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Dioecious Plants – It Takes Two

Dioecious Plants: Dioecious species have the male and female reproductive structures on separate plants.

Hardy Kiwi Vine

Hardy Kiwi Vine

The Annual Rose Viewing was a success, but it was the hardy kiwi vine on our shed that also got a lot of attention.

Of course, it is the unusual green, white and pink foliage that makes the hardy kiwi so notable. I first saw this vine at the LakewoldGarden in Washington state many years ago. It was growing on a long trellis, so I did not realize how rampantly it could grow. I did not know the artful pruning it was receiving every summer – and winter.

Our hardy kiwi (Actinidia arguta) was planted on a trellis attached to our shed. I thought the colorful foliage would be very pretty when the roses in the Shed Bed were not in bloom. This has certainly worked very well. I have been happy that it has grown so vigorously and covers the better part of the shed wall. I have only done the most basic pruning, but this year I have come to realize that I need to take a firmer hand – and get out the ladder.

Since visitors to the garden are familiar with fuzzy kiwis that can be found on supermarket shelves they ask if my kiwi bears fruit. It does not, because kiwis are dioecious plants. This means that you must have a male and a female to get fruit. I was only interested in the unusual foliage so I was happy with one vine. I don’t know its sex.

Hardy Kiwi foliage

Hardy Kiwi foliage

I do have a friend who wanted the fruit which is different from the supermarket variety. Hardy kiwis are as big as a large grape and have a smooth skin that can be eaten. He bought a male and a female vine from a nursery. One of the vines died over the winter, but he couldn’t remember which was which, so he planted another male and female. Again, one vine died, and his list and map were lost, so again he was not sure which vine had survived.  I don’t actually know whether he finally got a male and female, and a fruit crop, but this is a problem with other dioecious plants as well.

I should add a caveat. Without pruning the hardy kiwi can reach a height of 40 feet, and if unattended or abandoned can overwhelm other plants and areas.

Perhaps the most commonly known dioecious shrubs are the hollies, the Ilex family. This includes the kinds of evergreen hollies with the beautiful red berries that are such a part of our Christmas traditions.  I have a single ‘Blue Prince’ and a ‘Blue Princess’ holly, Ilex x meserveae. The male produces the pollen that is needed to fertilize the female’s flowers and so create the beautiful red berries. It only takes one male to fertilize nine females. You do not need to have as many males as females.

These hollies produce tiny white flowers in April and May. They are easy to miss, but not the red berries.  My ‘Blue Prince’ took a beating this past winter, and the ‘Blue Princess’ also showed winter damage, but both are recovering nicely. There were lots of flowers, and even though the ‘Blue Prince’ is much smaller, I am expecting a good showing of berries later this season.

There is also the native deciduous holly, Ilex verticillata, which is more commonly called the winterberry. It also needs male and female plants in order to produce the orange-red berries that appear in the fall and persist through the winter. They tolerate wet soils which makes them an attractive shrub to plant in damp spots in the garden.

In addition to the hardy kiwi vine and the evergreen hollies, I have four ginkgo trees in my garden. We planted these about 16 years ago when our grandsons were hardly more than toddlers. We planted them partly as a memorial to our two years in Beijing. I was afraid they might be slightly too tender, but they are thriving and are even big enough now to throw welcome shade on hot summer afternoons.

Ginkgo biloba trees are used in cities because they are hardy, but the fruit of the female is said to be unpleasantly smelly. I cannot attest to this from my own experience because during our New York city years, and our Beijing years, I never came across ginkgo fruit. It takes at least 30 years for the tree to mature and produce fruit, which means that when my trees drop their fruit smelling of rotten eggs or vomit, I will not be around to suffer.

However, it seems to me that 30 years or more of a beautiful, hardy, disease resistant tree is better than those years without the tree even if it ultimately has got be cut down. Or at least the females have to be cut down.

The ginkgo is an ancient tree, sometimes called a living fossil, and is known for its unusual fan shaped leaves. They turn a beautiful gold in the fall which tend to fall all at once. We have often gone to bed on an October night, and awakened to find every golden leaf on the ground.

These are the three types of dioecious plants in my garden, but I recently checked a long list of dioecious plants online and found that the stinging nettles among my weeds, Urtica diocia, and the hop vine, Humulus, that is growing in a tangle of grapes and multiflora roses, are also dioecious plants, but they are subjects for another time.

Between the Rows   July 5, 2014

Local Hellstrip-Curbside Garden Teaches a Lesson

Hellstrip Gardening

Hellstrip Gardening

I have been reading Evelyn Hadden’s book Hellstrip Gardening: Create a paradise between the sidewalk and  the curb, with all its beautiful photographs of  the different ways a curbside garden can be created.  Hadden includes gardens from across the country from Oregon and California to Minnesota and New York. Different climates and different inspirations.  I was very happy that she also included Rain Gardens as one of her themes because many urban areas have a great problem with rain runoff. In these days some rains have become amazingly heavy, stressing storm sewer systems that then flood waste water sewers. It is ever more important that we all work to keep rainfall  where it falls. We can make sure we have many permeable surfaces – and raingardens. I know in Cambridge, Massachusetts where my son lives, there are rules about how much square footage in a house lot must be permeable. You cannot build or cover more.

While Heath is a rural town and I live where there is not a single sidewalk, there are local towns that have sidewalks and some of them even have hellstrips, an area between the street and the sidewalk. However, I have a friend with an absolutely fabulous curbside garden.

Curbside garden

Curbside garden

This photo gives an idea of how this curbside garden works in the streetscape.

Curbside garden

Curbside garden

With heucheras, hostas and creeping phlox in this area there is a  wonderful arrangement of foliage color and texture.

curbside garden

Curbside garden

A great use is made of everygreens which can supply a surprising range of color.


curbside garden

Curbside garden

Small trees, shrubs, ground cover – and flowers! This curbside garden has everything!  And something for every season.

If you would like to win a copy of Evelyn Hadden’s book, Hellstrip Gardening, leave a comment here before midnight July 6.

View from the Bedroom Window – May 2014

View from the Bedroom window May 5, 2014

View from the Bedroom window May 5, 2014

The view from the bedroom window on May 5 shows that the grass is greening up, but it is cold, 46 degrees, cloudy and windy. I dug up plants for the Bridge of Flowers plant sale, but then went back in the house to work in front of the woodstove.

View from the bedroom window May 12, 2014

View from the bedroom window May 12, 2014

Now it is hot! 80 degrees. What a difference a week makes. We had a little rain and warmer days – although with strong  breezes it has still felt cool – until today. The lawn just had its first mowing and you can see the lilacs beginning to leaf  out. A close look will show tiny budded lilac flowers. The weeping birch in the South Lawn Bed is greening, and a green brush has barely touched the trees in the field. Perennials are  well started, summer phlox, achilleas, delphiniums, and more and more daffodils.

View from the bedroom window May 19, 2014

View from the bedroom window May 19, 2014

A beautiful day, 70’s and sunny. You can see the trees are beginning to green, and the lilacs are just beginning to bloom.

View from the bedroom window May 28 2014

View from the bedroom window May 28 2014

58 degrees this morning and still misting from last night’s rain which saved me from watering the gardens this morning. The lilacs are in full bloom, and the apple trees are also beginning to bloom. The ginkgo trees are finally greening up. Some of the daffodils are still blooming, but they are joined by columbine, epimediums, tiarella, trollius, barren strawberry, as well as a host of annuals bought at the Bridge of Flowers Plant Sale, geraniums, cuphea, Diamond Frost , lobelia, torenia, and blue felicia daisy. Boule de Neige and Rangoon rhodies are also starting to bloom. Full spring!

My record for May has not been very regular and doesn’t give a full taste of how cold it was for most of  the month. Winter blankets still on our bed. And fires in the woodstove the first half of the month – and sometimes in the evening after that.

Magnificent Elm Trees in Central Park

Elm Trees in Central Park

The Elm Trees in Central Park were featured prominently in the NYTimes Sunday Review (2-23-14) in a wonderful article by Guy Trebay. I have not walked in Central Park for many years, but even as a New Yorker in the 1980s I would not have paid much attention to the magnificent allee of elms that runs for about 2.5 miles along Fifth Avenue, “a continuous stand that, as it happens, may be the longest in the world.” In the summer these trees shade the Literary Walk and the stunning photograph by Craig Blankenhorn turns them into an urban sculpture.

Even after I started paying attention to trees, and trying to identify them after our move to Heath, I could not identify an elm which is quite recognizable by it graceful vase shape. I was so inept as identifying trees, and the elm in particular that I was stunned to find that a majestic elm was growing about 200 feet from my front door. One early spring day I was  walking with a friend in front of my house and noticed honeybees flying around. One alighted long enough for us to see that the pollen baskets on its knees were full of a pale yellow pollen. I expressed my surprise that the bee was finding pollen anywhere; my friend raised his eyebrows at me and pointed to the elm tree, a very early producer of tiny flowers and pollen.

The majority of elm trees in the US and Europe were decimated in the 20th century by Dutch Elm Disease, a fungus carried by the elm bark beetle. These allees of giant elms used to adorn many rural roadsides and city avenues. No more.  However, organizations like the Men’s Garden Club of Youngstown, OH have launched efforts to re-elm their region.  Think how wonderful it would be if we could not only imagine all the still existing Elm Streets and Avenues as they looked  more than half a century ago. And yet again wonderful if we could bring them back to our cities and towns. For ways we can each help this project visit the Liberty Tree Society.

Ginkgo – The Ancient Maidenhair Tree

Ginkgo biloba – Maidenhair tree

While we were living in Beijing we became fascinated with the ginkgo tree, sometimes called the maidenhair tree. This is an ancient tree and fossilized leaves dating back 270 MILLION years have been found. They saw the rise and fall of the dinosaur. Today it grows in many temperate and sub-tropical areas of the world because it is so unusual and beautiful and because it is so adaptable. It even tolerates pollution and is used in cities as a street tree.

Ginkgo leaves are distinctive with a fan shape, veins radiating from the stem end and a kind of waxy feel to the leaf.  Their flexible stems allow them to flutter in the breeze, giving form to a summer zephyr. And of course, in the fall they turn a brilliant gold, and most of those leaves will drop all at once during an autumnal night. The leaf above has two lobes which account for its name Ginkgo biloba, but it can have no lobes, or three lobes.

When we planted our trees everyone said “but their fruit stinks.” So I have heard many times before.  Was I worried? No. First off I have never experienced this stink in New York City or Beijing. Second, I have been told that they will not produce this fruit until they are over 30 years old – and we are old enough not to worry about things that may not happen for another ten or twenty years. As our construction guy said when we told him we were putting of a portion of our project he asked, “How long you plan on livin’?”

Ginkgos are male and female. I don’t know what we have. Perhaps we only have males and will never have to worry about stinky fruit. I did hear recently that nurseries propagate only male trees for this very reason. A friend told me that male and female ginkgos have different shapes.  One is more upright, and they other is more horizontal, but she didn’t know which is which. If anyone can illuminate this theory I will be glad to hear it.  I have both upright and horizontal trees. No sign of stinky fruit.

Our trees are about 15 years old, ceremonially planted by grandsons when they were between one and three years old. It was a great day, and the trees a tangible reminder.

The Mighty Oak Trees – and Mine

Oak foliage

Suddenly there seem to be many young oak trees growing by the side of Heath roads. They are particularly noticeable at this time of year because they retain their leaves until late in the season, and they have turn a burnished shade of red. I do not know for sure which of the 600 species of oak they are, or even of the 70 species that grow in the United States, but it is possible they are Quercus rubra, or red oaks.

I have been paying more attention to oaks ever since the walk we took through our woodland this spring with Stu Watson of the Massachusetts Audubon Society. He came to give an assessment of our woods and overgrown fields and give us suggestions on how to improve them for logging, and for bird habitat.

We were surprised that someone from Audubon was able and willing to give advice about logging, but he explained that thoughtfully cutting down trees can mean better habitat for birds, as well as possible profit for landowners. Removing trees can open up the canopy so that more sun can penetrate, allowing new trees to germinate and grow. Birds need tall trees, but they have an equal need for shrubs and young trees for protection as well as food. Some birds spend most of their life in those lower elevations.

As we walked through the woods with Watson, he identified different trees. I now can recognize striped maple with its large rounded leaves and green striped bark. But I was able to identify the tiny oak seedling, all by myself. I was so surprised to see it growing in our woods. There were no other oaks in the neighborhood. It must have been carried and dropped by a squirrel or other creature.

My oak seedling

I was very excited to see this oak seedling, less than a foot tall, because when Dr. Douglas Tallamy spoke at the Western Mass Master Gardeners Spring Symposium this year he said that oaks, the king of trees, support over 500 species of native insects and animals. Since we all need to be aware of our local food web, of plants, insects, animals – and us – I have been thinking of the ways I can do my bit in maintaining this web of life. I don’t use herbicides or pesticides, my husband mows the fields after the nesting season, and I plant many native flower varieties. Of course, I want trees that will support the largest number of species.

You can buy oak seedlings from tree nurseries. You can also collect acorns and plant your own, however, you will need to identify the type of oak tree the acorn belongs to. Immediate planting should be limited to the white oak species group including white, bur, chestnut and swamp oak. Red oak species group acorns must be planted in the second season – the following spring.

I had thought I could just get some acorns from a friend with oak trees, drop them here and there in my woods and wait for Mother Nature to do the rest of the work. Since planting acorns successfully depends on knowing what kind of oak you are dealing with, I think I will just check on my seedling from time to time and send it encouraging thoughts. I will visualize it growing tall and king-like.

Oak trees have been used and enjoyed since ancient times. The oak been used for construction, and is an important timber tree to this day. Some trees in England are so ancient that they have been named. The Major Oak in Sherwood Forest is reputed to be the place where Robin Hood and his merry men met and plotted. The romantic stories surrounding this oak make it a tourist attraction today.

I don’t know that we have any romantic stories, but when I looked up large oaks on the Internet I found the American Forest website and their database of champion trees of every variety.

American Forests is the oldest national nonprofit conservation organization in the country. Their mission is to protect and restore forests, and to help preserve the health of our planet for the benefit of its inhabitants. The organization educates and advocates for trees. In cooperation with others they have planted more than 40 million trees in the last quarter century. They also have a Big Trees program that invites people to find and nominate a Big Tree for inclusion in their database. It was in that database that I found the only listing for a Champion oak in Massachusetts is in Shelburne Falls, It was nominated by Peter Bravman in 2007. It measured 368 inches in circumference, 82 feet tall, and with a spread of 105 feet. I hoped this enormous tree grew on a street corner where we could all marvel and admire it, but it grows in the woods on Flagg Mountain. Storms in the last couple of years split the tree so it is no longer in good health. The land the tree grows on now belongs to New England Forestry and is available for walking and hiking.

I will never see my oak seedling reach even the size of one of its limbs, but other people will in the future, and that makes me happy right now.

Between the Rows   November 16, 2013

Golden Gingko – Fallen in Fall


Heavy frost on Monday. 21 degrees yesterday! The gingkos are unleafed all at once. As is their wont.

For more Wordlessness this Wednesday click here.

Brilliant Autumn Color is Flooding Heath’s Hills

Maple autumn color

All of sudden the autumn color we hope for and wait for has appeared. Every hour it seems more brilliant.


Brilliant autumn color


Golden birches

Blushing blueberry bushes

Down with invasive Burning Bush. Up with blueberries. Delicious berries and delightful autumn  color.

Oakleaf hydrangea

Deep autumn color on the oakleaf hydrangea is stunning and unusual.

For more Wordlessness this Wednesday click here.

The Monks Garden at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Monks Garden at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Last week I visited the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum to meet the noted landscape architect Michael Van Valkenburg and hear him speak about how he approached the challenge of redesigning the Monks Garden. He said that Isabella Stewart Gardener herself acknowledged that she was never satisfied with the small walled garden she called the Monks Garden. “That gave me the confidence and courage . . . to make a garden for the future of the Museum.”

Certainly the Monks Garden has been transformed. The last time I visited, a year or two ago, it seemed very bare and brown. In fairness, it was a gray early spring day and my mood may not have been the best. Now the Monks Garden was a sun dappled woodland, with groundcovers of hellebores and ferns. It was a surprise to enter this enchanted space that is so different from the structured geometry of the interior Courtyard.

Van Valkenburg said, “I wasn’t trying to channel Isabella Stewart Gardner . . . but her museum is not a practical place. The garden doesn’t have to be a practical place. The paths are not practical. They don’t have to take you from point A to point B. They don’t have to take you anyplace.” He wanted the garden to be a place where you could get lost.

Anne Hawley, Director of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum said, “Michael responded to the spirit of the museum which is totally mad. It is just a romp.”

Hawley later explained that the final decision to choose  Van Valkenburg came after she visited his own garden on Martha’s Vineyard. She said it was ‘beguiling.” I was certainly beguiled, gladdened and delighted as I wandered through this magical woodland. The 7500 square foot garden feels spacious even though it is hemmed in on one side by the Palace, and by a curving high brick wall on the other two.

The undulating dark brick paths, subtly brightened by shist blocks, often wind close to each other and sometimes actually kiss, and yet you can rarely see across the planting bed to the opposite path. As I walked the paths I soon began to notice that there are subtle changes in grade. This garden is not flat. The dark brick paths narrow and swell, but they also rise and fall. I think this is another one of the elements that make this garden seem so march larger than it is.


There are many kinds of groundcover plants from the hellebores that will bloom, to evergreens like Christmas fern and European ginger with it shiny leathery leaves. Van Valkenberg said the garden “will be crazy  with hellebores in the spring.” When they have settled in and put out their own new growth visitors to the garden will have an even greater sense of privacy.

Amazingly the Monks Garden was installed just this year. It is a very new garden.  Van Valkenburg talked about the ephemerality of a garden. We gardeners know that a garden is never the same from week to week. Certainly when early spring arrives next year and the bulbs, hepaticas and hellebores come into bloom, no one will remember this fall’s sheen of newness.

Van Valkenburg said one of the goals of the plan was to stretch the seasons. Although there was only one brave hellebore blossom last week, there will be flowers rising through the groundcovers over a long season. Four varieties of camellia, in shades of white and pink will bloom spring and fall. Several stewartia trees will come into bloom in July with their camellia-like flowers. Species daylilies and tall cimicifuga will follow. Several climbing hydrangeas have been planted against the brick wall, another rich variation that will grow over the years.

The small slow growing trees will bring their own color that will carry even into winter. The foliage of the paperbark maples and stewartias provide good autumn color. In the winter the paperbark maple has beautiful exfoliating bark in shades of cinnamon and reddish brown, the gray birch has chalky white bark, while the stewartia has a subtly mottled bark providing substantial interest..

The one large tree in the garden is an ancient katsura with rough gray bark growing against the brick wall lending an air of majesty to this very informal garden.

Van Valkenburg has designed large parks and urban sites. He has won prizes and awards for his work, including the 2003 National Design Award in Environmental Design awarded by the Smithsonian Institution’s Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum, and the 2011 American Society of Landscape Architects Design Medal. Still he says he always remembers the advice given him when he was beginning his own business by Kevin Lynch, the noted urban planner and designer, to make as many gardens as you can. Along with large projects like the 85 acre Brooklyn Bridge Park which is still under construction, he has always maintained a consistent focus on small scale gardens.

Monks Garden at the ISG Museum

And that brought him to the end of his talk with a beaming smile as he invited us into the Monks Garden saying, “I don’t know that I’ve ever had more fun making a garden.”

Between the Rows    September 21, 2013

Beech and Hazel


Beechnuts held above the leaf

On a spring walk in the Betty Maitland Memorial Forest here in Heath we admired a tall beech tree (Fagus grandiflora) that is also known as the bear tree. The trunk is scarred with bear claw damage, climbing up into the foliage with its nuts, and going down again. Beechnuts are an important food for bears and other wildlife. They are high in fat, carbohydrates and protein. It is easy to imagine bears preparing for their winter hibernation by loading up on these small nutritious nuts.

We have many beech trees here at the end of the road, tall old trees on the Lane, a remnant of the old road to Rowe, and in a younger grove by the henhouse. I have always been quite fascinated by beech trees because of the way they hold on to their dying, brown foliage in the fall. This habit is called marcescence. Even as the old leaf is dying a stiff, pointy bud forms at its base, eventually pushing off the old leaf.

A couple of years ago I spoke to Dr. John O’Keefe who had recently retired from his work at the Harvard Forest in Petersham. He explained that my young grove was probably caused by root suckers. A few years ago many beeches were afflicted by beech bark disease. The damage and stress to the trees caused them to send up these root suckers.

Dr. O’Keefe also said there was some thought that there were more new beech groves around because of the rise in wild turkey populations. They helped move the beechnuts around.

Thinking of that bear tree, my husband Henry and I went out to see if our beech trees had any nuts. We managed to pull down a branch on one of the old beeches, and there, held above the foliage, was a pair of soft spined husks that contained a small three sided nut. One of the husks had opened so I thought the nut must be ripe. It was not difficult to remove from the husk or its brown skin. It had a very bland taste. I’m not sure if that indicated it was not fully ripe. I had read they had a bitter taste. It would take a lot of these very small nuts to make much of an addition to a meal.

Later in the spring we were led through our own woodland by Stu Watson from the Audubon Society. He taught us that nuts are known as mast. Nuts are hard mast, an important  food source for wildlife during the fall and winter. In our area this includes acorns, hickory nuts and walnuts as well as beechnuts. Fruits like apples, grapes, blackberries, cherries and others are soft mast and very important for birds migrating in the fall.

Before our walk with Watson I had never thought about providing food for wildlife other than birds. I certainly had been thinking only of myself, not wildlife, when I planted seven hazelnut bushes on a new bank formed by the work on our house foundation. In fact, I was quite distressed to learn, a year after planting, that hazelnuts are deer candy.

Hazelnuts held below the leaf

After locating our beechnuts, Henry and I then went to investigate the shrubby hazelnut planting. While beechnuts are held above the foliage, hazelnuts (Corylus Americana or American filbert) are held below the foliage. It took a while for our eyes to adjust to the shades of green under the foliage, but then we saw the two ruffled and toothed bracts enclosing the husk and nut. It is larger than the beechnut husk and very pretty.

Henry and I tasted the nut, but again it was very bland and this time we decided it definitely was not ripe.

According to the USDA Natural Resources and Conservation Department “The nuts of American hazelnut, which have a higher nutritional value than acorns and beechnuts, also are eaten by squirrels, foxes, deer, northern bobwhite, ruffed grouse, turkey, woodpeckers, and pheasants. The leaves, twigs, and catkins are browsed by rabbits, deer, and moose. The male catkins are a winter food for turkey and ruffed grouse. The dense, low growth habit provides cover and nesting sites for many wildlife species.”

This is frustrating news for me. I am not happy that deer, rabbits and squirrels might be attracted to my hazelnut planting, but glad that that the ruffed grouse and turkeys might be attracted to the fallen nuts.

Both beech and hazels are monoecious, which means male and female flowers appear on each plant. Male catkins appear on beech trees in the spring, while the long catkins of the hazel appear in the fall, but they don’t open until spring. The female flowers of both are small and inconspicuous.

Production of tree nuts can fluctuate a great deal from year to year. Beech trees older than 50 years produce the biggest crops, but only an outstanding crop every five years. It is clear that a small harvest will affect wildlife. Those animals that depend on nuts for a large portion of their diet will suffer when nut production is low.

Once again, I find that my own surroundings urge me on to a greater appreciation of the beauty of nature, and the beauty of nature’s systems.  ###

Between the Rows  September 14, 2013