Here’s my favorite view of a secluded gallery of mature Taxus trees on The Trustees of Reservations’ Governor Oliver Ames Estate in North Easton, MA. The 36-acre property features rolling hills, meadows, ponds, and a robust horticulture collection. The Ames familys industrial and cultural contributions have helped shape the history of Easton, as well as the nation, since the early 19th century.
What am I doing planting in the snow? After a robust season of gardening for others, I’m still catching up with my own home gardening by getting inkberry in the ground before the earth freezes up for good.
Inkberry (Ilex glabra) is a New England native plant that supports pollinators and other wildlife. In the holly family, these particular female Ilex glabra shrubs have nice dark berries that birds love. The red berries? This is a female winterberry, another native shrub in the holly family (Ilex verticillata), especially important to birds migrating in the spring.
Since I’m planting so late here in North Easton, I’ll apply about two gallons of water, delivered in small gulps, then cover the planting area with a thick but fluffy layer of leaves for insulation for the winter. Until the ground freezes, they’ll need about an inch of water every week, so I’ll continue watering as needed.
Summer has past and sunflowers thrive in early fall at Easton’s Langwater Farm. Not only are sunflowers a top farm stand seller, they’re also a top pollinator host plant and provide food for our native insects, birds and mammals. Look closely and you’ll see raindrops on the sunflower petals. Langwater Farm is always a colorful spot, even on a cloudy rainy day.
Hints of fall are in the air, and the Sharon Garden Club is celebrating on September 9th with our September Garden Medley fundraiser. Join us from 11-4 to explore the learning and fun at our two locations :
a horticultural guided garden tour (70 Maskwonicut Street, Sharon)
a Standard Flower Show (62 Bullard Street, Sharon)
an elegant boxed lunch in the garden (70 Maskwonicut Street, Sharon)
You’ll probably find me in a stall at the barn at 70 Maskwonicut Street, the stall converted into an art exhibit for pollinator-friendly plants and a jail for nasty butterfly-killing invasive ones. WANTED: native pollinator plants, alive; WANTED: dead invasive plants.
Day’s final rays of sun glint onto apothecary roses at the Sharon, MA home of an organic gardening client.
I love to garden until after sunset and well into dusk. That magic hour of dusky sky and light turns flowers and bugs and leaves and all things natural into a magnet for me. Like the way snow changes the way everything looks, the fast fading sky changes each bud and leaf and petal, minute by minute. And the biting bugs? I make sure I’m their least appealing option so I can stay out in the night’s coming as late as I can…and I can already detect day lengths shortening even as the days become warmer.
Winter bud inset in a leaf scar of Rhus typhina, staghorn sumac in Sharon, MA. It looks like the face of a lion, which is how I remembered it for my RI Certified Horticulturist exam. [Photo Copyright 2017 Carol Lundeen].
Miss Twiggy. That’s what my wife has been calling me lately. Our dining room table has practically been crawling with the winter twigs of trees, shrubs, and vines: messy, shedding, needle-dropping deciduous and evergreen winter twigs. I’ve been studying them for six weeks for my RI Certified Horticulturist exam. Why? I’m a nature girl, and I love looking at things up close.
Did you have any idea that a winter twig could be so adorable as the one shown above? Me neither. Until Dr. Susan Gordon taught me how to notice and appreciate the diversity of these things. I want to get so I can tell the winter twig of a glossy false buckthorn from a black cherry as easily as a dalmation from a beagle. I aced both the written and ID portions of my exam Monday night. I’m certifiably certified, so happy there’s so much more to learn, so thankful to everyone who’s helped me, and I can’t wait for the new gardening season!
MA drought map updated December 13, 2016. The area in red, about one third of the state, is in an Extreme Drought condition.
What do you do keep your drought-stressed plants alive this winter? It’s hard to put a Band-Aid on drought-stressed plants, but here are some things you can do:
KEEP WATERING UNTIL THE GROUND FREEZES IN THE FALL/EARLY WINTER. Check with your city or town to see if even now, in late December, there’s a current watering ban. Especially with new plantings, and also with drought-stressed ones, you generally want to give them the equivalent of one inch of water per week all the way until the ground freezes. If time or water is limited, focus on watering your most valuable plants, such as trees and shrubs.
IMPROVE YOUR SOIL. On your lawn for instance, just 1/4 inch of compost every fall makes a huge difference in the resilience of your turf plants. For your planting beds, pull back the mulch, spread 1/2 inch of compost or leaf mold, scratch it into the soil surface, and put the mulch back in place. This will increase the soil’s ability to hold moisture and make nutrients more available to the roots of your plants. Think in terms of feeding your soil (the soil food web), not feeding your plants.
MULCH. It’s not to late to apply 2-3 inches of mulch to all areas of exposed soil. Do not let mulch come in contact with the trunks of your trees and shrubs, where it transitions into the root. This area is called the root flare and should never be covered. If you see a mulch volcano around the base of a tree, the mulch is suffocating the tree, which stresses it, makes it vulnerable to pests and pathogens, and puts the tree on a path of decline. About the best mulch of all is fallen leaves that you’ve chopped up with your lawn mower and spread on your beds. Speaking of chopped leaves, you can also pile them up, adding water to create a water film on most of the leaf surface area, and let them sit for a year or two. The result, called leaf mold, is another source of organic matter that will make your plants sing.
PLANT NATIVES. Many people picture native plants as being weedy and leggy. In fact, native plants are best adapted to not only survive, but thrive in the existing environmental conditions. Test your soil and know how much sun your planting site gets. Then, it’s easy to select plants that should do quite well with minimum inputs, once established.
Little bluestem is a native plant I featured in the design at the Easton Town Offices flagpole island bed, created in conjunction with the Easton Garden Club’s Landscape Design Challenge. The bluestems’ red colorization increases with the cooling days of autumn, and it holds its horticultural interest until spring, all wild and tangled in the wind and weather.
Butterfly weed seed rests on Joe pye weed at Roger Williams Park Botanical Center Display Garden.
There’s magic in the air again this fall, as silky puffs burst out of butterfly weed follicles like bright white fireworks bursting out of a purse, each carrying what looks like an aged miniature copper penny that is actually a seed about to take flight.
Even though I garden practically every day, I was in awe at the early fall colors in the Display Garden. Blooming plumes on grasses push back and forth in the wind, contrasted against stands of perennials, some in full bloom and full of pollinators, others done blooming but still beautiful with their fall-colored crayon foliage and seeds about to drop.
Native butterfly weed follicles burst open at Roger Williams Park Botanical Center Display Garden
Nymphs of big milkweed bugs, Oncopeltus fasciatus, on butterfly weed follicles at Roger Williams Park Botanical Center Display Garden