March 30, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Lecture Tuesday night, April 9, at 7:30 at the Manchester Community Center: Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities! ~ Notes from a Gloucester Garden.
Cabbage White Butterflies Mating in the Native Flowering Dogwood Foliage
The lecture tonight is based on the book of the same name, which I wrote and illustrated. In it I reveal how to create the framework, a living tapestry of flora, fauna, and fragrance that establishes the soul of the garden. Using a selection of plant material that eliminates the need for pesticides and herbicides, and guided by the plants forms, hues, and horticultural demands, we discuss how to create a succession of blooms from April through November. This presentation is as much about how to visualize your garden, as it is about particular trees, shrubs, vines, perennials, and annuals. Illuminated with photographs, and citing poetry and quotations from Eastern and Western cultural influences, this presentation engages us with an artist’s eye while drawing from practical experience.
For a complete lit of my 2013 – 2014 programs and workshops, visit the Programs and Lectures page of my blog.
The Cecropia Moth, or Robin Moth (Hyalophora cecropia) is the largest moth found in North America, with a wingspan of up to six inches. He is perched on the foliage of our beautiful native Magnolia virginiana (Sweetbay Magnolia), one of several of the caterpillar’s food plants. You can tell that he is a male because he has large, feathery antennae, or plumos, the better for detecting scent hormones released by the female. This photo was taken in our garden in early June.
The Manchester Community Center is located at 40 Harbor Point, Manchester.
March 8, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Lilac ‘Maiden’s Blush’ (Syringa vulgaris) and the Friendly Red Admiral
Tomorrow night I am presenting one of my garden design lectures in West Newbury. For a complete list of programs that I offer, see the Programs page on my blog. For a list of upcoming lectures and programs, see the Events page on my blog.
Note: Program Rescheduled for June 6th.
The Oyama Magnolia is often planted adjacent to tea gardens in Japan because the blossom of the small tree nods downward, allowing the seated person to look up into the face of the flower. The first time I saw (or should say smelled) Magnolia sieboldii was in a wholesale nursery close to the Rhode Island border, where a single large specimen was tucked in with other more common species of magnolia. The divine fragrance emanating from the tree had drawn me towards it. The tree was unmarked, but since I so strongly value fragrance in plants, I had read about it and knew exactly what it was. Spring had not yet sprung in Gloucester and the honeysuckle sweet and citrus fragrance was intoxicating to my winter weary brain. I tied my tag around to claim it and have adored this tree since the day our Oyama Magnolia arrived to our garden.
January 3, 2013 § 1 Comment
For Christmas Liv gave me an early edition of Emily Dickinson’s poems. I cried. The poems of Emily Dickinson play a beautiful role in my book, Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities, but the sweetest poem of all found within the books’ pages is the poem written by Liv, when she was only twelve.
Emily Dickinson, published 1892
When Liv was twelve I hired her to transcribe the first draft of the manuscript for Oh Garden, which I had written in longhand, to our then new computer. I had not yet learned how to use the computer and she was quite proficient. The original manuscript included recipes and illustrations, but no poetry. She took her job transcribing very seriously and one day, about halfway through the project, announced that I needed a poem for the book. She dashed upstairs to her bedroom, returning only half an hour later with her contribution, “My Mother’s Garden.” Her tender poem suggested to me that I include more poetry and it was a joyous experience searching for just the right poem to illuminate each chapter. The book grew to comprise many poems by Emily Dickinson, along with works by Federico García Lorca, John Keats, Amy Lowell, Chinese painter- poets, and even a funny and sweetly sarcastic poem by Dorothy Parker titled “One Perfect Rose.” When the time came, I showed my publisher, Mr. Godine, Liv’s poem. He was delighted to include “My Mother’s Garden” and it can be found on page 206.
Now I keep this cherished gift of Emily Dickinson poems by my bedside table and each time I reach to read it or simply when the cover catches my eye, I am reminded of Liv’s gentle, thoughtful love and of the most cherished gift of all, my daughter.
My Mother’s Garden
An exotic sunset-tinted rose
Intoxicating breath of a magnolia
The small windy brick path
Leading to a hidden paradise
Butterflies flutter their own petal-wings
Over the smiling face of a daisy
A hushed lullaby to the garden sings the stream
Honeysuckle vines twist their elegant tendril,
Grasping the delicate lattice
Gorgeous, vibrant hollyhocks stretch their faces
Towards the radiant sun
Drinking in the soft light
Soon the sweet mellow silence is broken
By a joyful cry of children,
Two, three, now four
Suddenly the garden is a place of singing and frolicking and dancing,
Youthful and inviting.
This blessed garden’s soul shines forth in each and every existence
From the flitting butterflies
To the smallest thriving plant
To the noisiest child that finds peaceful comfort,
In the gentle haven.
-Written by our Liv when she was twelve
October 11, 2012 § Leave a Comment
In preparing for the lecture I presented for the Manchester Garden Club, which was held at Long Hill in Beverly, I came across several “before” photos of Willowdale Estate, from the spring of 2008, which was the year I began working on the gardens. By the way, the Manchester Garden Cub ladies could not have been more welcoming, and enthusiastic about my program. Thank you Constance and Marne for inviting me to speak to your lovely group, and for all your kind assistance!
I’ve learned over the years to always take the all-important “before” photos. My lecture attendees, clients, and prospective clients, love, love to see the transformation documented!
August 3, 2012 § Leave a Comment
June 3, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Oftentimes well-meaning hybridizers neglect fragrance, instead favoring a particular color or over-sized blooms. Hemerocallis dumortieri is a species daylily, which means the plant you see growing in the garden is exactly as you would find it growing in fields of wildflowers in Manchuria, eastern Russia, Korea, and Japan. The golden yellow-orange flowers have a scent to match their color; the fragrance is a heavenly combination of orange blossoms and honeysuckle.
H. dumortieri is one of the earliest daylilies to flower, beginning to bloom in May in eastern Massachusetts. The plants are compact, with narrow, arching leaves and the copper-hued buds open to warm marigold-yellow, star-shaped flowers; the backs of the tepals are washed with reddish brown striations.
May 1, 2012 § 2 Comments
April 20, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Is there a tree more lovely in flower than the North American native dogwood?
Whether flowering with the classic white bracts, the stunning rubra bracts, or the less often seen pale, creamy rose-tinted bracts, our native dogwood (Cornus florida) never ceases to give pause for beauty given.
At this time of year when traveling along southern New England roadways we are graced by the beauty of the dogwood dotting sunny roadside borders where meets the woodland edge. The bracts and flowers emerge before the leaves, serving only to heighten their loveliness. The fresh beauty of the bract-clad boughs is offset by the impressionistic symphony of tree foliage unfurling, shimmering in hues of apple green, chartruese, moss, and lime peel.
*Bract – A bract is a leaf-like structure surrounding a flower or inflorescence. The colorful bracts of poinsettias, the hot pink bracts of bougainvillea, and the bracts of dogwoods are often mistaken for flower petals.
The open florets (pea-green colored) and unopened buds are surrounded by the rose red-shaded bracts.
Read about how to help prevent an attack by the lethal dogwood anthracnose.
April 16, 2012 § Leave a Comment
The first photo is of the petite and scented jonquil ‘Minnow,’ offset by the coral red Greigii species tulip. Both are low-growing, which makes them ideal for rock gardens, and both varieties reliably return annually. The second photo is an ever-increasing little patch of narcissus and I know not the cultivar’s name. It was a spring gift that had been purchased as a potted plant from the grocery market, then planted in the garden in early summer.
The third photo is perhaps my all time favorite and consider it the very best for several reasons. ‘Geranium’ is divinely scented—sweet with a hint of fresh lemon blossom; its color and shape meld beautifully with a wide range of spring flowering bulbs; and ‘Geranium’ not only reliably returns each spring, it also increases in number.
For more information about narcissus and jonquils, including a list of the most sweetly scented varieties, see my book Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities! ~ Notes from a Gloucester Garden, page 178.
April 10, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Flowering Plum Tree ~ Prunus cerasifera ‘Thundercloud’
Filmed on Plum Street, Gloucester. Liltingly fragrant and a hummingbird attractant, Prunus cerasifera ‘Thundercloud’ is the most widely planted purple-leaf street tree in the U.S.
Rendering and compressing are very, very fast in this application; it is designed for ease of use and for speed. There are are no editing transitions, audio overlays, or other extra features included in this app, however that is not necessary when you want to capture, edit, and share in the fastest time possible.
Open Video Edit, click on the plus sign in the lower right corner, chose a clip from your camera roll, and click Choose in the lower right hand corner. Wait while the application compresses the video clip; a one minute clip took about 20 seconds to compress. You can add up to twenty clips and rearrange the clips in any order by dragging the clips in the timeline with your fingertip. Next type in the title, click Done. Click the check mark in the upper right corner, which brings you to the Render To page. You can render to iPhone, Email, Facebook, or YouTube. The 2 minute and 9 second video took less than ten seconds to render to my iPhone and twelve minutes approximately to render to youtube.
April 7, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Native to Japan, the Yoshino cherry (Prunus x yedoensis) is cultivated extensively and is also found growing wild on plains and mountains countrywide. For more than ten centuries, and continuing with no less enthusiasm today, cherry blossom time has been cause for joyful celebration that is deeply integrated in the Japanese culture.
When cherry blossoms begin to fall heavily, the flurry of blossoms is called “cherry snowstorm.” The following is a traditional Japanese song that has been passed down for generations.
Cherry blossoms, cherry blossoms
As far as you can see.
Across yayoi skies
Is it mist? Is it clouds?
Ah, the fragrance!
Let us go, Let us go and see!
To see a cherry blossom snowstorm:
In the Japanese language the cherry is called “sakura,” which is generally believed to be a corruption of the word “sukuya” (blooming). Poets and artists strive to express the loveliness of its flowers in words and artistry. Called the flower of flowers, when the Japanese use the word “hane” (flower) it has come to mean sakura, and no other flower. Since the Heian period “hanami” has referred to cherry blossom viewing; the term was used to describe cherry blossom parties in the Tale of Gengi. Aristocrats wrote poetry and sang songs under the flowering trees for celebratory flower viewing parties. The custom soon spread to the samurai society and by the Edo period, hanami was celebrated by all people.
The delicacy and transience of the cherry blossom have poignant and poetic appeal, providing themes for songs and poems since the earliest times. The motif of the five petal cherry blossoms is used extensively for decorative arts designs, including kimonos, works in enamel, pottery, and lacquer ware. Cherry tree wood is valued for its tight grain and is a lustrous reddish brown when polished. The wood is used to make furniture, trays, seals, checkerboards, and woodblocks for producing color wood block prints.
In modern times the advent of the cherry blossom season not only heralds the coming of spring, but is also the beginning of the new school year and the new fiscal year for businesses. Today families and friends gather under the blooms and celebrate with picnicking, drinking, and singing. The fleeting beauty of the blossoms, scattering just a few days after flowering, is a reminder to take time to appreciate life. In the evening when the sun goes down, viewing the pale-colored cherry blossoms silhouetted against the night sky is considered an added pleasure of the season.
The tradition of celebrating cherry blossom season began in the United States when, on Valentine’s Day in 1912, Tokyo mayor Yukio Okaki gave the city of Washington, D.C., 3,000 of twelve different varieties of cherry trees as an act of friendship. First Lady Helen Taft and the wife of the Japanese ambassador, Viscountess Chinda, planted the initial two of these first cherry trees in Potomac Park. Today cherry blossom festivals are celebrated annually not only in Wash- ington, D.C., but in Brooklyn, San Francisco, Seattle, and Macon, Georgia.
It is said that the true lover of cherry blossoms considers the season is at its height when the buds are little more than half open—for when the blossoms are fully opened there is already the intimation of their decline.
April 5, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Yesterday while visiting our daughter Liv we stopped briefly at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. We could not have come on a more perfect day to see both the magnolias and the cherry trees in the Japanese garden in full, spectacular bloom.
You may recall that in a previous “Top Five Magnolias” post I mentioned that Magnolia ‘Elizabeth’ was patented by the Brooklyn Botanic Garden in 1977. She was first hybridized in 1956 and is named after Elizabeth Van Brunt, a patron of the garden.
Everyone was taking snapshots of Elizabeth!
April 2, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Does your magnolia look like this:
Rather than this:
Today begins a series on my top five magnolias, based on many years of observing and writing about this most highly appreciated species. Magnolias are one of the loveliest of springtime flowers, with silky buds developing into waxy fragrant goblets, and with their stunning display juxtaposed against bare branches, few trees are more breathtakingly beautiful than a mature magnolia in full glorious bloom. If you have a favorite magnolia, please write and let me know why!
Foremost in recommending magnolias are that the flowers have a beautiful shape, which will hold up well even in inclement weather, that they are intensely fragrant, and no less importantly, that they come into flower a bit later in the spring, or early summer. I had formerly recommended the Star Magnolia (see Joey’s photos Blooming Baby) however, Star Magnolias (Magnolia stellata) bloom the earliest of all the magnolias and they are the most susceptable to damage from a hard frost. Their bloom time is fleeting, at best, and the flowers are often quickly ruined.
Today’s recommendation is for the Saucer Magnolia (Magnolia soulangiana x ‘Alexandrina’). The saucer magnolia is the magnolia of Boston’s Commonwealth Avenue fame. A simply stunning and mature pair can be seen in Gloucester flanking the front entryway to the Classic Revival brick house on the way to Eastern Point (opposite Niles Beach). The outer petals of ‘Alexandrina’s’ flowers are a richly colored deep pink, shaded white and pale pink inside, with a lovely fragrance. This variety has an upright habit, which makes it ideal for standard tree forms. Plant in full sun, to very, very, light shade.
Tip –if you hold fragrance in as high regard as do I, go to the nursery when the species of tree that you are shopping for is in full bloom. Oftentimes a tree may identified as a particularly fragrant variety, but then again it may not be accurately identified. Through no fault of the nursery– perhaps tags were switched, or perhaps their distributor has not accurately labeled the plant; whatever the case, take your nose from tree to tree.
No group of trees and shrubs is more favorably known or more highly appreciated in gardens than magnolias, and no group produces larger or more abundant blossoms.” ~ Ernest “Chinese” Wilson, botanist and plant explorer
Global climate change is creating extremes in weather worldwide. The horticultural problems created by a spring cycle of freezing-thawing-freezing temperatures are only going to increase. The gardener’s best defense is to plant species that can withstand these new horticultural parameters.
March 13, 2012 § Leave a Comment
I am in the process of organizing photos for my upcoming season of garden design lectures and am enjoying looking over the past year in photos. This was my first year with the Fujifilm x100 and the photo of the flowering quince below was one of the first photos I took with the x100. I do love my camera!
Coaxing Winter Blooms
From mid-February on is the recommended time to prune members of the copious Roseaceae (Rose family) and their cut branches create stunning arrangements. The bare limbs dotted with five-petalled blossoms are particularly evocative juxtaposed against the cool, low light of winter. I am picturing the plum rose of Prunus cerasifera‘Thundercloud,’ the vivid pink of peach blossoms, the elegant sparkling white blossoms of apricot trees (Prunus armeniaca), and the brilliant fiery red-orange ‘Texas Scarlet’ Japanese flowering quince illuminating the rooms in which they are placed. I have to say my favorite of favorites is Chaenomeles speciosa ‘Toyo-Nishiki,’ with buds swollen and ready to burst by mid-winter and flowering in multiple hues of white, rose, and apricot pink, the beauty of their blossoms emphasized by the sharply zigzagging branches.
Note: Flowering quince provides nectar for northward migrating hummingbirds. It is not too early to put out your hummingbird feeders.
More information about Chaenomoles ‘Toyo-Nishiki’ may be found in Chapter Three, “Planting in Harmony with Nature,” Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities!
February 15, 2012 § 2 Comments
Which version do you prefer, black and white or color?
Beginning in November, we maintain a continuous flow of blooming narcissus by planting a new batch every two weeks or so. Paperwhites ‘Ziva’ blooms before the first of the year and ‘Galilee’ just after the holiday season. The ‘Chinese Sacred Lily’ (Narcissus tazetta var. orientalis) is almost as easy to force and has a sweeter, though no less potent fragrance. The scent is a dreamy blend of orange and honeysuckle. They are also a member of the tazetta group bearing multiple blossoms atop slender stalks, with white petals and cheery yellow cups. The ‘Chinese Sacred Lily,’ brought to this country by Chinese immigrants in the late 1800s, is traditionally forced to bloom for New Year’s celebrations.
With both paperwhites and ‘Chinese Sacred Lilies,’ place the bulbs in bowl or pot and cover with stones. The emerging green tips should be poking though the stones. Water up to the halfway point of the bulb and place in a cool dark room; an unheated basement is ideal. Water periodically and within a week or so, new growth will be visible. Then place the bulbs in the room away from strong light, continue to water as needed, and once in bloom, they will flower and scent your home for a week or more. Illustrations of paperwhites and the Chinese Sacred Lily, as well as the complete chapter, can be found in Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities! Notes from a Gloucester Garden (David R. Godine, Publisher).
January 21, 2012 § Leave a Comment
January, February, March, and for we who dwell in New England, oftentimes well into April, are ideal months for interior home improvements. During these more homebound months I am actively looking for home and garden design inspiration. And, too, with projects that were shelved during the summer months because of seasonal work and summer guests, winter is a great time of year to focus on home improvements. I was inspired to write this weekly series after a recent visit to our home from Joey, Jill, and their two darling daughters. The family stopped by for hot chocolate and story time and Joey was non-stop with investigative questions and curiosity. It got me thinking about the impetus for writing my book, Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities!, which was originally conceived as a guide for young couples and new home owners (and someday, hopefully, for my children when they will one day have gardens of their own). My book grew to be more than that, but I am again thinking of the couples with young children that have recently moved to our East Gloucester neighborhood.
To think of it, we are following in an old Gloucester and northern seacoast tradition by tending to the interior of our homes during these winter months, in that of “house-pride.” The town’s carpenters, many of whom were master shipbuilders and shipwrights, would have had more free time during the winter months. Fine carpentry details are evident throughout our house, which was built in 1851. And, like many of Gloucester’s older houses, our home is graced with details created by the skilled plasterers that emigrated from Italy and settled on Cape Ann. Although a modest house, particularly by today’s “starter castle” standards, I wouldn’t trade our lovely 19th century home, with its quirky and elegant details (along with it’s many foibles) for all the world’s McMansions.
I propose Antennae for Design will encompass home and garden design inspiration, home improvement tips, feature interviews with local business owners who specialize in art and design, and after visiting local well-tended homes and gardens, sharing information found there. Let me know through the comment section or by emailing at firstname.lastname@example.org of your thoughts and any topic that you may find particularly relevant or of interest.
December 23, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Amaryllis ‘Orange Sovereign’ will be in full bloom by Christmas Day!
For tips on coaxing winter blooms, including forcing bulbs and flowering tree and shrub branches, see Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities! David R. Godine, Publisher.
November 22, 2011 § Leave a Comment
A Thanksgiving column for you–about the sublime rose ‘Aloha,’ for which I am most thankful. Even more so, I am thankful for my family—our son Alex is arriving home from college this afternoon, then later in the afternoon, my dear mother-and father-in-law from Cincinnati, and then darling daughter tonight on the train from NYC. I count my blessings each and every day, but I am especially grateful that this Thanksgiving my husband and I can share this most special of holidays with our family. I hope with all my heart you have a joyful Thanksgiving.
Warmest wishes, Kim
P.S. Programming notes ~ Two specials that I produced are airing on Cape Ann TV this week and they are The Butterfly Garden at Willowdale Estate and The Greasy Pole Fall Classic (see previous post re Greasy Pole schedule).
Program schedule for The Butterfly Garden at Willowdale Estate airing on Channel 12, Cape Ann TV:
Monday, November 21 at 8:00 pm
Tuesday, November 22 at 2:30 am and 10:30 pm
Saturday, November 26 at 8:00 pm
The French have a beautiful sounding word for a repeat flowering rose and, without doubt, the most remontant rose that we grow is ‘Aloha.’ Embowering our front porch pillars, she welcomes with her fresh-hued beauty.‘Aloha’ begins the season in a great flush, followed by a brief rest, and then continues non-stop, typically through November, and in one recent, relatively mild autumn, into December. I like her so very much that I planted a second and then third and they are all three sited where we can enjoy her great gifts daily.
‘Aloha’s’ buds are full and shapely, and colored carmine rose with vermilion undertones, giving us a preview of nuanced shades to come. She unfurls to form large, quartered, and subtly two-toned blossoms, initially opening in shades of clear rose-pink with a deeper carmine pink on the reverse, or underside of the petals. The blossoms are long lasting, fading to a lovely shade of pale coral pink. And the petals fall loosely, never becoming balled clumps. With luxuriously long stems and shiny emerald foliage, ‘Aloha’ also makes a divine cut flower.
Oh, and I can’t believe I am several paragraphs in and haven’t yet mentioned her fragrance. She not only welcomes with her great beauty, but also with her potent and dreamy scent. I’ve often heard ‘Aloha’ described as having a green apple fragrance, but find that description only partially accurate; the scent is really much more sophisticated, with notes not only of fresh Granny Smith apple, but also the warm sensuous undertones of the old Damask and Bourbon roses.
Passers-by may think she looks a bit peculiar, ruining my color scheme with her fresh-hued cluster of pink amongst a tumble of drying stalks and seed heads in the beige and brown hues of late autumn, but I don’t mind—to be welcomed by her scent on a cold November morning is simply to be welcomed by a gift—and ‘Aloha’ is a rose that just keeps giving and giving and giving.
I first took note of Aloha, arching along a split-rail fence and growing in the path of drying winter winds and sand. A rose that can withstand winter along the Cape Ann seashore is a rose worth noticing. I asked the owner of the garden if she minded if I took a cutting and she very graciuosly allowed me to take several (see Chapter 14, page 117, in my book Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities on how to propagate a rose from a cutting). ‘Aloha’ is one of the easier roses to propagate and I soon had several viable plants. I kept one and gave the rest to friends. Roses grown on their own roots are far superior to those grown on a commercial rootstock. The grafted joint is susceptible to disease and damage. Not only that, in the case of a very severe winter, the growth above the graft is often completely destroyed. The growth that returns in the spring is that of the rooting stock, not of the originally desired rose.
‘Aloha’ was hybridized by Eugene Boerner in 1949 and is in the class Large Flowered Climber. Her parents are the Climbing Hybrid Tea ‘Mercedes Gallart’ and ‘New Dawn.’ Although classified as a climber, the versatile ‘Aloha’ is easily grown as a shrub. The foliage is vigorous and leathery, and rarely visited by pests or disease. ‘Aloha’ is the parent or in the ancestry of many gorgeous roses and has contributed greatly to the development of the David Austin roses.
Roses seen in paintings by the old Dutch masters are the Damask, Bourbon, Gallica, Alba, and Portland roses. Hybrid Perpetuals were derived to a great extent from the Bourbons. Hybrid teas are a cross between the winter-hardy Hybrid Perpetual and the tender, yet repeat blooming, Tea rose; hence the winter-hardy and repeat blooming class called Hybrid Tea. These were cross-pollinated with large flowered climbers, culminating in roses that inherited what are considered by rosarians to be the most desirable qualities—that of repeat flowering, strong fragrance, strong stems, hardiness, and disease resistance.
‘Aloha’ grows vigorously in full sun or a very light bit of shade. A compact climber, she is ideal for planting alongside porch pillars and fences. It is easier to train the canes to grow up a porch pillar or to arch along a fence when they are young as the canes become stiff with age. After the first flush of flowering, deadhead and remove any weak or twiggy growth. Pruning is not mandatory for flowering because ‘Aloha’ blooms on both old wood and on the current season’s growth, however, I like to prune again lightly at the end of the growing season, to shape and to remove twiggy growth. In early spring fertilize and lightly prune yet again, removing any dead winter damage (usually minimal). ‘Aloha’ is not prickle free; be mindful to plant where she won’t create a nuisance (I should heed my own advice, although if planted in a heavily trafficked site she is very easy to keep in check).
Because of her ease in culture, remontant habit, arresting fragrance, and seemingly endless variations in color from within each flower, I would have to say ‘Aloha’ is in my top ten category of favorite roses, if not top five. If you have a rose that you cherish—a rose you grow, or perhaps one you recall from childhood—please write and tell me what it is that you find lovely in your rose.
October 12, 2011 § 3 Comments
In the garden of mid-Ocotober’s dissipating beauty ~
And the fabulously fragrant remontant roses ‘Souvenir de Victor Landeau’ and’Aloha’
October 12, 2011 § 4 Comments
August 4, 2011 § Leave a Comment
“At this point, it is the summer phlox and, above all, the towering lilies that are providing the scent in our garden in Milton. And very heady it is, too- especially on still, hot days.” - My friend David Godine writes of his beautiful garden in Milton, Massachusetts.
I am wonderfully fortunate that Mr. Godine is both my publisher and editor for my book Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities!. Not only does David have a deep love for all things books, he is passionate for gardens and gardening.
July 19, 2011 § 3 Comments
Dear Gardening Friends,
July 17, 2011 § Leave a Comment
July 16, 2011 § 4 Comments
I am often asked “why is that green, yellow, and black Monarch caterpillar eating my parsley”?
Chances are, you will never see a Monarch caterpillar on your parsley. By far and away it is more likely that you have the caterpillar of the gorgeous Black Swallowtail Butterfly (Papilio polyxenes).
Caterpillars that are actively feeding are usually only found on their larval host plant(s), the plant they have developed a distinctive coevolutionary relationship with over millennia. Monarch caterpillars do not eat parsley and Black Swallowtail caterpillars do not eat milkweed, and if either attempted, they would not survive. Black Swallowtails were in the past commonly referred to as the Parsnip Swallowtail as their caterpillar food plants belong to members of the Umbelliferae, or Carrot Family. The diet of the Black Swallowtail caterpillar includes the foliage and flowers of carrot plants, fennel, dill, parsley, Queen Anne’s lace, and parsnips.
The Monarch caterpillar is yellow, black, and white. The Black Swallowtail caterpillar is green, black, and yellow.
July 13, 2011 § 1 Comment
This morning I had the pleasure of presenting my Monarch butterfly program to the Cape Ann Garden Club. The meeting was held at the charming and beautifully maintained Annisquam Village Hall, located in the very heart of Annisquam. Thank you Cape Ann Garden Club members for your enthusiasm and for your interest–it was my joy!
These lovely arrangements are created by the members and then gathered up at the end of the meeting to be distributed to nearby nursing homes.
July 3, 2011 § Leave a Comment
June 26, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Magnolia virginiana ~ Sweet Bay Magnolia
Located in the heart of Ravenswood Park in Gloucester there is a stand of Magnolia virginiana growing in the Great Magnolia Swamp. It is the only population of Magnolia virginiana known to grow this far north. I took one look at the native sweet bay magnolia and breathed in the fresh lemon-honeysuckle scent of the blossoms, fell in love, and immediately set out to learn all I could about this graceful and captivating tree. Recently having returned from a trip to visit my family in northern Florida, I had tucked the bud of a Magnolia grandiflora into my suitcase. I was dreaming of someday having a garden large enough to accommodate a Magnolia grandiflora and was overjoyed to discover the similarities between M. virginiana and M. grandiflora. For those not familiar with the Southern magnolia, it is a grand, imposing specimen in the landscape, growing up to fifty feet in the cooler zones five and six, and one hundred feet plus in the southern states. M. grandiflora is the only native magnolia that is reliably evergreen in its northern range, flowering initially in the late spring and sporadically throughout the summer. The creamy white flowers, enormous and bowl-shaped (ten to twelve inches across), emit a delicious, heady sweet lemon fragrance.
In contrast, the flowers of the sweetbay magnolia are smaller, ivory white, water-lily cup shaped, and sweetly scented of citrus and honeysuckle. The leaves are similar in shape to the Magnolia grandiflora, ovate and glossy viridissimus green on the topside, though they are more delicate, and lack the leathery toughness of the Southern magnolia. The lustrous green above and the glaucous silvery green on the underside of the foliage creates a lovely ornamental bi-color effect as the leaves are caught in the seasonal breezes.
Magnolia virginiana is an ideal tree for a small garden in its northern range growing to roughly twenty feet compared to the more commanding height of a mature Southern magnolia. Sweet bay grows from Massachusetts to Florida in coastal freshwater wetland areas as an understory tree. The tree can be single- or multi-stemmed. Sweet bay is a stunning addition to the woodland garden with an open form, allowing a variety of part-shade loving flora to grow beneath the airy canopy. The leaves are a larval food for the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly. Almost immediately after planting we began to notice the swallowtails gliding from the sunny borders of the front dooryard, where an abundance of nectar-rich flowers are planted specifically to attract butterflies, around to the shady border in the rear yard where our sweet bay is located.
Our garden is continually evolving and part of our garden has given way to a limited version of a woodland garden, for the shady canopy created by the ever-growing ceiling of foliage of our neighbor’s trees has increasingly defined our landscape. We sited our Magnolia virginiana in our diminutive shaded woodland border where we can observe the tree from the kitchen window while standing at the kitchen sink. Gazing upon the tree bending and swaying gracefully in the wind, displaying its shifting bi-color leaves, provides a pleasant view when tending daily chores and the dreamy fragrance emitted from freshly opened blossoms make the chores all that less tiresome.
Excerpt from “Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities!” Notes from a Gloucester Garden (David R. Godine Publisher), written and illustrated by Kim Smith.
June 26, 2011 § 4 Comments
Magnolia virginiana in Massachusetts written by Peter Del Tredici.
The sweet bay magnolia swamp in Gloucester, Massachusetts has been a botanical shrine since its discovery in 1806. Early New England naturalists and botanists of all types, from Henry David Thoreau to Asa Gray, made pilgrimages to the site of this northern- most colony of Magnolza virginiana. The local residents of Gloucester were so impressed with a “southern”plant growing this far north that they changed the name oft he Kettle Cove section of the town to Magnolia in the mid-1800s. It is probably no coincidence that this name change occurred at the same time the area was starting up its tourist trade.
In addition to its isolation, the Gloucester Magnolia population was remarkable for having escaped notice until 1806 in an area that was settled in 1623. This fact has led at least one author to speculate that the colony was not wild but escaped from a cultivated plant (Anonymous, 1889). However, the overwhelming consensus of earlier botanists is that the population is, in fact, native. Whatever its origin, the swamp remains today the unique and mysterious place it has been for almost 200 years.
Very little has been written about the magnolia swamp in recent years. The latest, and best, article about it was wntten by Dr George Kennedy, and appeared in 1916 in Rhodora, the Journal of the New England Botanical Club. Dr. Kennedy summarized the history of the stand, and cleared up the confusion about who discovered it by publishing a letter he found, written by the Honorable Theophilus Parsons to the Reverend Manassah Cutler in 1806. The letter captures the emotion of the moment of discovery:
Reverend and Dear Sir:
In riding through the woods in Gloucester, that are between Kettle Cove and Fresh Water Cove I discovered a flower to me quite new and unexpected in our forests. This was last Tuesday week [July 22, 1806]. A shower approaching prevented my leaving the carriage for examination, but on my return, on Friday last, I collected several of the flowers, in different stages, with the branches and leaves, and on inspection it is unquestionably the Magnolia glauca Mr. Epes Sargent has traversed these woods for flowers and not having discovered it, supposes it could not have been there many years. It was unknown to the people of Gloucester and Manchester until I showed it to them. I think you have traversed the same woods herborizing. Did you dis-cover it? If not, how long has it been there? It grows in a swamp on the western or left side of the road as you go from Manchester to Gloucester, and before you come to a large hill over which the road formerly passed. It is so near the road as to be visible even to the careless eye of the traveler. Supposing the knowledge of this flower, growing so far north, might gratify you, I have made this hasty communication.
Your humble servant, Theoph. Parsons
To read Mr. Del Tredici’s fascinating article in full click here Magnolia virginiana in Massachusetts, including an excerpt from when Henry David Thoreau visited the swamp and wrote about it in his Journal.
Peter Del Tredici is a Senior Research Assistant at the Arnold Arboretum and Lecturer at Harvard Graduate School of Design. Peter writes the following for the Arnold Arboretum: “My research interests are wide ranging and mainly involve the interaction between woody plants and their environment. Over the course of thirty plus years at the Arnold Arboretum, I have worked with a number of plants, most notably Ginkgo biloba, conifers in the genera Tsuga and Sequoia, various magnolias, and several Stewartia species (family Theaceae). In all of my work, I attempt to integrate various aspects of the botany and ecology of a given species with the horticultural issues surrounding its propagation and cultivation. This fusion of science and practice has also formed the basis of my teaching at the Harvard Graduate School of Design (since 1992), especially as it relates to understanding the impacts of climate change and urbanization on plants in both native and designed landscapes. Most recently, the focus of my research has expanded to the subject of spontaneous urban vegetation which resulted in the publication of “Wild Urban Plants of the Northeast: A Field Guide” (Cornell University Press, 2010).”
June 11, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Lilacs are found growing (where winters are cold enough to afford proper growth and ample blossoms) from the smallest rural village to the urban courtyard. They grow the very best in zones 3, 4, and 5, in the colder regions of zones 6 and 7, and in the warmer regions of zone 2. They will tolerate temperatures of -35 to -40f, though they may suffer some damage from windchill. If temperatures dip to such extreme cold in your region, site the lilac out of the path of chilling winter winds. Lilacs will tolerate frozen ground but not frozen pockets where water does not drain properly. Requiring excellent drainage, they grow best along rocky, limestone hillsides, suggesting just how important good drainage is. When planted in a mesic site, lilacs flower adequately, although, by late summer the foliage may wilt and turn moldy.
Lilacs perform best in sandy, gravelly loam mixed with organic matter such as compost and aged manure. Keep the surrounding soil free from weeds with an annual mulch of compost. In early spring sprinkle a cup of wood ashes around the base of the lilac and work it gently into the top layer of soil. Every three years or so apply a cup of ground limestone to the soil, again gently working it into the soil so as not to injure the roots.
Lilacs require full sun to nearly full sun to set flower buds. Where optimal sunlight isn’t always available, one may have some success with pushing the envelope. We are growing lilacs in several locations in half sun, and although they would be fuller in form with far more flowers, all are growing well.
The overall shape of lilacs is greatly improved with an annual pruning. Immediately after flowering is the ideal time to attend to this not unpleasant task. The job becomes less manageable as the shrub grows tall and leggy in a few short years.
After the lilac has become established and is a desirable size and shape, cut to the ground approximately one third of the oldest branches and thinnest suck- ers. This allows the bush to renew itself and for the energy of the bush to go into the remaining growth. Leaving the strongest trunks that form the armature of the shrub, prune diseased or pest-infested shoots or branches, and remove all declining stems, thin suckers, and small, twiggy branches. Some lilacs produce suckers rarely, if at all, and others sucker aggressively. Remove all spent flowers immediately after blooming, snipping very close to the tail end of the panicle so as not to remove the new growth that will provide you with next year’s flowers.
If you are growing lilacs as a background shrub or as a small tree, allow only two to three main stems as trunks, removing lower branches and cutting all other shoots to the ground. ’Beauty of Moscow’, ‘Madame Florent Stepman’ and the common lilac, both var. purpurea and alba, are all well suited for growing into a small multi-stemmed tree. Conversely if you do not want your lilac to become a tree, prune to a height of eight to nine feet, which keeps the blossoms at eye level.
With its versatile form and lovely heart-shaped leaves the lilac is an exceptional companion to a wide range of flowering trees and shrubs. The extended period of florescence a well-planned lilac hedge provides coincides with the long flowering period of our native pagoda dogwood (Cornus alternifolia) and Catawba rhododendrons. Just as the Sargent crabapple (Malus sargentii) is at its flowering peak, with masses of sublimely scented white blossoms, the earliest lilacs begin their fragrant parade. In our garden, the blossoms of Prunus, namely peach, pear and plum, overlap with the flowering of ‘Beauty of Moscow,’ ‘Maidens Blush,’ and ‘President Grevy.’ They are planted in close vicinity along the garden path. The newly emerging fragrant blossoms of Prunus interwoven with the pervasive perfume of lilacs give The Scent of All Spring!
Lilacs are one of the loveliest shrubs to grow as a tall hedge, and they integrate magnificently into the country hedge of mixed shrubs and trees. The ineffable beauty and fragrance of lilacs are enhanced by the many varieties of suitable companion plants. The short list of plants described here is particularly appealing during the lilac’s period of flowering, for their compatible scents, colors, and foliage or for creating a sequentially blooming combination of fragrances. ‘Korean Spice’ viburnum, nearing the end of its florescence while the lilacs are beginning theirs, blooms in pink infused white, snowball shaped flower heads, with an intensely sweet and spicy aroma. Variegated Solomon Seal, Viola ‘Etain,’ late-season jonquils and narcissus, and lily of-the-valley all bloom simultaneously with early lilacs. The most sublimely scented tree peony ‘Rockii,’ with white petals washed with pale rose, and magenta-purple splotches at its heart center, also flowers during lilac time. Later in the season, to coincide with later-flowering lilacs, come the Iris pallida , Iris germanica, and native Iris versicolor, English bluebells, early species daylilies with their honey-citrus scent, ‘Bridal Wreath’ spirea, blue and white columbine ‘Origami,’ and white bleeding hearts (Dicentra spectabilis ‘Alba’). Although not at all fragrant, I find the warm, rich yellow color of native honeysuckle Lonicera ’John Clayton’ particularly appealing with the white and cool blue-lavender-hued lilacs. Just as ‘Therese Bugnet,’ the earliest of roses to flower (with its Rugosa heritage) joins the scene, the lilacs are finished for the season. Lilacs, when pruned to a small tree shape, allow a variety of plants to grow happily at their feet. Herbaceous peonies, although their blooming period usually does not coincide with lilacs, make an ideal garden companion. In our yard, Paeonia lactiflora follow lilacs almost to the day in order of sequential blooming. The dense, full mounds of foliage of the herbaceous peonies visually fill the space left by the trunk of the lilacs, as do hosta. The foliage of hosta, planted on the shady side, makes a companionable partner. Hosta will appreciate the filtered sun and both plants benefit from an annual blanket of compost. Species daylilies, Montauk daisies, and chrysanthemums are ideal companions when planted on the sunnier side of lilacs.
Spring never lasts long enough in New England, with some years leaping from bitter cold to balmy, summer-like temperatures. Despite freezing rain and late spring snow, lilacs bloom and bloom resplendently. For the extended period of time in which the spires of sweet florets are in bloom, our garden is redolent with their heavenly fragrance. The blossoms of Syringa vulgaris, and especially the fragrant sorts, are a nectar source for the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail. The diminutive “violet afloat,” better known by its common name Spring Azure, is captivatingly beautiful floating about the pure white flowers of ‘Marie Legraye.’ Throughout the seasons our lilac hedge is alive with a chattering collection of songbirds. The height and the crooks of the branches are enticing to the innumerable songbirds, though it is the cadmium orange oriole alighting on the blue-hued spires of ‘President Grevy’ that causes the heart to skip a beat.
End Notes: Occasionally one must dig a bit deeper to find the value of a plant in relationship to pollinators for the landscape designed for people and wild creatures. First and foremost a garden should be an inviting habitat for the people who dwell there. What better way to create an invitation than with the beauty and fragrance of the lilac? Although not native to North America, lilacs (Syringa vulgaris) are celebrated in this country as they are part of our cultural heritage. From cuttings tucked into belongings, the earliest settlers connected their previous home to their home of new beginnings. The ease in which lilacs are cultivated is famous and testifies to their success and popularity. At a lecture I attended not too long ago, an example of a white oak, which supports nearly one hundred species of Lepidoptera, was compared to the lilac, which is known to support just twenty-five. From a gardener’s perspective that is like comparing apples to oranges. Very few have space enough to grow an 80-foot-tall white oak, whereas a ten-foot-tall and easily cultivated lilac can find a place in nearly any garden. Besides, twenty-five species of Lepidoptera is not bad. Additionally, lilacs are a rich source of nectar for swallowtails. Our native eastern redbud—although stunning, and providing nectar for bees and hummingbirds—is much more challenging to cultivate and hosts two species of Lepidoptera. Plant what you like, as long as it is not invasive in your particular region. As much as possible, utilize native plants in your garden design and combine with well-investigated and well-behaved ornamentals.
For an expanded version on the history of lilacs, Lilacs the Genus Syringa written by Fr. John L. Fiala is highly recommended. Filled with hundreds of color photographs and including chapters on the culture of lilacs, hybridizing techniques, and propagation, I have turned to this book repeatedly. Fortunately it has been reprinted and is once again available through Timber Press.
June 6, 2011 § 2 Comments
Dear Gardening Friends,
Come join me this Tuesday, June 7th at Willowdale Estate, from 4:00 to 6:00, for a house and garden tour of this beautiful, and beautifully restored, historic Arts and Crafts manse. Members of the Willowdale staff will be giving guided tours of the house and I will be available to talk about the garden, including how the Arts and Crafts movement influenced our horticultural decisions. Admission is free and the event is open to the public.
Thank you for all the thoughtful comments and praise for last week’s column “The most highly scented lilacs…” Next week I will send you information on lilac culture as this is the ideal time of year to trim and shape your lilacs for maximum blooms next year.
Reader Irma wrote the following: I picked my lilacs at their height. In water, in the vase they lasted 2 days and drooped! Last year the same. I couldn’t believe it. Do you know why?
Hi Irma, Lilacs have woody stems and do not easily absorb water in the vase. Depending on whatever tool is handy, I do one of two things,. With a hammer, crush the stems, at least six inches along the length, and immediately place in a vase filled with tepid or warm water. Over the years I have also discovered that peeling the stems with a vegetable peeler is just as effective, and less messy. Peel away the woody outer layer, all around the stem, again at least six inches up the stalk (peel down to green). Still, even with treating the stems, the arrangement will be fleeting and only look beautiful for several days. The scent of the lilacs permeating throughout your home is worth the extra effort!
Many wrote last week to say they enjoyed the excerpt from Amy Lowell’s gorgeous poem Lilacs. Here it is in entirety:
May 29, 2011 § 1 Comment
Surely at the top of the list of shrubs to grow for creating the framework of an intimate garden or garden room are lilacs, in particular Syringa vulgaris and their French hybrids. Syringa vulgaris are grown for their exquisite beauty in both form and color of blossoms, although it is their fragrance flung far and throughout gardens and neighborhoods that make them so unforgettable.
Not all species of Syringa and cultivars of Syringa vulgaris are scented. The early French hybrids and hybrids of Leonid Kolesnikov have retained their fragrance. Syringa oblata has a similar fragrance, though is not nearly as potent. Several of the Chinese species have a spicy cinnamon scent, while many of the Asian species and their hybrids have very little, if any, fragrance. To find your personal preference, I suggest a visit to a local arboretum, or take your nose to the nursery during the extended period of time (six to eight weeks, or so) in which the different cultivars of S. vulgaris are in bloom.
Nearly everywhere lilacs are grown (and here I am only referring to S. vulgaris), they are called by some variety of the word lilac. Perhaps the word lilac stems from the Persian word Lilak or Lilaf meaning bluish. The French say Lilas, the Spanish say Lila, and the Portuguese Lilaz. In old English lilacs were called Laylock, Lilack, and Lilock.
Lilacs are native to and found growing among the limestone rocks on the hillsides and mountainsides throughout southeastern Europe, in the Balkans, Moldavia, Serbia, Macedonia, and Yugoslavia. Cultivated by local mountain herdsmen, they were taken from the peasant villages of central Europe to the garden courts of Istanbul. In 1563, the Flemish scholar and traveler Ogier Ghiselin, Count de Busbecq, Ambassador of Ferdinand I of Austria to the court of Suleiman the Magnificent, brought back to Vienna gifts from the sultan’s garden. Attracting much attention was the lilac. Seven years later, in 1570, Ogier Ghiselin, Count de Busbecq, and then Curator of the Imperial Court Library, accompanied the Archduchess Elizabeth from Vienna to Paris where she was betrothed to King Charles IX of France. Count de Busbecq journeyed to France with a shoot of Syringa vulgaris, where it soon began to fill the gardens of Paris.
Two color variants sprang up in European gardens beside the wild blue- flowered lilac, a nearly white flowered variant with lighter foliage and a taller- growing variant with deeper purple flowers. Hybridizers quickly set about to create different forms and color versions from these two variants.
Victor Lemoine of the famed nursery Victor Lemoine et Fils at Nancy in Lorraine Province continued the work of hybridizing lilacs. From 1878 to 1950, Victor and his wife, their son Emile, and their grandson, Henri, created 214 lilac cultivars. The cornerstone of the Lemoine’s lilac hybridizing program was a nat- ural sport that bore two corollas, one inside the other, making it the first dou- ble. This double was subsequently named ‘Azurea Plena.’ Because of the Lemoine family’s success in turning ordinary lilacs into fancy double-flowered lilacs in nearly every hue imaginable, they became known as the “French lilacs.” Spreading throughout Europe, the French lilacs were brought to the Russian court by French travelers. Well suited to the soil and climate of Russia, they soon spread far and wide. Several decades later, the Russian hybridist Leonid Kolesnikov continued the successful work of the Lemoines with his own exquisite variants.
The French and Dutch colonists transported lilacs to North America. These cherished cuttings, wrapped in burlap and wet straw tucked into suitcases for the long journey across the Atlantic, traveled well and were soon growing throughout the colonies. By 1753 the Quaker botanist John Bartram of Philadelphia was complaining that lilacs were already too numerous. One of two of the oldest col- lections of lilacs in North America are at the Governor Wentworth home in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, planted by the governor in 1750. The second collection, perhaps one hundred years older, is at Mackinac Island in Michigan, where French Jesuit missionaries living in the area are thought to have planted them as early as 1650.
With their traveling fragrance, versatility in the landscape, and their ability to live tens, perhaps even hundreds of years, lilacs are garden heirlooms. When selecting lilacs to grow for creating the framework of the garden, take the time to choose wisely. Some lilacs grow readily into a tree shape (‘Beauty of Moscow’), while others are somewhat relatively lower growing cultivars; ‘Wedgwood Blue’ comes to mind, and still others, the common white lilac (Syringa vulgaris var. alba), sucker more freely. And bear in mind that different lilacs bloom over an extended period of time. If you wish to have a blue lilac blooming simultaneously with a white lilac, then it is worthwhile to determine whether a specific cultivar is an early, mid, or late season bloomer. The following is a selection of lilacs growing in our garden, arranged in their sequential progression of flowering, with considerable overlapping. They are all highly scented or we wouldn’t grow them. The last photo below shows the different colors in lilac blossoms of white, pink, blue, lavender, magenta.
S. x hyacinthiflora ‘Maiden’s Blush’ (1966) Skinner ~ Single, pale rose pink; shows different colors of pink under different soil conditions. In a warmer climate and lighter soils it is a paler shade of pink, in heavier soils ‘Maiden’s Blush’ has more lavender undertones.
‘Krasavitsa Moskvy’ translated to ‘Beauty of Moscow.’ Leonid Alexseevitch Kolesnikov (1974) ~ Double, lavender-rose tinted buds opening to white-tinted pink. Grown throughout Russia. Vigorous upright habit, useful for growing into a tree-shape. Very extended blooming period.
Syringa vulgaris var. purpurea. Common purple lilac ~ Lavender, the wild species seen growing throughout its native land. The common purple is the most widely distributed form of lilac. The lilac of old gardens.
‘Wedgwood Blue’ John Fiala (1981) ~ Hanging panicles of beautiful true blue florets. Lilac-pink hued buds. Somewhat lower growing.
‘Madame Florent Stepman’ (1908) ~ Satiny ivory white florets from rose- washed buds. Pure white when fully opened. Tall and upright growing. One of the most extensively cultivated for the florist trade.
‘President Grevy’ Lemoine (1886) ~ Pure blue, immense panicles of sweet starry florets.
‘Marie Legraye’ (1840) ~ Single, diminutive florets, radiant white, lighter green foliage.
‘Monge’ Lemoine (1913) ~ Vivid, intense plum wine fading to deepest rose.
‘Andenken an Ludwig Spaeth’ Nursery of Ludwig Spaeth (1883) ~ Single, rich purple-violet with a smaller pointed-head panicle.
Above excerpt from Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities! Notes from a Gloucester Garden (David R. Godine, Publisher), written and illustrated by Kim Smith.
More on Lilac Culture in the next post.
May 29, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Colour of lilac.
Heart-leaves of lilac all over New England,
Roots of lilac under all the soilof New England,
Lilacs in me because I am NewEngland,
Because my roots are in it,
Because my leaves are of it,
Because my flowers are for it,
Because it is my country
And I speak to it of itself
And sing of it with my own voice
Since certainly it is mine.
—from Lilacs by Amy Lowell (1874–1925)
May 17, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Is there a tree more lovely in flower than the North American dogwood (Cornus florida)? Whether flowering with the classic white bracts, the stunning rubra bracts, or the less often seen pale, creamy rose-tinted bracts, our native dogwood never ceases to give pause for beauty given.
At this time of year when traveling along southern New England roadways we are graced by the beauty of the dogwood, dotting sunny roadside borders where meets the woodland edge. The bracts and flowers emerge before the leaves, serving only to heighten their loveliness. The fresh beauty of the bract-clad boughs is offset by the impressionistic symphony of neighboring tree foliage unfurling, shimmering in hues of apple green, chartruese, moss, and lime peel.
Discouragingly, many dogwoods in our region are inflicted with the lethal dogwood anthracnose. I believe the problem is exacerbated by the vast majority of information regarding growing flowering dogwoods, which suggests planting in part shade, and does not differentiate between gardening in the north versus gardening in the Midwest or northern Florida for that matter. If one lives in warmer regions south of New England, yes, perhaps it is possible to grow a healthy C. florida in partial shade.
Dogwood anthracnose is caused by the aptly named fungus Discula destructiva. It will typically kill an untreated Cornus florida within two to three years. As we look to nature for an answer, the native flowering dogwoods growing in the fertile, moist, friable soil of the Northeastern woodlands, as understory trees, are the trees most affected by anthracnose. Cornus florida growing in an open, sunny location are far less afflicted. What we learn from this lesson is to choose a location that has good air circulation and full sun. What we know is that Discula destructiva requires high humidity for infection; therefore trees planted in mesic sites in the shade are more susceptible than trees growing in xeric sites.
Discula destructiva is a soil born disease. Dogwood trees inflicted with anthracnose will begin to show signs of infection by dying from the bottom up. The lower branches will become twiggy and will not flower or leaf-out. This is the opposite of what you may see if a tree is losing foliage along the upper branches because of drought stress, for example. A tree that is stressed from lack of water or nutrients will, generally speaking, begin to show signs of trouble from the top down.
Our lovely Cornus florida var. rubra (my second go around with this species; the first was killed by anthracnose) shows signs of drought stress every year, usually during the dog days of late summer. I place the hose at the base of the tree, allowing water to gently flow overnight (never wet the foliage of a dogwood). Visibly, the tree will perk up. Typically this will need to be done every few days, until the next soaking rain. Any tree that is stressed from lack of water is more susceptible to disease. Along with monitoring our tree for drought stress, and because we plant densely beneath the tree’s boughs, I have found these measures, thus far, have served to prevent an outbreak of anthracnose.
Note how beautifully grows this dogwood. Despite the rain-soaked droopy bracts, you can see its gorgeous overall form. The level branches grow horizontally and there are no bald, twiggy areas.
bract – In botany, a bract is a leaf-like structure surrounding a flower or inflorescence. The colorful bracts of poinsettias, the hot pink bracts of bougainvillea, and the bracts of dogwoods are often mistaken for flower petals.
April 26, 2011 § 2 Comments
Come join me this Sunday at 1:00 at the Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Worcester for the perfect May Day event–How to Create a Butterfly Garden. Pre-registration is required:
I will be presenting the necessary elements to help you create a beautiful and welcoming haven for butterflies. Once you begin to think about your garden as food source and shelter, it will influence all your horticultural decisions. Native and well-behaved non-native plants, along with examples of architectural features, will be discussed based on their value to attracting specific butterflies. This lecture and slide presentation will help you gain a deeper understanding of the interconnected world that we human beings share with plants and butterflies and how to translate that information to your own garden. Butterfly gardening plant list included with workshop.
From wiki: The Floralia, also known as the Florifertum, was an ancient Roman Festival dedicated to Flora the goddess of flowers and vegetation. It was held on the IV Calends of May, April 27 to May 3, and symbolized the renewal of the cycle of life, marked with dancing, drinking, and flowers. While flowers decked the temples, Roman citizens wore colorful clothing instead of the usual white, and offerings were made of milk and honey to Flora.
May Day is synonymous with International Worker’s Day and Labour Day. Read Howard Fast’s May Day – 1947, well-worth revisiting with the continued and increasing efforts to destroy organized labor.
April 11, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Beauty on the Wing ~ Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly
In preparing for my upcoming presentation to the Gloucester Garden Club, Wednesday, April 13th, I am discovering new images shot last summer. The photo shows a freshly emerged Monarch clinging to its chrysalis, with crumpled wet wings yet to fully expand. Butterflies Days can’t get here soon enough! Later in the afternoon we will be attending Ellen Lefavour’s art opening and book signing for Did you Know at Alchemy of Art Gallery. I hope to see you there.
March 18, 2011 § Leave a Comment
My deepest thanks and appreciation to Pat Leuchtman for her wonderful review. Pat has been writing a weekly garden column for The Recorder in Greenfield since 1980. She has been blogging for the past several years and has posted and archived all her columns on her blog Commonweeder. Read more of Pat’s review and spend time perusing her blog, which is brimming with useful information, book reviews, insights, and missives– all beautifully organized.
Pat’s Review: Fresh Possibilities are just what I am looking for at this time of the year, so it is no surprise that I have been spending happy evenings with Kim Smith’s beautiful book that includes so many of her own delicate paintings of flowers, birds and butterflies.
Kim Smith gardens, and paints, in Gloucester. Over the years her garden has grown, as has her concern about conservation and her delight in the roads to literature and art that her garden has opened to her. Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities: Notes from a Gloucester Garden (David R. Godine Publisher) combines all these aspects of her life in the garden in the most beautiful way.
With its delicate paintings of individual flowers, and butterflies, the book does not look like a how-to book, yet it includes plant lists to attract butterflies, of fragrant flowers and plants through the seasons, seasonal blooms and useful annuals. I can hardly decide which I enjoy more, the charming prose of chapters titled The Narrative of the Garden, Flowers of the Air and The Memorable Garden, the exquisite paintings, or the poetry that ranges from our own Emily Dickinson and Dorothy Parker to Li Bai (701-762 CE), a famous Chinese poet of the Tang Dynasty. I enjoy knowing that Kim has found the same delight in the connections to history and the arts that I find in the garden.
One of the two chapters I particularly found useful as well as beautiful right now is Flowers of the Air which includes information about a variety of butterflies, and the plants that they need for their life cycle. We have to remember that butterflies are not only lovely, they are important pollinators.
It is no surprise that I also enjoy Roses for the Intimate Garden. Kim’s climate is a bit more gentle than mine and she can grow more tender roses that I can, but we are both devoted to the fragrance that roses bring to our gardens and to the uncorseted exuberance of old fashioned roses.
If you want information, but also want the kind of delicious prose you find in evocative essays, an aesthetic sensibility, and beautiful illustrations, this is the book for you. Kim is an inspired gardener and writer, but she isn’t stopping there. Watch for more news about Kim and her latest project soon.
March 15, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Dear Gardening Friends,
We are sending our most heartfelt thoughts and prayers to the Japanese people. Viewing the broadcasts reminds me that it was just over a year ago that the devastating earthquake struck Port au Prince. Can a person ever fully recover from such an event? The utter destruction of the tsunami is confounding, now coupled with threats of nuclear meltdown. My wish for the people of Japan and their nation is as speedy a recovery as is possible.
We are so very blessed living where we do. Perhaps I mentioned that I am developing a television series, which will air on our local cable television station, Cape Ann TV, as well as other cable stations. I believe it was early last summer that Donna Gacek, the director of Cape Ann TV, approached me about the possibility of creating a show based around my writings and butterfly photos. A tv show would be a magnificent medium to share about the joys of creating organic habitats designed for people and pollinators. We can visit gardens, fields, meadows, and wildlife sanctuaries–and connect how to translate habitat information found there to our own gardens, examine gardening trends, loves, and literature, conduct interviews, undertake how-to projects–the possibilities are limitless. I hope, too, for some room for spontaneity and fun–once I get a handle on the process. I knew what I was getting myself into and knew it would be enormously time consuming, which it is, however I am so pleased with our initial progress and thought I would bring you this trailer for the first episode as well as behind the scenes updates.
Instinctively it was clear that the first step in development would be to film and photograph as much as time would allow, especially as this past summer, gratefully so, was THE summer to photograph Lepidoptera–day after day of hot, dry, sunny weather–a butterfly, and a butterfly photographer’s, dream conditions The past few months have been spent organizing all photos and footage from this summer, as well as footage and photos from previous summers, into handy categories from which I can draw, while simultaneously writing the first script, and thinking about future scripts.
I chose the butterfly garden I designed at Willowdale to be my first subject for several reasons. I know the grounds and garden intimately; the Lepidoptera seen there are the same species seen all around the northshore, and throughout New England for that matter; the setting is undeniably gorgeous; over the past few years I have shot many photos there and some video footage; and because the garden is on occasion open to the public.
While writing the script I tried to imagine how the information would relate to, and be of interest to, a wide audience. Creating ‘wild gardens’ (by wild gardens I mean to say gardens that utilize native wild flowers that support wild life) is meant to be joyful and easy for everyone– for the millions as well as the millionaire! The next phase was to organize the video and still photos, loosely, around the script. Then, and this part was really new and challenging for me, came layering the narrated voice tracks and precisely synching it to the footage, and still retain existing ambient nature sounds audibly. Much tweaking was necessary. Have you ever wondered where your speaker is on your computer? It took me the longest time to locate mine (iMac)– a pinhead-sized hole in the center of the top, right above the camera lens–and they do not produce very good or usable quaility input sound. All the audio will have to be redone at the tv studio, however, it was time well spent as I was able to experiment and learn the basics on my own time.
The first production meeting with Donna went really well. The next phase will be to redo the audio tracks, under the guidance of the staff at the tv station, and continue to work on the next two episodes. In developing a series, it is suggested that you have at least three to begin with – getting all your ducks in order, so to speak. I am working furiously on all because spring and summer are my peak seasons for garden design work and for presenting lectures and programs.
So far, everything has fallen into place, from the gorgeous weather of last summer, to finding a beautiful recording for the into and outro, to working with Donna and the staff at CATV!
My mission for this wonderful project is to create as vibrantly beautiful, and as informative and interesting, a viewing experience as is possible. I am also very interested in working in collaboration with anyone who may have an interest.
Perhaps after reading the above you can help me decide the title of the show–so important to get it right! I love the title of my book Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities! because there is no other like it. Perhaps I shall call it The Garden of Fresh Possibilities Show.
Some other candidates:
The American Gardener’s Journal
Through the Garden Gate
Garden for All Seasons
Welcome to the Wild Garden
Any comments, thoughts, or suggestions would greatly appreciated.
February 21, 2011 § Leave a Comment
The Pollinator Garden has been rescheduled for Monday morning, Apriil 18th. Updated information to follow.
Dear Gardening Friends,
Come join me Monday morning, February 28th, from 10:00 to 12:00 at the Espousal Center in Waltham, where I will be giving a talk and photo presentation about creating The Pollinator Garden for the Garden Club Federation of Massachusetts. Although this is a state Garden Club Federation event, everyone is welcome. Cost is free for members and $5. for non-members. My extensive pollinator planting list is provided with lecture.
Scroll down to see a short video tour of the Limonaia, along with much good information about growing citrus in colder climes, excerpted from Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities!
Keep warm and cozy and–take heart–the vernal equinox and the first day of spring are officially less than one month away!
February 14, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Tour the Limonaia at Tower Hill Botanic Garden
Register online for my workshop at Tower Hill Botanic Garden: Creating a Butterfly Garden, Sunday, May 1, 1:00 to 3:00. I hope to see you there!
~ Citrus ~
Growing Citrus Indoors excerpted from Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities!
We would grow citrus, whether they bore fruit or not, for the lilting sweet scents of the blossoms alone. Whether entering a room in which a citrus is in bloom or approaching the plant on the terrace, one cannot help appreciating their exquisite fragrance.
During the Baroque period, orange and citrus fruits became equated with the golden apples from the mythical Garden of Hesperides. In 1664 Louis XIV of France commissioned the architect LeVall to build the first orangerie at Versailles. It was the Sun King’s love for gardens, and in particular his admiration for the “Seville” orange, which brought both citrus plants and the conservatory into prominence. The orangerie protected exotic and tender plants during the winter, and when the plants were moved out of doors during the warmer months, the orangerie was transformed into a setting for courtly events and celebrations.
The genus Citrus is indigenous to southeast Asia, occurring from northern India to China and south through Malaya, the Philippines, and the East Indies. The earliest records of its cultivation date back to about 500 b.c. The four original wild species from which all domesticated fruits are thought to have been hybridized are Citrus medica, Citrus aurantifolia, Citrus grandis, and Citrus reticulata.
The calamondin orange (Citrus mitis), with heavenly scented, pure white flowers, is among the easiest to grow. Although the fruit is too acidic to eat out of hand, it is fine for cooking, seasoning poultry prior to roasting, or combining with honey to make a piquant glaze. The key lime (Citrus aurantifolia), has an insinuating sweet and fresh fragrance and is used for preserves, garnishes, and juice. Oil of citral is extracted from Citrus aurantifolia for use in perfumes. Highly valued in Japan and China for use in Buddhist ceremonies, the Buddha’s Hand (Citrus medica) is a thorny shrub with fragrant fruits that resemble a human hand. The flowers are comparatively large (3–4 inches across), white shaded purple, and intoxicatingly fragrant.
One of the most beautiful and widely available citrus for pot culture is the Meyer lemon (Citrus limon x Citrus sinensis), also known as the Chinese lemon. It grows to a manageable size, less than two feet, and in a standard shape with a nicely rounded-head form. Not a true lemon, but a hybrid cross of C. sinensis, an orange, and C. limon, its fruit is sweeter than that of a pure lemon cultivar. But it is for the flowers that I grow the Meyer lemon. The blossoms are thick and velvety, creamy white tinted rose. Blooming in notes of honeysuckle and jonquil-like fragrances, the tree flowers prodigally.
Citrus thrive in a well-draining soil similar to what is an ideal medium for cactus. They must be grown in clay pots to insure good air circulation. The surest way to kill a citrus is by overwatering. Wait until the soil is thoroughly dried between watering. Place your finger a full three inches into the soil and water only when it feels dry at your finger tips, and then water deeply until a bit of water comes out the bottom of the drainage hole. With regular feedings of fish fertilizer throughout the summer and an all-purpose fertilizer during the winter months (when we find the odor of fish fertilizer to be repugnant indoors), citrus plants grow strong and healthy and are less likely to succumb to insect infestations.
Citrus plants are fairly indestructible, although they will quickly let you know when they’re unhappy. A few leaves will yellow and fall off, and if the problem is not resolved immediately, the entire plant will defoliate. This is typically due to overwatering and/or a soil mixture that does not allow for excellent drainage. Do not be discouraged, even if the entire plant becomes leafless. Water less frequently and try repotting the plant in a more suitable growing medium. Usually, they can be revived.
When grown indoors, citrus are occasionally bothered by spider mites and scale. Spider mites are easy to detect because they make a visible white web. Scale is a more challenging problem to diagnose as the light brown, pinhead sized and hard-bodied pest is difficult to see. They remain well hidden, where they attach themselves to the stems and along the ribs on the underside of the leaves. Scales produce a sticky substance that coats the leaves. For both pests, spray with a solution of diluted rubbing alcohol (three parts water to one part rubbing alcohol) to keep them in check.
Considered a harbinger of prosperity and good fortune, citrus have been grown in Chinese gardens and courtyards for thousands of years. We can take a lesson from how seasonal changes are reflected in a Chinese garden. Different areas of the garden are used in rotation for social events, depending on the prominence of a particular tree or shrub in flower, and flowering plants growing in pots are brought into the current living areas. After blooming, they are moved to a less visible location, and the focus shifts to flowers that are coming into florescence.
Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities! written and illustrated by Kim Smith (David R. Godine, Publisher)
January 19, 2011 § 2 Comments
We certainly weren’t expecting to see and hear a new-to-our garden species of birds flocking to the Nyjer seed feeder on a frigid mid-January day. American Goldfinch in size, the richly mottled plumage resembled something closer to a sparrow. Their delightful birdsong was new and fresh to my ears and sweetly cheering. Currently in residence is a flock of House Sparrows, with several Song and Savannah Sparrows tagging along, but I had no success with identifying this new entourage when thumbing through the sparrow section of Audubon’s books. Returning to the goldfinch pages, Pine Siskins are closely related to American Goldfinches (the two species comprise the subgenus Spinus), and information was readily available, once on the right track.
To be sure, I emailed a snapshot to Chris Leahy at Mass Audubon and he confirmed that this was indeed a flock of Pine Siskins and that they are having an “irruptive” year. In ecological terms, irrupt is defined as “to increase rapidly and irregularly in number.”
Pine Siskins are “classic,” or true finches—small to moderately large, with twelve tail feathers and nine primary feathers, and strong conical shaped beaks designed to both penetrate the hard external shells of seeds and delicately extract a morsel of food. Members of the genus Carduelis sensu lato feed their young on a highly nutritious and easily digested diet of partially regurgitated, milky cereal-like blend of seeds.
(Sub) Genus: Spinus
Species: pinus (Pine Siskin)
Species: tristis (American Goldfinch)
Pine Siskins are primarily a northern species, whose irruptive winter activity in the United States occurs in years when seed crops have failed in the boreal forests. Ornithologists believe the severity of winter weather in northern parts of the siskins’ range, as well as factors not completely understood, also contribute to their irruptive cycles. The siskins’ principal foods are the seeds of alder, cedar, birch, hemlock, and a variety of conifers. Occasionally, large flocks will appear as far south as Florida. Protecting coniferous forests will help protect the Pine Siskins.
Nimbly dangling upside down and every which way to feed, battling for a place at the feeder, and seemingly unafraid of my approach with camera in hand, the gregarious Pine Siskins are a fascinating species to observe. I am so glad I took a few snapshots when I did. Today it is snowing, again, and the temperatures are hovering around freezing. Perhaps they will stay (we keep the Nyjer seed feeder well stocked) or perhaps they will continue migrating further south.
Pine Siskins typically breed in coniferous forests. Although monogamous, they nest in both isolated pairs and loose colonies, and pairs may visit one another’s nests. The female constructs the nest on a horizontal branch of a conifer, well hidden and well away from the trunk.The nest resembles a large shallow basket, is watertight, and built of twigs, grass, rootlets, strips of bark, lichen, and leaves, and lined with moss, plant down, feathers, and hair. The female incubates the eggs for about two weeks, rarely leaving the nest. The male brings her food while she incubates and for the first few days after the young hatch. The fledglings leave the nest in approximately two weeks. The male and female continue to feed the young for several more weeks.
Because Pine Siskins forage in flocks and nest in loose colonies, they are particularly susceptible to salmonella. It is important to keep Nyjer seed feeders (all bird feeders) scrupulously clean. Scrub inside and out weekly with a solution of vinegar and water.
American Goldfinches display a dramatic example of sexual dichromatism in their plumage; during breeding season the males molt to brilliant cadmium yellow while the females maintain their olive hue year round. Pine Siskins show a more subtle form of sexual dichromatism. The male is typically identified by yellow patches in the wings and tail feathers. The female shows much less yellow. Sexual dichromatism is the systematic difference in color form between male and female in the same species (Greek, di meaning two, and chromatic relating to color). The yellow color of the pine siskins is not always clearly visible when perching and they are often mistaken for sparrows, with their similar brown, heavily streaked underparts.
Friday is my well-guarded, sacred day to paint, and I am currently finishing my illustrated book about butterflies. If I can’t manage to squeeze in any other time during the week to paint, at least I know I will have my Friday. My painting area is arranged beneath a northeast- facing window, ideal light for painting flora and fauna as the light coming through the left side evenly illuminates the subject placed on the table. Several of the bird feeders hang a mere ten feet from the window and are a wonderful source of distracting entertainment. Today at the bird feeders we observed the flock of Pine Siskins, a Dark-eyed Junco and his Song Sparrow friend (an oddly matched pair who always appear to come and go together), American Goldfinches, Blue Jays, Harrier Hawk, a pair of Northern Cardinals, one Carolina Wren, and the ubiquitous House Sparrows. A Northern Mockingbird, lately joined by an American Robin, comes daily to the winterberry and hollies, helping themselves to only a few berries, and then departing. The days are growing longer; we’re half past January, we only have February to get through, and soon we will be welcoming spring. I am looking forward to black earth revealed, new notes of fresh scents, and the chorus of courting songbirds.
December 16, 2010 § 1 Comment
Walking along a wooded lane last weekend, I couldn’t help but notice the lack of songbirds. One singular, startled robin, that was all, poking about a hedge of scraggly privet. The time of day was late afternoon, which is the same time of day our yard is typically host to a chorus of songsters. Eerily disquieted, I paused for a moment and closed my eyes, imagining what this same lane would look like if found growing there were winterberry and summersweet, blueberry and chokecherry, juniper and holly, and the chattering collection of songbirds these fruit-bearing plantings would surely attract. Perhaps there was a disappointing lack of songbirds because invasive species such as privet has engulfed both sides of the road, or perhaps because the road abutted a golf course, which is regularly doused with insecticides intended to kill every living insect, the songbird’s primary source of food.
A friend forwarded an article, posted from the Guardian U.K., about the charismatic head gardener Alain Baraton, of the Palace of Versailles. Appointed in 1976, Mr. Baraton has made it his mission to transform the 2,000-acre traditional landscape into a model of sustainable gardening. Climate change has affected Versailles in ways Baraton never imagined. Because the chestnut trees are flowering twice a year, they are losing their glorious autumnal hues. Pine trees that have lined the park’s avenues since the reign of Louis XIV are dying in gross numbers. The previous year saw so little rainfall that the lawns did not have to be mowed. It is imperative, Baraton says, to move with the times. “The gardener always has to look to the future,” he explains. “We are witnessing an enormous change in climate.”
Baraton saw in the changing environment an opportunity to reform the long-standing use of pesticides. Realizing the futility of applying chemicals to rid the gardens of bugs, which would only return and in greater numbers with warmer temperatures, insecticides were the first to go and he declared a blanket ban. No matter how tiny, Baraton believes every living creature deserves a place in his garden. Enticed by the prospect of plump, juicy insects to feast on, the birds returned to Versailles in prodigious numbers.
Trees and shrubs have benefited tremendously under Baraton’s guiding hand. Long gone is the tradition of planting the same species in neat ordered avenues. The gardeners vary the plantings to prevent major loss in case any one species becomes diseased.
If the most formal of public gardens, scrutinized under the demanding microscope of an international audience, can afford to forgo the use of insecticides, is there any possible justification for the use of insecticides and herbicides in the individual, business, and public suburban and urban landscape?
Our Dragon Lady hollies have grown tall and the winterberry is flourishing, and because of that, for the past several years we have been graced with a flock of robins in early February (Round Robin Red-Breast). The first winter the robins arrived I noticed that, after they had devoured every morsel of red berry—the winterberry, holly, and crabapple—they moved to a neighboring privet hedge. My first thought was, well at least that’s one good thing about privet–perhaps the robins will eat the overly abundant and plain little blue-black berry of the privet. Not so, the robins did not care too much for it and the flock soon departed our neighborhood.
When we first moved to our property we immediately removed a privet-tree that had seeded itself, growing smack-dab in the sunniest center of our yard. We cut down the trunk and limbs and spent laboriously long hours digging out the root mass. We continually find privet seedlings sprouting in our flower borders. Privet is tedious, and if one has the misfortune to inherit an established hedge, very challenging to remove. On the other hand, a natural arrangement generally requires a modicum of once-yearly maintenance, a light hand with the pruning sheers, to shape or remove dead wood. Imagine if all the suburban privet hedges were replaced with welcoming avenues of flowering and fruiting shrubs that provided nourishment and shelter for the songbirds.
Excerpt from Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities! ~ The idea of a garden planted in harmony with nature is to create a loosely mixed arrangement of beauty combining native and ornamental fowering trees and shrubs. This informal style of a woodland border or bucolic country hedge is not new and is what the French call a haie champêtre. Perhaps the country hedge evolved because it was comprised of easily propagated, or dispersed by wildlife, native species of plants and perhaps as a revolt against the neatly manicured boxed hedges of formal European gardens. The country hedge is used, as is any hedge, to create a physical and visual boundary, but rather than forming the backdrop for ornamental plants, it is the living tapestry of foliage, owers, fruit and fauna. Working and living in our garden we are enchanted by the creatures drawn to the sheltering boughs, blossoms, and berries.
Looking to the Future was first published Winter 2009.
December 14, 2010 § 5 Comments
Round Robin Redbreast
What’s that you say? A flock of robins, in winter?
Yes, yes! Sweetly singing liquid notes. A flock in my garden!
What does a hungry round robin find to eat in a winter garden?
Red, red winterberries and holly, rime-sweetend crabapples, and orchard fruits.
And how does a winter robin keep warm?
Why, blanketed together with air-puffed fluffed feathers.
How long will they stay, how long can they last in the frost?
Only as there are fruits on the bough and berries on the bush.
Round robin red breast, silhouette in bare limb,
Calling away winter, cheer, cheerio, and cheer-up!
The widely distributed and beloved American Robin (Turdus migratorius) hardly needs an introduction. The American Robin is the largest member of the thrush family—thrushes are known for their liquid birdsongs and the robin is no exception. Their unmistakable presence is made known when, by early spring, the flocks have dispersed and we see individual robins strutting about the landscape with fat worms dangling. Unmistakable, too, is the male’s beautiful birdsongs, signaling to competing males to establish their territory, as well as to entice prospective females.
The boundaries of the American Robin winter migration areas are not clearly defined. The robin’s winter range covers southern Canada to Guatemala, compared to their summer nesting range, which extends from the tree limit of Canada to southern Mexico. Robins that nest in Massachusetts, for the most part, migrate further south. Robins nesting in northern Canada migrate to their tropic-of-New England get-away.
During the winter months Cape Ann often becomes home to large flocks of robins and we have had the joy of hosting numerous numbers in late afternoon and early morning. I can’t help but notice their arrival to our garden. Their shadows descend, crisscrossing the window light, followed by a wild rumpus in the ‘Dragon Lady’ hollies. This pair of hollies is planted on opposing sides of the garden path, alongside my home office. I have learned to stealthily sneak up to a window, as any sudden activity inside startles birds that are investigating our garden, and they quickly disperse. Dining not only on berries of the ‘Dragon Ladies’, but also the ‘Blue Princess’ Meserve holly and winterberry bushes, are generally speaking dozens of noisy, hungry robins. These winter nomads flock to trees and shrubs that hold their fruit through winter, feasting on red cedar, American holly, Meserve hollies, chokecherries, crabapples, and juniper. Robins traveling near the sea will comb the shoreline for mollusks and go belly-deep for fish fry. Depleting their food supply, they move onto the next location. Gardens rife with fruiting shrubs and trees make an ideal destination for our migrating friends.
The garden designed to attract pairs of summer resident robins as well as flocks of winter travelers would be comprised of trees and shrubs for nest building, plants that bear fruit and berries that are edible during the summer and fall, and plants that bear fruits that persist through the winter months. Suburban gardens and agricultural areas provide the ideal habitat, with open fields and lawns for foraging insects as well as trees and hedgerows in which to build their nests.
Robins in New England breed from April through July, often bearing three clutches. Nests are built in the crotch of trees and dense bushes, five to fifteen feet above ground, and some are occasionally made on the ground or built on protruding ledges of homes. The female robin weaves a cup-shaped foundation of coarse grass, twigs, paper and feathers, and then lines the bowl with mud she smears and packs firmly with her breast. Later she adds soft fibers such as fine grass and downy feathers to cushion the egg. The first nest is usually placed in an evergreen tree or shrub; for each subsequent clutch a new nest is built and generally placed in a deciduous tree.
The following plants, suggested with robins in mind, will also attract legions of songbirds (and Lepidoptera). The list is comprised primarily of indigenous species with a few non-native, but not invasive plants included.
Trees for nesting ~ American Holly (Ilex opaca), Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana), Red Maple (Acer rubrum), Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum), Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida).
Summer and autumn fruit bearing trees, shrubs and vines for robins ~ Black Cherry (Prunus serotina), Blackberry (Rubus spp.), Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida), Gray Dogwood (C. racemosa), Red-osier Dogwood (C. sericea), Silky Dogwood (C. amomum), Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis), Apple (Malus pumila), Virginia Rose (Rosa virginiana), Highbush Blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum), Lowbush Blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium), Wild Grape (Vitis spp.).
Trees and shrubs with fruits persisting through winter ~ Winterberry (Ilex verticillata), Mountain Ash (Sorbus americana), Crabapple (Malus spp.), Sargent’s Crabapple (Malus sargentii), American Holly (Ilex opaca), Meserve Hollies (Ilex x meserveae), Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana), Common Juniper (Juniperus communis), Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana), Smooth Sumac (Rhus glabra), Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina).
December 1, 2010 § Leave a Comment
Music to my Ears: The following note is from my dear friend Kate Hines who built a beautiful home on a lovely piece of property—former farmland that borders the lush and fertile Rhode Island coastline. Thank you Kate for sharing!
“I was so inspired reading the section you wrote on hollies in Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities! that I went to the local nursery and ordered 2 – a female 6′ and a male 5.’ Now they are mixed in with the evergreen grove to the north of the house. They were costly, a big project but soooooo satisfying! Ill send pix.”
Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities! makes for a very useful gift for the gardener (and loved-ones dreaming of creating a garden) on your holiday gift giving list. Last year at this time Carol Stocker, the Boston Globe garden columnist wrote the following about Oh Garden:
Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities!
Boston Globe Best of 2009
For Armchair Gardeners Pining for Spring
“Bleak and snowy outside? These lush reads will have you dreaming green. January and February are the reading months for gardeners trapped indoors. Here are some of the best garden books from 2009. “Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities! Notes From a Gloucester Garden,’’ written and illustrated by Kim Smith (David R. Godine, Publisher), is a treasure, and perhaps the best garden gift book. Why? Both dream-like and practical, it captures the rapture of a gardener’s journey through her own evolving quarter acre by integrating Smith’s personal essays, hands-on advice, and paintings. I was charmed by her listing of specific scents of favorite peony varieties accompanied by a painted sample of their petal colors…”
Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities! Written and Illustrated by Kim Smith. Available through your local bookseller, David R. Godine, Publisher, and Amazon.