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Feeding the Birds and the Native Plant Trust

Native Plant News

Native Plant News from the Native Plant Trust

I love watching the birds in my garden. Which is not to say that I know them by name or type. When I look at the birds outside my window I see big birds and little birds. I see blue jays and robins, just about the only birds I can identify. I can also identify hummingbirds because the only hummingbird I am likely to see is the ruby throated hummingbird. I can hear the woodpeckers. I enjoy having all these birds in my garden.      Even so, I do not provide bird feeders, not even during the winter. I am not ready to battle the many squirrels that live in my garden. I did make a try. I bought a Plexiglas feeder that would stick to my window. This is the way I thought I could finally see the shapes of beaks and the feather markings clearly enough to name a bird, with the help of a guide book.

And what happened? We stuck the feeder to the window, added lovely black oil sunflower seed and sat by the window to see who would come.

A squirrel came and within minutes it had managed to get from the feeding platform to inside the seed space. That was the beginning and end of our bird feeder experiment.

I do provide plants that will go to seed and will feed the birds. Some of the plants that attract and feed the birds in my garden are very familiar.

The list of seed bearing flowers begins with dandelions in the spring and goes through the summer and fall with cosmos, zinnias, black-eyed susans, asters, coreopsis, blanket flowers, sunflowers, sedums and many others. All of these flowers will also make the bees happy. Bees come to these flowers to sip the nectar and collect the pollen. They leave the seeds to the birds.

In addition to flowers that produce seeds for the birds, I also plant berries. I have elderberries and winterberries. I can tell you those elderberries disappear really fast in the summer. I have two tall American cranberry viburnums; they only look like cranberries but the birds still enjoy them.  I also grow raspberries. Oddly, birds are not very interested in raspberries. Blueberries are another story.

Since I have two river birches, a willow, a huge Norway spruce and neighboring maple and oak trees, I know there are many insects that live in those trees. Birds eat lots of insects, especially in the spring when they need to feed their hatchlings. Entomology Professor Doug Tallamy said “Insects are extraordinarily high in protein: They have up to twice as much protein, pound for pound, as does beef.” That seems amazing, but it explains how birds survive even though they expend so much energy flying.

Even though I do provide for the birds, even a little birdbath that I clean and fill throughout good weather, I have felt a bit guilty in the winter because I don’t put out bird feeders. Then, the other day I received my Native Plant News from the Native Plant Trust with an article on Feeding Birds: An Eco-Gardener’s Approach by Christopher Leahy. He worked at Massachusetts Audubon for 45 years and knows his birds. He said that guilt was not necessary and neither were the birdfeeders. He did acknowledge that having a bird feeder will attract birds, and will provide pleasure to those who like watching the birds.

Leahy went on to say that feeding the birds, and creating a whole industry, did not exist before the 1930s. “Birds are extraordinarily well-adapted for finding the kind of food they require and are vastly better equipped than our species for living outdoors in abominable weather, due to the highly effective insulation system called plumage and an exquisitely sensitive metabolism.”

He suggested getting familiar with 50 of the birds most likely to visit your garden. Then become familiar with their favorite foods and nesting sites. He also suggested that we should encourage the presence of insects and such things as spiders, centipedes and creatures of leaf litter. Don’t use pesticides and don’t let the garden get too tidy.

As you will have noticed I have not mentioned the New England Wildflower Society. That is what I called this organization for many years. However the organization had four names before it chose Native Plant Trust, a name very true to Society for the Protection of Native Plants chosen by its founders in 1900.

The Native Plant Trust’s website provides wonderful information about native plants. Its Go Botany project makes it possible for gardeners, or people who just like hiking through wild areas, to identify and learn about unfamiliar plants.

There are also tip sheets on available plants sold by the Native Plant Trust as well caring for various kinds of plants. There are also workshops and seminars during the year.

I am a happy member but I was surprised and delighted to learn that the Trust has other native plant sanctuaries in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, in addition to Massachusetts’s Garden in the Woods in Framingham. I am ready to do some travelling this summer.

For more information about the Native Plant Trust check out their comprehensive website ###

Between the Rows   January 11, 2020

January 2020 Snow, Floods and Parsley


The View of Snow from the office window

On the first day of January 2020 there is a view of foot or more of snow all around the house Frigid.

River Birches

River Birches look beautiful in the snow.

Snow covering the low conifers in front of the house

Snow followed by flood

Snow followed by flood

Temperatures slowly rose to 60 degrees. Snow melting and leaving a flood on the north side of the garden all the way  to  the house.

Snow in front of the house on January 12, 2020

There is still a little snow in front of  the house because this is a very shady area. But even here  the warm temperatures melted much of the snow.


1-12-20 Parsley

Winter returns  1-16-20

The weather has been so mild that this southern area where I have herbs growing has protected the parsley. The fallen leaves helped.   On January 15, the sun keeps shining, temperatures in the 40’s, but over night winter returned.

Trees and Bees and More

Central Park NYC

Trees and bees provide beauty at New York’s Central Park which was designed to provide pleasure for city dwellers – and the bees

It seems like the whole town of Greenfield has been making New Year’s Resolutions to work energetically with trees and plants to make this a more beautiful and more environmentally sensitive town.

The Greenfield Tree Committee has been at work since it was founded in 1998 by Carolyn MacLellan. In 2002 Greenfield was designated as a “Tree City” by the Arbor Day Foundation, a distinction renewed every year since.

Nancy Hazard has been involved with the Tree Committee for years. She told me they received a new grant from the US Forest Service last year that is giving the town 800 new trees. Already 210 have been planted. Two hundred more will be planted each year in 2020 and 2021.

Hazard was part of the Town’s plan to turn the land at the end of Miles Street into a Park. The Energy Park was born with planting schemes that would concentrate on native plants.

Trees including sycamore, river birches, a sycamore, sassafras, maples, redbuds and hawthorns with beautiful red berries in fall and winter have been in place for many years. Over the past few years the Energy Park has been undergoing renovations, soil enrichments and replantings.

John Bottomley, Nancy Hazard, Mary Chicoine

John Bottomley, Nancy Hazard, Mary Chicoine

Hazard told me that she had an Aha! Moment. She suddenly realized that trees provided many services to the environment in addition to shade, reducing heat and controlling rain water runoff. Trees provide food and nesting places for birds, food for insects, food for caterpillars, and even pollen and nectar for the bees. This year Hazard, Mary Chicoine and John Bottomley, all of the Greenfield Tree Committee. planted two tulip poplars and a disease resistant elm which certainly provide those services.

I had not realized before that trees require pollination as well as the flowers in our gardens. The species that rely on insects (mostly bees, wasps, flies, beetles, butterflies, and moths), birds, and bats, tend to have fragrant or showy flowers.

I was surprised to learn that Massachusetts is the third most densely populated state, but it is the 8th most forested state with 62% forest cover. All those trees sequester carbon. They are an important weapon in fighting global warming. I am grateful to those around the state, and especially in our rural area who have maintained woodland and street ‘forests.’

Trees are one way to care for our environment, but flowers are another way. Volunteers for the Energy Park have worked for years to keep the park filled with native plants. Some are early spring ephemerals like blue cohosh, bloodroot, jack in the pulpit, trillium and others. As the season progresses there are more and larger flowers like turtlehead, coreopsis, bee balm, black-eyed susan, cardinal flower and joe pye weed. All of these native flowers, and many others, provide pollen and nectar for the bees, food for caterpillars. Plant labels made by Wisty Rorabacher  are very helpful.

Brookie sculpture

Susan Worgaftik and Brookie

Happily there are other gardens in town that support our important creatures. Susan Worgaftik works with volunteers at the small River Works Park. Pollinator friendly flowers dance right under the Brookie sculpture on Deerfield Street. The park is surrounded by trees busy sequestering carbon.

Nancee Bershof and Tom Sullivan worked with volunteers and designed a beautiful and functional meadow garden on Pleasant Street in front of the John Zon Community Center. For two years now the garden has bloomed with tiarella and lady’s mantle in the spring and with all manner of bigger native plants like liatris, bee balm, yarrow, culver’s root, amsonia, jacob’s ladder, butterfly milkweed,  as well as joe pye weed and asters in the fall. This is not a comprehensive list. Be sure to visit this wonderful teaching garden, and follow the path through it. Identification labels make it easy to learn about the plants.

Behind the John Zon Community Center is a long rain garden filled with plants that tolerate being wet, as well as benefitting the birds and the bees.

In addition the Community Garden, next to the rain garden, will have new gardeners this spring. Last year a tool shed was installed, complete with tools from the old shed.  Rabbi Andrea Cohen- Kiener, Dorothea Sotirios and the Working Group of gardeners kept the project moving. Soil amendments were added to the poor soil. This past summer the soil improvement work continued. Rye was planted and cut down before it went to seed. Clover, vetch, peas, oats, and sorghum were also added. Visiting chickens and ducks spent a couple of months living on that space and added their own soil enrichments.

A new project has begun on Fiske Street. Amy McMahon of Mesa Verde and Claire Chang of the Solar shop are supporting Wisty Rorabacher and Sadie Miller in replanting the weedy bank at the edge of the parking lot. With the help of The DPW a plan to rebuild the retaining wall is now in place. I’m keeping my eye on this new project. You can be sure the bees and birds, butterflies and bats will all be considered.

This New Year I will be looking for more ways to make my garden useful to the environment. Maybe you will too. ###

Between the Rows   January 4, 2020

Emily Dickinson and Cherry Ingram – Different Passions

Emily Dickinson (1830-1883) and Collingwood Cherry Ingram (1880-1981) were both gardeners, but lived at different times with very different gardens. Two new books, Emily Dickinson’s Gardening Life by Marta McDowell(Timber Press $24.95) and Sakura Obsession: The Incredible Story of The Planthunter Who Saved Japan’s Cherry Blossoms by Naoko Abe (Knopf  $27.95) take us into different worlds.

We who live so close to Emily Dickinson’s home may be familiar with Dickinson’s poetry which included plants and flowers, but we may not know very much about her Amherst gardens. In a revision of an earlier book McDowell shares the history of the Homestead where Dickinson spent most of her life with her parents and sister Lavinia, as well as The Evergreens next door where her brother Austin, his wife Susan and their children lived.

Having set the scene she lays out the seasons of the year in Dickinson’s garden. I used to imagine the pale waiflike Emily wandering and whispering in the halls of her home – except when she was writing poems at the desk by her bedroom window. McDowell paints a very different picture. Her young Emily wandered in the woods with the huge dog, Carlo, her father gave her. As often as not she and Carlo came home muddy, but carrying wildflowers that she pressed and put in her own herbarium.

Through the seasons, McDowell includes Emily’s poems, photographs of herbarium  pages and delicate drawings and paintings of flowers by Orra White Hitchcock and others. We get a view of Emily not only through her poetry, but through her letters. Happily some letters have been found and collected providing more insights into her thoughts and view of the world.

Many of the poems describing the seasons of the year are included from the spring pansy: “I’m the little Heart’s Ease!/I don’t care for pouting skies!/If the buttery delay/Can I, therefore, stay away?” and continuing until winter when “There is a certain Slant of light,/Winter Afternoons – / That oppresses like the Heft/of Cathedral tunes.”

The book ends with the Visiting a Poet’s Garden chapter. It includes brief information about those who lived in the house after the Dickinsons, and the restoration of the house, which now would look very familiar to all the Dickinsons. There is also an informative list of all of Emily’s plants. Notes about each plant accompany information about the herbarium and poems listed for each flower.

The book is an absolute treasure trove. I can’t wait for spring and another visit to the Dickinson Homestead. It has been a while since I was there last. Thank you Marta McDowell!


Emily Dickinson was very much a homebody. British Collingwood Ingram was devoted to cherry trees and travelled to Japan, visiting cherry tree groves around ancient temples. He often requested scions of the various sakura (as the tree was named in Japan) and sent them to his own gardens in England.

By the time he visited Japan little attention was being paid to the sakura trees. There was general confusion about the names of the varieties and little realization that the diversity of the trees was declining. Fortunately, after WWI Ingram studied Japanese trees, especially the sakura and became expert. In 1926 he travelled to Japan and became involved with the Cherry Association , meeting many Japanese experts. He met Seisaku Funatsu, a member of the Association who had noticed the decline of the Sakura, caused in part by pollution from factories and motor cars. Other Japanese sakura experts also recognized the problem and worked with Ingram.

One of the trees that was rescued and became popular is the wild cherry, now known as the Sargent cherry tree which is now popular in the US.

Ingram began sending scions back to his English garden and had them grafted onto his own cherry rootstocks. This worked very well. Two of the cherries in his garden were already extinct in Japan. He continued his determination to learn all he could, and collect as many varieties as possible, bringing them back to his own garden so that he could return them to Japan.

Author Naoko Abe also provides brief descriptions in the shift in the culture of the Japanese. Japan made efforts to catch up with the west, desired to abolish the class system and send all children to school, but it was not easily done. Abe does not ignore the move toward militarization and the Second World War.

The history of Ingram and his sakura did not end with his death. The current Duke of Gloucester is a Patron of the Japan Society and has arranged to plant 6500 of three Japanese sakura varieties in the United Kingdom’s parks, gardens and schools to celebrate Japan’s relationship with the UK. This is a legacy from the Japan-UK Season of Culture 2019-2020.

Both books share the fascinating stories of two very different people, both of whom have made a mark on our world today.


Still time to buy a floral calendar for 2020 with beauty and information from the UMass Extension Service. Go to Cost is $14.

Between the Rows  December 21, 2019



First Day of 2020 – View from the Office

January 1, 2020 First day of the year

Here we are on the first day of 2020. What will the year bring? You can’t tell from the photo of the backyard garden because it is early and the sun  isn’t there yet. The three inches of sleet, snow and ice came falling over the past  couple of days, but now the sun is beginning to shine and at 10:30 am the temperature  is 45 degrees. This is a good way to start the new year.

river birch trees

River Birch Trees

The first clump of river birches was planted in 2015. The second clump planted in 2017 is dawdling but it is coming along.

The front of our house

I don’t usually show a photo of the front of our house, but I wanted a full record of the beginning of this new decade. You can’t tell very well, but the English holly on the right is loaded with red holly berries, while the low evergreens are covered with snow.

We are sure this will be a year of change and promise.  Happy New Year!

Our Christmas Tree and Ornament Stories

Christmas Tree

Our 2019 Christmas Tree

I cannot imagine Christmas without a Christmas Tree to decorate and enjoy. So many ornaments carry memories.

 Monkey King and Pigsy

Monkey King with the soldier and Pigsy on the Journey to the West

During our 2 years in Beijing, China as ‘Foreign Experts’ we learned about some  of the historic stories and tales. Monkey King is the main character in the book Journey to the West. This is a Chinese novel published in the 16th century during the Ming dynasty. It is one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature. We met another Foreign Expert family with a 6 year old son who was entranced with the story and could recite whole portions of Monkey King’s adventures.

Ornaments from different times

We have collected ornaments over the years. Many of them have a story or memory. My brothers and I discovered he red, white and blue ball in a box of old ornaments in my mother’s house after she died. We were all surprised at the old ornaments she had kept – they we had no memory of. We think  this ball dates back to the WWII.  The Heart and Hand ornament is a favorite of mine and is a Shaker symbol of Hands to work and Hearts to God. I also have a who flock of birds of all sizes and materials.  Birds belong in trees!

We can no longer use all our boxes if ornaments, but we still enjoy thinking of their histories.


We wish everyone a happy holiday season – and joy in 2020


Garden Books I Treasure

Onward and Upward in the Garden

Onward and Upward in the Garden by Katherine S White

I am a reader but garden books never had a big place in my life until our family was preparing to leave New York City for the wilds of Heath. By happenstance I was given Onward and Upward in the Garden (1979) by Katharine S. White with an introduction by her husband E.B. White.

I had tended vegetable gardens, but never gave a thought to flower gardens. However, that is where Mrs. White’s heart lay. The very first essay in the book is A Romp in the Catalogues with an image of the Roses of Yesterday and Today catalogue. It promised Old-Fashioned – Rare – Unusual  as well as  Selected Modern Roses. That book changed my life. I sent for the catalogue and began planning a hardy old-fashioned rose garden before we even arrived in Heath in December 1979.

Mrs. White was an elegant woman – and an elegant writer. She had help in her Maine garden but she made decisions about plants and arrangements. Her descriptions of her reactions to the catalogues, of flowers and vegetables are deliciously opinionated. When talking about Park’s Book she said “Your head will swim, your mind boggle at the cataloguer’s task but soon you’ll realize that if you do your homework conscientiously, it will not be Park’s fault if you do not grow its seeds successfully.”

Just a list of the chapters gives you a sense of her personality and humor from The Changing Rose, the Enduring Cabbage; An Idea Which We Have Called Nature; Floricordially Yours; and Winter Reading, Winter Dreams which is where I find myself right now.

Beverley Nichols

The well-known British author of novels, mysteries, children’s books and plays, Beverley Nichols, also wrote a numerous books about his houses and gardens. I discovered his book, Garden Open Today (1965). I have to credit British born Elsa Bakalar, my Heath neighbor on for introducing me to any number of  British gardeners and their gardens. She shared a sense of humor with gardener/writers like Beverley Nichols and I was happy to join the fun.

The thing to remember is that if the garden is open the gardener is sure to meet visitors who have different opinions. Nichols has acknowledged them and gone on to be very firm with his own views and findings. In the chapter Mysteries he declaims about his experiences with the Climbing Flaming Nasturtium (Tropaeolum speciosum). He concludes that chapter with “I hope I have written enough to dispel any illusion that mine is a garden where nothing ever goes wrong.”

None of us gardeners can ever make such a claim, but it is because of this book that I became entranced with the idea of a Garden Open Today, when visitors would come and admire my gardens, or where I would overhear a whisper to a companion “She doesn’t weed, does she?” In spite of such visitors my annual June Rose Walk was my joy, and joy for many others. I think.

Elsa Bakalar

A Garden of One's Own by Elsa Bakalar

A Garden of One’s Own by Elsa Bakalar

Having mentioned Elsa Bakalar, I cannot tell you how much she taught me. I who had never planted a perennial found her stuffed perennial borders breathtaking. She taught me about color. “(Garden catalogs) would describe both of these colors as red, and that is so imprecise. One is scarlet and one is crimson. . . . To me, scarlet is the color of a guardsman’s tunic, and crimson is the color of Victorian draperies,” she told me.

Though she was very particular about the use of color, and all the other elements of the garden, she was also devoted to the right of every gardener to do exactly what she -or he – wanted.

Her beloved husband, Mike, encouraged her to put all her wit and wisdom into a book. Happily A Garden of One’s Own, with its glorious photos by Gary Mottau, generously teaches all of us how to make perennial gardens filled with all our own passions.

Karel  and Josef Capek and Amy Stewart

There are other books I treasure, not all of them by British authors. Czech brothers, Karel and Josef Capek, wrote and delightfully illustrated The Gardener’s Year (1931). This amusing book about the trials and tribulations of being a gardener takes us through the year from frost flowers on the January windowpane to the trials of flower catalogs in December. I would not have expected that the author of a book like this would also be the Czech author of science fiction who invented the word Robot. But, as others have said, there are many mysteries in the garden.

Wicked Plants by Amy Stewart

Wicked Plants by Amy Stewart

Amy Stewart has written several fascinating garden books, but I was particularly intrigued by Wicked Plants: The Weed that Killed Lincoln’s Mother and Other Botanical Atrocities (2009). Stewart is a great researcher and writer. She found a stunning number of poisonous plants. I will not leave you on tenterhooks; the weed that killed Lincoln’s mother was white snakeroot, Eupatrium rugosum. This plant was sometimes found in Indiana pastures where cattle grazed. Their milk, made the  cow very sick, and the milk could kill those who drank it, including Nancy Hanks, age 34, leaving her son 9 year old Abraham Lincoln an orphan. Later Thomas Lincoln remarried.

I will have to end here, but all these books are available for sale, or at your local library  through the magic of the CWMars interlibrary system. Happy reading!

Between the Rows  December 14, 2019

Historic Deerfield Christmas Wreath Workshop – Annual Winter Celebration


Christmas Wreath by Ruth Odom – Balsam fir, dried oranges, cinnamon sticks, pine  cones, boxwood, holly

Last week the Historic Deerfield Annual Christmas Wreath Workshop was held at the Deerfield Community Center. The room was alive with energy, Christmas carols and cookies. The air was filled with the scent of evergreen trees. Piles of holly berries, kumquats, teasels, pine cones were everywhere.

For years volunteers of every age have descended on the Community Center to make merry and create beautiful Christmas wreaths.

Tinka Lunt

Tinka Lunt – one of the founders of the Christmas Wreath Workshop

Tinka Lunt told me that twenty years ago Scott Creelman, a member of the Historic Deerfield Board of Trustees, came home from a meeting in frustration. He told his wife they should be doing something special for Christmas, but he didn’t know what.  His wife, Joanna, and Tinka Lunt quickly put their heads together and invented the idea of making wreaths for some of the historic houses. Since then an annual workshop is held so everyone can work together.

Lunt told me it was Joanna’s idea, and together they refined the plan. “What made it work was everything had to be natural. After all, Christmas wasn’t a big thing in the 18th century. They certainly didn’t have tinsel or shiny balls or anything like that.  What they did have was plant material, shells and other things. Joanna and I decided everything had to be natural.

“For the workshop we provide wire frames and greenery to share. We can teach people how to make the wreaths if they are novices. We are happy when people bring their own tools, but we also have clippers, wire, florist sticks, glue and glue guns.

“Some people bring their own decorations like lady apples, guinea hen feathers, corn husks and rose hips. We have ornaments from past years as well, so there are always plenty of embellishments to use.

“Experienced volunteers show others how to gather a bunch of greens the size of their hand and wire it to the frame and keep doing that until the wreath is made.  Some people liked to add the embellishments as they attach the greenery, but others add the embellishments afterwards. Either way it works.  And there is never ever an ugly wreath.”

Sara and Campbell Ardery

Daughter and mother (L-R)Campbell and Sara Ardery making a Christmas wreath

There is a special satisfaction for the volunteers. When they finish each wreath gets a label with their name and a list of all the greens and embellishments they have added.

There have been changes in the workshop over the years. Originally they got trees from Nims Tree Farm. The trees were delivered and then volunteers had to cut off the branches themselves as they were needed. When the Nims Farm closed they turned to Kingsbury’s Christmas Trees. They do not bring trees over; their delivery is of all-ready- cut branches from different evergreens including balsam fir, Scotch pine, white spruce, Douglas fir and many others.

Sheila Kelley

Sheila Kelley   It takes practice to make a big Christmas wreath!

The number of volunteers has grown, as has the number of wreaths made. In 2017 the 43 volunteers made 59 wreaths that went on 51 buildings. This year Lunt expects  that there may be 60 buildings, including the Fire House, the Indian House and the Post Office that get a wreath. Some of the houses have double doors. Lunt said wreaths for the double doors were particularly difficult to make because they have to match in size. Sarah Hollister of Colrain, a descendant of the Sheldon family, is often assigned those double doors because she is especially skilled.

Girl Scouts – Sara and Teagan – working together to make their Christmas wreath

Not all of the volunteers are experts. Children are an important part of the festivities and labor. Children in the first, second and third grades get lots of help making simple projects. By the time they get into the fourth, fifth and sixth grades they can take on their own projects Lunt said.

A crew of Girl Scouts comes every year. Girl Scout leader Katie Josephs has been bringing her Scouts ever since 2013. That means some of them will age out this year. But a second group started coming to the workshop in 2017; they are in the 8th grade this year. The Scouts work in teams set up by the leaders.

Meredith Bedell and Maddy Battisti – older Girl Scouts with their Christmas wreaths

The wreaths are now all in place and this year the Guide to the Wreaths of Deerfield will be a little different. The back page of the Guide will include a map of all the houses and buildings that will be given a wreath. This will make it easier for all the visitors to know they have seen all the wreaths, or at least all the wreaths on their favorite houses.

My own Christmas wreath, made at the Chapley Nursery in Deerfield with members of the Greenfield Garden Club a few weeks ago, is definitely not as lush and gorgeous as Deerfield’s wreaths. Even so I think my small wreath is very pretty. I want you to know that the only adornments are red and gold winterberries from my own garden. When I stand back to admire my own wreath I have to agree with Lunt when she says there is never an ugly wreath.

For a copy of the Deerfield Wreath Walk Guide click here

Between the Rows  December 7, 2019

Deerfield wreath

Christmas Wreath by Sarah Hollister


“Mast” The Fruit of the Forest Trees – Acorns, Beech Nuts and Even Raspberries

Greenfield Community College – oaks and mast.

Why mast years? This year a heavy crop of acorns is falling on the ground. Just look under any oak tree, or walk across the campus at Greenfield Community College. These acorns are the most visible crop of tree seeds which are also called ‘mast.’

Acorns and other ‘hard mast’ like hickory nuts and beech nuts are just a few of the crops that feed local wildlife. There is also ‘soft mast’ including blackberries, blueberries and apples. In addition to squirrels, pigeons, blue jays, owls and woodpeckers depend on mast to fatten up or prepare for migration. Rats and deer also come around for their share of acorns. Acorns are a big part of the deers’ winter diet. The larvae of some moths live and feed on young acorns as they develop.

Acorns are important to all these groups because they contain generous amounts of important nutrients, proteins, carbohydrates and fats, as well as calcium, phosphorus and potassium. Calcium and phosphorus are just as important to the bones of wildlife creatures as they are to us humans. Potassium and other vitamins are also important to wildlife.

In ancient times humans ate acorns, too, but not until after boiling them. Acorns are full of tannins which do no human digestive system any good until they are cooked. Acorn flour can be made and then needs to be stored carefully to prevent mold. Some Indigenous peoples still include acorns in their diet. Others will turn to acorns in times of famine.  Today some people are reconsidering the value of acorns in an environment that is changing.


Mast – acorns

All that food value makes it clear what acorns and other mast do for animals. What does it mean for the trees if wild creatures are going to eat all their seeds?

Actually, acorns and other nuts are not all eaten by wildlife in a mast year. Too many nuts are dropped. Some nuts will be eaten near the tree. Some will be carried away and cached for winter meals by the birds and animals. Some of those nuts will be lost or forgotten by the animals and the nuts will germinate and grow far from the parent tree. Trees need wildlife to disperse their seeds and take root.

Neither do mast years occur regularly. Depending on the tree species it may take up to five years before another mast year occurs. Science does not definitively know how or why it is so, but there are theories. Everyone agrees that it takes a lot of energy for a tree to produce a heavy crop. It is also true that some trees like red oaks take two years for their acorns to ripen.  It is not hard to believe that a tree will need time to recover before it can create another mast year.

One thing scientists do agree on is that a mast year is not a predictor of a coming bad winter. Neither is it caused by other weather fluctuations.

Then the question is how do the trees all know how to produce great volumes of seed at the same time?  It wouldn’t help if one tree was spreading lots of seeds, if all the other trees were still making very few seeds.

Is it that the weather is similar over large areas? Is it that the wind pollinates trees at the same time some years?

There is not a solid answer to those questions, but one thought is becoming more popular. Peter Wollheben, a German forester, cared for his forests for many years beginning in 1987. Over time he became convinced that techniques and technologies he was expected to use damaged the trees. He objected to plantation monocultures and the use of heavy machinery in the forests. He was more and more interested in the ecology involved with forest management.

Wohlleben also came to believe that the web of fungi that grows around tree roots, covering vast expanses, made it possible for trees to collect nutrients and water, and then share those resources with other trees. One experiment found that in a large grove of beeches, where not all the trees had the same soil, scientists discovered that they all had the same rate of photosynthesis. The leaves of every tree got the same amount of sugar in spite of the differences in soil.

The fungi also send chemical and electrical signals, although not in the same way that they work for plants. Dr. Suzanne Simard in Nature magazine coined the term Wood Wide Web; some scientists call these mycorrhizal networks.

It is Wohlleben’s wish that if we all come to think that trees have ‘emotional lives and needs’ as he does, that we will become aware of ways that forests can give us respite at the same time the trees are benefitting the environment.

Wollheben’s book, The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, What They Communicate explains his thoughts. I believe this is the first book on the subject, but other scientists are supporting the idea that trees are communal and live cooperatively with interdependent relationships and are able to communicate with each other.

When I walk under oak trees, or any other trees that have covered the ground with nuts. I confess that I feel a mystery I cannot understand. I can only wonder and marvel at the mystery.

Between the Rows  November 30, 2019

My Twelfth Blogaversary – December 6, 2019.


On my 12th Blogaversay I am enjoying our first snowfall of 2019

I did not note my first Blogaversary in 2008 but we were rather caught up  with an amazing storm.

In 2009 I celebrated with a giveaway

In 2010 I visited Buffalo for their Garden Walk which was fabulous and chronicled here.  That tour was the first of others I was to take organized by the Garden Bloggers. However  I was  again too busy to note  my blogaversary

It doesn’t look like much, especially in December, but the chickens were happy, and so were we. Eggs! Even in December.

2011 was a floriferous year with garden tours and rose blooms every where. Here is a taste. But in December of 2011 it was the skies that held my attention.   

In 2012 I finally decided I had some real to celebrate, a Fifth Blogaversary. I spent a few paragraphs thinking about the past.  I regret to say the book giveaway no longer exists.  The big event of the summer is always the Heath Fair. Lots of vegetables and flowers. Books, too.

No more blogaversary celebrations in 2013, but my husband is painting again. This camellia is once of his gifts for me.

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day in June is always special. In December of 2014 we were very busy enjoying what we thought might be our last Christmas in Heath.

In December of 2015 we were newly ensconced in a new (to us) house in Greenfield that came with a completely barren backyard.  In this 8th Blogaversary I had books to give away.  Send me a note and you can still get a copy of The Roses as the End of the Road, the tale of my life in roses.

September 30, 2016 and the beds have been enlarged again. No more work this year.

We had another great Garden Bloggers Tour, this time in Minneapolis and environs. What a tour. What beauty we saw. What conversations we had!  On our 9th Blogaversary in 2016 we celebrated the work  of our first full year in Greenfield. The photo above shows all we had done during our first full year. Our children helped and we all had a good time. Don’t forget, the backyard was a blank slate.

In 2017 I looked back at 10 years of blogging, thinking of all the wonderful people I had met and learned from and all the fun Henry and I have had in the garden.  The photo is of  a Christmas snowfall in Heath, a reminder of all the joys we have shared in western Massachusetts since 1979.

My 11th blogaversary came at the end of a wet year. This photo is from early November 2017. I want to mention a highlight of 2018 – the Garden Bloggers Tour in Texas with lots of very different gardens. The post that goes with this photo and others is a stroll down the delights of having a blog.

I wonder at all the events and pleasures I will enjoy as I think of my 13th Blogaversary next year.  A big year. My garden is going to be on the Greenfield Garden Club Garden Tour in summer of 2020!