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Bug on the Bridge of Flowers! Emerald Ash Borer

"Emerald Ash Borer"

When a 5 foot tall bug appears on the Bridge of Flowers we all take notice. Especially when it is a shimmering shade of emerald green

"Emerald Ash Borer"

I wasn’t the only one taking photos of this beautiful creature. But beauty is as beauty does, and the Emerald Ash Borer is no beauty infesting and killing ash trees. The USDA Forest Service has created a website with full information about how to watch  ash trees for damage. These bugs are only half an inch long with  metallic green backs. They lay their eggs only in ash tree bark where they hatch and eat their way to an exit hole. Watch for extra woodpecker activity and damage, as well as sprouts from the root of the tree and branches dying from the top down.

Fortunately, no one has found the Emerald Ash Borer in Massachusetts yet, but infestations are in the adjacent states of Connecticut and New York. We all have to be aware of threats to our trees before the damage is so great that the only cure is the wholesale removal of our trees which is happening in Worcester, Mass. due to the Asian Longhorned Beetle.

The Emerald Ash Borer is not a native insect. It originated in eastern Russia  and northern China. No one knows how it arrived in North American, but it probably came as ash wood used for stabilizing cargo is ships or in crating for heaving products. The Emerald Ash Borer and the Asian Longhorned Beetle are not unique invaders. The Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health has an excellent website naming hundred of invasive insects, diseases, plants, fish and more. We must all be on the alert, and not complain when we have to take routine precautions when we have to wash the bottom of our boat when moving it from place to place.

Do you battle any invasives where you are?

Mother’s Day – The Family is Coming

Sargent crabapple

Mother’s Day has arrived and children and grandchildren are on their way.

Spring Blooming Shrubs and Trees

Native Pinkshell Azalea

Mother Nature has been playing with us these past weeks, but no matter how she laughs as she keeps us off balance spring is coming. Crocuses, daffodils and sky blue scillas are laughing right back. Forsythia bushes are sunbursts of blossom.

Even some small trees are beginning to bloom. My neighbor Paul has a golden witch hazel in his garden. Hamamelis vernalis blooms early in the spring and is noted for that early bloom and twirly petaled flowers. There are many cultivars and I believe Paul’s is Hamamelis x intermedia Arnold’s Promise – a bright yellow hybrid that originated at the Arnold Arboretum. I planted Diane which is a bright coppery-red color because I have a daughter Diane. It came through its first winter, but the plant is so tiny that I am not sure it has come through this oddly mild winter.

Hamamelis virginiana is a witch hazel that blooms in the fall. With both varieties you can have a blooming tree at both ends of the season. Mohonk Red is cultivar with fat red blossoms. One of the delights of witch hazels is their sweet fragrance.

Witch hazels are not difficult to care for. They like sun but are not too fussy about soil although I think care taken in planting will always pay off in good plant survival. Keeping it properly watered through the first year, and probably even the second is also important. Witch hazels can be grown at the sunny edge of a woodland garden, and they are small enough, about 15 feet at maturity, that they can also be used at the back of a shrub border.

My neighbor Paul also has a yellow twig dogwood, Cornus sericea Flaviramea.  The yellow green color of these branches is bright enough that Paul says it is the one thing that draws his eye in the winter. This shrubby dogwood (5 feet tall) is smaller that what is possibly the more familiar red twig dogwood. This is an excellent plant for wet areas because it needs consistent dampness. It does produce small white flowers, and then white fruits in the fall which are quickly eaten by the birds.

Amelanchier "Prince Charles"

Amelanchier also known as shadblow (or Juneberry, Serviceberry and Bilberry) because it blooms at the same time that shad which are anadromus are leaving the salt water of the ocean to travel up river to spawn in fresh water. This small tree is covered with clouds of white flowers in late April and early May before the leaves are fully open. Fruits will appear in summer but are quickly eaten by the birds. This is an excellent small blooming tree for the edge of a woodland garden, and for those who want to attract birds. Unfortunately they are also attractive to deer. Keep that in mind.

Cercis or redbud is a beautiful small tree, with red buds and purple-pink flowers that bloom in May. I have not seen it much in the area and I don’t know why. Cercis canadensis, the eastern redbud, is hardy to zone 4 and can reach a height of 30 feet. Cercis chinensis, Chinese redbud, is smaller, reaching a height of 20 feet, but it is more tender, only hardy to zone 5. With the change in our winters perhaps we will be seeing more redbuds in the neighborhood.

Redbuds like sun but can take some shade. They will tolerate many soil conditions as long as they do not remain wet. It grows quickly which is a great benefit for those of us who tend to buy very small saplings.

My Sargent Crabapple May 25, 2011

I cannot talk about spring blooming trees without mentioning my own Sargent crabapple that grows in the center of the Sunken Garden. Its spread is about as wide as it is tall and a billow of white blushed with pink when it is in bloom. The soil is not very good there and quite wet in the spring, but it does get full sun. This small tree packs a lot of beauty and drama with no effort at all. It grows vigorously and tolerates heavy pruning. Whenever the saw is sharp.

Finally I want to mention Prunus Hally Jolivette a small cherry tree developed by Karl Sax, director of the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University from 1946 to 1954, who named it after his wife. The late gardener, designer, and writer Wayne Winterrowd who lived in Readsboro called Hally Jolivette the best of the flowering cherries. “When fully open, each individual flower is about an inch and a quarter across, dangling downward on a slender petiole, and composed of a double row of fragile-seeming, frilly petals tinted almost white at their edges, but deepening down in the center of the flower through pink to a rich wine red,” he said. The tree is not only filled with blossoms, it remains in bloom for as much as 20 days which is a long time for a flowering cherry.

Prunus "Hally Jolivette"

I first saw this lovely tree in my neighbor Paul’s garden, and was delighted to see it again on the Smith College campus earlier this week. It is not a demanding plant asking only a sunny location and reasonable garden soil to thrive and bloom.

As we think about our spring plant buying expeditions, think about adding one or two that can add early spring bloom to our gardens. This is the time of year we are hungry for color and eager to know a new garden season is beginning.

Between the Rows  March 31, 2012

Sugaring Season Has Arrived

Buckets for Maple Sap

Maple syrup begins with maple sap

For more Wordlessness this Wednesday click here.

Trees in my Landscape

As I look out my window today the ground is a tapestry of beige, green and white. The meadow grasses have died back, but the lawn is a brilliant green because it has loved this long cool, but not frozen, autumn and there are still patches, large and small, of the snow that keeps tantalizing us. Winter may be coming, but it is shy this year, stepping out and then retreating.

The winter garden can be a challenge for gardeners, but today I am looking at the trees in my landscape. Two are particularly important to me. Right next to the Cottage Ornee is an ancient apple tree. Even when we first moved here over the 30 years ago, the tree had been damaged. The main trunk had begun to rot and to hollow out. By the time we had young grandsons there was enough room to allow them to slide down the interior of the trunk from the tree house to the ground. I want you to know we did not encourage this pasttime, but their mischief did not seem to damage the tree.

Over the years it has lost two great sections to ice. Again and again we thought irreparable damage was being done, but the apple tree carries on, blooming every spring, dropping immature fruit on the metal roof of the Cottage all summer and giving me enough apples for applesauce every fall. In the winter it is a veritable sculpture.

The other tree stands alone in a field to the west of the house. This is an old yellow birch, with a graceful spreading shape. This tree is noble  in every season and every weather. I have taken hundreds of photos of it veiled with the earliest spring green, throwing deep shade in summer, nearly hidden in autumnal mists, and a crystal vision, encased in winter’s ice and frost.

October 18, 2011

We have planted trees for our daughters and grandchildren. For the girls we chose lindens (Tilia cordata) but they have not faired well. Only our daughter Diane’s linden, and her daughter Caitlin’s remain, both have suffered greatly, but so far these two are surviving. I enjoy lime flower tea which is actually made of linden flowers. Every winter I promise myself I will harvest the small fragrant linden flowers but so far I have not done so. Next spring I am sure I will absolutely pay attention to bloom and harvest time.

We planted gingko trees in the Lawn Beds for our five grandsons, in their honor, but also in memory of our China sojourns. One of the five trees did not last long, but the other four have done well over the past 13 years. The boys are growing tall, but not as tall as their trees. Those trees do remind us of how quickly time passes, and how brief is childhood.

People always ask me about the foul smelling fruit ginkgos produce. We have not had to worry about this, and probably never will. First you need to have male and female ginkgos; at the moment we do not know the sex of our trees. In addition, the female trees do not bloom or produce fruit until they are mature, which we think will be sometime after our time on this earth.

Recently I wrote about the Harvard Forest. Since then I have been paying more attention to my own woodland. At the edge of our west field is a white pine woods. I knew that the pines had crept east into a southern slope that is not really visible from the house, but all of a sudden I realize that the pines are also creeping east and north. Soon I will have an ever larger ‘old field white pine’ forest.

After getting snowed in a couple of times during our early days at the end of the road we took the advice of our elderly neighbor Mabel Vreeland and planted a snowbreak along the road. The oldest of those trees, mostly white pine, but with a few Scotch pine and balsams, are now over 25 years old. We admire them from our dining table window, and give thanks for them all winter long. The road crew appreciates them too. No longer do winters snows drift six feet deep over the road.

We purposely over planted so that we would be able to take out our Christmas tree every year. This has resulted in some Charlie Brown Christmas trees, but we think ours all have an inner beauty, even if it is not apparent to others.

I think trees are an important part of our domestic landscape. They can offer shelter and food for birds, cooling shade for our house in summer, and protection from the wind in winter. It just takes a little planning.

What about the trees in your landscape? Do you have a grove? A ribbon of trees between your and your neighbor? Do you have a magnificent specimen? Do your trees carry you back in memory, and into thoughts of a hopeful future?

Will you plant a special tree in 2012? Many trees grow faster than you think, but don’t put off planting your tree. Plant memories and hope this year.

Between the Rows   December 17, 2011


December Dawns

December 21, 2011

December 21, 2011

December 23, 2011

For more skies, visit Skywatch Friday.

Our Christmas Tree History

One view of our 2011 Christmas tree

We have had many different kinds of Christmas trees over the years. Below is a column I wrote in 2005 that chronicles our history in Christmas trees.

Many family Christmas memories revolve around the Christmas tree. These stories rarely have to do with the magnificence of the tree. In fact, Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree may be our culture’s most famous Christmas tree, standing for the true meaning of the season.

We have many family stories about our Christmas trees beginning with our first Christmas in Greenfield in 1971.  I was a single mother of five children when I came to town. Our life had changed and so had many of the family routines and rituals.

As a gift, a new friend invited me and the children out to the Heath wilderness (as yet totally unknown to us) for a picturesque outing to cut down our own tree. There had been snow and frigid weather, but that afternoon was relatively warm and sunny, a perfect day for a holiday outing.  The boys had disappeared, but the three girls aged 7, 9, and 10, and I set off with our friend caroling and laughing.

We got to Heath and started trekking through the woods. Unfortunately, though our friend was kind, he didn’t know much about Christmas trees, or even about the woodlot he drove us to. We found nothing resembling our fantasy Christmas tree. Even worse, the sun had softened the snow crust and the going was hard.  Kathy, at 7, was floundering and falling in the deep snow. Everyone was getting colder and wetter as the sun hid itself.  I decided that the next tree we saw would be the perfect tree. No arguments allowed. We cut it down, dragged it out to the road, and lashed it to the car. The car heater conked out and we were exhausted. There were no carols or happy chatter on the way home.

Happily, Henry, the man I had recently met and  would eventually marry, met us at the door. While I got the girls into hot baths and their warm nighties, Henry set up the tree. The trunk was crooked and it took lots of  guy wiring to hold it stable. The sparse branches started to drop their needles almost immediately and my two sons just hooted in derision when they finally made their appearance.

I said the tree gave us lots of scope for ornaments. Unfortunately, somehow, in the move from Connecticut, all the Christmas ornaments disappeared, including all those my children had made in school over the years. There was no money for a treeful of ornaments, so we all sat around the table to make lots of big construction paper decorations, some of which still go on the tree every year.

Better angled view of this year's tree

That was our first Christmas tree with Henry. In 1975 we moved to New York City to live in his ancestral apartment. One year there we had a magical tree. A friend came in with presents and an angel he had made for the tree top. He gave it a casual toss across the room – and it landed gently, and perfectly, just where it should.

After four years in the city we moved to Heath.  The boys were out on their own so only the three girls made the move with us the day after Thanksgiving.

This time it was easy to cut down our own tree. It was growing right in front of the kitchen window, blocking the light and the view. It was big and beautiful and shapely. It was also a blue spruce, with stiff branches and the prickliest needles. It nearly killed us to get it cut down and into the house, fighting us every inch of the way.

From our elderly neighbor Mabel Vreeland we learned about snowbelts, and over time we planted a triple row of evergreens, tiny seedlings, purchased from the Conservation Service, along our road.  Our plan was to over -plant so that we could thin the snowbreak by taking out a Christmas tree every year. And that is what we have done. No longer do we trek through unfamiliar woods, but just down over our field. We don’t pay much attention to the snowbelt and sometimes the trees are small, sometimes tall, sometimes quite odd, but we can always say we planted them and grew them ourselves.

This year we have what I think of as a dancing tree. The trunk twists first one way and then the other. The branches go up on one side and down on the other.  If it were a Jules Feiffer cartoon character it would be dancing an ode to the solstice. There is lots of scope for ornaments.

No matter what the Christmas tree looks like – and when we spent a year in Beijing it was a potted osmanthus decorated with shiny ribbon and a handful of sequined ornaments – to me the evergreen tree (even the osmanthus) is the place where we gather with beloved family and friends to celebrate the generosity of the season.  And I don’t refer to all the shopping at the mall, but to the thought and kindnesses that we render each other throughout the season, the care we take of others when we make donations to the Food Bank or Warm the Children, and the prayers we send for peace on earth good will toward men.

This year's tree with an ornamented history of our family

Between the Rows – December 2005

The Harvard Forest

The Pre-colonial woodlands c. 1700

The Harvard Forest is located in Petersham. That is the first thing I learned about the Harvard Forest, which actually belongs to and is cared for by Harvard University. It is not located in the town of Harvard.

I first heard of the Harvard Forest and the Fisher Museum when I met John O’Keefe a year ago after he had retired from his position at the Harvard Forest. Recently I called O’Keefe because I wanted to know why I suddenly seemed to be seeing so many beech trees in our local woodlands. Beeches are easy to identify at this time of the year because they retain their leaves, even as they turn gold, and then brown and crisp. O’Keefe explained that the younger trees are even more likely to hold on to a good portion of their leaves because they are immature and do not yet produce the hormones that cause the leaves to drop.

When I told him that the trees I saw seemed to be pretty much of an age and were growing in groves he said one possibility was that these young trees were not seedlings but root suckers. “Several years ago many beech trees were attacked by beech bark disease. When the bark on the tree was damaged, stress caused the tree’s roots to send up suckers which grow rapidly.” He further explained that not all those root suckers would survive to adulthood, just as not every seed that germinates would survive to adulthood.

In another discussion with O’Keefe a few days later, he said he had been talking with a forester about the forests in Weston. Although there are only three mature beech groves in the Weston forests, this forester had also been impressed by all the ‘new’ beeches growing in the area. He cut isolated saplings in order to age them and found that they were all about 20 to 25 years old. He was so interested in this explosion of beeches that he sent samples to a lab for DNA testing and learned that they were all saplings, growing from seed.

Beech trees, obviously enough, produce beech nuts, sometimes called mast. The nuts should have germinated near the parent trees, but new groves were sprouting in new locations. The theory? Twenty to 25 years ago is when the wild turkey began its resurgence. Perhaps turkeys carried the beech nuts to more distant locations, much as other birds spread various seeds to new areas.

This is how I learn. One thing leads to another. A call to O’Keefe about my observations of  a beech tree explosion led to information about plant disease, plant hormones, propagation by root suckers, and plant dispersal by wildlife.

Having gotten so much information from O’Keefe in just a couple of friendly conversations, I decided to stop in at the Harvard Forest on my way home from Cambridge last week. Harvard University has managed the forest and used it as a research and educational facility for over 100 years. Originally intended as a laboratory to teach sustainable forest management, the focus of research changed after the 1938 hurricane destroyed 70 percent of the forest. Now research concentrates on soils and the ecological processes that affect forest development.

Since I was not ready to go trekking the trails in the forest that day I contented myself with a visit to the Fisher Museum, named for Professor Richard T. Fisher who founded and directed the first years of Harvard Forest. The Museum is small, but it is famous for the 23 dioramas that illustrate the landscape history of the New England woodlands from before the early colonists arrived, as well as issues of forest management and conservation.

John O’Keefe and David Foster have written a fascinating book titled “New England Forest Through Time: Insights from the Harvard Forest Dioramas,” which lays out in substantive form the history of our landscape and illustrates for the general reader, and landowner, new ways of looking at our woodlands and information about how those woodlands can be managed sustainably, with awareness of the ecological impact.

A scavenger hunt sheet will help children focus on the details of the dioramas while they begin to understand the changes in a woodland over time.

There are education programs for students beyond Harvard, from a summer research program for undergraduates from other institutions including community colleges, who need not be science majors, to a program with the Overlook Middle School in Ashburnham where students gather seasonal budburst and color change information from a webcam set up in the schoolyard trees. This Schoolyard Ecology webcam is the first of four more webcams to be installed in other school locations in the near future. The information the young students gather can be compared with webcams in the Harvard Forest. The whole program is part of a national phenology project. The goal is to study the influence of climate on the recurrence of annual phenomena like leaf budding.

Having discovered the Harvard Forest, or more specifically the Fisher Museum, I am now looking forward to visiting the Forest itself, and learning more from the volunteer guides who are on duty during the good weather. We have an old field white pine plantation that is self seeded, and so far those trees have escaped the dreaded white pine weevil. I am looking forward to learning more and becoming a more responsible forest manager.

The first settlements cleared woodlands

Between the Rows  November 26, 2011

DON”T FORGET – I’ll be reading my book, The Roses at the End of the Road, at Boswell’s Books, Sunday, December 4 at 2 pm. Hope to see you there. AND I’ll be signing books at Tower Square in Springfield on Tuesday, December 6 from noon to 2 pm and 4-6 pm next to the splendid Festival of Trees.

ALSO – if you want to win a copy of my book, and a copy of Debra Lee Baldwin’s Succulent Container Gardens, click here and leave a comment. I will have a drawing on Dec. 7 to celebrate my 4th blogoversary.

A Marital Discussion

American beech

This fall I mentioned to my husband that I was amazed at how many beeches there seemed to be in the woods all of a sudden. How had I not noticed all these beeches before when so many of them grew right along the roadside and still retained their leaves when most of the other deciduous trees were bare. I knew that beeches kept many of their leaves until the old leaves were pushed off by new leaves in the spring. I wrote about beeches here last year.

My husband felt the trees I thought were beeches had simply not lost their leaves yet. Other trees that still had foliage, like the young oak trees along the roadside. He said I needed to pay attention to bark and leaf shape.

Young oak

It is true that there are young oaks along the road, but I KNEW all those other trees were beeches.  What do do? I had to prove my point. I remembered a very nice man I had met at the Conway School of Landscape Design last year, John O’Keefe, newly retired from the Harvard Forest in the eastern part of the state and a part of Harvard University. Just the expert to teach me about beeches. He said I was correct and that the beeches I saw growing in grove-like groups were probably caused by root suckers. A few years ago many beeches were afflicted by beech bark disease. The damage done to the tree caused it to produce these root suckers. He said the only tree that looked anything like the American beech (Fagus grandifolia) was the chestnut and we do not have any of those in our area.

American beech leaf and bud

John O’Keefe also said that the pointed bud is distinctive and an easy and positive identifier. The reason the trees don’t lose their leaves in fall is because they are immature, and it takes the action of a special hormone that tells a tree it is time to let the leaves go.  He said the young oaks are holding on to their leaves for the same reason. They are not mature enough to have the necessary hormones.

In my husband’s defense I have to say that halfway through our discussion I began to realize that he was thinking of the European beech (Fagus sylvatica), a magnificent tree that is the tree used for landscape purposes. We used to dine at the Copper Beech Inn and always admired the glorious tree in front of the restaurant.

I’m glad we straightened that issue out to everyone’s satisfaction.

Autumnal Surprise!


This fall we have truly been having a ‘golden season.’ The weather has been relatively mild, if rainy, and the usual flame of the maples was muted.

But a golden glow shone on every sunny day. But today we got rain – and a surprise.


This photo was taken around 4 p.m on Thursday.

October 27 9 p.m.

October 27 10 p.m.

October 28 7:15 a.m.

October 28 7:30 am