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.
Help Massachusetts communities and wildlife thrive by joining me at the annual Grow Native Massachusetts Plant Sale. You’ll find over 2,000 plants covering 120 varieties, and I (and other experts) can help you make smart selections for the particular conditions of your planting area. Just look for me in a blue volunteer apron from 8-11. Shop early for best selection.
From 9-2:30 at the UMass Waltham Field Station at 240 Beaver Street, Waltham 02452, you may find:
- Perennials sorted by sun, shade and part-shade, and all types of soil conditions
- A large selection of evergreen and deciduous ferns
- Grasses and sedges, both cool and warm season
- Trees and shrubs at small sizes so you can take home in your car. Native trees and shrubs do the most to increase biodiversity and to enhance the wildlife value of your landscapes.
AND new for this year: sweet goldenrod (Solidago odora), bluestem goldenrod (Solidago caesia) and spotted beebalm (Monarda punctata)—custom grown just for this sale, as these are top native herbaceous plants for supporting the entire life cycles of our butterfly and moth pollinator friends, and a whole lot of bees’, too.
All plants are native to the eastern United States—the majority indigenous to New England
Learn more: https://www.grownativemass.org/programs/plantsale
Download a list of the species available at the 2019 Native Plant Sale
One of my passions is lifelong learning, and another is to help people — and plants — who appreciate sustainable garden design and maintenance. I’m proud to have continued my studies at the New England Wildflower Society and earned an Advanced Certificate in Native Plant Horticulture an Design.
Each graduate had the opportunity to make a presentation about the required community service aspect of their certificate. I was proud to share my story of one of the two eyesore sites that I re-designed (and helped to install) at the Easton Town Offices that had been long overdue for a landscape makeover.
I’m excited to continue to be a valuable resource in my community. While I currently serve as Horticulture Co-Chair with both the Sharon and Easton, MA garden clubs, I look forward to future opportunities to collaborate, create and educate people about smart, sustainable landscapes.
Last night, international award winning landscape architect Matthew Cunningham presented Revealing a Sense of Place at Grow Native Massachusetts’ Evenings with Experts talk at the Cambridge Public Library. The humble, approachable Matthew presented before-and-after profiles of several design projects he’s taken on, from a rocky, tide-swept cove in Maine to suburban West Newton and Brookline. In all cases, he borrowed concepts from nature, incorporating native plant communities into his designs, creating a sense of privacy and wildness for his clients.
The most thrilling part for me was his satellite photo of Cambridge, MA pointing out his first client there. The next slide showed that the neighbors have caught on, and now his clients are dotted all over town, creating a growing quilt of properties that support wildlife and pollinators, manage and filter rain water, and provide numerous other ecosystem services that only native plants can provide…including services for clients who disdain tree huggers and care primarily for aesthetics.
Keeping up with the Joneses now means people are investing in native plants, and it turns out that native plants don’t make a mess in your yard. They actually create a robust landscape system that hums on its own. This is the kind of news that inspires and delights me, and we could all use good news these days.
Congratulations to Mark Richardson and Dan Jaffe on publishing their extensive observations and close up photographs of their top 100 New England native plants. I’ve studied with them dozens of times while earning a certificate in native plant horticulture and design at the New England Wildflower Society’s Garden in the Woods in Framingham, MA and I think of them as native plant rock stars.
Mark is Botanic Garden Director, and Dan propagator and stock bed grower at Garden in the Woods.
BIDDING ENDS AT 4 P.M. TODAY!
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.
For more info about the drought status in MA, visit http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/Home/StateDroughtMonitor.aspx?MA