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Joe Pye Weed for the Butterflies

Joe Pye Weed

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

Joe Pye Weed

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

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

Mountain Mint for Pollinators and for Tea

Mountain Mint

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

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

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

Welcome Pollinators

Tom Sullivan of Welcome Pollinators

When we think of pollinators we think of honeybees, being trucked to orchards in the spring or to pollinate vast mid-western fields in the summer. The decline of the honey bee, because of disease, mites, and the mysterious Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), has been in the news for some years. The concern is that crops will be threatened by insufficient pollination and our food supply will be in danger.

Knowing all this, Tom Sullivan, a former bee keeper, is taking a larger view of the array of pollinators available to farmers and gardeners, pollinators that often work quietly, and almost invisibly.

I visited Sullivan in his small garden in “The Patch” where flowers, herbs, vegetables and fruit trees attract and benefit all manner of pollinators including some of the 356 (and counting) kinds of native bees. He showed me the simple bee box he made that would attract some of these native bees and give them the conditions they need to lay their eggs. Of course, buzzing bumblebees and all kinds of other pollinating insects like the tiny hoverfly were also working the flowers in the garden.

Tom Sullivan’s Bee Box


Sullivan did not come to his passion for pollinators all at once. He has a degree in education but as a young man he joined many others in their desire to go back-to-the-land. Living and farming inNew Hampshirehe found training at The Rural Education Center (TREC) founded in 1979 by Stanley Kaymen. There he met and was inspired by Bill Mollison who awoke his interest in permaculture, a system of sustainable agriculture. TREC soon became Stonyfield Yogurt and Sullivan was able to use his skill as mason and tile-setter to build the first Stonyfield Yogurt building in 1984.

His skill as mason has supported his agricultural dreams and efforts over the decades, and he was always taking advantage of opportunities to learn more. A move to theBostonarea found him working for the Boston Parks Department, doing landscape construction, and getting additional training through the Urban Environmental Practices Program at Roxbury Community College.

When Boston became “too much city” Sullivan moved out to western Massachusetts and ultimately to Montague City. His new friendship with Dave Jacke and Jono Neiger, both Conway School of Landscape Design graduates, led him to the School and his own graduation in 2008. By this time the news was filled with stories of Colony Collapse Disorder. Dan Conlon of the Warm Colors Apiary invited Sullivan to a 2008 pollinator conference at the University of Massachusetts. “I was just blown away,” he said.

As Sullivan gave me the tour of his garden he explained that his first desire was “to support the whole ecosystem with pollinator habitat expansion because our native bees, and so many other insects and native plants, are being affected by loss of habitat. There is also indiscriminate use of pesticides and herbicides, so freely applied by home owners and to a lesser extent by farmers. Multiple forces are at work that we must counter with abundant well-functioning ecologies.”

One way he expands pollinator habitat is by reducing his lawn. He does have a shady spot where he and friends can sit on a bit of lawn, but his yard is densely planted with vegetables and herbs mingled with flowers including bee balm, butterfly weed, garlic chives, and asters that attract pollinators. He went on to explain his Yard by Yard project. “If we only gave up 3 feet around the perimeter of our properties we’d add a lot [of habitat] and it would be beautiful — or even more so with a good design. Yard By Yard is a concept – my idea of making more connectivity between habitats with our yards being the conduit.”

While he has designed his garden to be attractive to pollinators, it is also attractive to visitors. A large apple tree provides an oasis of shade in this sunny garden, flowers are in bloom in every season, and a large handsome bamboo trellis supports green beans. Sullivan wouldn’t know what to do with vegetables grown in rows. They are arranged between curving paths which can lead you into corner where you’ll discover a real surprise – fig trees. The fig trees need to be brought inside for the winter, but they were bearing fruit when I saw them.

He has even planted the hell-strip in front of his house with pollinator friendly plants, again reducing lawn.

In other words, Sullivan’s desire to provide habitat for pollinators goes beyond what he needs for his small vegetable garden. With the recognized importance of our local food system and the growth of local small farms he wants to teach us all how we can participate in protecting and creating pollinator habitat. “The deepest part of me is teaching,” he said.

To this end, he has launched a website,, and a garden design and installation business. He has also found himself in demand as a speaker for garden clubs and other organizations like the Hitchock Center.  Later this summer he will be speaking at the Northeast Organic Farmers Association conference in Amherst, and then at the Garlic and Arts Festival in Orange.

Between the Rows  July 20, 2013

Welcome to the Greenfield Garden Club Tour on Saturday, July 6

Welcome to the Greenfield Garden Club Garden Tour.

Welcome seems to be the theme on the Greenfield Garden Club Tour which will be held on Saturday, July 6 from 9 am to 4 pm. This beautiful garden on a challenging slope in Gill has several garden rooms, from the small sunny garden with its fountain and pool surrounded by astilbes, ornamental grasses and bright coreopsis to the woodland garden with its gravel paths and colorful mushroom ornaments. Each garden has its own welcome sign, and its own seating. This gardener knows it’s all very well to invite a person into the garden, but there must be a place to sit and visit, or to meditate, depending on one’s mood.

This garden with such a variety of moods and welcomes is only one of the nine gardens, mostly in Greenfield, that will be welcoming visitors on the Tour. I have visited a couple of the gardens on previous tours and I am interested to see how they have changed over the years. If a garden is anything, it is change.

One garden has had to change because storms have decreed the removal of two large trees. Where there was shade there is now sun. The garden has also changed because of changes in the gardener’s energies and interests. More native plants, and less lawn.

One Greenfield garden is a veritable Eden of fruit trees including figs! Another garden illustrates how much can be done in a short (in gardener’s terms) period of time. In just three years this garden has turned a tangle of invasives into productive fruit and vegetable gardens, as well as a small pond to provide wildlife habitat, and hardy native woodland plants.

A Gill Garden

It is interesting to me to see how many of these gardeners are interested in sustainability. They are looking to sustain their own health by producing their own food, while they are also sustaining the health of our environment by eliminating lawns that can use so many resources.

One garden is planned as a pollinator’s paradise. In addition to planting a few vegetables as well as apples, rhubarb and an assortment of berries, the garden is filled with Echinacea, sundrops, New England asters, sunflowers, red clover and many other flowers that attract those important pollinators, native bees and beautiful butterflies.

In addition to these nine idea filled gardens, the Greenfield Club Garden Tour will also offer complimentary refreshments and a lottery where you might win a moss garden, a hypertufa trough or other prize. Tickets are $12 and are available at the Trap Plain Garden at the corner of Federal and Silver Streets. Tickets will be available from 9 am til 1 pm on the day of the tour, Saturday, July 6. The rain date is July 7, but only in the event of a washout.

Proceeds from the garden tour go to fund the Club’s civic projects, including and especially grants for school gardens.


Peony in bloom, without ants

While I was preparing for my own garden party, the work crew, daughters, granddaughters, and great-granddaughters spent considerable time weeding the Peony Bed. Reactions to the ants crawling on the fat peony buds ranged from “Eeeeeuw!” to “What are the ants doing, (great) Granny?”

This is a common question. Ants do not seem to be anyone’s favorites insect. In fact, when faced with most insects, many non-gardeners, and some inexperienced gardeners tend to react with a yell for the bug killer. This is often unnecessary, especially when it comes to ants on peony buds. As it happens, peony buds have an exterior scale that exudes a sweet nutritious nectar and the ants are just chowing down. They are neither hurting, nor helping the peonies in any way. However, the ants are so fond of this nectar that they can ward off other insects that might cause damage to the bud.

When the peonies open there is no more nectar and the ants abandon the plant. Don’t worry about the ants, and definitely, don’t run for some poison.

We are organic gardeners and do not use any poisons in the garden. We don’t use weed killers or bug killers  – well, except for wasps nests right next to the door. That means our lawn is a flowery mead and not fine turf. I was horrified to read that after applying some lawn fertilizer/herbicide, or walking on that treated lawn,  you should remove your shoes before coming into the house. All summer. I prefer the flowery mead and see no need for the extra work that fine turf requires.

As for bugs, we don’t seem to have serious problems with bugs here at the End of the Road. Once, long ago, while chatting with my next door neighbor, we watched my 5 very young children climb out of their low, ground floor bedroom window to play in the yard when they were supposed to be taking naps. She just sighed and said that God protected drunks and fools. I don’t drink so you can see where that left me.

I put down milky spore disease nearly 30 years ago and now have only a handful of Japanese beetles every year. Maybe it is because our garden is so isolated. Maybe I am just lucky. Maybe I am still under the Almighty’s protection.

Many mysteries in the garden. I have always said so.

Between the Rows  June 29, 2013


Honeybees in the Air


Honeybees at Warm Colors Apiary Bee Yard

Honeybees are in the air, literally and figuratively. A friend, Edward Maeder, who just moved to an old house in Greenfield suddenly saw clouds of honeybees and saw that a swarm had settled into the barn attached to his house. He raced to visit Don Conlon of Warm Colors Apiary to find someone who could help him. A local beekeeper who had also been at the Apiary returned with Maeder and said that he and a friend would remove the swarm. There is an old beekeepers’s adage: A swarm in May is worth a load of hay/ A swarm in June is worth a silver spoon/ But a swarm in July ain’t worth a fly.

However, before the swarm could be collected, the bees moved into the wall of the house. A little research revealed that two years ago another swarm of bees had been removed from that wall. Though the bees had been removed whatever honeycomb and honey they had made had not been removed. The new wandering swarm smelled the old honeycomb and moved right in. Local beekeepers are always happy to be called in to collect a swarm, especially in May.

My Experience With Honeybees

My husband and I had a similar experience. Our first spring in Heath we set up two beehives right in back of the house. People had advised against this because of the local bears who were known to make quick work of a hive. I thought bears would not come so near the house. Wrong again, Pat.

Though there was very little for them to enjoy, bears came two weeks later and tore the hives apart. We realized we’d have to put beekeeping aside until we figured out a good way to protect the hives. In the meantime we put the hive remnants, with whatever honeycomb remained, in a corner of our old barn. A couple of years later we saw that honeybees had been attracted the broken hives by the fragrance of honeycomb and set up housekeeping. We just let them stay there. Unfortunately, they were destroyed along with the hives when our barn was hit by lightning in 1990.

A couple of weeks ago Nan Fischlein and I gave a tour of the Bridge of Flowers to three first grade classes from the Discovery School at Four Corners. They had been studying bridges and pollinators and the Bridge provided the perfect example for both studies. The classes are in the process of designing and planting a butterfly garden.

Butterflies and bees are both important pollinators. Cross pollination is vital for many crops. All the orchardists in the area treasure their honeybees, and hope the weather will cooperate to give the bees lots of nectar and pollen, and therefore the orchardists lots of apples, pears, peaches and plums. Many farmers around the country bring in truckloads of beehives to pollinate their crops. Honeybees and other pollinators are vital to our food supply. It is good that children are being taught at an early age of their importance.

Honeybee History and Information

Greenfield holds a place in the history of beekeeping. Lorenzo L. Langstroth, inventor of the moveable frame beehive, was also the minister of the Second Congregational  Church between 1843 and 1848. His invention came after he left Greenfield and he received a patent for his hive in 1852. Still, there is a memorial in front of the church that reads as follows:

Lorenzo Lorraine Langstroth

December 25, 1810

October 6, 1895

Pastor of the Second Congregational Church, Greenfield, Massachusetts

1843 – 1848

Inventor of the moveable-frame bee-hive which made modern beekeeping possible, 1851

Scholar, Observer, Author, Friend of Mankind

This tablet is erected as acknowledgement of the debt of beekeepers of the world to his skills and unselfish leadership

July 18, 1948

While Langstroth found a way get honey out of a hive without destroying it, other problems have beset honeybees and other pollinators since 1851. There is the use of pesticides and herbides that kill many useful insects. There is the recent mysterious problem of Colony Collapse Disorder which causes the bees to leave the hive and die. Beekeepers have been known to lose half their hives over one winter, from a still unknown cause.

An even more serious problem is the varroa mite, which has been a scourge of bees since the 1980s. Varroa mites suck the blood from mature honeybees and the brood. They are a serious problem for bees all over the world.

Considering all the threats to the honeybee and other pollinators, and therefore threats to our food supply, we can all help by eliminating pesticides and herbicides in our gardens.

Pollen is an important bee food. We can plant pollen and nectar producing plants that are especially valuable. Do not despise the dandelion. They are an important source of nectar and pollen in the early spring. Other common plants that are especially useful are marigolds, zinnias, cosmos geraniums and sunflowers, to name few. The vegetable and herb garden needs pollinators and  it supplies good bee food: mints, bee balm, sage, thyme, squash, cucumbers, raspberries and strawberries. I have planted a pink agastache (hyssop) in my vegetable garden to attract pollinators. When planting for pollinators plant a big visible clump. A few plants dotted about will not do the job.

Maple trees, fruit trees, mountain ash, poplars and willows also supply pollen.

Bees, butterflies and other pollinators need water. This is an opportunity for a birdbath or fountain.

How do you welcome pollinators to your garden?

Between the Rows   June 1, 2013


Y is for Yarrow on the A to Z Challenge

Achillea “Paprika’

Yarrow is more properly known as Achillea. Achillea ‘Paprika’ is just one of a large family of flowers that are not fussy about location or soil. They love the sun and butterflies love them

Achillea ‘The Pearl’

Achillea “The Pearl’ is a slightly unusual form of achillea – or yarrow.

Achillea ‘Terra Cotta’

Achillea ‘Terra Cotta’ grows right next to my front door.  I do want to say that I have seen the same yarrows growing in other gardens and the exact hue of the color varies – which just shows the difference that our soil makes. One of those garden mysteries.

While we were living in Beijing I learned about the I Ching, a system of divination that sometimes makes use of 40 yarrow sticks, which means I could  harvest my yarrow at the end of the year and cut the stems to the same length and tell my own future. While I had enough time in Beijing to learn about the I Ching, I never learned how to cast the yarrow sticks. That would take more years.

To see what else begins with Y click here.

E is for Echinacea on A to Z Bloggers Challenge

Echinacea purpurea in my garden

E is for Echinacea, possibly the most used medicinal herb/flower in the world. Recently the Daily Mail in England did an article on the efficacy of echinacea as a cold remedy.  And the University of Maryland has a lot of information about the medicinal properties of echinacea here

But even if you are not interesting in growing echinacea, otherwise known as coneflower , is a wonderful plant for the perennial border. For years I only knew it in it’s native pink form, purpurea, or the white form. I knew it was a wonderful plant to support all the pollinatores that are so important to gardeners, farmers  and those who are concerned about supporting the food web for birds and other creatures. You can see that the prominent seed head in the center of the flower  makes it easy for pollinaators to get to work.

Echinacea in a Buffalo, NY garden

Nowadays, you can find echinacea in many colors  and forms. This might be ‘Leilani’, or ‘Harvest Moon.”  There  are now also red echinaceas like ‘Twilight’, ‘Tomato Soup’ abd ‘Firebird.’ All of these still have the prominent seed head so I imagine they are still useful for pollinators.


Echinacea ‘Hot Papaya’ in a Buffalo, NY garden

But now there are shaggy echinaceas like ‘Hot Papaya.”  I don’t think the pollinators are  going to have much luck here. The shaggy pink ‘Secret Passion’ listed in my Bluestone Perennials catalog doesn’t look like it would be helpful either.


Jono Neiger – Mimic Nature in Your Garden


Jono Neiger of Regenerative Design Group

Jono Neiger of the Regenerative Design Group which has its office in Greenfield, spoke to the Greenfield Garden Club a couple of weeks ago. His inspiring talk explained how gardeners could mimic nature, and require less work and inputs to create a garden that would give us what we desire out of our garden and what wildlife and pollinators require.

He gave some very specific advice beginning with the suggestion that vegetable gardens, and gardens that need substantial cultivating be sited near the house where their needs will not be forgotten. I can tell you how valuable this advice is from my own experience. The Herb Bed, the Front Garden, the Daylily and Rose Banks, all of which are right in front of the house get more attention because those south gardens warm up first in the spring and because it is easy to do a small job or two as I come and go, in and out of the house.

It is easy to remember to spread compost and other organic fertilizers on our vegetable and flower beds wherever they are, but remembering to weed or watch for problems is easier when the garden is right in front of us.

Water is becoming more of a concern as we often seem to have too much or too little. This has inspired many people to invest in rain barrels which collect rain off our roofs to use later in the garden when there is a dry spell. Those who have used 50 gallon barrels quickly learn that they don’t hold much of the roof run-off and add more barrels.

Neiger himself has arranged it so that the runoff from his roof runs into a small artificial pond that he has created below the house. The pond holds about 300 gallons of water. When the pond is full, there is an overflow pipe that takes water to a small bog garden that he planted when his son was young featuring pitcher plants. When that area is full water runs down to the vegetable garden. His goal is to get as much use out of all the water he can collect and keep it usefully on the site.

Those of us who don’t have enough room to move rainwater across our property could buy a larger water tank to collect more water off our roof. We can count on that tank costing about a dollar a gallon, so a 400 gallon tank would cost about $400. We can also plant a rain garden that will keep rain on our site and out of storm drains.

He also told us that gray water is now legal in Massachusetts. If we can separate out our sink and bath water that gray water can be drained into our gardens. We would have to pay attention to the type of soaps and detergents we use. His passion is to produce no waste and to recycle any waste elements of our house and garden as much as possible. Compost!

He is a proponent of permaculture, growing perennial plants for food, as well as for ornament. He explained the Edible Forest Garden in terms that I could finally understand. The idea is to mimic nature in the way the forest grows with tall trees, then understory shrubs and then groundcovers. An edible forest in my garden simply means to include a fruit tree or two, some berry bushes and then ground covers. Rhubarb and asparagus are familiar perennial edible ‘ground covers.’ How simple.

If you are interested in perennial crops Eric Toensmeier’s excellent book Perennial Vegetables: From Artichoke to Zuiki Taro, a Gardeners Guide to Over 100 Delicious, Easy-to-Grow Edibles will give you full information about familiar and unfamiliar crops, many of which are hardy in our area.

Those of us who live in town will not be able to, or need to, include the food, fuel, fiber, fodder, farmeceuticals, fertilizer and fun that make up Neiger’s productive landscape, but all of us can include several of these elements. In the acre surrounding my house I have food in my vegetable gardens, some fodder for my chickens who then supply some fertilizer, compost for fertilizer, an herb garden for farmeceuticals and fun in the Lawn Beds that include small trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals and even some groundcovers. I want to point out bee balm, mint, yarrow and other pollinator magnets are among the perennials in the herb and flower gardens.

How many of these elements do you have in your garden. Begin with fun.

Achillea, yarrow, attracts pollinators


While Jono Neiger gave us some new ecological ways to think about managing our domestic landscapes, Emily Monosson, PhD, teacher and environmental toxicologist at the University of Massachusetts will be leading a discussion at the Greenfield Library with those who have read Silent Spring by Rachel Carson on Saturday, February 2. This talk, The Relevance of Silent Spring after 50 Years, is scheduled from 11 am – 1 pm and is sponsored by the Western Massachusetts Master Gardeners Association to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of this book which could be said to have started the whole environmental movement and new ways of. “No book since then has had the impact of Silent Spring. Carson saw an acute toxic change . . . and synthesized an immense amount of research. The changes in our environment today are more insidious,” Monosson said.

Between the Rows  January 26, 2013

Honey Fesitval at Warm Colors Apiary – September 15

Beeswax Candles

Warm Colors Apiary will once again hold its annual “Honey Festival”. Warm Colors has been hosting the Honey Festival for more than twelve years. The festival is a celebration of the Honeybee and our native pollinators. It is an opportunity to recognize the many contributions beekeepers, and their bees, make to agriculture and the health of our environment. Bonita and Dan Conlon open their eighty-acre apiary to the public to enjoy its beauty and explore its wildlife habitat. The event is free and open to all who have an interest in bees and beekeeping. Talk with county beekeepers, walk the Busy Bee nature trail, sample this season’s honey, Green River Ambrosia’s mead, and purchase a honey ice cream cone made by Beth Cook (Flavors of Cooks Farm) with Warm Colors wildflower honey. Bring the family and a picnic, stay for an hour or for the entire day. Honey, beeswax candles and other products will be available for sale. This is a rain or shine event (no rain date).

  • When: Saturday September 15th, 2012
  • Time: 10:00AM – 4:00PM
  • Location: Warm Colors Apiary 2 South Mill River Rd. South Deerfield, MA. 01373

I have written about my visit to Warm Colors Apiary here. Don Conlon and his wife Bonita are a great couple doing such good work.

Athol Bird and Nature Club Garden Tour July 15

Athold Bird & Nature Club Tour - photo by Joseph Superchi

As Athol celebrates its 250th anniversary, the Athol Bird and Nature Club celebrates the gardens of Athol, 12 in ’12 – a self-guided tour of 12 outstanding gardens on Sunday, July 15 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Four themes dominate this tour: the drama of glorious gardening and natural rock, the surprise of secret treasures, the bounty of home vegetable gardens and locally grown food, and the ecology of gardens that appeal to birds, butterflies and other pollinators – a value of especial note to the ABNC.

Of course, all these gardens add aesthetic value, too – colorful annuals and perennials, cozy nooks and sweeping beds, bold and whimsical garden ornaments, still or flowing water features, and a good deal more.

Day-of tickets will be available at the Millers River Environmental Center, 100 Main St., Athol (which itself offers a bonus, a habitat garden being created by the North Quabbin Garden Club). Plants will also be available for purchase at one garden and at a nursery associated with another.

Advance tickets are available at Agway and Bruce’s Browser in Athol, at Noel’s Nursery and North Quabbin Woods in Orange, and at the New Salem General Store.

The tour is sponsored by the Athol Bird and Nature Club in support of the Millers River Environmental Center. Assistance with the tour is provided by the North Quabbin Garden Club.

More information about the tour is available from Susan Heinricher, 978-544-6372; more information about the Center, the ABNC and the NQGC can be found at