If you care about your chickadees, what does this range of numbers mean: 350 to 570? My environmental and social justice pal Ellen Schoenfeld-Beeks let us know at her “Why We Need a Garden Revolution” talk at the Unitarian Church of Sharon, MA on May 3rd. The answer is, 350 to 570 is the number of caterpillars one pair of chickadees needs every day to nurture their chicks from hatching to fledging. That’s just one pair of one kind of bird! Ellen inspired us to think and be mindful about every plant and practice in our gardens, and whether and how each helps or harms the natural systems that support all living things.
Ellen, who manages the church’s extensive gardens, showed examples of native plants at the church’s gardens and at her own home through the seasons, and how they support or harm our native pollinators, wildlife and local ecosystem at large. She even talked about plants she introduced to her gardens on purpose, only to find out years later that they were actually exotic invasive look-alikes of native plants. For example, she thought she was planting yellow marsh marigolds (Caltha palustris), but they turned out to be fig buttercups (Ranunculus ficaria, or, Ficaria verna), which are on the MA list of plants that are prohibited from sale.
After about three years they had spread like a spring carpet of yellow, in part because they aggressively reproduce by three different mechanisms. Once she realized her error, Ellen took responsibility and removed them by hand, an intensive but organic gardening practice. It took three seasons to bring their numbers to a reasonably manageable level.
Ellen also reminded us that one of the Unitarian Universalist Church’s guiding principles is respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part. She urged us to think carefully and learn about the impact of each of our plantings, as every plant in our landscapes matters, and your landscape supports, or doesn’t, those chickadees who need all those caterpillars every day to raise their young.
The design of her home garden, also in Sharon, features primarily native plants with mowed and gravel paths that sweep around her layered ornamental planting beds and stone walls, leaving the visitor wondering with curiosity what lies just past the next curve. Each of her beds have themed names, such as Mountain Laurel Hill, the Meadow and Old Rose Garden. Some of her favorite native plants are mountain laurel, Kalmia latifolia – obviously – with an area named just for them; apothecary rose, Rosa gallica, which though not a native has been cultivated by people since the MIddle Ages; and various goldenrods, which support at least 115 species of butterflies and moths.
WANTED: DEAD NOT ALIVE received an Educational Excellence award at the Sharon Garden Club’s September Garden Medley on September 9, 2017. The exhibit featured potted exotic invasive plants and illustrated some of the environmental damage that invasives cause. Carol Lundeen of Easton and Brenda Minihan and Ellen Schoenfeld-Beeks of Sharon played roles as invasive plant sheriffs, engaging visitors in conversation and offering invasive plant checklists, images, and ideas for native plant alternatives.
Exotic invasive plants have no natural predators and diseases that would naturally control their growth. Some invasive plants have escaped from our home gardens and public plantings into natural areas and cause profound environmental and economic damage. Massachusetts has developed a list of problematic plants. Some are even illegal to sell, including Norway maple, Japanese maple, burning bush, all hollow-stemmed honeysuckles, garlic mustard, oriental bittersweet, and Japanese knotweed.
The exhibit also included a “Talking Tree,” a young pin oak tree that posed the question, “When I turn one hundred years old, what do you hope I will say?” Visitors then wrote their answers on a card and tied their card to the tree with yarn. The tree will be planted at the Unitarian Universalist Church in the center of Sharon.
The sheriffs urge folks to learn about the species considered invasive in the area, generate a list of those on your property or in your town, create a plan for eliminating them, and execute your plan. Contact the Sharon Garden Club or Carol Lundeen for further information.
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)
- a garden shoppe (70 Maskwonicut Street, Sharon)
- live folk music (70 Maskwonicut Street, Sharon)
- artists at work (70 Maskwonicut Street, Sharon)
- unique raffle items (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.
Hairy bitter-cress is very pretty up close, but is it a weed? If you could ask your MA soil if it’s a weed, the soil would say, “Yes, it’s a weed.” If you ask the whole ecosystem of your MA yard, the system would agree that it’s a weed.
This is hairy bitter-cress, a native to Asia, that as an exotic invasive plant has an unfair advantage over our native plants, blooming and casting its seed well before most of our natives have even formed flower buds. So, is it a weed to you? If so, better destroy those pretty flowers before they turn to seeds. If you need more info about how, please let me know!r-cress, Cardamine hirsuta, in bloom now in Sharon, MA.