghia fragrans. The Tulbaghia fragrans always blooms for me, during January and February, but only after the leaves rot away a bit, and the entire pot becomes quite, well, dead looking. Just as the foliage begins to re-emerge, the flower spikes appear, and the white umbels bloom. In the hot greenhouse of a sunny February day, they have a slight fragrance, but tonight, the stem that I brought into the house is scenting the entire room. It is fabulously strong and rich, and makes keeping this somewhat under appreciated member of the Tulbagia clan, easier. I know in California, many bulb growers snub their noses at the bulb, as being a lesser cousin to the more skunky,yet lavender, Tulbagia violacea, the common society garlic. But I am ready to rally for it's more fragrant but unattractive cousin, for it's hard to beat such fragrance in winter.

Another sign of spring, the first vegetable seeds- storage onions, are sown in the greenhouse.

The onion seedling will be stong enough to plant out by the middle of April. Seed grown onions are much better for achieving award winning sizes that by growing bulbs from sets. Remember, onions are bulbs.

Also, Parsley was planted, along with some Violas, and Pansys. These need light to germinate, so I just covered them slightly with fine Vermiculite, and are keeping them in the house at 68 degrees F until they sprout. The onion seed was covered, and remains in the greenhouse, to experience a more diurnal temperature range of cold nights, and warm days. The greenhouse was built over my grandfathers vegetable garden, and I wonder what he would be thinking if he knew that his two sons at 80 and 95, were able to pick lemons and camellias that are now growing in the same soil?

So...life goes on.....and the once cold days of 2009 are getting longer... every day, the sun is setting later, we can feel it! I love to watch the sun hit the greenhouse with winter on the outside, and summer on the inside. WInter light, is so nice.

A Trough with an Ikea Ice Shield - fancy.

Over the Holiday break from work, Joe and I re-designed the home office, and we had some plate-glass computer tables that had nice, modern chrome rods attached to them to form glass shelves behind the computer. They were too nice to throw away, but Joe had an idea, and he was right...they fit perfectly over the troughs, which now allows me to keep our icy, wet snow off of some of out more precious alpines, yet allows them to remain in a deeply frozen condition, as if they are deep in a mountain crevice. We shall see soon if this did any good. Many alpines prefer snow, but not wet snow and ice. Remember, in the alps, the snow is deep and dry, then it melts, and the alpine flowers bloom. Here in New England, the alpine plants that we keep in stone troughs, can get wet snow, ice, thawing, hot sun, more wet snow, below zero temperatures, then 70 deg. F temps in Jan, then ice, then......... since we've had a nice snowy and cold winter, they probably would have survived just fine, and I have been shoveling the walks and burying them even deeper in the protective snow. I just covered a few of our more fussy plants, to see if keeping them both dry and fozen, might be better. Go go go Eritrichium! Spring is not far away! Maybe I will even have Soldanella this year ( no covered in anything but deep snow, they are).

One last thing_ ( I know, I'm all over the place!)...I brought this Clivia seedling into the house, since we brought in many of the larger blooming plants for the party, and once in the house, I was impressed with how nice its form and color is. These are offspring that we brought back from Mr. Nakamura's farm in Japan in 2001, and many are starting to bloom. None are named, and they are all one of a kind, but this one is a keeper. It's blossoms appear double, although I think they are just shorter than many of our other Cyrtanthiflora group Clivia, and the color is of such a vibrant vermillion, that it is difficult to accurately capture it on the camera. Still, I wanted to share it, since the umbels are so dense, that the over-all effect is more 'carnation'-like that Clivia!.


  1. You are lucky you are from such a long lived family.

  2. Thanks for sharing your photos of your beautifful life. I like very very much your blog. I'm from Portugal, and i love gardens and flowers. A big hug from Lisboa.
    Carlos Rechestre

  3. Love your greenhouse and the storage in your basement. It is such a great idea.
    I started gardening last year and managed a few muddy vegetables...this winter I checked out a lot of books from the library--I will definitely have a different approach this spring. I am going to follow your lead and plant my onions this weekend.

  4. What a wonderful tribute to your Father and your own heritage. I so love the photo with the trophy and the garden business truck.... its amazing what is bred in the bone.... I so envy you of that amazing greenhouse! It looks gorgeous.

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  6. Anonymous7:16 PM

    I loved reading all about your family farm. How fortunate you are to have that history. But no mention of your mom. She must have been quite a woman to put up all those cans!


  7. Thanks everyone for your comments. Yes, I did not mention my mom, but she was certainly busy canning much of the time. She died ten years ago, and was even preparing blackberry jam and making pickles while in Chemotherapy. She was most know for her pies, making often more than a dozen at Thanksgiving to be delivered to the neighbors, and for her Easter Bread - Babka like sweet bread. I have some canning list from her, from the 40's, they are typed on recipe card, they read like....Creamed Corn -49 quarts, Whole corn - 75 quarts, tomatoes - 233 quarts. The lists are amazing. Growing up, I remember the flower gardens, since she grew flowers for the church and for the house, and even today, the smell of Marigolds reminds me of her, since when there was a threat of frost, every single flower would be picked and placed in buckets on the porches - asters, Snapdragon, Zinnias, everything. She didn't want to see them die. We all miss her terribly.

  8. Hi Matt- I think I am in love with your greenhouse. Actually your house too! Both are beauties. It's great your dad has his own personal freezer of youth. I plan to plant some this spring, maybe it the wrinkle cure of the century.

  9. wendi e.1:18 PM

    hi matt,
    what a great tribute to your family history!
    love the photos and the stories behind them.
    your greenhouse IS amazing, and a huge accomplishment keeping it thriving year round.
    thanks for taking the time to share. your blog always gives a smile...

  10. I love reading about another person's family history. You must be so proud of yours.

    Good luck with your growing adventures in the new year!

  11. I adore this, and I adore you! Keep writing, old pal :-)

  12. Reading this post, Matt, and seeing the pictures, really made me feel good. Not many families can say that they've remained in-tact with the family homestead still running so beautifully. Your Mom would just be so so proud of you! And I know your Dad is too. You are all just lovely people! Great work, Matt!

  13. I enjoyed this piece a lot (noticed it at the bottom of your daily blog--and thought...what the hey!). Your dad must really be a character! Feel sorry about the old barn though.


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