Category Archives: Home and Garden

Wild and Wonderful Wisteria ~ When to Prune?

Wild and wonderful wisteria can quickly become wildly wicked wisteria. Reader Alicia writes, “when is the best time of year to prune wisteria?”

willowdale-estate-spring-©kim-smith

Taming the wisteria (before photo). The first photo shows what the ancient wisteria (Wisteria sinensis) looked like when first I took over the gardens at Willowdale Estate. I removed much of the plant and bent one long trunk over and down, attaching it to a thick bamboo stake, to create the wisteria “arch.” The next photo shows what the wisteria arch looked like by mid-summer that same year.

willowdale-estate-zinnia-patch-©Kim Smith

Alicia asks: “Much to my surprise the wisteria is blooming and has never been this late. I really gave up on it and am wondering why? When is the best time to prune it?”

Hi Alicia,

Wisteria throughout our region bloomed later than usual I think becasue spring got off to such a slow start this year.

Wisteria grows beautifully and is easiest to control when pruned biannually, or twice a year; a summer pruning and a winter pruning.

Summer Pruning: Cut the long shoots after the flowers fade to about six inches.

Winter Pruning: In late winter, before the buds begin to swell, prune all the shoots that have since grown after the summer pruning. The shape of the leafless wisteria is more clearly visible and you can easily see the unruly, long shoots at this time of year. Cut the branches to about 3 to 5 buds and over time, these shortened flowering branches will resemble a wisteria “hand.”

photo-2Photo submitted by Alicia Mills

Huge Hugs and Ninety-Nine Thank Yous to the Amazing and Super Hard-Working Friends of the HarborWalk Crew

Thank you to our most awesome crew today. We had friends from as far away as Spain (the Ryan’s cousins), Rosemary Banks from Boca Raton, and Kim from Medford, all lending a hand with the gardens today and it was a joy to meet you all. And special thanks to our Gloucesterites Maggie Rosa, Ed, Catherine, George, Charles, Lisa Smtih, April, and Sam.

Friends of the HarborWalk Gloucester ma © Kim Smith 2014

Fringetree on Rocky Neck ~ American Native Beauty in Our Midst

Fringetree Chionanthus virginicus  Gloucester MA ©Kim Smith 2014jpgFringetree (Chionanthus virginicus)

Fringetree (Chionanthus virginicus), the American native small tree, is so rarely planted today. Trees and plants trend at nurseries and, unfortunately, Fringetree has become one of those beauties that we need reminding of its great merits. The above specimen can be seen today in full glorious bloom on Rocky Neck, across the street from Judith and Gordon Goetmann’s Gallery. The botanical name translates lossely as snow flower, aptly describing the fluffy panicles covering the Fringetree when in bloom.

Fringetree Chionanthus virginicus Rocky Neck Gloucester MA -2 ©Kim Smith 2014The sweetly scented airy blossoms are attractive to bees and butterflies and the ripened fruits are a wonderful food source for songbirds and small mammals. In autumn, the foliage turns a brilliant clear golden yellow. Fringetree grows from Canada to the Gulf Coast, and famously tolerates air pollution, making it ideal for urban landscapes. Grow Fringetree in sun to part sun, in moist fertile soil. At maturity, the tree tops out at twelve to twenty feet high and equally as wide.

The one negative is that Fringetree is slow to leaf out in spring, with a tendency to look dry and woody. Don’t plant it with your spring ephemerals and you won’t notice!

Fringetree Chionanthus virginicus  Gloucester MA -2 ©Kim Smith 2014Fringetrees are dioecious, which means they have separate male and female plants, similar to hollies. Some flowers are “perfect,” meaning they have male and female parts. The male’s flowers are showier than the females, and the female and perfect flowers give way to blackish-blue fruit in late summer. Chionanthus virginicus is a member of the Oleaceae, or Olive Family, and the fruits of Fringetree are similar looking to that of Olea eruopea, the olive tree cultivated throughout the Mediterranean, Africa and Asia for its edible fruit.

I ran into Anne Malvaux while photographing the Rocky Neck Fringetree and she reports that she doesn’t recall seeing any fruit, which means it is most likely a male of the species, or that the fruit is so delicious it is quickly devoured by wildlife (often the case with native trees and shrubs). Or if it is a female and doesn’t bear fruit, it may because there is no males growing nearby. We’ll have a another look in late summer.

Fringetree Chionanthus virginicus Rocky Neck Gloucester MA ©Kim Smith 2014

On Behalf of Pathways for Children and Myself ~ Thank You to the Beautiful Manchester Garden Club Ladies!!!

Manchester Garden Club at Pathways ©Kim Smith 2014After months of planning and coordinating, this week we installed the new butterfly garden at Pathways for Children. We’ll be bringing you more updates from the garden but wanted to first thank our super hard-working, fabulous and fun, beautiful team of volunteers from the Manchester Garden Club. We planted the garden in record time due to their can-do-attitudes.  Thank You Ladies–you were simply the BEST!!!

And, success! As Bernie Romanowski, the facilities director, and I were tidying up, not one, but two butterflies stopped by to investigate the new garden, a Cabbage White and a Canadian Tiger Swallowtail. I wished our volunteers had seen that! Plant and they will come!

Orange Poppies in the Rain

Planter Urn with spring flowers ©Kim Smith 2014jpg copyWednesday while planting at Willowdale in the on-again off-again rain, the luminesce orange of the crinkly tissue paper-like poppy petals kept catching my eye. They seemed especially incandescent juxtaposed against the drizzly gray light. I don’t really mind planting in the rain for a few hours and actually much prefer it to the heat of planting at mid-day on warm sunny days. The only thing with planting in the rain is that on long, non-stop nine- to ten-hour planting days, I get very chilled, which leads to a tired muddy mess that arrives home to my husband, who has actually been looking forward to my coming home. “Please don’t talk to me,” I say when first arriving but, after a solid half hour soak in a steamy tub, I cheer up and am ready to converse and get dinner underway.

orange iceland poppy ©Kim Smith 2014Look at all these buds yet to come!

We planted this urn back on May 1st, and it has filled out handsomely. The sweet peas are climbing up the pussy willow basket handles and their fragrance, along with the scent of the dianthus, Viola ‘Etain’ and sweet alyssum is really very enchanting. From one initial bud to dozens still yet to come, going on six weeks now this little poppy plant just keeps on bestowing her gift of great beauty!

may-basket-c2a9kim-smith-2014-copyMay First May Basket

Splish Splash

Bird Bath Gray Catbird ©Kim Smith 2014

The day we planted blueberry bushes is the very same day the catbirds began to call our garden home. We now see Gray Catbirds (Dumetella carolinensis) throughout the seasons, devouring the seeds and fruit of holly, crabapple, winterberry, magnolia, blueberry, and shad. Their cat-like cries, which lends the species their common name, are welcome and often heard. Gray Catbirds are in the Mimidae Family and, like their relatives the Mockingbirds, also mimic the songs of other birds.

Although I have read that catbirds are shy, they seem relatively sociable in our garden and aren’t threatened by the presence of people within close proximity. We keep the bird baths filled with fresh clean water and I especially love to watch the catbirds from our kitchen window as they are so exuberant in their bathing habits–diving and splashing and then drying their wings at the edge of the basin. Oh Joyous Spring!

Gray Catbird Dumetella carolinensis ©Kim Smith 2014