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Bee Fest Awards Excellent Pollinator Gardens

Bee Spaces plaque

Bee Spaces plaque

The world needs more pollinator gardens. The Bee Fest organized by the Second Congregational Church and the Franklin County Bee Keepers Association last week included talks by bee experts Lynn-Adler  and Susannah Lerman, researchers at the University of Massachusetts and Kim Flottum the editor of Bee Culture Magazine. All gave us information about problems facing pollinators and how we can help.

Susannah Lerman told us about her research which showed that mowing a non-herbicide/pesticide and un-fertilized lawn every two weeks generated 64 varieties of pollinator plants (that some would have called weeds) and 111 pollinators including honeybees and many native bees. Her research was unanimously acclaimed by all those who have lawns to mow!

Most of us have heard about Colony Collapse Disorder which causes a whole hive to die, but the cause has been unclear. Lynn Adler has been doing research on the bee’s digestive gut. It turns out that bees have some skill in diagnosing some of their ailments and know how to medicate themselves.

She knew that many plants have been used medicinally over the centuries. She thought that those biological compounds, called secondary metabolites, might be an important medicine for bees. Her research showed that sunflower pollen and sunflower honey can both help bees suffering from Nosema ceranae, a pathogen that can kill bees in little more than a week. It has been suggested that this pathogen has been responsible for Colony Collapse Disorder that mysteriously kills whole bee hives. Where bumblebees and honey bees have access to sunflowers they tend to be much healthier.

Honeybees have an advantage over bumblebees in fighting this disease. Honeybees live in community. Their hive can live through many generations of bees. They store a good stock of honey and pollen to keep everyone fed and well. Adler said honeybees are able to diagnose disease and seem to keep a pharmacy so whenever there is illness they have the wherewithal to treat it.

Bumblebees do not overwinter together. After mating in the fall the queen bumblebee bee eats as much as she can to build up fat that will carry her through her winter hibernation in the ground. When spring arrives she leaves her home every day to feed on nectar and gather strength. At first she does everything alone, gathering nectar and pollen, laying eggs and raising the first brood. After that she will have the support of those first bees while she devotes herself to egg laying.

Sunflowers

Sunflowers

I never considered sunflowers great pollinator plants. I usually think of the great Mammoth sunflowers making seeds for snacks, but a browse though any catalog will list any number of sunflowers. They have different sizes and different colors – and some of them do not make pollen. Hybridizers have created sunflowers that do not make pollen which looks messy when it falls on a tablecloth. If you want to plant sunflowers for bees be sure to buy pollen bearing varieties.

Kim Flottum spoke about the loss of pollinator habitat which has been decreasing over the years. He told us ways that habitat can be increased. One idea taking hold in the Midwest cornfields is planting a border of pollinator plants all around cornfields. Corn does not need pollinators, but if there are pollinator plant borders, bees will come and the ecosystems will be healthier.

He also reported that two million bee hives are needed to pollinate almond orchards in California but there is nothing else for the bees to eat. Almond farmers have learned the benefit of planting pollinator plants in and around their orchards. The trees are pollinated better when the bees have additional food sources.

The National Wildlife Federation created the Mayor’s Monarch Pledge to add plants that will support the decimated populations of Monarch butterflies. They plant milkweeds in public parks, civic gathering place and along the highways.

Flottum talked about how easy it is to plant pollinator plants along the highways, which then would not need to be mowed. A town could save money while being more beautiful, and a supporter of birds and bees.

Flottum left us with a few words “Plant a flower, feed a bee. Make the world a better place.”

Deval Patrick, our former governor, then told a few stories about his own beekeeping practice, but he was there to help honor those who are already feeding the bees and making the world a better place. The Franklin County Beekeeper’s Association instituted the Bee Spaces Award this year, to be given to excellent pollinator gardens.

The first Annual Bee Spaces awards were presented to ErvingElementary School for its pollinator garden, Laughing Dog Farm in Gill, the Bridge of Flowers in ShelburneFalls and the University of Massachusetts for its two pollinator gardens.

Deval Patrick presenting  and Carol DeLorenzo accepting the Award

Deval Patrick presenting and Carol DeLorenzo accepting the Award for the Bridge of Flowers

If you have a garden supportive of pollinators, or want to add pollinator plants to your garden, you might win one of next year’s Bee Spaces awards. There are many books available at the library with lists of good pollinator plants including 100 Plants to Feed the Bees published by the Xerces Society, or you can go online to many sites including the New England Wildflower Society, newenglandwild.org. You can start collecting photos so you can apply to be a winner next spring. More information will be available soon.

Between the Rows   June 10, 2017

After Pollinators and Wildflowers Comes a Cocktail Hour

Pollinator Friendly Gardening by Rhonda Fleming Hayes

Pollinator Friendly Gardening by Rhonda Fleming Hayes

It doesn’t seem so very long ago that no one gave a thought to pollinators. People were afraid of bees and stings, but they never thought about the hundreds of bee species that kept vegetable and fruit farms producing. Perhaps that was because so much of our food came from far off places like California where we were never aware of what farms, farmers and crops needed.

Nowadays, with people we are more sensible of the benefits of local farms and local food. We realize that at least 30% of the world’s food crops need to be pollinated. Happily there are many more bees and insects that do this important job than we ever imagined. Unhappily human civilization continues to encroach on the habitat that pollinators need. Developments of all sorts, housing, business and even agriculture are taking land that was wild, land that provided the plants and living spaces that bees and other pollinators need to thrive.

Pollinator Friendly Gardening: Gardening for Bees, Butterflies and other Pollinators by Rhonda Fleming Hayes (Voyageur Press $21.99) notes that our awareness of the needs of pollinators has been raised. Hayes has set about showing us how we homeowners can take responsibility for improving pollinator habitat right in our own backyards.

Hayes interviews pollinator experts to talk about the value of native plants versus ‘nativars,’ native plants that have been hybridized; the problems created by GMOs; the need for shelter for pollinators; and the necessity of many other beneficial insects.

She provides plant lists to help us include useful plants for pollinators, plants that bloom throughout the season providing nectar, and food for caterpillars. Once I realized how important dill and parsley were to the swallowtail butterfly caterpillars, I never again bemoaned loosing my crop to those caterpillars.

Pollinator Friendly Gardening includes occasional Fun Facts, as well. Did you know that the bees in White House kitchen garden produce enough honey to give as gifts at state dinners and to visiting diplomats? That a single little mason bee does as much pollinating as 100 honeybees? That milkweed seed capsules were collected during WWII so that the fluffy seed material could be used to fill servicemen’s lifejackets?

Hayes, a Master Gardener, has gardened, photographed, and written in various locations and in Minneapolis for the last few years.

Wildflowers of New England by Ted Elliman

Wildflowers of New England by Ted Elliman

Ted Elliman and the New England Wild Flower Society have put together a comprehensive new wildflower guide that has images and information of over 1000 native plants. This book not only has beautiful and helpful images, the introductory section is a veritable course in botany that will help you to identify the plants you find on your nature walks. Since 90% of the wild plants around the world need pollination I can’t help thinking how wildflowers would suffer without pollinators.

Wildflowers of New England (Timber Press $27.95) is very easy to use because it provides a clear road to identitification. You begin with color, but within the color sections plants are organized by petal design and number. For example red Kalmia angustifolia with 5 radial petals is listed after dame’s rocket (Hesperis matronalis) which has 4 radial petals.

With this guide I have hopes of finally differentiating between 11 varieties of aster from 4 different genus: Doellingeria; Oligoneurn; and Symphyotrichum. Of course, the fleabanes (Erigeron) are similar (to my uneducated eye) but I think I stand a fighting chance of knowing one from the other because of the clear photographs and text.

Wildflowers of New England is a substantial little book, in many ways, but the heavy, shiny cover, complete with ruler marking, is tough enough to take on hikes for frequent, on- site referrals.

After all the joyous work of studying pollinators and wildflowers, you might be ready for The Cocktail Hour Garden: Creating Evening Landscapes for Relaxation and Entertaining by C.L. Fornari (St. Lynn’s Press $19.95) who lives out on Cape Cod.

The Cocktail Hour Garden by C. L. Fornari

The Cocktail Hour Garden by C. L. Fornari

Fornari suggests we consider our domestic landscape as a party venue, beginning with a quiet cup of coffee in the morning and all kinds of family celebrations that might take place in the garden, to a companionable cocktail hour with a spouse or friends in the evening.

What plants should be included in this garden? Some plants can provide tactile experiences like the soft blades of Mexican feather grass or velvety silver lamb’s ears. Fragrance on the evening air can be supplied by perennials honeysuckle, lavender, oriental lilies. Don’t forget fragrant annuals like Virginia stocks or nicotiana.

Fornari also makes suggestions about lighting, water in many forms, and sound in the garden that can be enjoyed by the gardener, but she also writes about keeping butterflies and birds happy too.

Since this is a cocktail hour garden she is talking about, she also includes cocktail recipes, including non-alcoholic drinks, and the herbs and  flowers that can dress up and spike those drinks. Her tone is conversational, a charming invitation to join her for a cocktail and conversation at the end of the day.

Between the Rows   April 9, 2016

 

 

Greenfield Bee Fest #5

The Fifth Annual Bee Fest will be held at the Second Congregational Church on Bank Row in Greenfield on Saturday, June 6 at 10 am.  The event includes the Langstroth Lecture from 10-11 m – honoring the Reverend Lorenzo Langstroth who once served at the church and who discovered ‘bee space’ and created the modern bee hive with movable frames. There will also be activities for children including a Honey Bee Tea Party and  a Bee Parade through the Farmer’s Market. Bee sure to wear your very best bee outfit!  There will be workshops and face painting. Don’t miss a minute!  There will also be a workshop from 11-11:30 am for those considering a backyard bee hive. The Bee Fest is a great opportunity to learn about this valuable pollinator and have a good time. Be sure to buy a raffle ticket for one of the Bee Baskets with donated prizes worth $100-$200. All proceeds go to benefit SNAP or the Heifer Project.  Pollinators are vital to our nation’s health and  economy and President Obama has established a Pollinator Task Force to help us all help all the pollinators. We all need to protect our honey bees and all the other pollinators that turn flowers into food.

Raffle Bee Fest BAsket #2

RAffle Bee Fest Basket #2

Raffle Bee Fest Basket #1

Raffle Prize Bee fest Basket #1

Thinking About Our Gardens

 

Thomas Affleck Rose

Thomas Affleck Rose

As I‘ve worked  to put my gardens to bed this fall I’ve also been thinking about gardens and how they came to take this form, and how any garden takes form.

Some people plan a garden in one fell swoop. Or have someone do it for them. But I think for most of us we begin slowly and one step follows another. Which is a good thing because we learn about our site, and about ourselves as we move through the seasons.

Still there are some basic things to think about when we plan, or plan again.

First we have to consider the site. Do we have a lot of room or a confined space? Where is the sun on the site? Where is the shade? How does the shade move over the course of the season as the sun’s course across the sky changes? Is the soil sandy, or clay? Is it very dry or damp?  Does the site slope and is it exposed to wind? The answer to each of these questions will help determine how to proceed. The answers will guide us as we search for the right plant for the right spot.

The second consideration is how each gardener will use the garden. We each have different desires and needs. I’ve needed a vegetable garden, but I’ve also wanted flower gardens. I want to be comfortable in my solitude, but I also enjoy eating outside, and entertaining friends in the garden. I like to stroll through the garden, but some like to admire the garden landscape from a deck or from inside the house.

Beyond the practical ways we use the garden, I think we have to examine how we want to feel in the garden. Do we want to feel sheltered? Do we want to feel we are in a private woodland? Or do we want to feel like a Jane Austen character strolling through the estate shrubberies with a dear friend?  What is your fantasy?

One element of your fantasy might be a season of constantly blooming flowers. This will mean gaining knowledge of the many beautiful annuals that can bloom from spring well into the fall.  On the other hand, you might have a fantasy of a serene green garden where it is the shades of green and foliage textures that please.

For myself, my mostly-achieved fantasy is that of a mixed border. It did not happen all at once. Inspired by my mentor Elsa Bakalar I once tended a 90 foot long perennial border. Many perennials were gifts from Elsa, and many were bought with careless enthusiasm when I saw them at the garden center. I could not maintain such a garden for long.

It was only about 16 years ago that we planned The Lawn Beds. These are mixed borders, which is to say in each bed I have evergreen and deciduous trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals. Because the shrubs take up more room than flowers, these generous beds are much less labor intensive than that 90 foot long border. I still have perennials which will bloom for three or four weeks in their season, but there is room for annuals that will give me bloom all summer long.

Ghislaine de Feligonde whose orange-apricot buds open to cream

Ghislaine de Feligonde whose orange-apricot buds open to cream

Of course, I have The Rose Walk. This began as my fantasy of growing lush fragrant old roses. Thirty two years ago I planted the first two roses in the middle of the lawn. I don’t know why I chose that spot. Those two roses ultimately forced the creation of the Rose Walk. I have mourned (briefly) the roses that did not survive, and enjoyed adding new roses every year. I loved my early summer morning walks along the Rose Walk thinking of the centuries that roses have bloomed on this earth, and the ladies that have cared for and enjoyed them in their modest farm gardens or on great estates. The Annual Rose Viewing., our annual garden party was a further natural outgrowth. The Rose Walk is proof that a complete plan is not necessary to begin.

A garden will inevitably attract wildlife.  Some wildlife like deer are not welcome, and it behooves us to be aware that some plants are very inviting to deer and rabbits, and others less so. Lists of these are available. I never plant hostas because of deer, but thought my herb garden was safe because they would not dare to come so close to the house. I was wrong. They tramped across the Daylily Bank (totally unnecessary) to eat the parsley in the herb bed.

Other wildlife, birds, bees and other pollinators like butterflies are very welcome. Birdwatchers have told me that the sound of moving water is the most dependable draw for birds. The burble of a fountain, especially if it is near some sheltering plants is especially inviting.

Pollinators are attracted by the many plants that are native to our area. Bee balm, asters, rudbeckia, and even our fields of goldenrod attract the pollinators that will keep our vegetables and fruit trees productive.

Finally, when planting we have to remember those basic considerations like allowing for growth. A small shrub in a small pot bought at the garden center will not stay small. When planting allow for that growth, how wide and how tall will it be in three years?  Or five years?

Soil needs annual attention with applications of compost, and mulch. Where will the compost pile go?

One very important question is how much time can the gardener realistically expect to devote to garden chores?

Are you thinking about your garden this fall? How might it change? How does it need to change? We gardeners must always be thinking. ###

School Gardens – Innovation and Discovery School

 

Discovery School Garden

Discovery School Garden

When I arrived last Thursday afternoon the scene at the school gardens of the  Discovery School at Four Corners were enjoying controlled chaos. Several teachers were staying after school to divide and pot up perennials from the butterfly garden.

“Is this Echinacea or a rudbeckia?” one teacher asked and her spade bit into the center of the clump.

“Don’t pot the dill! It an annual,” another shouted.

“Are you sure these are all bee balm?” another asked looking at a huge clump of wilted and frost-blackened stems.

All of the newly potted plants, as well as kale and potatoes from the garden, were to be sold at the Harvest Sampler the following day. Funds raised would go to the school gardens.

I have visited many school gardens, but never have I visited a school where the garden was a driving force in the curriculum. The DiscoverySchool at Four Corners (K-3) was one of the first Innovation Schools created by a program instituted by Governor Deval  Patrick in 2010. Innovation schools have a theme; the teachers and parents who came together to design this new program chose gardening, with a broad environmental focus.

Kathy LaBreck, one of the teachers who was a moving force in getting the Innovation designation said that the nine acre site of the school was a big inspiration. “We thought the kids would be very interested in plants and that would be a great benefit. We see the children are so proud of their very concrete achievements, and their pride is a validation of the program.”

On the day I visited several of the raised garden beds were nearly finished and ready for the final harvest. Others already showed a sturdy growth of winter rye, a cover crop that will be tilled under in the spring to fertilize the soil and add organic matter.

My neighbor, and teacher at Four Corners, Kate Bailey told me the kids love the gardens, and the harvest. She has her own reasons for loving the gardens. “It is very easy to integrate the gardens, and cooking the produce, into the curriculum. When we planted the rye we talked about grains. When we cook, and we’ve made a lot of muffins with our harvest, we need many skills. To cook you need to read, follow directions, and of course handle lots of fractions,” she said.

For the Harvest Sampler Bailey said each grade made dishes with their own vegetable. She had to explain that the kindergarteners had been studying apples in particular so they made apple recipes. The school also has a dehydrator and making dried apple rings has been very popular

The first graders have been studying tomatoes. Lots of salsa has been made.

The second graders have been studying carrots which leads to carrot salads, muffins and cakes.

The third graders have been studying potatoes. Potato chips!

Bailey explained that volunteers from Just Roots, the GreenfieldCommunityGarden who helped set up the garden in the beginning, have been coming in every week to talk about Healthy Snacks.

In fact the desire to teach children the importance of a healthy diet was one of LaBreck’s goals. “Children who work in the garden, and grow their own vegetables are more willing to try new foods,” she said.

Teacher Anne Naughton stopped potting up plants long enough to tell me how excited she is about working with children in the garden. “The kids love the gardens, and they love the butterflies, and all the insects. They are so curious and interested. Their curiosity leads us into our lessons. We follow life cycles of plants and insects, and seasonal cycles. The first scientific skill is careful observation,” she said.

Suzanne Sullivan, the school principal, said the whole nine acres are used for instruction. The vegetable beds are producing, as is the strawberry bed, apple and pear trees have been planted, and pollinator plants help provide the insects needed for study. There is even a nature trail created by an Eagle Scout Patrick Crowningshield in 2011. “The goal is to foster an environmental awareness in the children, even beyond the gardens, she said

“The teachers have been very collaborative,” Sullivan said. “The students have been responsive and are so engaged.  We do focus on very hands-on learning.”

At Friday night’s Harvest Sampler, held in the school yard near the gardens, it was clear that there is great support for the program. A huge turnout of parents arrived bearing their own contributions to the Sampler, more apple, tomato, carrot, and potato dishes. Who imagined learning could be so delicious?

The Massachusetts School Report Card shows students the DiscoverySchool at Four Corners have high levels of proficiency or better English Language Arts and Mathematics. It’s clear the teachers at the DiscoverySchool at Four Corners all get high marls themselves.

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The 2015 UMass Extension Garden Calendar is now available. This excellent, and beautiful, calendar contains excellent information about plants and garden chores throughout the year.  To order send $12 payable to UMass, to Garden Calendar, c/o Five Maples, 78 River Road South, Putney, VT 05346. Add $3.50 for the first calendar and $2.00 for each additional calendar. Think of all the gardeners in your life you could make happy.

UMass Extension Garden Calendar 2015

UMass Extension Garden Calendar 2015

Beetween the Rows   October 25, 2014

If You Want Pollinators Grow Herbs

Common thyme on the piazza

Common thyme on the piazza

When I planted my herb garden I was not in search of pollinators. However, I have found that several of my herbs are pollinator magnets.

Bees in the thyme

Bees in the thyme

You may have to take my word for the presence of several bees in the thyme. There are so many, and they move so fast, along with a few tiny butterflies/moths that I just point the camera and hope that I captured one or two. This thyme grows at the edge of the walkway, and the piazza so that there is no jarring disconnect between the paving and the little stone wall.  We have also planted thyme in the lawn, but since the lawn is mowed regularly it rarely gets to bloom.

Bee balm and bee

Bee balm and bee

In the Herb Bed proper I have a large clump of bee balm that attracts all manner of bees, butterflies, moths and hummingbirds. This is a bumblebee sipping nectar but there are hundreds of types of native bees in Massachusetts. Some of the bees in my Herb Bed are very tiny.

flowering oregano and bee

flowering oregano and bee

More pointing and hoping with this photo where the bees and tiny moths (I think) were flitting very fast among the flowers of oregano, planted at the feet of the bee balm. See  one bee slightly up and to the right of center?

Golden marjoram

Golden marjoram

Can you see any bees in the golden marjoram? Neither can I, but I know there were at least three on the blossoms when I snapped the camera!

Garlic chive and bee

Garlic chive and bee

Finally one more bee in the garlic chives. Lower right. There are many pollinators in the Herb Bed but many of them are very shy. Obviously. I enjoy knowing that my landscape holds and supports many pollinators, even if can’t count every benefit, or get good pictures.

 

20-30 Something Garden Guide by Dee Nash

20-30 Something Garden Guide

20-30 Something Garden Guide by Dee Nash

When did you start gardening?

I was 25 and we had moved into our first house on Maple Street in Canton, Connecticut. It was a big old Victorian with a large front yard shaded by the maples that marched up and down both sides of the street. It had almost no backyard, just an 8 foot wide cement patio between the house and a steep weedy bank.

My first plantings were marigolds planted on either side of the back door. Bit by bit I turned the bank into what I called a rock garden. No real rock garden aficionado would have recognized it as such. The function of my rocks was to help hold the soil and some very common plants in place. The only plant I specifically remember was basket of gold, Aurenia saxatilis, (perhaps because it was the most successful) but I certainly knew nothing about Latin names or plant taxonomy at the time. I was lucky; basket of gold is perfectly suited for sites that bake in the sun and have well drained soil

Seven years later my first, very small, vegetable garden was between the side of my house on Grinnell Street and the driveway. Lettuce, peas and beans were my first crops. Thanks to the gift of a load of compost from a new friend, the garden did very well.

I mention my own experience because Dee Nash’s new book, the 20-30 Something Garden Guide (St. Lynn’s Press $17.95) takes me back to those blissful and excited days when I knew nothing, but plunged ahead anyway. Nash understands that a young adult’s first forays into gardening are often constrained by full time jobs and caring for young children. She successfully introduces novice gardeners into the basics of gardening with encouragement and some of the latest garden knowledge and techniques.

The 20-30 Something Garden Guide is divided into three main sections that first take the gardener into a container garden, and all the basic information about potting soil, garden soil, fertilizers, watering, and bugs. Let it be known that Nash’s own garden is organic. In addition to providing herself with healthy food and beautiful flowers, she is determined to do her part in supporting the natural world with its pollinators and other bugs, good and bad.

She also takes the gardener into the second and third years of gardening, as knowledge and experience grow. Learning to be a gardener is no different from learning math – you learn to count, then add, then multiply. Knowledge and interest build on each other and pretty soon you are learning the difference between open pollinated plants or hybrids or GMOs. We may start out thinking utilitarian thoughts about fresh food, but soon, we are appreciating the beauty of our vegetable plants and thinking about making the vegetable garden prettier. With Nash as our guide our perspective of the values of the garden are always shifting and enlarging.

Of course, even when you are concentrating on vegetables, herbs, and those flowers that attract vital pollinators to your garden, it is inevitable that you will want to add ornamentals and look for ways to design a garden with paths, flowers, and a place to rest. “Here’s where we look at creative ways to enhance your garden so it becomes the place where everyone wants to spend time  . . . having fun with garden art . . . And we mustn’t forget about making places for just sitting and doing nothing at all.”

For those energetic moments she includes good instructions for DIY projects like building raised bed frames or laying a stone path. Her recipe for manure tea requires little energy, but if you have access to manure this is a great way to fertilize the garden.

Gardening in Heath as I do with no smartphone service I am amazed by a Nash tip. How many seeds or plants to buy? “With the help of Siri on my iphone, I keep notes throughout the garden season. This info syncs with my laptop and makes my job easier in January when I am tempted to order too much, too soon.” The young adults of today have so many new ways of keeping records and reminders and getting information!

On the other hand she encourages those without experience, land, or smartphones to start small and begin. I was pleased she devotes a chapter to the joys and benefits of a community gardening.

Nash is an engaging writer, with a conversational style. She is an excellent coach, like the one she urges every new gardener, of any age, to find in the first pages of her book. We all look for information and advice in different places. I began with a subscription to Organic Gardening magazine. It was my bible. Nash’s book will serve well as a bible for today’s new gardener. The book includes a good index, and list of online resources from seed companies that have signed the Safe Seed Pledge, to plant and equipment suppliers and conservation organizations.

If you want more advice from Dee Nash you can visit her at her informative and inspiring blog www.reddirtramblings.com and http://20-30somethinggardenguide.com where you’ll also be able to link to the Dear Friend and Gardener virtual garden club where a whole variety of gardener/bloggers (including me) will be writing about their vegetable garden adventures this year.

Walk on the Wildside with Sue Bridge

Wildside Cottage

How would you plan your retirement if you had already received a degree from Wellesley College, earned a further degree in Russian and Middle Eastern Studies, hitchhiked to Morocco, lived in Paris, worked for the United Nations, as well as in the cable TV world, and for the Christian Science Monitor newspaper?

Sue Bridge, with the urging of a Northampton friend, bought eight acres of hilly land in Conway. For the past seven years her retirement project has been to create a sustainable, self-sufficient home and landscape where she can live off the grid. The house she designed is energy efficient, well insulated with electricity and hot water provided by solar panels. It is also beautiful, inside and out. The sunny main living space is comprised of a kitchen, dining and living areas. French doors form the south wall of the living area which opens out onto a stone terrace with low stone walls overlooking terraced gardens and across to the hills beyond. The house is small but there is no sense of being cramped, only of spacious comfort.

For help in creating a sustainable landscape she turned to Jono Neiger of the Regenerative Design Group. Neiger and his group are proponents of permaculture systems. Bridge confesses she didn’t really understand what that meant when she began. Neiger came several times to visit; he’d walk around, make notes and walk around some more. Finally, after he had walked the land for several months and not a single spade of soil had been moved, she asked him if his crews were very busy. Did he have any idea when work would begin?

Then Neiger had to explain that work was well-begun. He had been building a scientific portrait of the land, how the sun, wind and water moved across the hill, and over the season.

It was not until Neiger invited Bridge to his own garden that she began to understand what permaculture is. On the appointed day she arrived at his house and garden before he did and was very confused. “Where’s the garden,” she asked when he drove up. The truth is that permaculture gardens do not look like the beautifully arranged flower gardens or orderly vegetable gardens that most of us are familiar with.

I was in the same position she had been with Neiger. I could see why she had named her place Wildside. I needed to have the garden explained. “This is not traditional farmland, but it is incredibly productive,” she said as we walked across the broad terraces  carved into the hillside. “Terraces are a permaculture trademark.”

The terraces help keep the soil from eroding, even in severe storms. “We had 17 inches of rain during Irene, but there was no erosion,” Bridge said.

To the east the living room terrace is an herb garden. One of Bridge’s specialties is five-herb tea. The terraces on the south hillside are first planted to vegetables that are harvested during the summer, the next terrace on the slope is for perennial vegetables like sea kale and Jerusalem artichokes, and the third is for pollinators, bee balm, garlic chives and other plants that attract pollinators.

Productive sweet potato vines in greenhouse

At the bottom of the slope is a small greenhouse where she grows sweet potatoes in the ground, harvesting more than 100 pounds of nutritious sweet potatoes, as well as ginger, and turmeric plants good for the digestion, and pain relief. The garden outside the greenhouse is mostly storage vegetables, beets, carrots, potatoes and squash. Of course, if you raise enough of this kind of vegetable you need a root cellar and Bridge has built a small one behind her house. Other edible crops are canned or dried.

Wildside rice

We walked past the path to the orchard with apple, peach, pear and plum trees and to the rice paddy in the Wet Meadow. It took heavy digging, but Bridge is growing rice!

The land rises slightly beyond the Wet Meadow. We walked through a stand of overgrown Christmas trees, planted by the former owners, then came into a sunny meadow where nut trees, including chestnut have been planted. The surrounding evergreens help protect them from high winter winds.

Mountain mint with Monarch butterfly

Bridge said she learned that eastern slopes are ideal for fruit trees and berries. On her eastern slope she grows persimmons, pawpaws, quince, Asian pears, shadbush, blueberries, elderberries, and black chokeberries. http://www.millernurseries.com/ sell chokeberriess. Chokeberries are not very sweet, but they are extremely nutritious and do make good jelly. Bridge has also tucked mountain mint and other plants for pollinators everywhere on this east slope.

I was fascinated by the “fertility bed” a long row of comfrey, bush clover and switch grass which Bridge cuts down twice a year and uses as mulch or compost.

Bridge has come to love Conway where she has found a great community with lots of grass roots action. “This is a friendly environment for me,” she said.

A broad community has found Sue Bridge to be very friendly, and inspirational. Her gardens have become a model of sustainable food production. Students from Wellesley and Smith Colleges, the Conway School of Landscape Design, Greenfield Community College and others come to see what she is doing and learn about the science behind what she is doing.

When I asked if she had intended to launch such an educational project in her retirement she said no. “I did not intend, but I do not resist.”    

Between the Rows   August 24, 2013

Joe Pye Weed for the Butterflies

Joe Pye Weed

Joe Pye Weed, Eupatorium, is a native plant whose range extends from Texas to Maine. It can be used in perennial flower beds, or allowed to flourish on the roadside or in fields. I planted a small variety in my garden this spring, but I love the 6 foot tall ‘weeds’ that grow in the fields.

Joe Pye Weed

I am not successful of getting  photographs of butterflies, but butterflies find lots of nectar in the tiny blossoms of the Joe Pye Weed flower head, which can be very broad. It is easy to grow in sun or very light shade, in soil moist or dry. While it is a good nectar plant for butterflies, it does not support caterpillars.  Host plants for caterpillars include milkweed, dill, parsley, cabbage, sunflowers and many others. For a more complete list click here.

This year in my own garden I found that garlic chives are a great nectar plant. Next year I am going to plant mountain mint which also attracts many butterflies and other pollinators.

Mountain Mint for Pollinators and for Tea

Mountain Mint

Mountain mint was one of the fascinating new plants I saw yesterday when I visited the beautiful and inspiring Wildside Cottage gardens in Conway.  According to an Illinois Wildflowers page    “Many insects are strongly attracted to the flowers,   including various bees, wasps, flies, small butterflies, and beetles. Typical   visitors from these groups include honeybees, Cuckoo bees, Halictid bees,   Sphecid wasps, Eumenine wasps, bee flies, Tachinid flies, Wedge-shaped beetles,   and Pearl Crescent butterflies. Most of these insects seek nectar. Mammalian   herbivores and many leaf-chewing insects apparently find the mint fragrance of   the leaves and stems repugnant, and rarely bother this plant.”

The mountain mint plants I saw at Wildside were covered with insect pollinators. I couldn’t begin to identify them all myself, but I could see there were lots of different types of insects, large and small.  I was also interested to find that as attractive as these mints are to pollinators, deer don’t like them very much. Maybe I should plant some next to my Asiatic lilies. Maybe that would save those beautiful blossoms for me.

Mountain mint’s Latin name is Pycnanthemum ,  which is in  the mint family, and related to bee balm. No surprise then that it is good for tea, too.