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Dear Friend and Gardener

Small Change on a Summer Night

Small Change quartet

Small Change 

Our friends (L-R) Dick Bohme on the one-string bass, Dennis Avery on the dobros , Al Canali on guitar and Karen Hogness  on mandolin comprise Small Change.  One of the great benefits of living in Greenfield is the concert series held in the Energy Park on Miles Street  which  is only 5 minutes from our house. We found out about this concert series the morning that Small Change was to perform. Of course we were there. But we learned pretty quick after our arrival that it is wise to bring your own lawn chair.

Small Change with an admirer

Small Change with an admirer

These concerts are a great evening event, and particularly attractive to families. There were a number of young girls, fleet of foot,  who must have been training for a marathon, they ran from one end to the other. There were short breaks for somersaulting, including the four year old. But one young man was transfixed by Small Change’s music. Over the course of their set he drew closer and closer to the bandstand. Once in a while he’d try out a few dance steps, but more frequently his little arms were moving – we couldn’t tell if he was conducting, or trying to imitate the musicians’ strokes.  Either way, when the performance was over and his mother came to take him away he kept turning back to look at the musicians. He was reluctant to let the magic of the music go.


Life Among the Weeds

Mystery weed from my garden

Mystery weed from my garden

What is a weed?

A friend recently gave me a branchy stem of a plant with fine alternate leaves she has growing all over her garden. She asked if I could identify it. She didn’t know if it was a “real plant” or a weed that she should be pulling out. Off hand I couldn’t identify it and turned to my Weeds of the Northeast by Uva, Neal and Di Tomasso and still could not definitely identify it, but I thought it might possibly be an aster. Later when I was watering my hellstrip filled with daylilies, astilbes, yarrow and more, I noticed a plant sticking its head up through a clump of coneflowers – and it looked just like the slightly wilted plant my friend had given me!

When I went up to the Benson Place in Heath to pick up my order of blueberries I was admiring a bed of large plants, few of which I recognized. Meredith Wecker and Andrew Kurowski, current owners of the Benson Place, explained that the bed was designed as a pollinator bed. They identified the enormous elecampane with its shaggy golden flowers all a-buzz with bees, the anise hyssop and the tall blue vervain. And there in the middle of a clump of flowers was the plant I had been trying to identify. This plant was everywhere!

I  asked what it was. Meredith and Andrew looked at it and said, “Oh, that’s just a weed.”  I had made no progress in my researches.

Another very tall mystery plant - a weed?

Another very tall mystery plant – a weed?

I have  another mystery plant, which I am sure is a weed, but not exactly sure which weed. Next to our front porch, in the shade, we have been watching a single plant with large deeply cut leaves growing taller and taller. We thought the foliage looked thistle-like but there are no prickers and so far no familiar blossom. In fact, now that it is eight or nine feet tall what appears to be a flower head is kind of droopy and is not yet blooming.

On our ride to the Benson Place we drove on a dirt road edged with all manner of  – dare I say it – weeds. And among them were plants similar to my front porch weed, although not quite as tall.

My son says his lawn is full of weeds i.e. violets. Our lawn in Heath was full of weeds i.e. dandelions. Lots of weeds i.e. wildflowers like chicory grow along the roadsides. I like violets and dandelions and chicory. Why would anyone consider them a weed?

The definition of a weed is very difficult. My comprehensive book, titled Weeds of  the Northeast, gives excellent descriptions and photos of hundreds of weeds in their different growth stages including the seed stage. Violets, dandelions and chicory are all included. So are creeping thyme, wild strawberries and the low growing English daisy. What makes all these plants weeds?

They are all rampant growers and spreaders, but others seem to be called weeds because they are growing where the gardeners and farmers don’t want them to grow.  Sometimes you find out a plant that you chose and planted is a weed. While I was leafing through my weed book I noticed the pages devoted to field horsetail, Equisetum arvense. I like the horsetails with their leafless green bottle-brushy stems that I saw growing by the roadsides in Heath. They are also called scouring-rush, foxtail rush, horsepipes, and pine grass.

Equisetum hyemale

Equisetum hyemale

When I drive to Colrain to visit friends I usually take the Colrain road, a winding road through the woods, and I noticed large stands of the larger Equisetum hyemale growing in the damp shade. I have always admired this plant because it is unusual, about 18 inches tall, leafless, with bamboo-like nodes along the evergreen stem. One day I stopped and pulled up a few of these stems which spread by creeping rhizomes. I planted them in a wet shady spot in my garden and most of them took root and seem to be doing well.

According to Weeds of the Northeast equisetums are resistant to herbicides used by farmers. According to the MissouriBotanical Garden, which has an excellent website that often helps me identify plants and understand their requirements, Equisetum hyemale is an aggressively spreading plant that is difficult to eradicate because the rhizomes spread wide and deep.

I then remembered my recent trip to Minneapolis and environ with 60 garden bloggers. Our final garden tour was across the border into Wisconsin and the amazing gardens and sculptures of Woutrina DeRaad. For 25 years Trina has been creating an amazing wild garden filled not only with wonderful plants, but with her concrete and mosaic sculptures. One sculpture was of a long couch with a built in plant container she had filled with equisetum five years earlier. I admired it, but when Trina asked if anyone in our group knew about equisetum, one of the men shook his head and said it was probably already sending roots deep into the soil and she’d never get rid of it. It was hard to see how that could happen since it was in a concrete container, but clearly he considered it a danger. And Trina seemed to be taking him seriously, and starting to consider what she could use to replace the equisetum.

When I came home it did not take me long to dig up my equisetum  which had already sent out one rhizome. I do not believe it was sending rhizome out deeply.

It has been said that if you can name a thing, you will have power over it. I would be delighted to hear from anyone who can help give me power over the two mystery plants in my garden. In the meantime I will just have to wait and see if their flowers can give me another hint.

Between the Rows   August 13, 2016

I want to thank everyone who responded to my query with the answers. That tall weed is wild lettuce Lactuca biennis, first identified by Liz Pichette, but followed by several other knowledgeable plant people. Thank you all!

Benefits of Blueberries

Lowbush blueberries at the Benson Place in Heath, MA

Lowbush blueberries at the Benson Place

Blueberries offer many benefits to the gardeners who want to grow more of their own food. When I lived in Heath I had access to the low-bush blueberry farms that operate there, but highbush blueberries were among the first shrubs I planted. I do not prefer one over the other, except that the highbush blueberries are larger and easier to pick. Nowadays lowbush blueberries to plant are much more available than they once were. We are also fortunate that we live near Nourse Farms which sells a variety of highbush blueberries from Patriot and Reka which begin bearing early in the season to Jersey and Nelson which are late season bearers. You can have fresh blueberries from your garden over a long season, into September. Having two or more varieties will also give you the cross pollination that is needed for good fruiting.

Blueberry pickers at the Benson Place in Heath, MA

Blueberry Pickers at Benson Place

Blueberry requirements

Blueberries are native to North America and so are very hardy. They thrive during the cold of New England winters. They need a lot of sun, and cannot tolerate standing water in the spring. Well drained soil with plenty of organic material is ideal. At the same time, they need adequate water during the growing season.

Here in New England we don’t usually have to worry about having acid soil, although we might have to work a little to get the soil to a 4.5 to 5.5 pH level. A soil test will give you the pH and indicate how you can go about improving it for the blueberries. Fortunately, you can find fertilizers for acid loving plants like Espoma Holly Tone, or other fertilizers designed for rhododendrons or azaleas, at your garden center, or even soil acidifiers. Fertilizing should be done in the spring, and a 2- 4 inch bark mulch is a good idea. Besides conserving moisture, mulch will keep adding organic matter to the soil over time.

Once blueberry bushes are planted they are very easy to maintain. They suffer very little from pests or diseases. They will not need pruning for several years. For myself the only pruning I ever did was removing broken or dead branches in the spring. However, there is a benefit to keeping the interior of the bush more open. Easier picking if nothing else.

Once you are regularly harvesting your berries, your biggest problem will be the birds. I wish I had considered this when I planted my Heath blueberries in a long hedge. It was very difficult to manage a long netting arrangement to protect the berries.  My four Greenfield blueberry bushes are planted in a square that will ultimately be netted in a block that is 10 by 10 feet square.

High Bush Blueberries at Wilder Hill Gardens

High bush blueberries at Wilder Hill Gardens

Benefits of blueberries

There are many benefits for the gardener and the consumer of blueberries. A benefit for the gardener is that, unlike raspberries that need to be picked every day, blueberries will hang on the bush for several days until you can pick them. This means you can harvest a couple of times a week instead of making time every day.

And of course, I have already mentioned how little work it takes to maintain the bushes.

I have not mentioned their beauty, the tiny bell shaped blossoms in the spring and the beautiful red color in the fall. Blueberry bushes are a good alternative to the invasive euonymous, the burning bush.

For the consumer, the eater of blueberries, the first benefit is the berry’s deliciousness. Then there are the many ways it can be prepared, pies, muffins, salads, on your cereal or ice cream, or out of your hand.

Not only is there all that delciousness, there is the fact that blueberries are very good for you. Blueberries are ranked as having one the highest capacities of antioxidants among all fruits and vegetables. Antioxidents battle the free radicals that can attack healthy cells in the body. Cell damage contributes to cancer, heart disease, and decline in the immune system.

Anthrocyanins, the color pigments of red, purple and blue, are powerful antioxidents. They have been connected to lower risks of some cancers, urinary tract health, memory function and age related diseases. Needless to say, other fruits like strawberries and raspberries also contain anthrocyanins, but blueberries are richer.

To get the real health benefit of blueberries it would be necessary to eat about two cups of fresh berries a day, but I feel healthier with every cup of berries I enjoy. Fortunately, fresh blueberries can be bagged up and popped into the freezer very easily and will lose little of their nutritional value. Blueberry crisp gives me a taste of summer all winter long.

Even without growing your own it is easy to find fresh blueberries in our area. Farm stands will be selling them as will farms like the Benson Place in Heath. You can also pick your own low bush berries at the Benson Place, or high bush at Wilder Hill Gardens in Conway.

Sweetheart bouquet for wedding created at Wilder Hill Farm

Sweetheart bouquet for wedding created at Wilder Hill Gardens

When I was picking berries at Wilder Hill Gardens, I also got to admire the flower arrangements that owner Lilian Jackman was creating for her daughter’s wedding. Every single arrangement included a bit of blueberry foliage and fruit. The blueberries were a particular request of the bride and groom. For myself, I consider those blueberries a wish for years of a sweet, healthy and fruitful life together.

Between the Rows   August 6, 2016

Long Weekend in Burlington, Vermont

The stony beach at the North End

The stony beach at the North End

Our visits to the Cousins always include a few hours at the North End Beach (at the North End of my uncle’s farm) which is covered with smooth lake stones. The pier was not there when I was a child. The cousins, my brothers and I didn’t need any refinements to swim and have a wonderful time. We used those stones any number of ways, including hitting them together while we were under water. Our first experience with ‘sonar’.  And of course, these stones were perfect for skipping.

Henry at the North End

Henry at the North End Beach

Something else has been added to the beach – zebra mussels. In spite of the waves Henry was able to bring back a couple of these tiny fragile mussels that are the scourge of Lake Champlain. Since 1993 “the mussels have spread throughout the lake and their effects have been well chronicled. They kill native mussels; coat surfaces with razor-sharp shells; foul anchor chains; block water intake pipes; and steal plankton and other food from native fish. (Burlington Free Press)”. Now visitors to the Lake have to wear water shoes because stepping on the zebra mussels break and the sharp shells cut up your feet. They have now spread to over 29 states.

Marina on Lake Champlain in Burlington, VT

Marina on Lake Champlain in Burlington, VT

Fortunately, there have been happier changes. The Burlington lake front looked nothing like this in 1947.  The Coast Guard also has a post in this bay.

Me on a Lakeside Park swing

Me on a Lakeside Park swing

I enjoyed the swings at the Lakeside Park, which also didn’t exist in 1947. The large lawns provide venues for many events.

Larson dinner at the Lakeview House

Larson dinner at the Lakeview House

Of course, there was lots of eating, and talking, and turning to Aunt Doris and Uncle Mike (about to celebrate 90th and 91st birthdays) for the final word on family stories.

UVM Horticultural Research Center

UVM Horticultural Research Center

Before we left we visited the University of Vermont Horticultural Research Center which was just about 1/2 mile from our hotel. This photo is of some of the vegetable trials.

Jessica Foster, Research Technician

Jessica Foster, Research Technician

We spent time in the apple research area talking to Jessica Foster, a Research Technician who has been on the job for a year and a half, as well as Sarah Kingsley-Richards who has worked here for 20 years.



We also got to meet Eduardo, from Italy who is now studying at the University of Vermont. I will be writing more about the Center soon.

But after our long weekend with the cousins, and my brother and his wife – it was time to go home. The only stop was at the Curtis BBQ for ribs.

Shade in the Garden

Shade. Green shade. With the recent 90 degree days I have been thinking that every garden has to have shade. I thought I had a very shady garden, but my husband and I did a shade study. We took photos of the back garden every couple of hours to see how shade moved across the space. It turns out that most of the garden gets six to seven hours of sun which counts as the full sun required by most vegetables and many flowers.

River birch

On a cloudy day you can’t tell where the shadow of the River Birch falls

Trees Make Shade

Now I am thinking about ways to add more shade to the central portion of our garden. We have already planted one multi-stemmed river birch, and a weeping cherry. Before the summer is over we will plant another fairly large (at least six foot) river birch. We think another small tree would be desirable, but can’t quite make up our minds which one. Should it be a redbud, with its purple/pink flowers in the spring? Should it be a dwarf crabapple with its spring blossoms and fruit for the birds? One advantage of a dwarf crabapple is that its size can be easily controlled by pruning. Maybe we should plant a pagoda dogwood which has distinctive tiered and layered branches and foliage.

Then there is the decision where to place the tree. We know the river birch will be towards the south side of the garden. Where would another tree go? Perhaps the better question is where do we want the shade to go? To be decided.

Yellow twig dogwood

Yellow twig dogwood in a center bed

Shrubs Make Shade

We have already planted several shrubs including red twig and yellow twig dogwoods which will reach six to nine feet tall. They will also throw shade.

Clethra alnifolia, also called sweet pepperbush or summersweet because of its fragrant upright flower panicles, will easily be six feet tall, again throwing shade. Highbush cranberry, Viburnam trilobum, is not a cranberry but the red berries that appear in the fall will attract some birds. It will grow to between eight to 15 feet and can be controlled by pruning. Aronia, chokeberry, can be classed as a small tree or a large shrub. Ours has really settled in and will increasingly throw more shade. As you can see, there are different ways to create shade in the garden.

Barren Strawberry

Waldsteinia – barren strawberry

Perennials for shade

Shade trees, and shrubs that create shade also create a need for low growing plants that enjoy shade. Deciduous trees and shrubs like the ones I have, or am thinking about, allow the sun to penetrate to the ground in the spring, and allow spring blooming bulbs from the small crocuses and daffodils to bloom. Some slightly more unusual bulbs include snowflakes (Leucojum) which look very much like a large snowdrop, and bloom after the snow drops have gone by. Iris reticulatas are small irises, often no more than six inches tall.

In addition, there are other low growing spring bloomers that welcome the dappled sunlight. Tiarella, or foam flower, not only produces foamy pink or white racemes of blossoms in the spring, the low-growing heart shaped leaves spread rapidly covering the ground. A related, more lush plant is the heucherella, a heuchera (coral bells) and tiarella hybrid. The foliage is similar but the blossoms are more substantial.

One of my favorite spring blooming groundcovers is barren strawberry or Waldsteinia. Its name refers to the strawberry like foliage, and habit of sending out runners. It also has brilliant yellow flowers that look like cousins to white strawberry blossoms.

A groundcover that I appreciated first for it delicate heart shaped foliage is the epimedium. I think that is because I never saw the early spring bloom. Epimediums, sometimes called fairy hats, are a large family and the dainty flowers on firm slender stems come in a whole range of colors. We have a famous epimedium nursery right here in Massachusetts, Garden Vision Epimediums in Templeton. The flowers range from pale whites, yellows, and pinks to plumy and deep purples. There is also a range of foliage color and form. I have several epimediums and realize now that I have to move them into the back garden where I can see them better and enjoy them more. One special benefit of epimediums is that they will thrive even in dry shade.

There are many shades of green in the shady garden, but a patch of light can be a stunning accent. I recently bought a Goldheart columbine with its brilliant foliage for what will be a shady bed.

Vignette of mixed green at the Bridge of Flowers, hostas, lamium, hakone grass and bloodroot foliage

Vignette of mixed green at the Bridge of Flowers, hostas, lamium, hakone grass and bloodroot foliage

Hostas come in various shades of green from the blue-green Wishing Well hosta to the creamy white of Dancing Queen. Both of these produce tall flower stalks, but for me, the tall blooms are unimportant. Another family of familiar plants are the lowgrowing lamiums like White Nancy which produce insignificant blooms, and a variety of foliage variegations. Always dependable and very pretty.

Of course, not every plant in a garden needs to bloom. The golden Hakonechloa aurea Aureola, Hakone grass, will supply that bit of sun in a shady spot. I also have a small patch of shiny green European ginger. Both prove that flowers are not a necessity in a garden. Patches of green give the eye time to rest before moving to a more colorful vignette.

What patches of green do your eyes rest on as you survey your garden?

Between the Rows  July 30, 2016

Minneapolis – Water Features Great and Small

Ordway Japanese Garden

Ordway Japanese Garden – Serenity in a Public Garden

My first reaction to Beverley Nichols, British gardener, author and wit, when he declared that water was an essential element of any garden was “Ridiculous!” I had seen photos of those British gardens with their rocks and rills, their reflecting pools, their gushing statuary in the topiary garden, none of which had I ever seen in real life. Of course, that showed my ignorance of British gardens, and my foolish reaction to a new idea. I should have reacted with, “Hmmmm. What a good idea. Water in the garden. . . ..”

It took a long time for me to get used to the idea of water in the garden and to realize that there is a great continuum of what it means to have water in the garden. Last week I joined 60 other garden bloggers in Minneapolis to visit 22 gardens, private, public, and university gardens. And I can state there was water in every single one.

We can all have water in our gardens. Many gardeners arranged to have water because they wanted to attract birds. A bird bath can be pretty, but the water evaporates so quickly. I have been told by bird lovers that a fountain is more desirable because the sound of water is what really attracts birds.

Here is my tour of some of the Minneapolis garden water features, some small, and one larger than most of us will ever have.

Dan and Dianne's small fountain

Dan and Dianne’s small fountain and birdbath

Dianne and Dan’s Garden.

Dianne and Dan’s garden had all manner of delights from a small cutting garden, a variety of perennials, and beautiful trees. In one shady border that included a collection of conifers there was a small fountain to attract the birds. It was set so that the birds would have a place to shelter if they were startled.

Dianne and Dan also had a white gazebo nestled in a mixed bed of heritabe tomatoes, perennials, and a beautiful collection of lilies which are Dianne’s specialty and five espaliered apple trees that are Dan’s project. That area also included a water lily and lotus pond, providing a serene view for all who visit.

Ruth's splashing fountain

Ruth’s splashing fountain

Ruth’s Garden

Ruth is a member of the Wild Ones organization whose goal is to educate and advocate for the necessity of native plants in home gardens. In that spirit Ruth had lots of labels on her mass native plantings to attract pollinators. Her small stone lined pool with its spouting shower fountain made a delightful cooling sound. Ruth said it was important to her to have a fountain that she could listen to. A pool like this is now within the reach of almost anyone because of the magic of electrical recirculating pumps.

Squire House Gardens fountain

Squire House Gardens fountain

Squire House Gardens

The owner of the Squire House is a garden designer. His garden is divided into several rooms which include different types of fountains. There were several bird bath types of fountain and a small rectangular pool set in a stone patio with a showering spout fountain. The fountain I liked best of all was a rough dark stone pillar with a burbling flow of water that fell into a small basin surrounded by flagstones. The fountain was set on a raised level at one end of a slightly sunken formal vegetable garden. Though the garden was formal, the ferns growing between the field stones in the rough wall and along the shallow stairs gave this fountain a woodland feel.

Linda's 100 foot stream

Linda’s 100 foot stream

Linda’s Garden

Linda has a particular interest in conifers, but this varied garden includes ferns, hostas, and colorful annuals, but the real showstopper is the 100 foot long stream that sings its way down the slope, framed by low evergreens, golden creeping jenny and ferns on either side. This man-made stream depends on a concrete base that is hidden by the artful arrangement of stones. Like Dianne with her lotus pond, Linda had a lot of advice about the necessity for good concrete work.

Nancy's lakeside garden

Nancy’s lakeside garden

Nancy’s Garden

I’ve described various kinds of water features that are just what Beverely Nichols ordered, but he would never be able to top Nancy’s water feature – a lake. I had never connected Minnesota with Land O Lakes butter. We were invited to have our lunch in her lakeside garden, a delicious (literally) respite. Our tour was enjoying comfortable summer temperatures, but after walking through five sunny gardens that morning we were all ready to collapse in the shade, enjoy our box lunches, and relax with a view of the tranquil lake.

After we had eaten and been revived by the lake breezes we wandered around the garden with its array of fairy gardens sometimes inspired by, and sometimes created by children. We also admired the mass plantings in front of the house. It seems that Minnesota gardeners are passionate about supporting their pollinators.

My Garden

So far my garden has an old birdbath surrounded by tall scarlet bee balm, a fat summersweet, and a weeping cherry that provide some protection. But there is no music, no splashing plashing water. However, as we arranged for the kitchen renovation, we made sure the electrician included an outdoor outlet on the west wall of the house. There is already a spigot and with an electrical outlet I’ll have almost everything I need for my own water feature. The stones and the pump will come.

Between the Rows   July 23, 2016

View from the Window – July 2016

The garden in early April

The garden in early April

The view from the window in mid April doesn’t tell much about the plantings, but if you look closely you will see a few cut up log pieces along the back of the garden. Our neighbors had a tree come down and shared their logs with us. The Hugel has begun. The Hugel is our hugelkultur effort to control standing water in the garden.  We’ll see how it works.

May 4th View from  the window

May 4th View from the window

May arrives with the green of spring. It looks like plants have survived the winter, and the Hugel is taking shape with additional logs  collected from friends.

May 22, 2016

May 22, 2016

Towards the end of May you get a clear idea of the  construction of the Hugel.

June 22, 2016 View from the window

June 22, 2016 View from the window

A mere month later and the view from the window shows that  the Hugel logs are covered by 8 yards of a soil and compost mix, and Mr. Demers and his crew have put in a beautiful stone wall to turn the practical, functional Hugel into a beautiful space. Additional soil was spread in front of the stone wall to help correct the grade, and aid in drainage. Also, again, notice carefully the bed to the right where several heucheras have been planted. The bed and the curves have been enlarged, allowing for a few new plants.

July 25, 2016  View  from the window

July 25, 2016 View from the window

Another month has passed during which we did not do too much, because we were also busy all month with the kitchen/bath/laundry room renovation.  However, we could not let a month go by without a bit more progress. Hence  the enlargement  and curves of the river birch bed and the weeping cherry bed. As usual, we used the lasagna method. Curves will need  to be refined, and perhaps a little more widening of the beds.

What will have been accomplished by the end of August?  All interior work will have been done.  Maybe we will have figured out how to handle the area in front of the stone wall. We are not done yet. Well, a garden is never done, is it?

Bugs and Butterflies in My Garden


Coneflower with bee

“Chances are, you have never thought of your garden — indeed, of all of the space on your property — as a wildlife preserve that represents the last chance we have for sustaining plants and animals that were once common throughout the U.S.” Douglas Tallamy.

Most of us welcome birds and butterflies to our gardens, but don’t spend much time thinking about bugs, except for pesky mosquitoes and Japanese beetles. Yet, even bugs, and there are hundreds of species of bug in our local landscape, are essential to our local ecosystem.

When we lived on 60 acres in Heath I didn’t worry about having a healthy ecosystem. After all, we had those 60 acres that included wild fields and woodlands to feed the birds and butterflies. My intent in any planting was just to bring some of the best pollinator plants close to the house so that I could enjoy watching pollinators at work.

Our move to Greenfield meant we had an opportunity to create our own wildlife preserve on our small lot. We also had to consider how to handle a large wet area. I was thrilled with the idea of making a garden that would welcome and support the butterflies and bees – and the bugs. My husband was happy that this kind of garden eliminated most of the lawn.

The new lot was mostly grass, but this was not fine turf and I was happy to see the lawn was filled with clover and violets which provide lots of early pollen for bees. It was a happy day for me when I realized what some consider lawn weeds are really important nectar plants.

Some of the pollinator plants that I brought with me from Heath include: spring blooming foam flower and irises; summer blooming coneflower, Russian sage, bee balm and yarrow; and fall blooming asters.

Yarrow and coneflowers make my hellstrip a pollinators diner.

Yarrow and coneflowers make my hellstrip a pollinators diner.

Then I turned once again to my favorite expert on sustaining wildlife, Douglas Tallamy, Chair of the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware. He is the author of the brilliant and inspiring book Bringing Nature Home: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens. He also has a website, www.bringingnaturehome.net with lots of information and lists of plants that will help you bring nature to your home garden.

Everyone loves butterflies, but I never thought of them as pollinators. They are not like honeybees who have the equipment to pack pollen into ‘baskets’ on their knees, but even with their smooth and spindly butterfly legs they do pollinate plants. Butterflies will welcome nectar plants but they really count on host plants, those plants where they can lay their eggs, confident that the hatching caterpillars will be able to eat that plant.

Host plants for butterfly caterpillars can be quite specific. We all know that monarch butterfly caterpillars need milkweed. Other plants for other butterflies include spice bush or Lindera benzoin, clover, snapdragons, sunflowers, sweet fennel, parsley, dill, carrots, as well as sycamore, river birch, chokecherry, oak, poplar, locust and willow trees. Of course, there are many other host plants for the many species of butterfly.

In our new garden we planted river birch, chokecherry and spicebush as butterfly host plants. We also planted orange milkweed, Asclepius tuberosa, a smaller showier milkweed than the kind found in the wild. Since host plants are so specific for butterflies there is no way I can support many species, but I am doing what I can.

We are not purists, but we have concentrated on using native plants. Native plants and native bugs evolved at the same time over centuries. Native bugs know exactly the kind of greenery they need to thrive. And the native plants know they can spare some foliage to support the bugs without harming themselves. I do not get upset when I find insect damage on my viburnams. I know they can spare a few leaves.

That does not mean I don’t go around with my soapy water to collect and drown the Japanese beetles that are starting to appear. Japanese beetles are non-native bugs, but they seem to enjoy roses and raspberries and my yellow twig dogwood.  Nature is not neat.

Strictly speaking, spiders are not bugs. But they eat bugs. I may not be very aware of their presence because many spiders are tiny, but big or small, all spiders are welcome in my garden.

We have planted the eye catching native buttonbush with its bottlebrush-type flowers, and summersweet, Clethra alnifolia, with its fragrant white panicles of  summer bloom. Both welcome bees and butterflies to sip their nectar, and neither minds wet sites. With those large shrubs I achieve two goals.

We have planted other excellent perennial pollinator plants that like or tolerate wet sites. Sanguisorba canadensis, American burnet, has tall 4-5 foot flowering spikes of flowers beginning in midsummer, as does culver’s root or Veronicastrum virginicum. Possibly more common is Joe Pye Weed, with its pink-ish flower heads.

We have not completed our planting plan, but are well on our way to supporting butterflies, bees and other bugs. We are well on our way to creating a garden that is lovely and a joy. We are also learning many lessons along the way, another joy.

Between the Rows   July 18, 2016

On the Road in Minneapolis and Environs

Amy Murphy, me and Rebecca Warner

Amy Murphy, me and Rebecca Warner

For the past three days I’ve been travelling around the Minneapolis-St. Paul area with 60 other garden bloggers including my sister Massachusetts bloggers Amy Murphy (OF GARDENS) and Rebecca (THE SUSTAINABLE-ENOUGH GARDEN). We’ve seen beautiful plants, stunning design, and some real surprises.

Prairie Dock Leaves

Prairie Dock Leaves at Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden

The enormous Prairie Dock leaves we saw in a field at the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden were among the many amazing plants we saw on our tour.

Red Baneberry

Red Baneberry

We found red baneberry in the wetland area of the the Wildflower garden, but we saw it in other gardens, as well. It is very poisonous!

Vera's Garden

Vera’s Garden

Vera’s Garden on a steep, erosion prone back was turned into pollinator’s heaven by volunteers who worked at Vera’s Cafe. The cafe is gone, but the garden remains which keeps the bees, butterflies and other pollinators very happy.

Vera's Garden

Vera’s Garden

Some times wild looking and sometimes elegant, Vera’s Garden is right in the center of Minneapolis.

Scree Garden

Scree Garden

Lee and Jerry Shannon have many garden beds in their 2/3 acre including this unusual scree bed. Scree is a term for gravel, so this is not quite a rock garden, but it is not planted in a deep soil bed either.

Pollinators on dill

Pollinators on dill

The Shannon garden includes many pollinator plants like this dill. Buzzing away.

Ordway Japanese Garden

Ordway Japanese Garden

Too little time was available for the Ordway Japanese Garden. We were having fun but we were on a tight schedule. Even the koi seemed to feel the rush. They were leaping about.

formal vegetable garden

Squire House Gardens formal vegetable garden

I have never seen such a formal and productive vegetable garden as Martin Stern’s Squire House Garden. But still more delight is found along the curving paths.

Weeping asparagus

Weeping asparagus

Looks like asparagus, but how could this climbing, weeping thing be aparagus?  I don’t know, but it is! Weeping asparagus at the Squire House Gardens.

Woutrina DeRaad mosaic blackbird

Woutrina deRaad mosaic blackbird

This mosaic sculpture of a blackbird was only one of the many mosaic sculptures created by Woutrina DeRaad and arranged throughout her amazing gardens. This garden was the last of the 22 gardens/nurseries we visited during our three day tour and you will be hearing more about them over the next few months.

Garden tours, whether local or in more distant locales always provide food for thought, and new ways to handle old problems. I know that I was particularly inspired by two of the gardens and I’ll fill you in soon.

Here’s What Permaculture Looks Like


Nancee Bershof’s Bioshelter in the center of her permaculture garden

Bill Mollison, considered the Father of Permaculture, said it is “. . . the harmonious integration of landscape and people providing their food, energy, shelter and other material and non-material needs in a sustainable way.”

Nancee Bershof became interested in permaculture after her husband’s death, and her departure from medicine. She was looking for new interests and permaculture fascinated her. She took a course that led her down a new road, supplying food, and non-material needs like community and friendship.

Nancy Bershof

Nancee Bershof

She moved to a new house and property eight years ago, setting about creating a permaculture landscape. Using  Mollison’s description she has created gardens that do provide food, energy, shelter and some non-tangible benefits as well. Of course, starting any new garden does not happen in one year

The house sits fairly close to the road, so most of the acre of her property lies in back of the house where Bershof began my tour by showing me around the personal ornamental garden with its shady covered deck, and a sunny patio ringed by more shade. This garden had changed radically two days earlier when a large limb of an old and very tall willow came down during the night. While Bershof told me that she planned to leave this arching limb as a work of art, it was clear that it changed the garden. Where there had been shade there was now bright sun.

We then walked through the gate into what was a very different sunny garden that gave me my first real understanding of that a permaculture garden looks like. Bershof said  that she did not create this alone. Dave Jacke, author of EdibleForestGardens, created a site plan. “That plan got me started, but not everything happened as planned.” That sounded right to me. I have never known a plan that was carried out in every detail.

She also said “Esthetics are important to me. What looks good, feels good. I wanted it to be lovely.”

The view from the gate was not that of manicured borders, but it was lovely. There was a multiplicity of garden beds, but also a greenhouse in the center of the space. Bershof began by walking me through the gardens, but made me wait for a tour of the Bioshelter.

An important element of permaculture is the planting of perennial crops. It is easy to name off raspberries, blueberries, peaches and other fruit bearing shrubs and trees, as well as many herbs that we grow in our gardens. It is not so easy to come up with perennial vegetables. And yet they exist.

Perennial sea kale

Perennial sea kale

Bershof pointed out the sea kale, perennial arugula, skirrit, ground spinach and Turkish rocket. We nibbled as we went along and there was nothing weird tasting that would deter most people from eating them.

Tom Sullivan whose business is Pollinators Welcome helped Bershof lay out quadrants of pollinator beds that would attract bees and other pollinators to the garden. These beds teach two lessons. Pollinator beds need to have masses of any particular pollinator plant to make them easier for pollinators to find, and they need different varieties of plants to provide food all season long. Many of these plants, like bee balm, are also native to our area.

Companion planting of asparagus, basil and tomatoes

Companion planting of asparagus, basil and tomatoes

We walked past a perennial asparagus bed that was interplanted with annual tomatoes and basil. Bershof explained that this was a good companion planting, much like the Three Sisters garden she grows composed of corn, beans and squash. Unfortunately, she was battling the moles who were eating her corn roots, killing them and leaving the bean vines no way of climbing.

From this garden I could see a large planting of Jerusalem artichokes, and fruit trees including peaches, persimmons and paw paws. We were also at the chicken yard where eight hens are currently penned although they are free range when garden crops are not at risk.

The chicken house is a part of the Bioshelter, which is much more than a greenhouse. Keith Salzburg of Regenerative Design designed the building which includes the large greenhouse. Right now raised beds hold cucumbers and a tall fig tree. Covered bins dug into the ground contain worm farms that handle kitchen scraps. There are also the beginnings of a hydroponic project.

The long interior wall of the greenhouse is lined with black barrels filled with water that heats up when the sun is shining and then moderates temperatures when outside temperatures fall.

The other side of that wall is the tool shed where many well kept tools are hung. The third and final section of the bioshelter is the hen house.

There is separate space for feed. The rest of the space has egg boxes, a ramp to the outdoors and an automatic chicken door that opens at 6 am and closes at 9 pm after the chickens have tucked themselves in for the night. Bershof was especially pleased with this particular labor saver.

The bioshelter is a part of Bershof’s goal to use less water, less energy and have a smaller carbon footprint.

As we concluded my tour Bershof showed me what she calls the community garden, where friends have their own plots. “Right from the start, one of my goals was to share this site. I didn’t want to garden alone, but to have space where we could work together.” I think that counts as the important non-material need for sharing and friendship.

Between the Rows    July 11, 2016