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Exploring the Hawley Bog: Lilies, Orchids, and Pitcher Plants

Canada lilies

Canada lilies in the Hawley Bog woodland  photo by Will Draxler

Years ago I tried visiting the Hawley bog, but gave up when the walkway gave out.  I had to wait to really see the bog until Sue Draxler offered to be my guide.

Sue Draxler was my neighbor when we lived in Heath. She was a very special neighbor because she loved the natural world and generously shared her knowledge of the world around us. Her love of nature showed itself in many ways, in her art works, and in exhibits of wood or insects created by her sons, Will and Alex, for display at the Heath Fair. Not only were those exhibits informative, they were beautifully arranged and labeled. This was a reflection of Draxler’s 20 years of working as a naturalist for an environmental center in New Jersey, and volunteering with other groups.

Draxler told me “Even as a child I enjoyed exploring the natural world. I would try to identify and make lists of the birds, bugs, and plants that I found. I think I told you that it was in the New Jersey Pinelands that I became enamored of bogs so I was delighted to discover the Hawley bog so nearby when we moved to Heath.”

Last week Draxler invited me to walk through the Hawley Bog with her, and her son. Will is 16 and a student at the Academy at Charlemont where he has been gaining greater and greater skills with a camera. Draxler said this was a good time to visit the Bog because the orchids would be in bloom.

Hawley Bog orchid

Rose Pogonia – Hawley bog orchid  photo by Will Draxler

I didn’t know much about bogs beyond the fact that they were perpetually wet places. I certainly didn’t know I could find orchids in a bog.

Neither did I know that the Hawley Bog is considered one of the best examples of a natural New England Bog. It covers an area of 65 acres; 25 of those acres are cared for by the Nature Conservancy and the Five Colleges, Inc. The colleges use the bog as a living classroom and laboratory for research. This fragile wetland includes a mat of peat moss 30 feet thick that floats on the open water of a glacial lake. A 700 foot walkway through the Bog was renovated a few years ago to make it available to students and to interested nature lovers.

Draxler, son Will, and I met early in the morning to drive to the Bog. We parked at the well marked entrance to the woods and began to walk. Within very few minutes we stopped admire bright and dainty Canada lilies, and to sign in at a weather proof box nailed to a tree. The Nature Conservancy likes to keep a tally of visitors and where they come from. We had not far to go through the woods to step on the walkway.

Witches broom

Witches broom is a fungus that can grow on trees and shrubs

Draxler explained that this first section was really a wet meadow. As we walked we could see that the land beneath the walkway getting wetter and wetter. It all looked very green. I did recognize the mountain laurels, but Draxler had to point out the odd collection of brown and green sticks growing on a branch. “Do you know about witches’ brooms?” she asked. No, I did not. She had to explain that this deformity was caused by fungus or viruses and it could attack trees or shrubs. I noticed many more witches’ brooms on trees and shrubs as we walked.

Then Draxler pointed out a pink orchid. This is when I learned about how to look carefully. These pink orchids were no bigger than my thumbnail. That day we only saw Rose Pogonia with its pink crest and fringed lip. Later I learned that there are about 30,000 species of orchids around the world. Large and small. As we walked we saw more and more of these tiny pink orchids. It was very exciting. Draxler said there had not been so many in bloom the previous week.

Yellow loosestrife

Yellow loosestrife, only 8-10 inches tall  photo by Will Draxler

I did recognize meadowsweet with its dainty white panicles, but Draxler patiently pointed out the Royal fern and Ostrich fern by name, as well as the delicate little yellow loosestrife, and the heart-shaped leaf of water arum. I pointed out the odd grass with little fluffy tips but it was Draxler who provided the name – cotton grass. We also saw a small meadow rue which was actually a tall meadow rue, Thalictrum polygamum,  which has no petals, but starry bursts of while threadlike stamens.

Meadow rue - photo taken by Will Draxler

Meadow rue – photo taken by Will Draxler  Very different from the meadow rue in my own garden.

As we walked there were fewer trees and shrubs, Will silently following, stopping to take photographs of the varied plants. We had to look very carefully to see the tiny sundews that were sending up tiny flowers. The pitcher plants were bigger and more familiar. Bogs don’t grow many plants because the bog soil is very acidic and has little nutrition. Carnivorous plants can happily grow in a bog because they get nutrition from their prey.

Hawley bog Pitcher plant

Hawley Bog Pitcher Plant – Sarracenia purpuria   photo by Will Draxler

We came to the end of the walkway, where it turns around and returns. From here the view is of a vast expanse of some low greenery. It was hard not to think about the thousands of years that it took to make this bog. Layer after layer of sphagnum moss grows and dies, but it does not completely decay.

We began to walk back. There was lots of greenery, grass-like plants that we did not name. However, Draxler did give me a rhyme that might help me identify the species. “Sedges have edges, rushes are round, and grasses have knees that bend to the ground” referring to their jointed nodes.  I loved the rhyme in all its versions, but alas, we did not classify any of the ‘grasses’ we found.

It was two hours later that we returned to the car with a plan to return in August and in the fall, so we can both see the progression of the seasons. I cannot have a more congenial guide and teacher than Sue Draxler. Eventually, I will share those visits and  lessons some time in the future. ###

Between the Rows  July 20, 2019

Perennials and Annuals Make the Cutting Garden

peonies

Peonies have long stems and have a variety of colors and forms, perfect for a cutting garden

The rains started last August. The rains continued during our long cold spring. The effect on my garden was that a number of plants drowned including my beautiful double weeping cherry. The view from my kitchen window was now bleak and empty.

To remedy the situation now and for the future we first needed to raise our already raised planting beds. Spring rains kept us from beginning this project.  To raise the height of the beds we needed more soil and our beloved Martin’s Compost Farm could not supply that soil because the rains put a stop to their operations.

Finally, Martin’s Farm was able to deliver four more yards of compo-soil and we moved load after load to the two planting beds. Once again we had barren beds. What to do?

We began by planting a water-tolerant quince bush surrounded by water tolerant sedums, yarrow and silvery Artemisia in the most northerly bed. The water tolerant Aesclepius tuberosa, the ornamental native orange flowered milkweed, and cardinal flowers were thriving. Even so, we did add more soil to the area around these plants.

I took a different approach with the second bed, which is right in front of my kitchen windows. We hadn’t decided on a planting scheme and decided that for this year we would plant annuals on this small area while we devised a plan. In went seedlings and starts of cosmos, snapdragons, zinnias, marigolds, and two clumps of dianthus. Needless to say it doesn’t look like much right now.

Annual cosmos

Annual cosmos comes in a variety of colors. Long stems, lacy foliage

Then, one day I looked at the second bed, about eleven by eight feet, with its little flowers and thought I might turn it into a permanent cutting garden bed. The flowers in a cutting garden are chosen because they easily make pretty bouquets. Snapdragons, cosmos, and zinnias are certainly good bouquet flowers. It would be lovely to be able to share my garden by giving friends and family an occasional bouquet.

A cutting garden can make use of perennials, annuals and even herbs in a bouquet. Most gardens have perennials suitable for a bouquet. The question is will there be enough for bouquets and the flower garden. A big question.

The summer perennials that come to my mind are peonies, yarrow, phlox, helenium, gaillardia, dahlias, asters, and black eyed susans who each have their own blooming season. There are also perennials like Lady’s mantle that has gray-green ruffled leaves that make a pretty collar around a bouquet.

I think many of us are familiar with the practice of judiciously cutting back perennials early in the season to create more lush blooms later in the summer. When you prune those perennials cut them carefully and remove most leaves.

Annuals with long stems are best for many bouquets. I am always careful to choose long legged zinnias. To keep annuals blooming through the season I’ve been told that blooming annuals should be cut back once, or even twice a week. This practice will keep new flowers coming.

This regular cutting of flowers to use in bouquets means learning where to make the cut. When you are beginning to harvest annual flowers, the first cut should be made above three or four side shoots. This will generate more strong flowering shoots which will be cut back in their own time. Be careful to cut back stems that are growing towards the center of the plant to keep stems from being overcrowded.

red zinnias

Red zinnias – and annual with long stems. Vibrant color

There are many annuals that can be started by seeds, or seedlings bought at the garden center. Just a few of the annuals for a cutting garden include gomphrena,  phlox, love-lies-bleeding, Mexican sunflower, china asters, nigella, the red flanders poppy, China asters, Shasta daisies and other ‘daisy’ flowers like osteospurmums.

Herbs like rosemary, dill, sage and oregano can also have a place in a bouquet.  Herbs provide pleasant scents and attractive foliage.

Yarrow or achillea

Yarrow – a strong, long stemmed achillea

I’m known for running out to pick a few flowers to stick in a vase and calling it a day. This kind of bouquet will be pretty for a day or two. However, making a bouquet that will last for a few days takes some preparation.

The best time for cutting flowers is early in the morning or in early evening when the flower stems will be full of water.  Use a very clean pail or container with clean lukewarm water. Use a sharp snips or garden clippers to cut flower stems at about the same length so they will not crush each other in the pail.

If a plant has floppy stems I have heard that some gardeners roll the stems in newspaper to hold them erect.  Don’t crowd the flowers in your bucket.  Maybe you’ll need two buckets if you are making a large bouquet.  Also think about whether it is necessary to have a separate container for each flower you are gathering.

The bucket of flowers should be left in a cool place for at least three hours, or overnight.

I have never been very successful using floral foam, but many people swear by the help foam provides. Others like to use a bit of balled up chicken wire to hold the flowers in place.

My cutting garden has not been carefully thought out this year, but it has given me food for thought for next year.

Between the Rows  July 13, 2019

Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day July 15, 2019

Hellstrip with plants

Hellstrip, Tree belt
Coneflowers, daylilies, centaurea, yarrow

I DON’T KNOW WHY THIS DIDN’T GET POSTED ON THE 15th – BUT I’M HERE NOW.

The climate is much on my mind as I celebrate Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day here in western Massachusetts. Last summer was very wet, and the wet continued this spring. I lost many plants and I am in the process of re-designing (and I use the term loosely) and replanting. The last three weeks have been very hot (high 80’s and 90) and very dry.  Is this a promise that we will have hotter drier summers? I have had to water the hellstrip which was beginning to get crispy.  Even so, I think it looks lush and wonderful, with lots of flowers yet to bloom.

Daylily border

Daylily border section on the south bed

The daylilies are doing well. I love daylilies because they tolerate wet sites, and they are doing well this hot summer.

Elsa's Mystery Daylily

Elsa’s Mystery Daylily

Last summer I went up to the  Stone Meadow Gardens in Ashfield daylily farm determined to add some interesting colors to my collection. I was successful. In addition, the owners Phil Pless and Linda Taylor gave me a piece of this  tall yellow small daylily named Elsa’s Mystery. They knew I was a good friend of Elsa Bakalar, as they were. They said Elsa named this daylily because she had lost its real name. I am delighted their collection gave me the richness of color that I was looking for, and a memento of a dear friend.

rich color daylily

A cheerful daylily from Stone Meadow Gardens

Blue Paradise Phlox

Blue Paradise phlox

This phlox is slowly taking hold. I think it might need a little more sun.

Kordes Polar Express

Kordes Polar Express

The roses are taking a little rest. There are few blooms, but I am hoping that with some deadheading there will be a second flush.

button bush

Buttonbush

It is hard to remember that those spiky balls are buttonbush flowers. The buttonbush has thrived with all the rain, but you can see that the flowers are getting brown in their centers. I think they will not last long.

The North Planting Bed

The is the most northerly of the three raised planting beds. This section of the bed suffered from the flooding of  the garden. No more perennials or pagoda dogwood. The Aesclpias and not-yet-blooming cardinal flowers and that amazing golden mat of sedum are all that was left of this area. New plants include a quince bush, obedient plants, yarrow and helenium.

Delphiniums

Delphiniums

I don’t know if it is cheating, but these delphiniums were knocked down in  the wind  yesterday. I had to let you see them. The color is extraordinary!

View from the office

I’m adding this View from the Office so you can get some idea of most of the garden, including the Center and North Beds.  I’m thinking maybe I will make that area of the Center Bed a cutting garden next year.

I thank Carol over at May Dreams Gardens for making it possible to share our gardens and see what is blooming all across our great land. Go on over to see it all!

More pix – just for fun

Daylily on the hellstrip

Lavender daylilies on south hellstrip

Double orange daylily

Deep red and gold daylily – which the camera does not really catch

I seem to have several doubles, and frilled daylilies

Cocktail Hour in the Garden with a Neighbor and Barbecue

Pat and Henry

My husband Henry and me, toasting our neighbor Wendy and her lush garden.

Gardening in the summer can be hot and dirty. But a reprieve is the reward. It’s time to put away our tools and wash up. It’s time for a tranquil cocktail hour in the garden. Time to sit with a spouse, and time to sit with a friend in the midst of your garden beauty. The ideal place for the cocktail hour is in the shade with birds chirping, and floral fragrances carried by the breeze.

When I was browsing my bookshelves the other day I noticed that I had three books that inspired me to think more about the delights of a cocktail hour.

The Cocktail Hour Garden by C.L. Fornari

C.L. Fornari

Cocktail Hour Garden by C.L. Fornari

The first book, C.L. Fornari’s book The Cocktail Hour Garden covers just about every aspect of making that hour delicious. She suggests ways of creating evening landscapes for relaxation and entertaining. She describes the way the late afternoon sun provides backlighting through her foliage. That same sun can throw artistic shadows of well placed perennials.

Like all of us she welcomes the birds and butterflies into her garden with feeding and watering places. She also suggests the kinds of flowers that can provide food for them and beauty for you at the same time. Fornari provides great information about the birds and the bees with generous lists and descriptions of appropriate plants like asters, coreopsis, liatris, joe pye weed and more.

She also reminds us that the sound of moving water is soothing and calming. It also attracts the birds. This is perfect music for the end of the day.

If your cocktail hour begins or extends into the night she touches on the white flowers like phlox David, white zinnias, and Star Cluster coreopsis that will add a soft glimmer.

The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart

The Drunken Botanist

The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart

The second book is by Amy Stewart who has written fascinating books about plants. These include Wicked Plants: The Weed That Killed Lincoln’s Mother & Other Botanical Atrocities. Perhaps to provide a balance, she also wrote The Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create the World’s Great Drinks. There are recipes for fermented and distilled drinks from margaritas to Moscow Mule, to Blushing Mary.

There are recipes for syrups, infusions and garnishes from prickly pear syrup to limoncello. She even gives a template with suggestions on making up your own cocktails.

Stewart’s book is a delight because she is not just a knowledgeable bar tender. She also knows a lot about botany, the plants that are used in these libations. For example, her recipe for Royal Tannenbaum gets its name because of the pine liqueur that is added to London dry gin with a sprig of rosemary. Did you know there are eight distinct gins, or that there is a liqueur made from the arola stone pine resin? Nor did I.

Stewart is a great researcher.  She talks about many of the plants most commonly used in alcoholic drinks. In addition, she adds historical and medical notes. She includes fascinating bits of information about physicians and scientists who 400 years ago and more discovered and used birch sap in making medicines – and a good addition to ale.

After reading a few pages of The Drunken Botanist you’ll be able to regale your cocktail hour companions with intriguing stories from agave to wormwood.

Harvest by Stefani Bittner and Alethea Harampolis

Harvest by Bittner and Harampolis

Harvest by Bittner and Harampolis

Finally, the third inspiring book on my shelf  is Harvest: Unexpected projects using 47 extraordinary garden plants by Stefani Bittner and Althea Harampolis. The book, with its beautiful photographs, is arranged by season, spring, summer and fall.

I always have rhubarb in my garden. It has beautiful foliage, and I will need it for my rhubarb-strawberry pie filling. Bittner and Harampolis begin their book with a recipe for rhubarb quick pickles. The pickling liquid includes peppercorns, chilies and apple cider vinegar. It takes only 48 hours to pickle. The ladies suggest it as an addition to a cheese plate. You can also use a piece of rhubarb as a swizzle stick for your drink.

Some recipes use familiar ingredients like poppy seeds, feverfew, oregano, and lemon balm for eating and drinking. Others are for tinctures or other medicines. For instance yarrow flowers and leaves can be transformed, with the help of brandy, into a tincture to be taken by mouth, or on your skin. Tinctures are very strong so only a bit is used at a time.

I thought the recipe for pomegranate margarita would be a good suggestion for the cocktail hour. The pomegranate margarita is a beautiful pink drink that requires tequila and triple sec as well as pomegranate juice. Maybe even some pomegranate seeds.

Of course some of us may have a few aches at the end of a day in the garden. Bittner and Harampolis have the recipe for a colorful calendula infused essential oil for a massage, or for dry skin.

Last week my neighbor Wendy Sibbison invited my husband and me to join her for a cocktail, at the end of the day. She followed up with grilled chicken, homemade bread, and, as it happened, a delicious mango sorbet.  All I had to do was bring the salad. We sipped her special gin and tonic, ate everything on the table, and enjoyed the cooling breeze as we admired her climbing roses and clematis.

Are there garden cocktail hours on your schedule this summer?

Here I am among the delpniniums, peonies and lilies

Between the Rows    July 6, 2019

Desirable Groundcovers Mean Less Weeding

Green and gold groundcover

Green and gold groundcover

We all know that groundcovers cover the ground.  However,the problem is that there are good groundcovers and bad groundcovers. If you are like me you spend a bit of time cursing the weedy plants sneaking over our ground. I have two responses to the problem. Sometimes I weed casually, then put down paper or cardboard topped with bark mulch. Sometimes I cover the ground with good low growing plants that do a good job of holding weeds at bay.

tiarella

Tiarella – Foam Flower

Actually, there are many blooming ground covers. I have long used foam flower (Tiarella cordifolia) that spreads by runners. The flowers are airy racemes on wiry stems and will bloom for about six weeks in the spring.

Barren strawberry

Waldsteinia – barren strawberry

In addition, I use barren strawberry (Waldsteinia) which is definitely not a strawberry plant. However its shiny dark green foliage is strawberry-like as are the little yellow flowers that bloom in the spring. I’m told they can be up to eight inches high, but the dense mats of foliage in my garden never get that tall. You can use this around walkways because it can tolerate light foot traffic.

Lady's mantle

Alchemilla mollis

However, all sorts of plants can be called ground covers. I use lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis) around some of my roses. Lady’s mantle is a lusty low growing perennial with soft frilly light green leaves that can be six inches across. It can reach a height of about 12 inches with flower stalks holding chartreuse blossoms that last most of the summer. It spreads and grows thickly enough to keep out most weeds. And it is very pretty.

Tiarella, Waldsteinia and Alchemilla thrive in full sun or part shade and spread energetically in rich soil.

Primroses (Primulla) produce their pretty flowers in the spring, but their dense foliage does not allow weeds to take hold. Primroses prefer at least some shade, and a moist area. This means they are absolutely perfect for my wet garden.

Pussytoes (Antennaria plantaginifolia) covers dry ground happily. It is very attractive in rock gardens. The silver-gray flowers on foot tall stems are thought to look like cat’s feet, but the velvety foliage is dense and flat. It is not only pretty, and good for dry sunny areas, it is poisonous to deer and rabbits. And they know it and avoid it.

Epimediums (sometimes called bishop’s hat) are wonderful groundcovers. They have green and reddish foliage on wiry stems and reach a height of eight to twelve inches. The appeal is their dense growth and the miniature flowers that come in an array of colors and forms in the spring. They welcome sun and shade and prefer a moist site with rich soil. Given good soil they will spread nicely. They should be cut back in the fall.  We are fortunate to have a wonderful epimedium nursery in Phillipston, Massachusetts https://epimediums.com with hundreds of beautiful varieties.

Chrysogonum virginianum, much better known as green-and-gold, is new to me. The name is self descriptive. There are low green leaves with golden flowers in the spring. They prefer some shade and moisture. Not a problem in Greenfield these last months. I became acquainted with this lovely little plant when it was included in the meadow garden plantings at the John Zon Community Center. It is beautiful right now.

I never thought of Coral bells (Heucheras) as ground covers because of their height. The foliage is often about 10” high, but the flower stalks can be two feet high. Each clump will gain in width, but they do not spread by runners. Groupings of several plants do serve well as ground covers.

Violets are always found in lists of ground covers. Many call them weeds, but there certainly are areas in many gardens where it is easy to give up the fight and let the violets have their way. With strict limits, of course. Violets grow densely and keep out other weeds. In addition violets are the only food to nourish frittilary butterfly larvae.

The list of blooming ground covers is long and includes familiar lamb’s ears, ajuga, , mazus, creeping baby’s breath, hostas, fringed bleeding heart, wintergreen and partridgeberry.

Fringed bleeding heart

Fringed bleeding heart – Dicentra eximia

Obviously, groundcovers come in many forms including shrubs and vines which I will not touch on today. However, I’d like to mention the family of sedums, or stonecrops. I have some edging areas where I have grown sedums. Unfortunately, I have lost their names, if I ever knew them

Many of us are familiar with low growing hen-and-chicks and the taller, more substantial Autumn Joy that blooms in the fall. Those are common sedums but there are countless unique sedums available in nurseries.  Of course, we often have neighbors who are willing to share their ever increasing  sedums. Or we can  buy them at plant sales.

In my own garden I have several sedum varieties, including two low creeping sedums.

Sedum spurium

Sedum spurium

Sedum reflexum has bright golden needle-like leaves that outshines any other sedum in its brilliance. It grows vigorously and the color is an eye-stopper.

Sedum spurium is comprised of creeping succulent florets. My nameless variety is green with a touch of red, but the Dragon’s Blood variety turns rich shades of red in the summer and is popular because of its dramatic presence.

Do you curse the weeds? You might want to add some groundcovers to your plantings.

Between the Rows  June 29, 2019round