Subscribe via Email

If you're not receiving email notifications of new posts, subscribe by entering your email...

Walking in Our Woods with the Mass Audubon Society


A sunny spot in the woods – overstory and understory, no midstory

I’ve always known we have many different types of bird habitat here at the End of the Road. We have fields that surround our house and the garden. We have a wetland and a pond. Mostly we have woods, about 35 or so acres, surrounding the house, fields, and wetlands.

I have walked in our woods. I have taken grandchildren up the lane, part of the old road to Rowe that was discontinued decades ago. The tree-lined lane runs between two fields and then into the woods. The grandchildren and I would clear what’s left of the road of sticks, and tree seedlings. We’d look at bugs under rotting felled trees and under stones. We talk and enjoy the shade, or complain about the mosquitoes and decide it was time to go home

Sometimes we’d cross the field and go into the western woods and down to the stream that marks the border of our land. I never spent much time thinking about the different character of the woods. They were just ‘the woods.’

My view of our woods changed last Monday when I went through the woods with Stu Watson from the Mass Audubon Society and three neighbors who are very knowledgeable about birds. Watson was there to walk through our fields and woods and tell us how we could make these different habitats more bird friendly. He showed me how to look at my woods with new eyes.

First we walked across the field and learned that in order to protect birds like woodcock and ruffed grouse who nest there, we should not give those fields their annual mowing until the very end of July or beginning of August. Other birds like whippoorwills and tree sparrows like this habitat.

My husband Henry pointed out that some of our white pines had started to encroach on the field. Watson explained that was a good thing. Transitions are important for birds. A field should not stop suddenly at the edge of a woodland. There should be some shrubby transition. There will come a time when that transition will turn into woods, so it needs to be monitored and managed. I never knew that Mass Audubon Society knew so much about trees, in addition to birds.

Watson also suggested that areas around old apple trees in the field be cleared to make the soft mast (fallen fruit) more available to the birds and other wildlife.

From the field we stepped into a stand of white pine. The ground was covered with pine needles and there was very little undergrowth. This is not ideal. Taking down a few trees would allow more sun to enter, and then allow pine regeneration. Birds would welcome the new growth.

Over-, mid-, and understory in the woods

The ideal is to have tall overstory trees, then have a midstory of trees and shrubs between 5-30 feet, and then an understory of ferns, and other low growing plants and groundcovers. This is exactly the structure we gardeners copy when we plant a mixed border of small trees, shrubs and  underplanted with flowers or groundcovers.

Wolf Tree

We moved through the pine woods which rather abruptly changed into a hardwood stand. In the transition area there was pine regeneration because there was more sun, and there were ferns and maple seedlings. I even learned a new maple variety, striped maple, which has large three lobed leaves. This was a much better area for birds because it provided more protective cover and more forage. It also provided several wolf trees, enormous old dead trees that provide a bug smorgasbord for bug eaters, and cavities for birds and other small wildlife to live in. I was happy to see tiny oak seedlings. I don’t know how acorns got into our woods, but oaks support over 500  wildlife species. I want oak trees.

Oak seedling

Walking was more difficult in this area, but Watson repeated several times. “Bad walking means good habitat.”

The third stand was mixed white pine and hardwoods like white ash, black cherry, red maple, and white birch. This section had been logged but there was a well developed midstory. There was very little understory growth, but there was lots of debris on the ground caused by storm damage. Again, thinning needs to be done to allow more sun and thus encourage regeneration.

Watson was very pleased with our various habitats, and the good health of our woods. He gave us his suggestions for improving the habitat. When we re-read our forest management plan prepared by our forester Scott Sylvester with new eyes, we realized that he had anticipated all of Watson’s suggestions ten years ago.

We expected Stu from the Mass Audubon Society to be knowledgeable about birds but then we found out that Scott Sylvester, who is passionate about birds, is one of the organizers of this collaboration between the Mass Audubon Society, the Mass Department of Conservation and Recreation, and the Franklin Land Trust, a collaboration that mirrors those in Vermont and New Hampshire. The goal is to keep forest bird habitat intact. By the way, it will also make forest land productive for the owner, allowing for selective cutting.

Northern New England is a ‘breeding bird factory” Watson said. Seventy to 90 species of birds nest and breed in this area, and this habitat is crucial to “keeping common birds common.”

This is a pilot program. We were glad to learn about it when it was launched on Mother’s Day with a walk for interested people through the Betty Maitland Memorial Forest in Heath. The program will help woodland owners to look at their property in a way that is not only beneficial to them, but to beautiful birds as well.

For more information about this new Mass Audubon Society program email Stu Watson at or Matt Kamm at

Between the Rows   June 15, 2013

Don’t forget, you still have time to win a free copy of my book, The Roses at the End of the Road. Leave a comment here by midnight Sunday, June 23 and I’ll announce the winner on Monday. You can also  buy copies on sale, or a Kindle edition. All info is here.


Moosewood in the Woods, Moose in the Field

Moosewood AKA Striped Maple

Yesterday we took a (wet) walk in the woods and saw  this moosewood tree. It is more properly known as a striped maple, and more properly still as Acer pensylvanicum. It is a small understory tree, very tolerant of shade, and has very large leaves.

Young Moose

Late in the afternoon, there was a flash of brown passing my window. I ran outside to see what it was. A moose. A young moose, who only stopped briefly to pose and let me get this photo.  Though I saw them both in one day, they are otherwise unrelated.

To see what else is (almost) wordless this Wednesday click here.

M is for Marcescence on A to Z Blogger Challenge

Beech Leaves November 3, 2010

M is for Marcescence. Marcescence refers to  the retention  of dead plant parts that are usually shed.  We all know that trees lose their leaves in the fall. Some of us may have noticed that oak trees, and beeches carry their dead leaves will into the fall. And maybe until the new leaf buds give the old leaf a final shove in the spring. Over the past few years I have noticed that there seem to be a lot more beeches in our woodland than there used to be. They are easy to notice in the winter because they still carry so many of their dry brown leaves. They have not been abscissed or torn from their branches. I wrote about beeches and marcescence here.

Diorama of forest progression at Fisher Museum

I was also fortunate enough to meet Dr. John O’Keefe who retired recently from the Harvard Forest (maintained by Harvard University, not located in the town of Harvard) and he told me that it is possible that the reason there are so many new beeches, is because there has been a resurgence in the wild turkey population. Beech nuts are a very nutritious nut and appealing to turkeys. We all know that birds help spread seeds of all kinds of plant. I wrote about my fascinating talk with John O’Keefe here. The Fisher Museum at the Harvard Forest has a magnificent set of dioramas explaining the history of forest progressions here in New England.

Old beech leaf wtih new bud

If you look at a beech branch in the fall you will clearly see the tightly furled leaf bud that will  push the old leaf off in the spring. It is very firm and will feel like a thorn. But it is a leaf bud.

I like knowing the word marcescence. Will you find a way to fit marcescence into your conversation?

To see what else begins with M today click here.


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

Dormancy – A False Death


Winter trees at the End of the Road

The leafless landscape seems dead, but dormancy is only a false death.  In the 1/24 issue of the New York Times Michael Tortorello takes us on a wintry horticultural tour of gardens in New York City and learns that death is not what winter brings. I grant you, the activity he sees in Central Park and other places is rather different from the dormancy I can see in my frozen snowy landscape, but still, his guides make a point.

An important lesson is that it is not really the cold that makes trees and shrubs lose their leaves,  it is drought. Plant respire through their foliage and lose  a great percentage of their moisture through their leaves. If the ground is frozen there is no more water being taken in, so the leaves have to go.

Rhododendron Foliage 1-25-13

Rhododendrons,  broad leaved evergreens, do not lose their foliage, but you can see how the leaves curl to minimize moisture loss. These leaves are still performing some photosynthesis. It is the look of these droopy cigar-like leaves that made me dislike rhodies for a very long time. I don’t know why the wonderful spring flowers did not make as big an impression on me when I was a young non-gardener as the winter foliage.

While there is no chickweed or knotweed or mugwort sprouting in my neighborhood as there is in Central Park, a close look will show tiny green buds on the lilacs, and the buds on the rhododendrons are not hard to see at all.

Dormancy is not death. We are all just waiting. I am more impatient than the plants.


Hemi-demi-semi Christmas Tree on Wordless Wednesday

Our newly cut Christmas Tree

We usually cut our Christmas tree from our own land. We are famous for having Charlie Brown trees. This tree strikes me as a hemi-demi-semi tree.

Our Christmas tree in profile

The only tree we could find was this section of a tree that had been damaged by the ice storm several years ago. It only has branches on one side.

I think this year, for the first time in over 30 years, we’ll be shopping for our Christmas tree.

For more (almost) Wordlessness click here.

John Bunker and David Buchanan on Cider Day

John Bunker and David Buchanan at Apex Orchard

John Bunker and David Buchanan gave a couple of talks on Cider Day all  about their experiences with finding and planting heritage apples. They also got to sell their books. I knew about David’s book, Taste, Memory: Forgotten Foods, Lost Flavors, and Why They Matter,  but I didn’t know that John had also written, and illustrated, a book about the apples and orchards of Palermo where he lives in Maine.

Not Far From the Tree: The apples of Palermo 1804-2004

Not Far From the Tree: A Bried History of the Apples and the Orchards of Palermo Maine 1804-2004. After his wonderful and engaging talk I was delighted to find that he had written this book (he hadn’t mentioned it during his talk) and it was being sold at the Buckland-Shelburne Community Hall Cider Day site. I haven’t had a chance to sit down and really read the book but I did get past the Acknowdedgements page, where among other things, he siad that he had finally and with  the help of “the Apple Professor Tom Burford, idenitfied the ‘Blake’ apple as a Grimes Golden. This will be a good update to David’s book in which he describes some outings searching for the Blake apple.  As John said in his talk ‘exploring for apples is a project in process. It is something you are Doing all the time.” He said those who are exploring have to act like Sherlock Holmes, and that there are two different sorts of exploring. “Sometimes you are poking around to find a particular apples, and sometimes you are trying to find a name for an apple. Related, but two different processes.”

He also  talked about the Preservation Orchard that MOFGA (Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners) is planting, concentrating on apples that originated in Maine. Like David, John is interested in finding locally adapted crops. One of my neighbors also attended the talk and by the time we left the Apex Orchard Farm Store where the talk was held, we had determined to talk to our own Heath Historical Society about exploring our own apple history (Heath used to have a  number of orchards) and planting a selection of those apples on the Common or on Historical Society land.

You can learn more about John Bunker and his apple CSA by clicking here.

More about John Bunker and David Buchanan to come this week.  I have to read a little more of Not Far From the Tree.

Taste, Memory by David Buchanan

David Buchanan


David Buchanan and I met at the Conway School of Landscape Design (CSLD)  reunion in September where he gave a six minute talk about what he had been doing since he graduated in 2000. He talked as fast as he could, and I listened as fast as I could, but I was glad I could slow the journey when I received a copy of his new book Taste, Memory: Forgotten Foods, Lost Flavors, and Why They Matter.

Buchanan’s book chronicles the last 20 years of his wanderings from Pullman,  Washington state with its USDA Western Regional Plant Introduction Station and its genebank, to Maine where he met characters like John Bunker who has an orchard with over 300 varieties of antique/heritage apples and an apple CSA. Even all those years ago in Washington he was interested in ‘preserving disappearing agricultural traditions” and Taste, Memory relates the questions he asked himself about whether agricultural diversity is relevant in “our modern world of supermarkets, giant tractors, and irrigated megafarms? What role can the individual play? . . . How do we summon the energy and will to keep this bounty alive?” As his journey has led him across the country he has found some answers.

As suggested by the title of his book it is taste and flavor that have guided him He became involved with the Slow Food Movement and helped found the Portland, Maine chapter of Slow Food. He now serves on its national Ark of Taste Biodiversity Committee, which evaluates and helps preserve endangered heritage foods from around the country. Slow Food is about more than cooking from scratch, which is what I thought it was. Briefly, Slow Food is a formal organization whose aim begins with encouraging the enjoyment of locally and sustainably grown food, maintaining biodiversity, and caring for the land that food grows on so it will be healthy for future generations. There is more, of course, and much more than simply roasting my own chicken and making my own blueberry muffins without a mix.

The book is filled with personal connections to other individuals and organizations like the Seed Savers Exchange .  In fact, in the mid nineties he spent a year working with the Austrian counterpart to the Seed Savers Exchange, where he produced seeds to maintain the thousands of vegetables and grains in their collection.

Taste, Memory by David Buchanan


Taste, Memory is the kind of book that I end up reading to my husband while he is trying to read the newspaper at breakfast, or in the evening when he is trying to read the paper he never got through in the morning. I can’t stop myself from reading sections like that about Turkey winter wheat, an old wheat that grows to six feet tall – just like the heritage wheats I have seen Eli Rogosa grow in Colrain. Both Rogosa and Buchanan see the importance of grains that require less irrigation and petroleum based fertilizers.

This book, with its tales of exciting searches for heritage apples, Buchanan’s own inventiveness, and cooperation between various groups of people and organizations, presents a wonderful vision of how our food system can shift. It is possible for us to eat better, for biodiversity to be protected, and for farmers and market gardeners to make a reasonable living.

Buchanan did put his CSLD experiences to good use including landscape design with a focus on urban parks, native habitat restoration, agricultural sites, community gardens, and multi-use trails. Past projects include lead designs for redevelopment of the 25 city parks of Lawrence, Massachusetts, and a master plan for multi-use trails on the 4000-acre former Fort Devens in Devens, Massachusetts.

He has finally ended his wanderings and bought a small farm in Pownal, Maine, about 20 miles from Portland. “I’m planning expanded orchards there and a cider house, to produce small batches of hard cider. I’ll run it as a conservation center, a permanent place to collect and experiment with rare foods.

“I love Maine, and particularly the Portland area, for its vibrant and creative food scene. This is the best place to eat, and work in a specialty food business, that I’ve ever found,” Buchanan said.

His book is beautiful and compelling, inspiring all of us to think about our meals, and our gardening from a slightly different angle, that can be fun and delicious while doing good work. He quotes his friend Polly Tooker who often says, “You’ve got to eat it to save it.”

David Buchanan is coming our way to celebrate Cider Days, November 4-5, with John Bunker, the heritage apple man who was featured in the October issue of Martha Stewart Living Magazine. Buchanan and Bunker will be talking about identifying and conserving heritage apples at the Deerfield Community Center on Saturday, November 4 from 10 am – noon. On Sunday they will have a heritage apple tasting and discussion which requires a ticket.

Lots of other events, most free. There is an amateur hard cider making competition, The Bittersharps, the Heirlooms, and the Macs – Learning How to Taste the Apples in your Hard Cider with author/educator Robert J. Heiss, given twice on Saturday (once before each session of the Cider Salon) at the PVMA Teachers’ Center (10 Memorial St) in Old Deerfield, tasting dried apple varieties at Apex Orchards, food and apples at the Shelburne Buckland Community Center, cooking and tasting apples at Clarkdale Fruit Farm and much more. For full information about all programs go to

Between the Rows  October 27, 2012


Barren Branches – and Yet . . .

Yellow Birch on October 18, 2012

The  barren branches of the old yellow birch in my field retain a certain majesty this frosty morning.

Thomas Affleck Rose October 18, 2012

But the Thomas Affleck shrub rose that grows at the end of the entry walk is resisting the closing of the bloom season. The days have been chilly and windy, tearing dying leaves off many trees, but Thomas just laughs and says, “Look at me!”

I bought this rose from the Antique Rose Emporium in Texas and it has been hardier and has a longer bloom season than I ever dared hope for.

The Gingko Drop on Wordless Wednesday

Gingko Drop

All dropped. All at once.  For more Wordlessness click here.