A monarch butterfly, Danaus plexippus, feeds on the nectar of white snakeroot flowers, Ageratina altissima, during its southern migration in a Sharon, MA garden on September 26, 2019. This pair of natives co-evolved since the retreat of the last ice age, and they depend on one another, and the entire web of life, for their continued existence.
September 26th was like a dream to me. I looked out the kitchen window while doing the dishes, and there were several monarchs in my gardens, all at one time. I’d seen one or two here and there this season, but never a parade of several at a time, like that day. I dropped the dishes to a could of soap bubbles and dashed out with my camera.
Later, on arriving at a Sharon, MA client’s gardens, Monarchs flew up every time I turned a corner on the mowed paths that snake around many beds where clouds of white snakeroot are now in bloom. I counted at least two dozen monarchs at least twice, and twice saw four monarchs on one snakeroot. It was like living and working in a dream where the monarchs have recovered and are robust in numbers again. It wasn’t a dream, but it was a remarkable parade of flight and feed that I shall not forget. Of course there were other native butterflies, like spangled frittilaries, and native bees, like Bombus sp., and other native plants in bloom.
THE BEST PLANTS FOR POLLINATORS: We can all make a difference in our yards, our gardens, our landscapes, our containers, one plant at a time, by design. Please join me doing so! These are the native plants that support the entire life cycle of the most butterfly and moth species:
Trees and shrubs:
- Oak trees – Quercus sp. such as white, red, pin, black, bear
- Willow trees – Salix sp.
- Black cherry trees – Prunus serotina
- Goldenrods – Solidago sp. such as blue-stem (axillary), seaside, bog, white, showy, downy, zigzag
- Asters – Symphyotrichum, Oclemena, and Aster sp. like New England, tartarian, heart-leaved, large-leaved, purple-stem, bushy, small white
- Milkweeds – Asclepias sp. like common, butterfly weed, swamp, poke, butterfly, clasping, green
Have fun, and let me know if you need a hand!
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.
The Easton Garden Club invites the public to attend a free program, “Weather and Gardening” featuring David Epstein, meteorologist & horticulturalist.
When: Thursday, April 11th, 2019; 6:30 pm refreshments, 7:00 pm program
Where: In the basement gymnasium of the Covenant Congregation Church, 204 Center Street, North Easton
David Epstein has been a professional meteorologist and horticulturalist for three decades. He spent sixteen years on-air at WCVB in Boston and currently is a meteorology professor at Framingham State University and Colby College.
Dave’s weather, climate and gardening content can be seen/heard/read regularly on the following media outlets: boston.com, Portland Press Herald, WBUR Boston, WBZ-TV, WGME CBS 13 Portland, and at www.growingwisdom.com.
The Easton Garden Club meets the second Thursday of most months (no meeting July, August, and December) at 6:30 pm at the CCC at 204 Center Street, North Easton. Members participate in workshops with natural plant material, listen to speakers on a variety of horticultural topics, and see demonstrations by professional designers and provide community service. New members are always welcome. Please visit www.eastongardenclub.org for more information.
How to design your landscape for winter interest? Here are a few concepts and suggestions. A professional designer can select the best plant materials for your site and especially, your lifestyle.
- first, consider your outdoor lifestyle and circulation around your property
- anchor your landscape design with evergreens that contrast one another in shape, size and color (in addition to needled and broadleaf)
- add deciduous shrubs with striking twig colors
- add a few grasses and perennials for flavor
- as always, make sure all your plant selections will thrive in the existing cultural conditions of your particular planting area (sun, soil, water, wind, drainage, etc.).
- native trees, shrubs, perennials, and grasses often do best in our area, as well as being the best choices for supporting pollinators
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.
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.
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.