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Dear Friend and Gardener

Right Plant for the Right Space

Cimicifuga on the Bridge of Flowers

Cimicifuga on the sunny Bridge of Flowers

If you are sated with garden catalogs that came in January, but still haven’t made all your 2017 choices and plans, you are probably ready to hit garden centers and nurseries. There you will face ranks of captivating and irresistible shrubs and perennials. No matter how alluring the plants it will be worthwhile to read the labels, and think about your garden spaces before you buy.

I have had gardeners tell me about their failures and disappointments, asking  why?  Sometimes it is because they did not take into account the basic needs of the plant, for sun or shade, for dry or damp sites. And I do say sometimes this is the answer, but I also say there are many mysteries in the garden with no answers or explanations to be found. Cimicifuga or bugbane, a shade loving plant blooms happily in full sun on the Bridge of Flowers. How can  that happen? I don’t know.

Still, it is best to begin with knowledge of the plant’s needs. As we have planned and planted our Greenfield garden I’ve taken into consideration the attributes of the different sections. Our house faces east and the small plot of lawn and the tree strip get sun in the morning. However there is a large sycamore tree at the southern end of the tree strip which means that the shade shifts and changes over the course of the morning, and the afternoon.

The tree strip gets morning sun. We removed most of the grass and planted perennials to provide bloom all season long. We chose really tough plants that would do all right in less than ideal conditions, support pollinators, and not require much labor for me. The soil there is dry, and we have improved it with compost.

Bee Balm  Monarda

Bee Balm

The hellstrip/tree strip plant list includes daylilies, bee balm, yarrow, Sheffield daisies and astilbe. My neighbor has promised me some rudbeckia, black eyed susans.

The small lawn in front of the house is being planted with low growing conifers, as well as a small rhododendron, a deutzia which will have small white flowers and a heuchera which will also provide some bloom among the conifers. All are supposed to tolerate some shade which they will get.

Beauty of Moscow lilac

Beauty of Moscow lila

The South Border is the first bed we planted with shrubs as well as perennials. The requirement for full  sun translates as six hours or more of sun. There are many sun loving shrubs and perennials. This bed is also the driest in our garden. We planted three paniculata hydrangeas, Limelight, Firelight and Angels Blush. They share the bed with two lilacs, Beauty of Moscow which I think is one of the most beautiful white lilacs, and the deep purple Yankee Doodle, Korean Spice viburnam for its fragrance, and the first of two highbush cranberries which are also viburnams. Some of these can attain a height of 10 feet at maturity and we have given them plenty of room to grow.

At least we think we have. Calculating how much room any plant will need as it grows is about the most difficult task when planning to provide for a plant’s requirements.

As the South Border heads west it becomes damper, and finally wet. Swamp pinks were in place when we bought the house, and we added Lindera benzoin to attract the swallowtail butterfly, and a red twig dogwood for its tolerance to dampness and its brilliant red branches.  We also planted four blueberry bushes. They do not appear to be thriving. I think the soil is too wet and they will have to be moved.

Since one of the reasons we left Heath is because the garden was too big and demanded too much work, one of the guiding principles of the Greenfield garden is that it must be less labor intensive. It is a lot of work right now as we layout and plant a blank canvas, but our strategy for cutting back on routine tasks is to plant shrubs. Since the back yard is so wet seasonally and after rains we began with shrubs that like sun and tolerate the wet. The list includes yellow twig dogwood which is just as brilliant as the red twig when the sun in shining on it, clethra or sweet pepperbush, buttonbush, winterberries, elderberries, and fothergilla.

We have also planted trees. We are confident about the water tolerance of the river birches, a dappled willow, and we have planted a weeping cherry and a pagoda dogwood in the closest we come to occasional damp. However, we have taken a gamble by planting two arborvitae in a seasonally wet spot. We wanted the arborvitae to block a view. So far, so good. I guess gardeners are among the world’s most eager gamblers.

Japanese primroses

Japanese primroses love wet spots

Our layered garden will soon be less demanding. We have planted many perennial groundcovers like lady’s mantle and foam flower, and various sedums. Many perennials are very comfortable with wet spots: Siberian and Japanese irises, primroses, daylilies, mountain mint, culver’s root, Joe Pye weed, obedient plant, sanguisorba Canadensis, ferns, and cardinal plants.

Mine is a new garden; I still have bare ground while I wait for the shrubs to mature and the perennials to increase. I have been filling in with annuals like cosmos and zinnias that require little more than sun and mostly dry soil. Maybe I’ll try filling bare spots this year with summer squash, bush beans or pretty lettuces. Vegetables are beautiful (and delicious) annuals too. ###

Between the Rows   April 8, 2017

Earth Day – Support Your Pollinators

Honeybee

Honeybee – just one of the many pollinators

It is April 22 – Earth Day – and I am celebrating by writing about honeybees and pollinator plants that will help all pollinators.

How do honey bees pollinate plants? I knew bees had hairy little baskets on their knees that collected pollen while they were wandering around the stamens and anthers of a blossom. When Dan Conlon, beekeeper and president of the Russian Honeybee Breeders Association, spoke at a recent Greenfield Community College Senior Symposium, he showed an enlarged photo of a bee that was covered with pollen. Not only were her pollen baskets full, her skin and the tiny fuzzy feathers around her head and body were covered with grains of pollen. Conlon said it was an electrical charge that attracted the pollen to the bee’s body. When the bee flew to another plant it brushed against another set of anthers, exchanging the pollen, thus pollinating the plant. The pollen baskets are emptied at the hive and stored for food for all the bees.

Electrical charges! Pollination wasn’t just about a little pollen falling out of the pollen baskets.

Rudbeckia "Goldsturm"

Rudbeckia “Goldsturm”

I also learned that honeybees are not native to North America. They were brought from Europe with the Puritans. Governor John Winthrop brought honeybees, and apple trees with him when he and his family sailed to what became Massachusetts in 1630. By 1650 maple syrup and honey were the main sources of sweetening.

Nowadays commercial beekeepers move thousands of hives around the country to pollinate vegetable and fruit crops. Conlon himself used to put several hives on a wagon and move them around the cucumber fields when the pickle factory was in operation. He explained that a poorly pollinated cucumber would be misshapen and not suitable as a pickle.

Honeybees and the 300 other bee species, are essential to our food supply. On Earth Day we can recognize the benefits of native bees, wasps, butterflies and many other small creatures that do their bit to pollinate.

Don Conlon gave us lots of wonderful information and then got down to the problems faced by the bees. He said that one of the biggest challenges for honeybees is the loss of habit. He told us about an urban/suburban community that decided to support pollinators. They were told that a 10 x 10 foot raised bed filled with pollinator plants would attract many pollinators. The idea was so appealing that many people planted pollinator beds. The result was acres of pollinator plants – and many pollinators.

Echinacea and Bee

Echinacea and bee

It is easy to find lists of plants that will provide nectar and pollen over a long season. You may already have bee plants in your garden. Some of my favorite bee perennials include: wild columbine, foam flower, butterfly weed, asters, turtlehead, Joe Pye weed, lupines, coneflower, liatris, bee balm, and black eyed Susans. Annuals that attract bees are zinnias, African (Tagetes) marigolds, cosmos, and sweet alyssum. Your herb garden with chives, rosemary, borage, thyme, and dill will attract bees.

Many people have room for a pollinator plant bed in their garden, but when I spoke to Susannah Lerman,  on the University of Massachusetts faculty, she said you didn’t even need a flower bed to attract and sustain pollinators. She said you do it by doing nothing.

Lerman has been doing research on improving wildlife habitat in urban locations. A recent experiment was located in the Springfield area devastated by a tornado a few years ago. The landscape was wiped clean. She worked with 17 yards with lawns. Her project hired people to mow those lawns for the homeowners. Some lawns were mowed regularly once a week, others were mowed every two weeks, and the final lawns were mowed every three weeks.

Without planting anything new the lawns filled with blooming pollinator plants, dandelions, clover, violets, creeping Charlie, dwarf cinquefoil, speedwell, yellow hawkweed, yellow wood sorrel, annual fleabane, purple smartweed and more. Lerman identified 64 plant species spontaneously growing in those 17 yards. None of those yards used herbicides which is an important aspect of the experiment.

Lerman’s group also identified 111 bee species visiting those lawns. She now knows there are 300 or so native bees in Massachusetts.

Dandelions and  violets

Dandelions and violets

When looking at mowing results Lerman said that a week between mowings appeared to be unnecessary. Those householders did not think it was necessary. The lawns mowed every two weeks had noticeable flowering ‘weeds’ but everyone agreed they looked perfectly respectable. The lawns mowed every three weeks looked a little messy and one could imagine neighbors frowning. “Mowing every two weeks was the sweet spot,” Lerman said. “Mowing every two weeks gave plants time to flower, and to keep neighbors happy.”

The Xerces Society and the Pollinator Partnership are two places where you can find good lists of pollinator plants.

She added that another way of keeping neighbors happy is by creating a ‘cues to care’ sign. I have seen such signs myself. The Xerces Society sells an explanatory Pollinator Garden sign for $25. But you can always make your own sign. People are apt to be more tolerant if they know that your lawn is blooming intentionally, not neglected and full of weeds.

To find out more about bees and plants mark your calendar for the Langstroth Bee Festival on Saturday, June 3, at the Second Congregational Church on Bank Row.  This year, in honor of the church’s anniversary, special celebratory events are scheduled for the Bee Festival. Kim Flottam, editor in chief of Bee Culture Magazine and author of several books on beekeeping, will be the main speaker. There will be special activities for children. Former Governor Deval Patrick, who is a beekeeper,  will also be awarding beautiful plaques created by potter Molly Cantor to several notable pollinator gardens in FranklinCounty.

Bewtween the Rows   April 1, 2017

Fresh Garden Vegetables at Home

Fresh from the Garden

Fresh from the Garden

 

Is there anything better than garden fresh vegetables? How can you beat a sun warmed tomato eaten out of hand? What about exactly the kind of lettuce you like best, ready when you are, for a luscious salad? Why can’t foliage from beets, carrots, or parsley be used as an ornamental edging before it makes it into the kitchen?

I left a regular small vegetable garden in Heath, but my first garden work in Greenfield was on ornamental gardens. I immediately needed to change the expanses of lawn into something more interesting. And so began the South and North Borders, and three amoeba-like lawn beds. The Hugel at the back of our lot was not far behind.

But something was missing. Vegetables. I am a cook as well as a gardener and while I have never really had any interest in trying to grow, harvest and preserve everything, I love being able to go into the garden and harvest tomatoes, lettuce, sugar snap peas, broccoli, and more. How was I going to get vegetables into my garden which was so definitely arranged as an ornamental garden?

A quick survey of the garden reminded me that there are still planting spaces. First of all, the Lawn Beds, intended for trees, shrubs and perennials, most of them native varieties, still have a fair amount of bare ground because it will take a while for those plants to mature and cover that ground themselves. Vegetables are annuals and they could take over that space, at least for a year or two.

I even have a relatively large space that has perplexed us. What can we do with a spring flooded area in front of the stone wall? We will be raising the level of that space, as we have with the Lawn Beds, and this year we will use that space as a vegetable garden. I just want to come up with an interesting layout to make it an integral part of our ornamental garden, and not like a complete afterthought. When the harvest is completed this year we can assess the garden and our own reactions.

Edible Front Yard

Edible Front Yard by Ivette Soler

The idea of trying to incorporate more vegetables into the garden has been fed by my return to Ivette Soler’s book The Edible Front Yard: the Mow-Less, Grow-More Plan for a Beautiful, Bountiful Garden. Soler lives in California so I’ll forgive her for including bay trees, artichokes and guava, in the section of cultivation information. I’ll concentrate on her design advice. She says edible gardens can use the same techniques garden designers use to make “fancy gardens” look great. She talks about structure, form, repetition, texture and color

I don’t often think of structure and texture when I think of the vegetable garden but given this push the little gray cells are beginning to light up. I turned to Fresh from the Garden: An Organic Guide to Growing Vegetables, Berries and Herbs in Cold Climates by John Whitman. He says I can grow cardoons, known for their sculptural leaves, not unlike those of the artichoke which he also says I can grow. Given the push I remember that cardoons were fairly common on the menu when we lived in Beijing for a year. Beijing is nothing like California where Soler grows her artichokes and cardoons so I am ready to give them a try. The spiky leaves of these plants are full of structure.

Whitman not only opens his book with 120 pages of extensive and excellent advice about The Basics of Gardening from choosing a planting site, planting with seeds, transplanting, and routine care from watering to fertilizing, mulching, pruning and more, he goes on to solving problems, harvesting and culinary uses, and finishing up with tools and materials. The 375 pages of Part Two give information about 150 vegetables, herbs and berries (1700 varieties) in their particulars.

Whitman’s photographs are beautiful and the book is a veritable encyclopedia. The publisher is the University of Minnesota Press knows about cold weather. I can highly recommend it for all its instruction, and because carrying it around the house and taking it on and off the shelf  has improved my muscle tone.

As for texture Soler reminds us that tomatoes are silken and smooth, sage is velvety and carrots are lacy. It’s all about looking at the vegetable palette through a different lens.

Color. Red chard with purple sage? Add some nasturtiums?  What pleasing or striking color combinations can I come up with?

With all this advice, I still have limited space. How will I choose what to grow? Obviously I will plant my favorites like cherry tomatoes which come in different colors. I must have leafy and crispy lettuces, crunchy radishes, beets for greens and roots, Harukei turnips, sugar snap peas and green beans.

I have already planted an herb bed next to the house with oregano, thyme, sage, chives and garlic chives, but will plant basils, parsley, borage, dill and cilantro. I will never have a garden without dill.

When I asked a friend how to choose what to plant she said plant those things that are expensive to buy – like shallots. Good advice.

It won’t be long before I can follow all John Whitman’s advice in preparing the garden site. Piles of compost and soil are waiting to create a new Lawn Vegetable Bed. I can almost taste the first radishes of spring.

Between the Rows  April 8, 2017

I will be giving an illustrated talk on The Sustainable Garden on Sunday, May 23 at 1 pm  at the Franklin County Fairgrounds during the Eco-Living program. This is a two day event with lots of informative and fascinating talks. Hope to see you there.

Bloom Day April 15, 2017

yellow primrose

yellow primrose

I am so happy to finally have a Bloom Day post that I don’t even mind how meager the bloom. I will definitely plant bulbs in my new garden this fall.

Dutchman's breeches

Dutchman’s breeches

These delicate plants were among the exceedingly few flowers at our new house. Lawn used  to be the theme, but no more. These Dutchman’s breeches grow near the back door, right up against south wall of the house. I love them.

Carol of May Dreams Gardens, you have my everlasting gratitude for inventing Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day. I am so happy to be able  to  see what is in bloom  all over the country.

Conversation of Trees

Norway spruce

Norway spruce

Recently at the Greenfield Library I saw a small book on the best seller shelf, The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate — Discoveries From a Secret World. It looked like a quiet book with its creamy cover and drawing of three trees, with roots gently touching. The idea that plants can hear and talk is not new. I know of experiments with classroom or greenhouse plants, providing classical or rock music, talking to the plants encouragingly, or insulting them, all to see if these different approaches affect the plants differently.

Peter Wohlleben, a German forester and the author of the book, cared for his forests in the standard way in the1980s, but he never felt happy about the kind of thinning he had to do, or the pesticides he had to use. He also believed the science that already existed about the communality of trees.

What makes that communality and communication possible is the web of fungi which grows into and around tree roots, increasing the ability of the tree to gather nutrients and water, and to share those resources with other nearby trees that may be weaker or suffering. The fungi also send chemical and electrical signals. Dr. Suzanne Simard in Nature magazine coined the term Wood Wide Web.

One example of the experiments that were done showed that beeches share resources. In a grove of beeches, even though certain areas had different qualities of soil, it was found that the rate of photosynthesis in all the trees was the same. The trees were not dependent on the sunlight or nutrients gathered individually. The trees were sharing so that every leaf of every tree got the same amount of sugar. Wohlleben worked with oak and beech forests. It doesn’t stretch the imagination too much to think that trees in close proximity could communicate and help each other. Of course there is more to the book than that, and I recommend it.

By the time we left our 60 acres in Heath about half the acreage was mixed woodland, mostly white pine and some hardwoods. We had loggers come in twice during our 35 years there to harvest the white pine and some hardwood for firewood. It was fairly young woodland, and it increased over time. A field west of the house was adjacent to a stand of white pines to its west. The wind blew pine seeds into the field creating a substantial new stand of white pine.

The forester told us that the new stand of pines was very healthy with no white pine weevil in evidence. I had been keen to show myself a responsible forest owner and talked to our forester about thinning. The trees were young enough that I could go out with our Christmas tree saw. He strongly discouraged me. He said it was too hard to know which trees to take out, which were weaker. So no work of that sort was done.

I thought maybe the forester shared my motto that procrastination is the gardener’s friend, but I never imagined that he might be considering the benefits that the trees in our pine grove offered each other.

Our Greenfield property has two trees that made it very appealing. We first saw the house in wintery March, but the tall Norway spruce in the northwestern corner was dignified and stately.

Then while we were going through the buying process the horsechestnut tree came into beautiful bloom. The view from the kitchen window is pure delight. Next to the horsechestnut are two slim hemlocks. I can’t help wondering if these trees communicate with each other even if they are not the same species.

Lilac tree and sycamore

Syringa, lilac tree, and sycamore in mid-May

My husband was more taken by the very tall sycamore or buttonball tree that grows in front of the house on the street side of the sidewalk. It is very impressive. On the opposite side of the sidewalk is a lilac tree. It is a true syringa and produces airy white blossoms, not really like lilac flowers, but breathing out a delicious fragrance that catches everyone’s attention as they walk by. Two very different trees. Could the tall and imposing sycamore have anything to say to the smaller, flowery lilac tree? Those sycamore roots travel far. We have hit them when planting perennials some distance away. Those roots could easily embrace and whisper to the lilac so close by.

We have planted new trees in the backyard, part of my low maintenance garden plan. Two river birch trees don’t mind flood season in the garden. The weeping cherry is planted nearer to the house which is less apt to be flooded. These three trees are doing nicely.

Last year I planted a small pagoda dogwood, chosen for the sculptural arrangement of its branches. It too is near the house but it’s too early to see how it has come through the winter.

Surely the birches will bond, but will they have any interest in the cherry or dogwood? I think the birches are gentlemanly and I will be watching to see if they show any care for the pretty ladies, or if they will leave them to their sighs and fans, like ladies in cocktail party corners, longing for someone to come and make conversation?

When you look out your windows what trees do you see? Do you think they are paying any attention to each other? It is hard to tell but maybe it is possible, even if they come from different branches of the tree family. I hope so.

Between the Rows   April 1, 2017

Underutilized Trees and Shrubs

Jay Vinskey, Master Gardener

Jay Vinskey, Master Gardener

Jay Vinskey gave a useful workshop on Underutilized Trees and Shrubs at the WMMGA Spring Garden Symposium last weekend. I attended because I may not be quite finished choosing shrubs for our new Greenfield garden and I was looking for more suggestions. Small trees and shrubs are the elements I am counting on to make this a sustainable, low maintenance garden.

Vinskey’s list included trees like paperbark maple, tupelo, ironwood, redbud, stewartia, and pagoda dogwood. His shrub list included beautyberry, Carolina allspice, fringe tree, witch hazel, and redvein enkianthus. Vinskey chose these because of their fine attributes of bark, blossom and autumn color or winter interest. Happily for me I had already planted some of his suggestions.

It is important to know that Vinskey chose plants that were hardy in our region. The USDA lists Greenfield as zone 5b which means plants will survive winter temperatures as low as -15 to -10.  Nowadays I have to wonder whether we might actually be in zone 6a which is -10 to -5 and I would be willing to take a gamble on a slightly more tender plant like stewartia.

It is also important to know how much shade or sun a plant needs to thrive. However, I also have to take into account that my garden is very wet at least during late winter and early spring, even when we are having a drought. While listening to Vinskey I was happy that I had already planted pagoda dogwood and Carolina allspice in my garden. The pagoda dogwood is a small tree with a very horizontal arrangement of branches. The flowers are small and not particularly notable, but the sculptural shape of the tree is the delight. I saw a beautiful specimen in Minneapolis last summer; the tree’s gardener told me it did require some regular pruning to keep that clean shape at its best.

Calycanthus or Carolina allspice is a shrub that can take a fair amount of shade and produces dramatic dark red blossoms from May into July. And, of course, there is the sweet fragrance.

Elderberry bush

Elderberry bush

In addition I’ve planted buttonbush, elderberry, spicebush and winterberry shrubs, which I personally think of as underutilized. Perhaps some gardeners would consider them too wild for a cultivated garden.

My perennial list includes joe pye weed, boneset, culver’s root, Echinacea, American burnet, turtlehead, bee balm, Siberian irises Japanese primroses, and bog rosemary which is a water tolerant ground cover. You can see that in a sense I have been cultivating a wetland garden. These plants don’t need to be in wet ground all the time, but they thrive when the soil is moist, or water is puddling around their feet. Some are familiar to flower gardeners, but others are more unusual although those who love native flowers may find them familiar.

Monarda or bee balm

Monarda or bee balm with bee

The fact that I have so many native plants in my garden is because I wanted plants attractive to bees and other pollinators including butterflies. Having a pollinator garden is one of my goals. Because honeybees and other pollinators are under so much attack by the use, and often overuse, of herbicides and pesticides I want to play my part in supporting these vital creatures. Without pollinators many of our vegetables and fruits would no longer exist.

Bee Spaces Pollinator Garden Award

This year there will be a special opportunity and event at the Langstroth Bee Festival on Saturday, June 3. The Second Congregational Church, which this year is celebrating its 200th anniversary, has cooperated with the Franklin County Beekeepers Association for several years creating a bee festival that will entertain and educate children, and all the rest of us too, about honey bees and the 300 odd other native bees that work hard to make sure we have good vegetables and fruits to eat.

Greenfield has a very special connection to honeybees because the Reverend Lorenzo Langstroth served as the Second Congregational Church’s minister from 1840-1848. He is one of the people who recognized ‘bee space’, the specific distance that honeybees leave between their honeycombs so that they could fill, or empty them. He also invented the modern wooden beehive that allows for ‘bee space’ between the removable frames.

This year, in honor of the church’s anniversary, special celebratory events are scheduled for the Bee Festival. Kim Flottam, editor in chief of Bee Culture Magazine and author of several books on beekeeping, will be the main speaker.

For those who do not keep bees, but welcome bees to their gardens the Second Congregational Church and the Franklin County Beekeeping Association will present awards to home gardens, farms, public or community gardens or businesses that provide some space for bees. Former Governor Deval Patrick will be on hand to present the awards. The award itself is a beautiful pottery plaque designed and made by the well known potter Molly Cantor. It is designed to be placed on a house or business, “designating you as a pollinator friendly garden of distinction.”

Rudbeckia is another good bee plant

Rudbeckia, black eyed susans are another good bee plant

Those who are interested in this award should fill out an application. Requirements are that the garden be in Franklin County, and that no pesticides or herbicides can be used anywhere on the property. For more information check out the Bee Spaces pages on Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram.

This is the kick off of the award, so if you think your garden might need a little updating to be eligible remember that there is always next year, and the Second Annual Bee Spaces Award.

Between the Rows   March 25, 2017

World Water Day – March 22, 2017

Lake near Minneapolis

Lake near Minneapolis

On this World Water Day I want to share some of my water photos. This group of gardeners has been visiting Minneapolis area gardens on a hot summer day. It was bliss to sit in the shade and enjoy the lake breeze and serenity.

Beautiful Minneapolis fountain

Beautiful Minneapolis fountain

We can’t all have a lake in our garden, but we can arrange to have fountains like this patio fountain in Minneapolis.

Another Minneapolis area  water fountain

Another Minneapolis area water fountain

This might have been my favorite Minneapolis water fountain – located at the end of a very formal vegetable garden and set on a slightly raised rocky platform

Northfield constructed pond and waterfall

Northfield constructed pond and waterfall

This waterfall was carefully ‘tuned’ with each step of the fall placed at a particular height to make a certain burbling sound.

A Greenfield water fountain

A Greenfield water fountain

A Greenfield gardener knew just what to do with this old millstone – she made it a fountain.

Water in a Japanese garden

Water in a Japanese garden

An important element in the serenity of a Japanese garden is the water.

Japanese Garden in Buffalo

Japanese Garden in Buffalo

All of these pretty photos are of recreational or ornamental water in gardens, and yet the water we most value is the water that comes out of our kitchen taps. We are fortunate in the U.S. to have good clean drinking water, but even here we know there have been contaminated water supplies or pipes. We must be vigilant. How will you mark World Water Day?

World Water Day poster

World Water Day poster

Today is World Water Day which teaches us that 1.5 billion people around the world do not have clean uncontaminated water to drink.

World Water Day, on 22 March every year, is about taking action on water issues. In 2017, the theme is wastewater and the campaign, ‘Why waste water?’, is about reducing and reusing wastewater. Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target 6.3 requires us by 2030 to “improve water quality by reducing pollution, eliminating dumping and minimizing release of hazardous chemicals and materials, halving the proportion of untreated wastewater and substantially increasing recycling and safe reuse globally.” Progress towards target 6.3 will also help achieve the SDGs on health and well-being (SDG 3), safe water and sanitation (SDG 6), affordable and clean energy (SDG 7), sustainable cities and communities (SDG 11), life below water (SDG 14), and life on land among others.

TOP LINE MESSAGES • Globally, over 80% of the wastewater generated by society flows back into the ecosystem without being treated or reused.

1.8 billion people use a source of drinking water contaminated with faeces2 , putting them at risk of contracting cholera, dysentery, typhoid and polio. Unsafe water, poor sanitation and hygiene cause around 842,000 deaths each year.

663 million people still lack improved drinking water sources.

By 2050, close to 70% of the world’s population will live in cities, compared to 50% today

Currently, most cities in developing countries do not have adequate infrastructure and resources to address wastewater management in an efficient and sustainable way

The opportunities from exploiting wastewater as a resource are enormous. Safely managed wastewater is an affordable and sustainable source of water, energy, nutrients and other recoverable materials.

The costs of wastewater management are greatly outweighed by the benefits to human health, economic development and environmental sustainability – providing new business opportunities and creating more ‘green’ jobs.

WASTEWATER AND THE WATER CYCLE

Water has to be carefully managed during every part of the water cycle: from fresh water abstraction, pre-treatment, distribution, use, collection and post-treatment, to the use of treated wastewater and its ultimate return to the environment, ready to be abstracted to start the cycle again.

Due to population growth, accelerated urbanisation and economic development, the quantity of wastewater generated and its overall pollution load are increasing globally. However, wastewater management is being seriously neglected, and wastewater is grossly undervalued as a potentially affordable and sustainable source of water, energy, nutrients and other recoverable materials. It therefore needs to be seen as a resource, rather than a burden to be disposed of. There are many treatment processes and operational systems that will allow us to use wastewater to meet the growing water demand in growing cities, support sustainable agriculture, and enhance energy production and industrial development.

For further reading logon to World Water Day and go to the Make Waves button on the home page.

Spring Has Sprung – Theoretically

March 20, 2017

March 20, 2017

Theoretically spring has sprung. The first day of spring dawned chilly, but temperatures got to 56 degrees before they began to fall again. I thought wistfully of this time of the year in 2016.

Golden Winterberry

Golden Winterberry

Last year I went shopping and bought potted shrubs which I planted on March 22, along with a Lindera benzoin, spicebush. Spicebush swallowtail butterflies like to eat the foliage of Lindera Benzoin. I had a wonderful day last year working in the garden, cleaning up and planting. And then . . . 3-21 snow at twilight

the sun set and snow fell.  Oh, well. Real spring will come.

Tommies - early crocus didn't mind the snow at all

Tommies – early crocus didn’t mind the snow at all

I guess Spring has to be sprung several times before it feels at home.

 

Toxics Action Conference in Boston – Water and More

Kandi Mossett

Kandi Mossett

Water is life! That is the cry that was repeated when Kandi Mossett finished her keynote address at the Local Environmental Action Conference last Sunday. Mossett, of Mandan, Hidsata and Arikara tribal heritage, is a leading voice in the fight to the impacts that environmental injustice are having on indigenous communities across our country.

We all know about the stand taken at Standing Rock in North Dakota to keep an oil pipeline from crossing sacred lands and under the lake that supplies water to the tribe, threatening the safety of that water supply. The protest has gotten a lot of press over the past months, but Mossett filled us in on the terrifying context and damage done to land and water over past years.

Oil wells and fracking have been going on for years. One result is that contaminated fracking water has been trucked to manmade ponds that are not reliable and have leaks. These spills kill plants and soil. One farmer’s whole field was destroyed. The river where people fished turned blue, signifying a deoxygenating algae bloom that killed the fish. Mossett showed us a photo of 18 inch ‘frack sox’ filter. These are radioactive and not disposed of properly, and sometimes are picked up by children. Babies are affected by the hydrogen sulphide poisonous gas.

The idea that the Standing Rock protest is just about the building of a pipeline does not begin to tell the story of lands taken, soil and water already contaminated, and health consequences of fracking. Mossett herself is a cancer survivor.

As we all know, the protest has not prevented the pipeline. Mossett tell all who have ever fought for justice, “You’re not guaranteed change when you make your voice heard against injustice; but you are guaranteed to fail if you choose to remain silent.”

Mossett continues to fight for justice for indigenous people and you can find more information at the Indigenous Environmental Network http://indigenousrising.org/KandiMossett.

In the afternoon Lois Gibbs was the keynote speaker. In 1978 she founded the Love Canal Homeowners Associate. Happily, more than half of the audience understood instantly what that meant.

When Gibbs, who had a toddler son, noticed that many children in the neighborhood were becoming ill, she investigated and found that the school and the neighborhood were built on a toxic landfill. She and other parents attended town committee meetings and asked them to do something, confident that this information would move them to action. But nothing happened she said. No action was taken.

She went to the town again, but their decision was based on a cost/benefit analysis of the neighborhood and the earnings of the 100 or so families living there. Earnings of men and their sons were calculated over the years, but women and daughters were not considered to have any earnings and were worth nothing. “Can you imagine? The women were worth nothing?” Gibbs said to her audience.

Gibbs’ group then turned to science and created a survey that showed that 56% of the children had birth defects, counted the number of illnesses and miscarriages. Their study was dismissed as ‘useless housewife data by people who have a vested interest.’ The town finally did their own study and got the same information but declared that this was simply a random cluster of genetically defective people.

Then Gibbs said they misbehaved. They got town officials to come to a meeting at her house for more discussion and served cookies and coffee. Then we told them they could not leave until they promised to do something to remove all the families and give them new homes. “We held them hostage.” The men made phone calls, one of which brought a sharp shooter to keep watch through the window. After 5 hours they said they would work something out. But Gibbs and her group told them they if they did not have a plan in place by Wednesday at noon, three days hence, they would be very sorry.

The media was told of the deadline and there was great tension, but exactly at noon on Wednesday it was agreed. By a month later many of the families had been evactuated and the rest followed soon after.

Gibbs’ toddler daughter who was conceived and born while they lived at LoveCanal had been extremely ill through all this, but she said her daughter and her son were fully recovered after two years living elsewhere. Her daughter has even given her three healthy grandchildren.

Gibbs’ advice was that people who want to bring about change need science and the law. She said to fight politically, never violently and always to stand together.

I did not to attend the workshop about Flint Water because we are fortunate in Greenfield to have good clean drinking water, and a town website with water and sewer divisions. Water testing results are posted there.

I did attend Dirty Water: Increasing Community Capacity in the Face of Drinking Water Contamination with Emerging Chemicals. The emerging chemicals we focused on were polyflourinated water contaminants like PFCs, PFAS, PFOA, etc. These are chemicals that can spread through the soil and get into water systems from factories. Testing is difficult and expensive, they cannot be boiled away from drinking water like bacteria, and they can be absorbed through your skin from upholstery or carpeting materials, and by bathing or taking a hot shower which will allow you to inhale the chemical. The workshop did not solve any problems, but pointed out the problems that need solving.

Water is Life! We must guard and protect our nation’s water supply. Toxic Actions and Massachusetts Climate Action Network hosted this excellent conference.

Between the Rows  March 11, 2017

Mount Holyoke College Flower Show

Mount Holyoke College Spring Flower Show

Mount Holyoke College Spring Flower Show

The Mount Holyoke College Spring Flower Show is blooming and continues through Sunday, March 19. The Greenhouse is open from 10 am – 4 pm.

Winter had come back to give us a ferocious bite on the day I met Tom Clark, the new Director of the Mount Holyoke Botanic Garden. We walked through the Talcott Greenhouse door into the fragrant woodland glade of this spring’s Flower Show. The title of the show, Spring Pools, refers to the three pools that lie beneath flowering trees (or at least their branches) surrounded by the little bulbs of early spring.

I am always fascinated by the work that goes into putting on an exhibit like this. Bulbs have to be ordered the summer before and then the imaginative greenhouse team chooses a theme and creates the design. After the bulbs are potted up in the fall the long schedule begins of bringing them into life and into a period of early bloom, but not too full bloom, begins. Once the shoots are up it takes careful monitoring of light and temperature in Talcott Greenhouse so that most of the bulbs will be at an early stage of bloom which will last for the two weeks of the Mount Holyoke College Flower Show.

Primroses at the Mount Holyoke College Spring Flower Show

Primroses at the Mount Holyoke College Spring Flower Show

At this point in the show the hyacinths were providing most of the fragrance, but many unusual varieties of small daffodils, glory of the snow, low-growing windflowers in white and blue, pansies, muscari, and tender primroses surrounded the placid pools while ranked plantings on the sides of the greenhouse included larger plants like the Vancouver Centennial geranium with its small red blossoms, and the fat spotted blossoms of calceolaria. Ends of the room were lavishly filled with camellias, blooming witch hazel, canary broom, freesias, orchids and annual schizianthus with its beautiful flowers in stunning and gentle colors.

The show was all ready for its opening on March 4 and Tom Clark had time to chat and show me around. Clark, a Hadley native, had worked for the MountHolyokeBotanic Garden for 12 years, developing and caring for various gardens across the campus as well as responsibilities in Talcott Greenhouse until 2006 when he left to become Curator of the Polly Hill Arboretum on Martha’s Vineyard.

Thomas Clark, Director of the Mount Holyoke College Botanic Garden

Thomas Clark, Director of the Mount Holyoke College Botanic Garden

Last fall Clark returned to Mount Holyoke as Director of the Mount Holyoke Botanic Garden, an area of three acres or so around the greenhouse. His return occurred at the time the Botanic Garden was leaving the purview of Facilities and Management and moving to the Academic side. “I thought this was a reaffirmation of the full value of the Botanic Garden,” Clark said.

Talcott Greenhouse and the Spring Flower Show are a small part of the purpose of the Botanic Garden. Clark explained that while the greenhouse staff does not teach horticulture classes the staff is a resource for students, mostly from biology and environmental studies. Some students may have their own research projects and there is room in the greenhouse for their use.

He explained that the gardens, indoors and out, are not just about providing pretty flowers and spoke passionately about the staff’s “obligation to preserve plants.”

As an example he told me about the Franklinia altamaha tree which is no longer to be found in the wild, only in cultivation. This tree was discovered along the banks of the Altamaha River in Georgia by William Bartram in 1765. Bartram was the son of John Bartram, a self taught botanist who collected seeds and plants, propagating them in his Philadelphia nursery, creating the most varied collection of North American plants in existence at that time. Many of these plants and seeds were sold to estate owners in England.  William Bartram named the tree for Ben Franklin who was a good family friend. All the Franklinia trees that grow today come from Bartram’s collection of trees and seed.

Mount Holyoke has a Franklinia tree. Because it is only hardy to zone 5 and Massachusetts is at the edge of its range a protected spot will be chosen for planting.  Clark explained that by telling the stories behind plants visitors to the Botanic Garden will better understand their history and their importance.

Because of his dedication to the need for conservation and preservation of endangered plants Clark acquired young plants of two of the rarest plants in North America. The Florida yew (Taxus floridiana) only grows in a small area of Florida. The Florida Torreya, (Torreya taxifolia), is also a yew which has been attacked by a Florida fungus. Both are listed as endangered species. Clark will grow his small plants in the greenhouse for some years before thinking about a place for them in the garden. The goal is to see if they can be preserved outside their natural range.

Beyond the flower show there is a room featuring succulents of all sizes, and the conservatory filled with familiar orchids and begonias as well as many large and small tropical plants. This is a world of plants, a world of history, a world of stories and conservation. Flowers are pretty, but they are not the reason for the Mount Holyoke Botanic Garden’s existence.

Calceolaria

Calceolaria or pocketbook plant – boun to cheer us

The Mount Holyoke Flower Show will continue through Sunday, March 19.  Talcott Greenhouse is open every day from 10 am – 4 pm. The show is free, but I am sure donations are always welcome.

The Bulb Show at Smith College also continues at the Lyman Plant House every day through March 19, from 10 am – 4 pm. Suggested donation is $5.

Between the Rows