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Everything Changes – in the garden and everywhere

Planting in a Post Wild World

Planting in a Post-Wild World

Everything changes. Change on all fronts is inescapable, unstoppable and inevitable. No one knows this more than a gardener who watches her garden change over the years.

In 2016 I will be gardening in a new garden, a smaller garden, a garden that will not require as much maintenance as the Heath garden. It is also a garden with very different features. The soil is heavy clay. The soil is very wet and drains slowly.  There is a lot of shade.

With the help of noted landscape designer Julie Moir Messervy’s Home Outside Palette app my husband and I began to layout and plant garden beds, concentrating on water loving, or water tolerant native shrubs.  My desire was to have a kind of woodland garden instead of perennial beds .

Over the years I have become more and more interested in native plants, and more and more aware of their value in maintaining the health of our ecosystems. Certain books have led me along this path including Bringing Nature Home by entomologist Douglas Tallamy. Tallamy also collaborated with Rick Darke on The Living Landscape: Designing for beauty and biodiversity in the home garden. Darke is a landscape lecturer and photographer who proves that a biodiverse garden can be beautiful.

Most recently Timber Press sent me a copy of Planting in a Post-Wild World: Designing Plant Communities for Resilient Landscapes by Thomas Rainer and Claudia West.

One of their goals is to help gardeners create beautiful gardens that more closely replicate the ways plants grow in the wild even in urban and suburban situations.  “The good news is that it is entirely possible to design plantings that look and function more like they do in the wild: more robust, more diverse, and more visually harmonious with less maintenance. The solution lies in understanding plantings as communities of compatible species that cover the ground in interlocking layers.”

While Rainer and West value native species, they call their philosophy “a middle way” in which layered plantings mean more room for compatible non-natives (never invasives) and a greater diversity of beneficial plants. They want to focus on naturally occurring plant communities which means paying less attention to purely native plantings and concentrating on performance and adaptability. Their idea is to make our relationship to nature a collaborative one.

I should mention here that the book is lavishly illustrated with beautiful photographs that give an explicit view of what they are talking about. Photographs show the differences in landscapes from the humble hellstrip along a sidewalk to flowery meadows, droughty hillsides and woodlands.

Rainer and West lay out five basic principles. The first is to concentrate on related populations, not isolated indivduals. This means not planting the Echinacea next to the sedum next to the hellebore. It means letting plants self-seed and intermingle, as they do in nature. My own Heath lawn, or flowery mead as I called it, is a case in point.

Principle two: Stress can be an asset. This is often how we get to naturally occurring plant communities.

Principle three: Cover the ground densely by vertically layering plants. This is a reminder that bare soil does not exist in nature and we can find plants to fill every niche of space and soil type and let nature do some of that filling in.

Principle four: Make it attractive and legible. This principle will calm those who wonder if all Rainer and West desire is messy, weedy woodland. They are realists they say, and “designed plant communities can be patterned and stylized in a way that makes them understandable, ordered and attractive. They need not replicate nature in order to capture its spirit.”  They suggest ‘frames’ which can be pathways or other hardscape elements like fences or walls.

Principle five: Management, not maintenance. Gardeners know you cannot plant a garden and then sit back and admire it indefinitely. But with good management you can eliminate many chores, weeding, watering, spraying, etc. This is possibly my favorite principle.

The penultimate chapter gives specific instruction on planting and maintaining a plant community.

Planting in a Post-Wild World is a dense, but readable book. Not all the ideas are brand new but they are presented in new ways, broadening their applicability, and showing how we can adapt them to our own situation. Rainer and West believe the time is right for a horticultural renaissance where plantings will be ecologically diverse, functional and sound, but will also be beautiful, understandable and appealing to the gardener and her friends.

I made a start on a new and different garden this past summer, but there is a lot of work to do in 2016 to make it functional in the ways I first imagined, and in new ways as well. I am now dreaming of a hugelkulture project. Stay tuned. I am also thinking of how I can expand on the plans I made for covering the ground in my new, and soon to be enlarged beds. I think I can be bolder about letting plants intermingle. I want to work towards the plateau of management.

How will you and your garden change in 2016?

Between the Rows  January 2, 2016

Franklin Land Trust Garden Tour – June 27

Ruah Donnelly

Ruah Donnelly

Ruah Donnelly’s house overlooks a wooded ravine, a tapestry of shades of green and shifting light. There is not a flower in sight. Donnelly says that over her years as a gardener she has experienced a growing struggle between wanting art in the garden and wanting to conserve the landscape. While she thinks conservation is winning the battle, any visitor to this garden and landscape will see no struggle, only beauty.

Donnelly’s garden is only one of the unique private gardens, and farms, on the Franklin Land Trust Garden Tour that is open to visitors on Saturday, June 27 from 10 am – 4 pm.

For the past 15 years Donnelly has been gardening on what is considered the site of the oldest farm in Conway. She loves the New England landscape where she has spent most of her life, and has dedicated great energy to its beauty by serving on the boards of TowerHillBotanical Garden, the New England Wildflower Society and the Franklin Land Trust. When she began planning the Conway landscape she said, “I wanted to figure this out. I didn’t want it to look like New Jersey. I wanted to let nature have something to say, without too much pruning, or too many flowers.” She also said that at this time of her life she needed to make it sustainable. She cannot be out in the garden doing everything all the time.

Calycanthus floridus

Calycanthus floridus

Donnelly’s garden is essentially a woodland garden. There is the Grove, a stand of trees that has grown up around the cellar hole of the original house. It has been ‘edited’ so that you can see the form of the trees and stroll through the grove which is underplanted thousands of daffodils that have naturalized and bloom in the spring, as well as native groundcovers like epimediums, and ferns. One of the striking shrubs growing beneath the trees is a large Calycanthus floridus which has graceful lax limbs and fragrant, wine red fragrant flowers that are responsible for its common name sweetshrub.

There is art in the grove as well a very large black and yellow container holding shining yellow begonias. “Yellow is an accent in the grove, and points up the beauty of all the green.”’

Ornamental yellow begonias

Ornamental yellow begonias in The Grove

Even so, beyond the desire for some ornamental plantings, “What makes me happy is the deeper question, of finding ways to make the landscape more beautiful in ways that are good for the land. I want to bring out the best in the woodland; that is something beyond my own pleasure,” she said.

Donnelly took me on a long walk across a lawn that edges an unmowed field that hides the road, through the Grove on paths that allow you to see the plants, across more lawn to an old barn surrounded by lilacs and peonies and other old fashioned plants, past ancient apple trees, to a planting of new apple trees. We walked towards another woodland at the edge of the ravine. Some of the trees had been pruned recently and the branches and limbs were chipped to make a mulch. That wood chip mulch will eventually rot and provide nourishment for the soil. This sounds a lot like “let the carbon stay where it falls”, which I have mentioned before.

We sat beneath the trees on one of the well placed benches, and watched the large swath of hay scented ferns, bowing in the breeze like waves on the sea. But still more sections of the garden were urging us onward. We wandered back towards the house, under the silverbell tree where we were surrounded by fragrance, admired the espaliered star magnolia behind an herb garden, and on toward more magnolias.

I did not realize that so many magnolias were hardy in our area but Donnelly explained that many native species are hardier than the more ornamental hybrids that have been developed.

Donnelly has written two books, The Adventurous Gardener: Where to find the best plants in New England and The Adventurous Gardener: Where to find the best plants in New York and New Jersey, about interesting nurseries that sell natives and other interesting, less common plants. The books are somewhat outdated, as nurseries have gone out of business, but you can find the books online and many nurseries, like Andrews Greenhouse in Amherst are still going strong. One nursery she recommended is the Broken Arrow nursery in Hamden, Connecticut which specializes in mountain laurels, and other unusual plants like the sweetshrub. Also she reminded me that Nasami Farm in Whately, the propagating wing of the New England Wildflower Society, is now open every weekend, all season long, and offers many native flowers, shrubs and trees

There are other treats in Donnelly’s garden: a vegetable, herb, and flower potager surrounded by a wattle fence, and a hedge made of living basket willows woven together. There is also a Witches’ Walk, a woodland allee of witch hazels, something you will not see anywhere else. I love the way gardeners find a way to share their sense of humor as well as their gardens.

This year the Franklin County Land Trust Garden Tour is featuring gardens and farms in Ashfield and Conway. Tickets, $15 for members, and $20 for non-members, may be purchased any weekday at the FLT office at 5 Mechanic Street, ShelburneFalls or on the morning of the event at the Ashfield Farmer’s Market, Ashfield Town Common. Lunch tickets for an additional $15 are available with a reservation. The FLT website, www.franklinlandtrust.org has more information about the Land Trust mission, and about the tour. For still more information  e-mail or call Mary with questions: mlsabourin@franklinlandtrust.org or 413.625.9151

Between the Rows  June 13, 2015

Intervale Center – Still More Projects

 

Intervale Center Food Hub

Intervale Center Food Hub

My visit with my cousin, Travis Marcotte, at the Intervale Center in Burlington, Vermont stunned me with the varied ways an organization could support farmers, the vitality of their conservation effort, the size of a marketing project like a food hub, and the excitement and involvement of a large community.

Last week I described two of the IntervaleCenter’s programs: the Farms Program which allows farmers to lease land and equipment at reasonable rates; and the Success in Farms program which brings expert advice to farmers all across Vermont. The interconnectedness of all things is clear in the goals that run through every Intervale project. Sustainable farms provide a living for farmers, protect land and the environment, and provide healthy local food for the population.

Interconnectedness is the theme of the online Food Hub. Most of us have become familiar with CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farms which allow consumers to buy a share of a farm’s produce at the beginning of the season and then get a weekly pickup all season long. Travis said “there are models of the Food Hub all over the country. At the Intervale consumers order online. “Our food hub consists of 45 farms and food producers who send us their order every week. Volunteers box orders up and deliver them to nearly 50 pickup locations in Burlington. The several colleges in Burlington, and private businesses get direct deliveries, but there are also a number of other delivery sites. The FletcherAllenHospital which participates in the Healthcare without Harm program gets food from the Food Hub for their hospital kitchen and for their employees.”

Travis pointed out that while everyone knows the physician’s Hippocratic oath says “First do no harm,” they don’t know that it also says “I will devise and order for them the best diet, according to my judgment and means.”

The Food Hub building, a renovated barn, includes a huge refrigerated room that holds all the produce and products like cheese, yogurt and meat that require refrigeration delivered by the 45 farm participants, and space for boxing the orders.

Beyond providing a stable market for the farmers, and deliveries of good food for the consumers, the Intervale website states that the Food Hub “provides ongoing technical assistance and support, enabling [farmers] to grow and process more food, diversify production, develop specialty products and push the limits of Vermont’s growing season.”

Intervale Center Conservation Nursery

Intervale Center Conservation Nursery

 The big greenhouse of the Conservation Nursery was empty but dozens of crates filled with hundreds of tree seedlings in growing tubes were ranked in the adjacent open area. I wondered where Intervale got all their plants. I quickly learned that this project begins with collecting seed, making cuttings and growing on about 30 varieties of native trees and shrubs. Thousands of plants go to landowners, farmers, and watershed organizations as well as municipal agencies.

Intervale also hires seasonal planting teams that work full time for six weeks in the spring and fall. These crews go all over Vermont usually planting varieties of willow and dogwood. These rugged native plants are fast growing, tolerate summer droughts, and winter cold. The focus is on riparian restoration, planting along riversides to make the banks stable and capable of capturing sediments and pollutants before they reach the water. Lake Champlain has a high level of pollution that is caused by runoff from the various rivers and waterways. After Irene Intervale gave away 15,000 trees to repair damage done by the storm.

Intervale Gleaning and Food Rescue. This program works to get fresh healthy food to income eligible families. Gleaning is the ancient practice of letting people go into the fields after harvest to take up that portion of the crop that was left. At Intervale volunteers work with local farms to rescue food that would be lost, and sign up Farmer’s Market vendors to donate produce leftover at the end of market day. The Community Farms offers free CSA shares to income eligible families and social service organizations. Several of the farms at Intervale, including the Community Farm, welcome gleaners weekly as the harvest proceeds.

The 350 acres of the IntervaleCenter include biking and hiking paths. Up to a thousand people come to enjoy the Summervale gatherings every Thursday in July and August, for free music, and great local food sold by a variety of vendors. This is community involvement at its most joyous.

Do not think that I have given a full description of IntervaleCenter here. It has a large and far reaching scope. Yet, when I think about what we have in our own area I can count a growing number of small farms; CSA farms; Just Roots Community Farm, lively farmers markets; food pantries that work with farmers, gardeners and the farmers markets; CISA (Community Involved in Sustainable Agriculture) that provides support and training for farmers; food producers like Sidehill Yogurt, South River Miso and Warm Colors Apiary, and many more!

Vermont is a rural state, but Burlington is a metropolis. My cousin Travis likes to look a models. He knows different areas will need different models. He has access to a population of 200,000, and we have a fraction of that. Still, we all benefit from knowing about and understanding the workings of many models.

Between the Rows     November 8, 2014

Intervale Center in Burlington Vermont

Cousin Jennie with Travis, Hale and Serein at Intervale Center

Cousin Jennie with Travis, Hale and Serein at Intervale Center

Intervale:   n. Regional. A tract of low-lying land, especially along a river. 

The Intervale  Center in Burlington, Vermont has three goals: to enhance the viability of farming; to promote the sustainable use and stewardship of agricultural lands; and to ensure community engagement in the food system.

Last weekend my husband and I went to Vermont to visit some of my cousins who grew up on a dairy farm in Charlotte. My father also worked on that 300 acre farm with Uncle Wally at different times, and all my other cousins spent part of our summer vacations on the farm. As a child I had a (very) few farm chores, but I have always given credit to The Farm for my ending up in Heath with a flock of chickens.

The Farm of my youth is gone, but my cousins still hold a tract of land, fields and woodland, where family gatherings continue to be held on the stony beach. On this trip we got to spend time with my cousin (once removed) Travis Marcotte whose journey from the University of Vermont and the University of California-Davis where his studies in community, international and economic development led him to several years working in Central America and the Caribbean. About nine years ago he returned to Burlington and the Intervale Center where he is now the Executive Director.

In 1988 Will Raap, founder the Garden Supply Company, with an interested group of citizens began establishing the Intervale Foundation, making and selling compost on what had been wasteland. Now, under the name Intervale Center, it manages 350 acres of land within the Burlington city limits. From establishing the Community Farm, the first CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) in Vermont to establishing an incubator farm program and a host of other programs the Intervale Center works to protect land and water quality, and find ways to bring good fresh food to everyone.

Cool  and damp at the Intervale Center's greenhouses

Cool and damp at the Intervale Center’s greenhouses

It was wonderful on that very cool day to walk around the Intervale with my cousin Jennie, Travis and his two boys. We took the wooded hiking trail along the  Winooski River where some restoration work is being carried on. We passed joggers and then turned away from the river and out into an open area, a kind of street lined with large hoophouses. Some are owned by Intervale, and some are owned by businesses who lease the land they are built on. This is where the Farms Program begins, and support for farmers becomes infrastructure.

The first farm here was the 50 acre Community Farm founded about 25 years ago. “This is a very traditional CSA,” Travis explained. “Members come here to pick up their shares, but they have an interesting model. The 550 consumers own the cooperative. When they want to expand they borrow money from themselves at a very low rate of interest. After all, they are not interested in making money here, they just want to get the next job done.”

Intervale leases the land to the Community Farm which then has access to all the equipment like tractors, and washing equipment for the produce. “Three hundred people have signed up for Winter Shares. Farmers all over Vermont are working to have a four season year,” Travis said.

Ten other farms lease land from Intervale Center, including the tiny two acre Half Pint Farm. Three of these are incubator farms who lease land for five years. . “Being able to lease land and equipment makes it possible for new farmers to get a start without a heavy outlay of money,” he said. “We also help them with business plans and can provide them with referrals to other services in the state.” In addition new farmers get help and encouragement from mentors at the rooted farms. They are not isolated with their worries or lack of experience.

Ben and his chickens at the Intervale Center

Ben and his chickens at the Intervale Center

We met Ben who is in his second incubator year raising about 1000 chickens for eggs. “Ben came to us with a business plan and a lot of ideas. He needed a place to test them out. Now he can’t keep up with the demand for his eggs, most of which go to the City Market Coop in the center of town,” Travis said.

Ben’s chickens live outdoors on pasture and in shelters three seasons of the year, and in two greenhouses during the winter. Next month he will cull the non-layers and be ready for new pullets in the spring. He told us that he’ll slaughter a few birds for his own use, but will sell the rest back to the producer for a very small amount of money.

Another program is called Success on Farms.  Business plan and consulting services are available to farmers all across Vermont. Farmers need to know about more than growing crops or raising animals. They need to know about efficient production systems, good financial planning, and markets.

We were surprised when Travis explained that a lot of their funding comes from the quasi-state agency, the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board. “About 25 years ago Vermonters decided they didn’t want to lose this great way of life. They wanted to conserve the beautiful countryside, but they didn’t want it to be an exclusive place. That meant they needed to insure affordable housing.”

When Travis returned from his work in Caribbean nine years ago, he said he had a dream of working part-time in Vermont. He had worked as a cook in a million restaurants he said. He could do that. Instead he saw an ad for a job at Intervale Center and cooking was forgotten.

He took on the job of travelling around Vermont helping farmers with their strategic and financial planning, advice on creating value added products, amd expanding their markets. Success on Farms was his goal.

Next week I’ll talk about other Intervale Center programs. The Food Hub. The Conservation Nursery. Gleaning. Summervale! We have many of these services and opportunities in our own area, but it was absolutely stunning to find them all under one roof.

Between the Rows   November 1, 2014

Local Hellstrip-Curbside Garden Teaches a Lesson

Hellstrip Gardening

Hellstrip Gardening

I have been reading Evelyn Hadden’s book Hellstrip Gardening: Create a paradise between the sidewalk and  the curb, with all its beautiful photographs of  the different ways a curbside garden can be created.  Hadden includes gardens from across the country from Oregon and California to Minnesota and New York. Different climates and different inspirations.  I was very happy that she also included Rain Gardens as one of her themes because many urban areas have a great problem with rain runoff. In these days some rains have become amazingly heavy, stressing storm sewer systems that then flood waste water sewers. It is ever more important that we all work to keep rainfall  where it falls. We can make sure we have many permeable surfaces – and raingardens. I know in Cambridge, Massachusetts where my son lives, there are rules about how much square footage in a house lot must be permeable. You cannot build or cover more.

While Heath is a rural town and I live where there is not a single sidewalk, there are local towns that have sidewalks and some of them even have hellstrips, an area between the street and the sidewalk. However, I have a friend with an absolutely fabulous curbside garden.

Curbside garden

Curbside garden

This photo gives an idea of how this curbside garden works in the streetscape.

Curbside garden

Curbside garden

With heucheras, hostas and creeping phlox in this area there is a  wonderful arrangement of foliage color and texture.

curbside garden

Curbside garden

A great use is made of everygreens which can supply a surprising range of color.

 

curbside garden

Curbside garden

Small trees, shrubs, ground cover – and flowers! This curbside garden has everything!  And something for every season.

If you would like to win a copy of Evelyn Hadden’s book, Hellstrip Gardening, leave a comment here before midnight July 6.

New England Wildflower Society Plant Swap

Tiarella and Waldsteinia for the New England Wildflower Society Plant Swap

Tiarella and Waldsteinia for the New England Wildflower Society Plant Swap

As a member of the New England Wildflower Society I have been invited to the Plant Swap at Nasami Farm in Whately at 9 am on Saturday, May 31.  While the invitation said bringing native plants was encouraged, it was not necessary. Invasive plants would be sent away ignominiously! At least one identified plant is required to participate. By bringing 6 plants I can bring home six new plants.

I bought my original Waldsteinia fragarioides at Nasami some years ago and it has performed as promised, replacing a good swath of lawn at the edge of the lawn. Waldsteinia is also known as barren strawberry because of the similarity of its leaves and little yellow flowers. No berries!

When it became difficult to get more Waldsteinia at Nasami I began adding Tiarella cordifolia with its foamy flower spikes, in pink or white, otherwise known as foam flower. Both of these ground covers spread nicely and tolerate a fair amount of shade. This section of (former) lawn is in shade for at least half the summer day. The Missouri Botanical Garden says tiarella  and waldsteinia “tolerates deer.”  I guess that means they will revive after being munched on. I have lots of deer in my neighborhood; they do come onto my lawn, but I have never seen any deer damage.

Participation in  the Plant Swap is only one of the benefits of membership. For more click here.  Next week I’ll show you my swaps.

Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life by Marta McDowell

 

Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life

Beatrix Potter is known to almost every parent, but not as well known as her most famous creation, Peter Rabbit. In Marta McDowell’s new book Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life: the plants and places that inspired the classic children’s tales (Timber Press $24.95) we meet Peter’s progenitor. In 1890, the 24 year old Beatrix bought Benjamin Bouncer at a pet shop and used him as the model for Peter for some paintings that she sold. That was the beginning of a career that she never imagined, and that her parents never wanted for her. This charming book, illustrated with historic photographs, Beatrix’s paintings, and photos of her world as they are now, lets us follow her from the enclosed gardens of London parks, to the holiday estates of her youth and finally to the farms where she spent the last 30 years of her life.

The simple, delicately illustrated stories that Potter wrote do not suggest to readers today that they were conceived by an independent woman who became a passionate naturalist, a successful business woman and a conservationist who left thousands of acres of land in the Lake District to the newly founded National Trust.

Beatrix Potter was the quintessential shy Victorian daughter whose life was ruled by her parents. She was educated at home and her social circle was limited to relatives and family friends. Still she enjoyed her life and the gardens of London the were near her home, and country visits to the Lake County and to Scotland. She loved plants and flowers; with her younger brother Bertram she often had a menagerie of animals going.

Her love of nature led her to a serious study of mycology – mushrooms. Her uncle, Sir Henry Roscoe who was knighted for his contributions to chemistry, took her to the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew to work, but although she was finally allowed to visit and study in the gardens, her insights and theories were ignored. She was a spinster, and an amateur. She could not possibly have anything to offer the scientific world. Her mycological and scientific work now resides at the Ambleside Museum in the Lake District. Her mentor, Charlie McIntosh, gave his collection of her work to the Perth Museum and Art Gallery in Scotland. Her paintings and drawings are so accurate and well identified they are useful today to those studying fungi.

McDowell carries us along on brief tale of the events of her life, but her focus is on  descriptions of the landscapes and gardens that were a part of her early life, and her later life as a farmer. Part Two: The Year in Beatrix Potter’s Gardens takes us on a charming tour of the gardens she created at Hill Top Farm and Castle Cottage listing plants in their season, as well as garden schemes and designs. What makes this book especially enjoyable is the use of Beatrix’s own words, from her letters and other sources.

Part Three: Visiting Beatrix Potter’s Gardens is a guide book that will give tourists the information they need to visit the gardens and landscapes of Beatrix Potter’s youth, as well the gardens she made in her maturity with her husband William Heelis. Again, this section is illustrated with wonderful and useful contemporary photos, and Potter’s illustrations of those scenes as she captured them so long ago.

Primroses were often planted in Beatrix Potter’s gardens

This is a beautiful book that gives a strong sense of the strong and practical woman that Beatrix Potter was. Nearly every page has a photograph or delicate painting from one of her books.

Five years ago I read the excellent biography, Beatrix Potter: A Life in Nature written by Linda Lear (St. Martin’s Press. It was there I first learned about her scholarship, the difficulties of her life with her parents, and the tragedy of the death of her fiancé, Norman Warne. It gave me such a different view of the kind of woman who would have told those stories of mischievous animals, illustrated them with such charming paintings, and insisted on the small size of the books for small hands.

Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life is a visual feast  and McDowell skillfully takes us through her life, only lingering with detail in the garden and the way they were transformed in her books. It also led me to the Beatrix Potter Society in England. It turns out 2013 is the 100th Anniversary of The Tale of Pigling Bland, a tale of adventure and romance, as well as the 100th Anniversary of Potter’s marriage to William Heelis. The Society has turned this occasion into a special event and an exhibit that includes parallels between these two events. I am happy to think that her own life, like her little books, had 30 years of happily ever aftering with Mr. Heelis. ###

Between the Rows  November 30, 2013

Don’t forget you can win a copy of Seeing Trees and a copy of my book The Roses at the End of the Road by leaving a comment here by midnight, December 12.

 

 

Beaver Lodge on NESEA Green Buildings Open House Tour

Marie Stella

“I’m a designer. I’ve always been absorbed by fashion, interior and landscape design,” Marie Stella said when she began my tour of Beaver Lodge in Ashfield. Her current and ongoing design project is the landscape surrounding her beautiful house which has been give a Platinum LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating. This is very unusual for a residence.

LEED designations require that materials be as local as possible, that recycled materials be used when possible. For example, at Beaver Lodge floors are made with wood from trees removed from the site. Stella touched on many other examples as we walked.

Since her house has been designed with energy efficiency and environmental concerns in mind, it is no surprise that the limited domestic landscape shares these design constraints. The garden is designed on permaculture principles with a large emphasis on edibles.

Front view of Beaver Lodge

The first notable aspect of the garden that stretches to the south, in front of the house is the absence of lawn. In the center are large raised vegetable beds, with perennial crops like asparagus, rhubarb, blueberries, raspberries and dwarf fruit trees along the eastern border. A small new collection of shitake mushroom logs rests in the shade of the woods.

The western border includes a grapevine covered arbor furnished with a rustic table and benches to provide a shady resting space,. Closer to the house a wild garden filled with native pollinator plants nestles against the broad Ashfield stone terrace that is the transition between the garden and the house. Instead of grass, woodchips carpet the ground. This relatively small cultivated space is held in the embrace of a mixed woodland.

To the north of the house is an old beaver pond which gives its name to Stella’s model house and landscape. In addition to being a designer, Stella is a teacher, and she has designed Beaver Lodge as a teaching tool,. She gives classes at the Landscape Institute at Boston Architecture College, and online.

She did not begin her career as a teacher, and gardening was only an avocation.  However, 25 years or so ago, when her children were young, she took a couple of Elsa Bakalar’s garden classes at her house here in Heath. She found those so inspiring she was led to a course in plant materials at the Radcliff Institute in Boston. That was so engaging that she went on to complete the certification program, and then another one.

During those Radcliff classes she realized a new future was waiting for her. She could combine her earlier background as a historian with her interest in the landscape. She liked writing. Soon she was writing and lecturing about landscape history. She organized and led garden tours to Japan and Italy.

As fascinated as she has been with the history of the landscape, she began to look towards the future, and so came about the construction of Beaver Lodge which will be part of the free NESEA Green Buildings Open House Tour.

Water retention pond

Of course, Stella realizes that if you have a vegetable garden it must be watered. I was very impressed with the systems she has in place to supply adequate water to the edible gardens. At one end of the house the rain gutters bring water to a large stone retention pond that serves an important function, but is also beautiful since it is constructed of stone blasted from construction of the house. A pump brings water up to the vegetable garden when it is needed. She has added a bit of whimsy as well. She has created a small fountain that uses water from the retention pond, and then brings it back to the pond down a created stream bed.

Bubbling fountain

Marie Stella’s greenhouse

Since I visited last in 2009, Stella has added a small greenhouse that incorporates a cold frame and makes use of recycled windows. The greenhouse will give her a chance to get seedlings started early. Inside the greenhouse is a 550 gallon food grade plastic cistern that collects rain from the gutters at the end of then, and then pipes it into the garden.

She also has a root cellar where she can overwinter bulbs and tubers. The constraint for other uses is that snow build up in often prevents access during the winter.

Shakespeare once penned the line “Sermons in stones and good in everything . . .” Those who study and visit Beaver Lodge will find encyclopedias of  good knowledge in this living lesson book.

For information on visiting Beaver Lodge and all the sites on the Green Buildings Open House Tour on Saturday, October 5 you can go to the NESEA (Northeast Sustainable Energy Association) website, www.NESEA.org, and click on the Green Buildings Open House button. There you will be able to put in your own zip code and the distance you are willing to drive. Over 200 houses are on the tour in the whole northeast from Maine to Pennsylvania, but 37 house are within 30 miles of Greenfield. Several are in Greenfield itself with others in Montague, Colrain, Northfield, and South Deerfield, in addition to Beaver Lodge. The website will give you information about each house and it’s green elements, along with cost, benefits, and suppliers. The tour is free, but you should sign up.

Just browsing the Open House website will give you a lot of information and ideas. The owner of an historic house in Montague will be giving a talk from 10am-noon “about how we successfully survived a Deep Energy Retrofit with our marriage AND our historic windows intact!”

Between the Rows   September 28k 2013

Beech and Hazel

 

Beechnuts held above the leaf

On a spring walk in the Betty Maitland Memorial Forest here in Heath we admired a tall beech tree (Fagus grandiflora) that is also known as the bear tree. The trunk is scarred with bear claw damage, climbing up into the foliage with its nuts, and going down again. Beechnuts are an important food for bears and other wildlife. They are high in fat, carbohydrates and protein. It is easy to imagine bears preparing for their winter hibernation by loading up on these small nutritious nuts.

We have many beech trees here at the end of the road, tall old trees on the Lane, a remnant of the old road to Rowe, and in a younger grove by the henhouse. I have always been quite fascinated by beech trees because of the way they hold on to their dying, brown foliage in the fall. This habit is called marcescence. Even as the old leaf is dying a stiff, pointy bud forms at its base, eventually pushing off the old leaf.

A couple of years ago I spoke to Dr. John O’Keefe who had recently retired from his work at the Harvard Forest in Petersham. He explained that my young grove was probably caused by root suckers. A few years ago many beeches were afflicted by beech bark disease. The damage and stress to the trees caused them to send up these root suckers.

Dr. O’Keefe also said there was some thought that there were more new beech groves around because of the rise in wild turkey populations. They helped move the beechnuts around.

Thinking of that bear tree, my husband Henry and I went out to see if our beech trees had any nuts. We managed to pull down a branch on one of the old beeches, and there, held above the foliage, was a pair of soft spined husks that contained a small three sided nut. One of the husks had opened so I thought the nut must be ripe. It was not difficult to remove from the husk or its brown skin. It had a very bland taste. I’m not sure if that indicated it was not fully ripe. I had read they had a bitter taste. It would take a lot of these very small nuts to make much of an addition to a meal.

Later in the spring we were led through our own woodland by Stu Watson from the Audubon Society. He taught us that nuts are known as mast. Nuts are hard mast, an important  food source for wildlife during the fall and winter. In our area this includes acorns, hickory nuts and walnuts as well as beechnuts. Fruits like apples, grapes, blackberries, cherries and others are soft mast and very important for birds migrating in the fall.

Before our walk with Watson I had never thought about providing food for wildlife other than birds. I certainly had been thinking only of myself, not wildlife, when I planted seven hazelnut bushes on a new bank formed by the work on our house foundation. In fact, I was quite distressed to learn, a year after planting, that hazelnuts are deer candy.

Hazelnuts held below the leaf

After locating our beechnuts, Henry and I then went to investigate the shrubby hazelnut planting. While beechnuts are held above the foliage, hazelnuts (Corylus Americana or American filbert) are held below the foliage. It took a while for our eyes to adjust to the shades of green under the foliage, but then we saw the two ruffled and toothed bracts enclosing the husk and nut. It is larger than the beechnut husk and very pretty.

Henry and I tasted the nut, but again it was very bland and this time we decided it definitely was not ripe.

According to the USDA Natural Resources and Conservation Department “The nuts of American hazelnut, which have a higher nutritional value than acorns and beechnuts, also are eaten by squirrels, foxes, deer, northern bobwhite, ruffed grouse, turkey, woodpeckers, and pheasants. The leaves, twigs, and catkins are browsed by rabbits, deer, and moose. The male catkins are a winter food for turkey and ruffed grouse. The dense, low growth habit provides cover and nesting sites for many wildlife species.”

This is frustrating news for me. I am not happy that deer, rabbits and squirrels might be attracted to my hazelnut planting, but glad that that the ruffed grouse and turkeys might be attracted to the fallen nuts.

Both beech and hazels are monoecious, which means male and female flowers appear on each plant. Male catkins appear on beech trees in the spring, while the long catkins of the hazel appear in the fall, but they don’t open until spring. The female flowers of both are small and inconspicuous.

Production of tree nuts can fluctuate a great deal from year to year. Beech trees older than 50 years produce the biggest crops, but only an outstanding crop every five years. It is clear that a small harvest will affect wildlife. Those animals that depend on nuts for a large portion of their diet will suffer when nut production is low.

Once again, I find that my own surroundings urge me on to a greater appreciation of the beauty of nature, and the beauty of nature’s systems.  ###

Between the Rows  September 14, 2013

Fallen Trees Equal Good Fungus

Fallen log

This fallen log on the Wildside Garden’s eastern slope is there for a purpose.  Good fungus! Sue Bridge has been working with Jono Neiger and the Regenerative Design Group to create a sustainable, edible, permaculture garden. One of the things she learned is that the food chain in her garden doesn’t begin with the vegetables and fruits and end  with her.  The edibility of her garden includes the fungal growth in a healthy, fertile soil. The life in healthy soil is fungal, not bacterial and should be supported.

Like all organic gardeners I am always talking feeding the soil, n0t the plant. When I say this I am usually talking about adding slow release organic fertilizers to the soil like greensand, lime, cottonseed meal, compost to provide the nutritional elements for plants without killing the microbial life in the soil. In a permaculture garden the support for that fungal growth can be provided by fallen logs, just as it would be in the forest.

Sometimes the practice of permaculture is referred to as a forest garden. This confused me. How could we have a garden in the forest?  The term forest garden is somewhat metaphorical. The point is to recreate the kind of layering that you find in a healthy forest with trees, like nut and fruit trees, providing the tallest layer, berry bushes providing the middle layer, and vegetables, herbs and  other edibles, including weeds, providing the lowest layer.  Permaculture does not demand that  these three layers necessarily exist in the very same space. but it may be practical to have them overlap in some areas.

The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service has an excellent, readable site explaining the types of soil fungi, and what they do here. Perhaps you have seen fertilizers at the garden center that include mycorrhizal fungi to help roots make use of nutrients in the soil. Maybe we can do this job by leaving some rotting tree limbs in our garden. I want all the good fungus in my garden I can get.