Pink Orchids and Beautiful Late Day Light

Pink orchids and beautiful late day light in our music room.

A photo posted by Kim Smith (@kimsmithdesigns) on

How to Tell the Difference Between Geese and Ducks

During a recent Good Morning Gloucester podcast we were talking about the wonderful influx of Brant Geese that have been seen all around the coves of Cape Ann. Joey asked a great question, “how to tell the difference between ducks and geese?” Ducks, geese, and swans all belong to the Anatidae family and I could only answer that size is the predominate difference between duck and goose. If you are out on the water or onshore and trying to id whether duck or goose I think the surest way to tell is that geese are larger, with longer necks and bodies. I was curious to learn more and google led to interesting differences, some obvious and correlate to what we observe in our region, and some not so obvious.

Geese are generally white, gray, or monochromatic and both males and females are the same color. Ducks are multicolored and there are obvious pattern differences between the males and females.

Geese migrate further distances. We have seen that this past year with our Snow Goose visitor, a bird that breeds in colonies on the Canadian tundra, as do the Brants.

Another quick way to determine whether goose or duck is by what they are eating; geese generally eat grasses and grains; ducks eat fish and insects. The Snow Goose that visited Good Harbor Beach this past winter foraged for sea grass alongside the Canadian Geese.

Snow Goose Juvenile Canadian Geese Gloucester Massachusetts Essex County  ©Kim Smith 2015Snow Goose and Canadian Geese Foraging for Sea Grass

Photographer and fisherman Brian O’Connor reported that a fisherman mentioned to him that Brants are observed in an area when there is a heavy crop of sea “vegetables” and that is precisely what is occurring in our region–the “green” waves. Sea lettuce is a staple of the Brant’s diet and it is sometimes referred to as “Brant lettuce!”

Brants Cape Ann Massachusetts ©Kim Smith 2015Brants in Sea Vegetable Heaven

Please let us know if you see any Brants, where and at what time. Thank you to Zefra for writing last week about Brants at Lighthouse Beach. And thank you to Bill Hubbard who wrote to say that during the 40s and 50s hundreds were often seen, less so beginning in the late 50s.

Snow Goose Juvenile Gloucester Massachusetts -4 ©Kim Smith 2015

Juvenile Snow Goose Good Harbor Beach Gloucester


Magnolia soulangeana ©Kim Smith 2015Yesterday while in Boston to meet with clients at their home on Comm. Ave, I couldn’t help but take a snapshot of the glorious saucer magnolias blooming along the avenue. I wished I’d had more time because just as I was leaving, the sun began to poke out. The stunning display that you see lining the south-facing side is the genius of one woman and when I have time, will write more about her brilliant accomplishment to which we are all the beneficiaries, more than fifty years after planting!

Commonwealth Avenue Boston Magnolia soulangeana ©˚im Smith 2015Magnolia soulangeana Commonwealth Avenue Boston

At the Gloucester HarborWalk Gardens, we planted two species of magnolia adjacent to each other. Many arboretums, such as Harvard’s Arnold Arboretum, plant several species of the same family in close proximity to provide an opportunity to learn by comparing the differences and similarities. I wanted our community to enjoy a mini-arboretum experience by planting two of the most beautiful magnolias that grow well in our region, the saucer magnolia and Magnolia virginiana, or laurel leaf magnolia. Stop by in the coming weeks to visit our gorgeous magnolias in bloom. M. soulangeana will bloom first, followed by M.virginiana.

The Friends of the HarborWalk will be back at the HarborWalk this Sunday (tomorrow morning), beginning at 9am. We’ll meet in front of the Gloucester House. Come lend a hand–its work, but fun with this growing great group of community-spirited friends. Everyone is welcome!

Please leave a comment in the comment section or feel free to contact me if you have any questions at


Ipswich Bay and Annisquam Lighthouse Panoramas

Always a pretty sight from the meadow looking towards Ipswich Bay. This is the view from where our daughter will be married in less than two months!

Lighthouse Beach Annisquam Lighthouse ©Kim Smith 2015

Ipswich Bay Annisquam Lighthouse Panorama ©Kim Smith 2015

Click panoramas to view larger.

The top photo was taken with the iPhone 6plus, the second photo with my Fuji XE-1 at 50mm.

Always beautiful view from Lighthouse Beach!

A video posted by Kim Smith (@kimsmithdesigns) on


I created the following five-step easy fact sheet for a friend after receiving her timely request about organic lawn care information. Not surprisingly, as it is that time of year when the so-called “green” lawn care specialists are busy plying their trade. Kate’s note also came on the heels of a recent unfortunate incident that I experienced while walking along Niles Beach. I noticed a peculiar smell for quite someways along the walk, emanating from a man spraying chemicals to an expansive lawn. After walking all the way around Niles Pond, to the Retreat House and back, upon my return, he was still spraying! And the odd odor was stronger than ever. Where does the homeowner think all the toxins applied to the lawn will wind up–mostly across the road into the ocean!

Our Reader’s question:

Dear Kim

I have a neighbor who is on the water front and is new to the area. He just built a house. He asked me about lawn fertilizer and weed keeper applications and someone who could do them. Naturally I gave him my opinion but I wonder is there a brief, homeowner friendly document that addresses why we should not be using any of these products on our lawns. And the impact on habitat and wildlife and us!

You know that Chris and I have never used them.

Thanks so much I really appreciate it.


The following fact sheet is based on my many years of working with homeowners and businesses. Although the gardens I design are pollinator friendly, they are primarily designed for people. Poisonous pesticides have no place in people, pet, pollinator, and planet friendly gardens!

I also highly recommend another option and that is turning your lawn into a wildflower meadow and the reasons for that are manifold however, this fact sheet only addresses organic lawn care.

If you would like a pdf of the fact sheet, please comment in the comment section and I will be happy to send it along.


Organic Lawn Care Guide for Massachusetts and Rhode Island

 Lawn Care Fact Sheet for a Toxic Free New England

You don’t need a lawn service or an arsenal of poisonous pesticides to grow a beautiful lush green lawn. Follow this basic five-step formula to build a healthy organic lawn. Spring and fall provide the best opportunity to convert a poisoned lawn to a lawn that is safe for children, pets, and the environment.


Mow High, Often, and with Sharp Blades.

Long grass has more leaf surface, which enables it to grow thicker and develop a deeper root system. Longer grass makes it more difficult for weeds to germinate and also shades the soil surface, keeping it cooler. Sharp blades prevent tearing and injury to the grass. Leave short grass clippings on the grass where they recycle nitrogen.



Aerating soil reduces compaction, which is a prime cause of weeds. Leave the corings behind after aerating, and then apply compost so that it can reach the root zone.


Feed and Fertilize Gently.

Just after aeration is the best time to apply compost. For a small lawn, use a wheelbarrow and drop piles in intervals around the lawn; rake to approximately a quarter inch thick. For larger lawns, a spreader is recommended. Always apply compost and any organic fertilizer sparingly. Excess nitrogen and phosphorous run into waterways and into the ocean when it rains. Overuse of fertilizer creates thatch build-up.


Water Deeply But Not Too Often.

Water only when the lawn really needs watering, and then water deeply. Water early in the morning to prevent fungal disease and reduce evaporation.


Choose the Right Seed and Overseed. 

Spreading grass seed over an existing lawn is the tried and true way to get a lush green lawn that is free of weeds. Thick, healthy grass provides no opportunity for weeds to germinate. Choose a seed combining Kentucky blue grass, fine fescue, tall fescue, perennial ryegrass, and white clover mixed specifically for sun or partial shade.


Kim Smith Contact Information:


Brant Geese Invasion

Brant Geese Plum Cove Beach Gloucester Massachusetts ©Kim Smith 2015Brant Geese Plum Cove Beach Gloucester

Just kidding, however, they have recently been spotted all around Cape Ann! Several weeks ago I noticed three on Niles Beach, yesterday another 20 or so bobbing and diving in the waves off a little beach in Rockport, and this morning Michelle Anderson emailed that her son Atticus, with his eagle eyes, had spotted a blizzard at Plum Cove Beach. I was working on a design project in Andover and wasn’t able to get there until afternoon. The Brants were still there! Perhaps there were 50 or so feeding at the shoreline and another several hundred further off shore.

Brant Goose Plum Cove Beach Gloucester Massachusetts ©Kim Smith 2015The geese are shy. At one point while photographing, I lay flat down in the beach grass trying to blend in with the landscape while inching forward, but they were not deceived. Too far away for my camera to get a good close up, and heavily overcast today, nonetheless you can see that they are quite beautiful creatures.

Brant Geese Plum Cove Beach Rockport Massachusetts ©Kim Smith 2015Brant Geese Rockport

Smaller than Canadian geese, the Brant Goose, also called Brent, Black Brant, and American Brant, is a coastal bird that breeds in the Arctic tundra. It migrates along both the Atlantic and Pacific flyways. With white or buff belly, black head and neck, and contrasting white bars at the neck, Brants are easy to identify. They feed on green plants including sea lettuce and eel grass. Brants have a highly developed salt gland, which allows them to consume salt water.


Brant Geese Plum Cove Beach Rockport Massachusetts -2 ©Kim Smith 2015


Harbor Seals Brace Cove Sunrise ©Kim Smith 2015Photos from around Eastern Point early morning walks. 

Male Red-breasted Mergansers ©kim Smith 2015Two Male Red-Breasted Mergansers Sunning on a Rock

Black-crowned Night Heron -2 ©Kim Smith 2015Black-crowned Night Heron ~ One of a nesting pair possibly?

Male Red-winged Blackbird love song. Niles Pond daybreak. #gloucestermaspring!

A video posted by Kim Smith (@kimsmithdesigns) on

Male Red-winged Blackbird Love Song (turn up your volume)

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