Monthly Archives: March 2010

Native Shrubs and the Carpenter Bee

Pinkshell Azalea and Carpenter Bee

While planting for design clients and organizing plant lists for the class I am teaching at the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University I thought you would like to know about some of the great shrubs we have been working with. A well-sited flowering and fruiting shrub will often provide at least several, if not four, seasons of beauty; are long-lived (as compared to woody perennials); and provide sustenance and shelter for songbirds, butterflies, and bees. The following are several native favorites well worth considering when planting for people and for pollinators.

The accompanying photograph is of pinkshell azalea (Rhododendron vaseyi) and the much-maligned Eastern Carpenter bee (Xylocopa virginica), taken in mid-May at the Arnold Arboretum where a stunning massed bank of R. vaseyi is planted alongside the Meadow Road. Carpenter bees are an important pollinator for many open-faced spring flowers such as the blossoms of fruiting trees—crabapple, apple, pear, peach, plum, and wild cherry—as well as holly and brambles. The damage done to wood is usually minimal and cosmetic. X. virginica has an especially bad reputation with blueberry growers because they have strong mouthparts (capable of boring into wood), which will easily tear flowers with a deep corolla—blueberries and azaleas, for example.

Xylocopa virginica

Class: Insecta

Order: Hymenoptera

Suborder: Apocrita

Superfamily: Apoidea

Family: Apidae

Subfamily: Xylocopinae

Genus: Xylocopa

Species: virginica

Carpenter bees are regularly mistaken for bumblebees. Their shiny black abdomen most easily distinguishes them, although in the photograph, this carpenter bee was covered in shimmering golden pollen, which could lend a similar appearance to that of a bumblebee. While photographing at the Arnold I observed dozens of carpenter bees and at least half a dozen other species of native pollinators nectaring at the blossoms of the pinkshell azaleas.

Pinkshell is a deciduous azalea discovered in 1878 by George Vasey, the botanist in charge of the United States National Herbarium. Named after Vasey by Harvard botanist Asa Gray, pinkshell is found growing naturally in only six counties in the mountains of western North Carolina. R. vaseyi was introduced into cultivation by the Arnold Arboretum in 1880 and is now widely grown. Although able to attain fifteen feet in height, the pinkshell azaleas at the Arboretum are pruned to approximately chest height. The blossoms of pinkshell are typically seashell pink, but can vary from white to reddish-purple. The upper lobes are usually spotted red, but pink, green, and brown spotted blossoms are also common variants. When grown in a sunny location, the leaves turn a striking reddish hue in fall. R. vaseyi is very easy to grow and is highly adaptable to a wide variety of conditions from mountain ravines, swamps, bogs, stream banks, and high elevation coniferous and oak forests. At the turn of the previous century, it was once found in the wild in Massachusetts, apparently having naturalized at an abandoned nursery near Halifax, and was growing in a swamp as well as in sandy soil. Native species azaleas (Rhododendron spp.) are a nectar source for the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly and Ruby-throated Hummingbird and larval host plants for the Azalea Sphinx Moth (Darapsa choerilus).

Ilex glabra, or inkberry, is a fine-textured evergreen shrub, often confused with the less cold-hardy Japanese holly (Ilex crenata). Inkberry is found growing naturally along the East and Gulf coasts, from Nova Scotia to Florida and west to Texas. The species form matures at approximately eight feet high and equally as wide, with an upright oval growth habit. The commonly available cultivars, with names such as ‘Compacta’ and ‘Densa,’ are generally more compact, less leggy, and less suckering than the species form. The compact cultivars and species are ideal for creating year-round screening to disguise a neighboring eyesore. With periodic shearing, the plants can be maintained to the desired density.

The Atlantic (or Holly) Azure butterfly caterpillar (Celestrina ‘idella’) feeds on the male flowers of Ilex, including inkberry and American Holly (I. opaca). The diminutive cream-colored flowers appear in June on male and female plants. When a male pollinator plant is growing nearby, by September green berries ripen to ink-black berries on the female plants, providing sustenance for many songbirds including the Mourning Dove, Northern Bobwhite, and Hermit Thrush. There is much misinformation regarding which cultivars bear fruit; adding to this confusion is the fact that plants are often mis-labeled. When selecting plants for a client, I make a point of looking for remaining fruit on the individual specimens to ensure that we are indeed purchasing a fruit-bearing plant. Inkberry grows in part shade to full sun and prefers moist acidic soil, but is highly adaptable to soil conditions. To avoid winterburn, in general, broadleaf evergreen shrubs should not be sited in a south-or west-facing exposure, although inkberry performs better than most in such adverse conditions.

As usual, I am running out of space and time. A quick note about the early spring blooming pollinator magnets, Fothergilla, both F. major and F. gardenii. The fothergillas are native to the Allegany Mountain region, primarily around Georgia, but also occur in North and South Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, Arkansas, and Florida. Fothergilla major ‘Mount Airy’ is a deciduous rounded shrub, growing from 6 to 8 feet with scented, white bottle-brush flowers. Although the species name gardenii may lead you to believe it to be more fragrant than

F. major, it is not, rather F. gardenii is slightly less fragrant. The flowers are also a bit smaller and less showy. Fothergilla gardenii fits the bill when a similar, but smaller than, shrub to ‘Mt. Airy’ is required. As we were planting F. gardenii at Willowdale Estate several weeks ago, immediately a Spring Azure butterfly joined the scene and began nectaring at the blossoms. The summer foliage of ‘Mt. Airy’ is a lovely soft shade of blue-green, turning brilliant red and yellow during autumn—making it, too, a lovely multi-season plant.

End Notes: You may find the following link helpful in identifying beneficial pollinators: Visual Aid to Pollinator and Beneficial Insect Identification

Cape Ann Magazine

Eye Pillows Designed by Kim Smith for Haiti ProjectsHaiti Projects Hand-embroidered Eye Pillows for Sweet Dreams and Yoga Shavasana

Look for my story about Haiti Project’s founder and Gloucester’s own Sarah Hackett, appearing in the current spring issue of “Cape Ann Magazine!” Also featured—Gail McCarthy, prolific journalist extraordinaire, has written an informative and interesting feature article about the history and restoration of Gloucester City Hall, as well as a great story about the local brewing industry. You can find “Cape Ann Magazine” at Toad Hall Bookstore, The Bookstore of Gloucester, IGA in Rockport, and other markets.

Sarah Hackett Cape Ann Magazine

Spring has Sprung! from Boston Mamas

Thank you Jennifer for this truly generous, insightful, and thoughtful review of my book. Jennifer writes: “…What a gift, then, to read Kim Smith’s Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities! Notes From A Gloucester Garden. Using her own small garden as a backdrop, Smith deftly guides her reader along every stage of cultivation — from quiet observation, through planning and planting, and finally among the blooms — sharing successes, failures, and surprises along the way. Bursting with information, yet much more than a how-to guide, Oh Garden reads like a meditation. Smith envelops the senses with lyrical prose and exquisite watercolor illustrations, infusing poetry and wisdom from across the ages to tap into the soul of the gardener — which insists that the garden’s beauty stems not from finished product, but from the cultivation itself…” To read Jennifer’s full review go to Boston Mamas.


Do you know about the wonderful blog Boston Mamas? I wish there had been a Boston Mamas blog when our children were young. Founded in 2006, Chrisitne Koh has a passion for people, communication, art, food, retail, web-surfing, and all things mama-related.

Your Garden as Habitat

Pam Thompson of the  Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University has invited me back to teach my class Your Garden as Habitat, on Tuesday evenings, beginning May 11th. More information is provided on their website at Your Garden as Habitat. I hope you can take my class–I love teaching it and have crammed as much information as is possible in this four week program, and still, there is always more ground to cover…the time goes by so quickly!

Female Hairstreak native New Jersey Tea Female hairstreak ovipositing an egg on native New Jersey tea plant florets

Haiti Projects on Daily Grommet

Good news for Haiti Projects–a video about founder Sarah Hackett is shown on the Daily Grommet. I can’t take credit for designing the beautiful nightgowns featured. They have long been a staple in HP product’s line and are a favorite item of mine to both wear and to give as gifts. Go to the Haiti Project’s web store to see the full range of embroidery patterns. The nightgowns are made of pure cotton batiste–lovely and cool, comfortable, and flowing–beautifully embroidered, and constructed with typical HP care–French seams and hand crocheted edging. The nightgowns are easy to care for, simply wash on the delicate or gentle cycle and hang to dry.

Save the dates: Cape Cod Rhododendron Festival

Save the dates of Friday, June 4th through Saturday, June 5th for the first ever Cape Cod Rhododendron Festival and Garden Tours, presented by the Heritage Museums and Thornton W. Burgess Society of Sandwich, MA. I will be there both days with my book Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities! and speaking about habitat gardening at 11:00 on Friday. Much more information and updates to follow. This promises to be a beautiful event!

Rhododendron vaseyii and Carpenter bee photographed at the Arnold Arboretum, Boston

Supermarket Data

Data for Grocery Comparison: Market Basket, Gloucester

Date: October 11, 2009


1lb. Organic Carrots Bunny Love .89

Kashi Heart to Heart Cereal 12.4 oz.  3.49

Cheerios 18 oz.  3.99

Stonyfield Farms Low Fat Yogurt  32 oz.  3.49

Kates Homemade Unsalted Butter 8oz. Not Availalbe

Organic Cow Whole Milk ½ Gallon 3.49

Filippo Berio X Virgin Olive Oil 23.49

Colavita Balsamic Vinegar of Modena 8.5oz. Not Available

Store Brand White Vinegar 1 Gallon 1.99

Hellmann’s Mayonnaise 40 oz. 3.99

Twinnings Darjeeling Tea 20 teabags  Sale Item 2.50

Bon Maman Raspberry Preserves 13 oz. 3.99

Teddy’s Super Chunky Peanut Butter 16.oz Sale Item 2.50

Muir Glen Organic Crushed Tomatoes 28 oz.  3.29

Barilla Angel Hair Pasta 1lb. 5 for 5.00

King Arthur Flour 5 lbs. 2.99

Domino Sugar 5 lbs. 2.79

Bob’s Red Mill Extra Thick Rolled Oats 32 oz.  3.49

Bob’s Red Mill Steel Cut Oats 24 oz. 2.79  Not included as not available at S & S

Hebrew National Hotdogs Kosher All Beef Franks 12 oz. 3.59

Bell & Evans Whole Chicken Price per Pound. Not Available

Minute Maid Frozen Orange Juice 12 oz. 1.89

Arm and Hammer Powdered Laundry Detergent Perfume and Dye Free 4.5 lbs. 4.99

Iams Original Dry Cat Food 8 lbs. 15.49

Iams Original Dog Food 8 lbs. 10.99

Market Basket total of items both Stop & Shop and Market Basket stocked = $108.32

Data for Grocery Comparison: Stop & Shop Gloucester

Date:  October 13, 2009


1lb. Organic Carrots 1.29

Kashi Heart to Heart Cereal 12.4 oz.   3.59

Cheerios 18 oz.   3.99

Stonyfield Farms Low Fat Yogurt  32 oz.  3.79

Kates Homemade Unsalted Butter 8oz.  Not Available

Organic Cow Whole Milk ½ Gallon  3.79

Filippo Berio X Virgin Olive Oil  18.91

Colavita Balsamic Vinegar of Modena 8.5oz.  7.99 Not included as not available at MB

Store Brand White Vinegar 1 Gallon  2.69

Hellmann’s Mayonnaise 40 oz.  3.99

Twinnings Darjeeling Tea 20 teabags  2.50

Bon Maman Raspberry Preserves 13 oz.  3.00

Teddy’s Super Chunky Peanut Butter 16.oz.  2.29

Muir Glen Organic Crushed Tomatoes 28 oz.  2.19

Barilla Angel Hair Pasta 1lb. 3 for 4.00 or 1.33 ea.

King Arthur Flour 5lbs.  3.99

Domino Sugar 5 lbs.  2.99

Bob’s Red Mill Extra Thick Rolled Oats 32 oz.  3.29

Bob’s Red Mill Steel Cut Oats 24 oz.  Not Available

Hebrew National Hotdogs Kosher All Beef Franks 12 oz.  3.00

Bell & Evans Whole Chicken Price per Pound Not Available

Minute Maid Frozen Orange Juice 12 oz.   2.19

Arm and Hammer Powdered Laundry Detergent Perfume and Dye Free 4.5 lbs. 5.79

Iams Original Dry Cat Food 8 lbs.  15.99

Iams Original Dog Food 8 lbs.  11.99

Stop & Shop total of items both Stop & Shop and Market Basket stocked = $107.90

Cape Cod View

Buoyed by Spring!

Thank you North and Susan for the wonderful article about myself and fellow garden writer C.L. Fornari that appeared in the March/April issue of Cape Cod View!

North Cairn, editor-in-chief  of CCV, writes the following on her editorial page “The View from My Desk:”

“…The Chinese proverb announces that “spring is sooner recognized by plants than men,” but perhpas not when the winter-weary soul finally reawakens to the memory of such glories as the spring ephemeral flowers and the chance to get into the backyard, into the unkempt perennial bed, tousled by the winter winds… It’s all in your point of view – in open eyes and hearts, willing to see the beauty and gifts that reside everywhere; in our homes and favorite outings, among families and friends; in discovery and memory –  and the chance for remembrance and renewal that returns each spring.”

Magazine cover painting by Aleta Steward of Harwich

A Day in the Life…

Our daughter Olivia’s view of life as an opera major at Boston University:

I am at Boston University studying opera, and will graduate with a BM in Vocal Performance. More than a few non-musicians have asked me what exactly I do at school. “Do you just sing all day?” “Do you break mirrors singing high notes?” “When do you actually start working on your major?” “You’re not fat. How can you be an opera singer?!”
Well, let me answer a few of your questions, you non-musicians!

1. I attend a conservatory – The School of Music – within BU. Therefore, most of my classes are solely dedicated to the study of music. We do have some academic requirements; everyone at BU has to take a writing course. As a singer, I must take Italian language and a second language, either German or French. Other than that, all of my classes are music-oriented. Throughout my four years, I will have taken music theory, piano, ear training, language diction, conducting, a variety of music history courses, acting, movement, private voice lessons, chorus, and a number of performance classes based on a master class setting. At a conservatory, you start working on your major the  minute you set foot in the door as a freshman.

2. I don’t just sing all day. Many of my classes have a rigorous academic course load. Conducting, music theory, and my music history courses required more work than many classes taken by my liberal arts friends. Being a vocal major isn’t fun and games. We work hard academically, and have to put in many hours practicing and memorizing music.

3. Additionally, we are a profession that relies solely on our bodies. Sore throat? Cough? Exhaustion? A singer can’t stay up all night and write a paper like an english major. We can’t go out and party all night, wake up, make it to class, and sleep through our lecture. We get sick and we’re f*cked. Some of my non-musician friends simply don’t get that, and they wonder why I can’t go out and party the night before an audition. Would you go out and intentionally break your wrist the night before having to take an exam involving writing lots of essays? No. I didn’t think so.

To read more and view photos Liv posted, follow the link to The Neave Online Publication.

Stop & Shop Versus Market Basket, Gloucester Crossing

Recently I read an editorial response, which stated we who were opposed to the development of Gloucester Crossing, in Gloucester, were the very same people who were now frequenting the mall. After reading these false suppositions, I decided to share my supermarket comparison data (survey done October 11 through October 13, 2009) with you. I opposed the Gloucester Crossing shopping mall (see “In the Wake of Godzilla”). For my readers who do not live on Cape Ann, but in the greater Boston area, you may be interested to know what were the results of my survey. I have nothing against Market Basket or its employees, however, I will not shop at Gloucester Crossing because of the illegal and unnecessary destruction of the vernal pond and because the developer held the city hostage for over a year at his insistence that a traffic light at the rotary be built for his shopper’s convenience (fortunately, he lost). Over and over again it was ballyhooed that we desperately needed a Market Basket, because their prices were that much cheaper.

I have been to Market Basket in Gloucester once and the Market Basket in Danvers once. Both trips were made a soon after the Market Basket, Gloucester, had its grand opening. The purpose of my visit to both Market Baskets was to compare the price of items I purchase for my family on a regular basis. During that same week I also brought my data sheets with me to Stop & Shop, Gloucester, and to the Shaw’s on Eastern Avenue in Gloucester. I wanted to find out for myself if indeed there were the terrific savings to be had at Market Basket, as had been touted by Market Basket’s publicity.

My list is primarily based on staples such as flour, milk, sugar, jam, yogurt, oats, olive oil, etc. I had to eliminate some items entirely, for example, Kate’s Homemade unsalted butter, because only Shaw’s regularly carries Kate’s unsalted. Please note that very little produce is included. When I conducted the survey, it was early October and we were still purchasing fruits, vegetables, and fish from the local farmer’s markets.

I am curious as to what are the pay packages and employee benefits offered by the three competitors. I haven’t gotten that far in my research. But let’s suppose, as I have heard, that Stop & Shop offers more stability and better employee benefits. Is the purported savings from shopping at Market Basket worthwhile if your neighbor working at Stop & Shop is paid a bit better? Is it worth it if the Marshalls at the mall places the small businesses on Main Street in jeopardy or worse, out of business? Is the purported savings worth destroying a vernal pond? I urge everyone to do their own comparison shopping with their own grocery needs in mind. What is offered as fact is often fiction.

If you believed all that was advertised, then my results will astound you. Adding only items both Market Basket and Stop and Shop stocked the day I investigated, Market Basket, Gloucester ($108.32) was 42 cents higher than Stop and Shop ($107.90).

Here are my general impressions from that first week of comparison shopping. Market Basket, Gloucester was clean and shiny and new. Of the four grocery stores I visited, the managers at Market Basket, Gloucester, were the only ones that were seemingly threatened that I had a pad and pencil in hand and was jotting down notes. I was approached and questioned. There was a plethora of employees wanting to serve at every turn. Market Basket, Danvers, was filthy, especially the restroom. (Clean restrooms are an important issue, especially when shopping with young children.) The employees working the register and behind the counters were painfully and obviously miserable and disgruntled. Shaw’s, Gloucester, was the most expensive of all. The cleanliness of the restroom was average to poor, and generally very shabby. The organic section is in one area of the store, which makes it easy to run in and out. Stop and Shop’s organic section is also in one place, and the restrooms were clean. Shaw’s and Stop & Shop both provide helpful and friendly service.

The most accurate way to judge would be to add the weekly averages over many months and then divide by the same amount of weeks. I don’t have time for that at the present, but I hope to find the time to revisit all four stores again. I am also very interested to find out about employee pay and benefits for all chains. In the mean time, I will continue to shop at Stop & Shop, Gloucester and Whole Foods, Cambridge, occasionally running into Shaw’s for Kate’s unsalted butter.


I agreed with what my friend Gordon Baird  wrote about Gloucester Crossing in a recent letter to the Gloucester Daily Times.  His letter inspired me to write a letter to the GDTimes editor, but mine has  yet to be published…

Gloucester Daily Times: Fishtown Local

Change for Change’s Sake

Gordon Baird

I am here today to take great exception to the ridiculous assertions of Paul York in his letter, “Necessity the mother of change.”

He states that the people who fought and found fault with the new shopping center “are the ones using it all the time.” In fact, he says, “they are the first to take advantage” of the change they so long opposed.

What a load of malarky — on several fronts.

First and foremost: How does he know? Did he stake out the neighborhood meetings that opposed it and then document those same folks rushing into the mall? Did he call and poll the publicly-declared opponents as to their use? No, he didn’t, but I did.

Of the seven vociferous foes of Gloucester Crossing that I called, a grand total of one trip had been made to it among all of them, and that was a last-second decision based on time. While happy that many pro-mall people have been able to use the new facility, I have not entered the grounds and neither have many other former foes.

Sorry, Walt Disney, but your Fantasyland assertion is all in your head. So let’s play Mr. York’s game of impugning values and actions based on my own silly predispositions. Let’s see … sure sounds like Mr. York is a Republican from the way he talks in his letter … he’s pro-business … he’s sure that people who would oppose a cut-through road to Rockport would be the first to use it.

Well, moving a step further: have you ever noticed how every Republican you meet characterizes himself as a moderate or an “independent” — even before Scott Brown.

There are only far left Democrats and Republican moderates to them. They talk and vote like Republicans but they think of themselves as moderates. Of course, because anyone who opposes them is a lefty extremist in their eyes.

That’s just like mall opponents who many people blasphemed at the time for speaking out their opinions. But, remember, Mr. York, the mall opponents got the city a way better deal on the TIF. That tax payment on the missed hotel deadline didn’t feel so bad this year, did it? Perhaps, nor will the next one.

But I just returned from a little foray out into the hinterlands of George Bush’s America. Even in jumping Boulder, Colo., in ski season and the college full, the effects of Bush’s recession are devastating.

There is no one on the Boulder mall. The shops who haven’t folded are selling at 70 percent off. The depression is in their heads as much as on the streets.

And have you been down on Main Street, Gloucester, lately? This must be the kind of change York was referring to. Things seemed fine the way they were, but change for change’s sake is fine with some people.

Since he brought it up: how’s that 128 extension with no traffic light working out? Did we really need that light out there? Has it been that big a hassle getting by there? Not for me, I’ve only encountered four cars exiting the mall and entering the extension there and we all behaved as designed.

Hey, the majority ruled on the mall. Good luck to ‘em. But the opponents didn’t rush right in, nor do they have to. In fact, from what I hear, after the initial rush, the Market Basket cashiers have been less than overwhelmed by the turnout, so perhaps those former mall opponents aren’t rushing in there after all.

I like tailoring reality to back up my pet personal theories, too.

Gloucester resident Gordon Baird is co-founder of Billboard’s Musician Magazine and the West End Theater, and is producer of the “Gloucester Chicken Shack” TV show.

Loggia (lō’-jē-ə) is the name given to an architectural feature originally of Italian design.

Often a gallery or corridor, at ground level or an upper story, on the facade of a building and open to the air, supported by columns or pieced openings in the wall.


This Loggia, previously covered up and incorporated into the house as a modern kitchen, was reopened and given a Medieval fireplace to provide for winter teas. A Sicilian iron-and-crystal chandelier hangs over the wine-tasting table and a set of 18th-century Liégeois split-cane bergères.

World of Interiors March 2010