Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A new season of succulents for my gardening son

Mark's (my 10 yr old horticulturist) latest succulent acquisitions.  And his new gnome -- which he wants to plant a very, very small plant in.  Will have to see what we come up with.

Spring in Asheville, North Carolina

Even though it was rainy and cold I did see some pretty sights in Asheville last weekend on my yoga trip with my sister in law. This camellia was full of blooms and these redbuds were in full flower all over the city.  My sister in law stole a cutting of that camellia! But I don't blame her - it was a beauty.  And I survived the yoga workshop...barely...

Friday, March 18, 2011

Designing ecologically and sustainably in New England

A sustainable garden or landscape has so many benefits for our earth, for our health and for the preservation of native species.   By choosing plants that are appropriate for our gardens' existing moisture, soil and light conditions, we won't have the need for chemical fertilizers, herbicides, insecticides or fungicides.  In fact, we'll have very little use for any of these additives even in the organic form.  And of course, by not using chemical products, there will be no harmful run-off into our watersheds which directly affects our water sources and, potentially, our health.

Native wildflowers are adapted to our regional weather conditions like high humidity or heat, drought conditions and heavy snow or very low temperatures.  They are the easiest and most natural way to "go green" in our gardens.  And they reward us with a multitude of colors, textures, and scents.

Plus natives will bring the pollinators we need for our flowers, veggies and herbs, and they are the only way to bring not only adult butterflies but the host plants that are crucial for their larvae to eat.  Adult butterflies aren't so picky when searching for nectar and will drink from natives and non-natives, but their larvae must have native hosts to survive.  I'll get to that in another post!

Watching slides of the High Line Park in New York City at a lecture at the New York Botanical Garden yesterday reminded me of how beautiful and completely sustainable that landscape is in the middle of an urban environment.  Piet Oudolf, the planting designer for the High Line, did an incredible job of using native plants throughout all the gardens that give texture and ongoing color while requiring much less maintenance than non-natives.  The variety of sedges on display alone will make you want to rip out your turf and put in these varied and tough beauties instead.

I'm still working on my husband but haven't won that battle yet!  He won't completely give up on his "grassy patch" but maybe we can leave the turf for the skinny baseball "strip" we have and get rid of the rest of the grass that dies by late july anyway.  Maybe he'll look at Little bluestem for our obviously infertile patch of backyard which can even be mowed short like traditional turf grass.  It can be left to grow in the fall, standing erect and turning a beautiful rusty gold - so it even gives us some winter interest if it doesn't get blanketed with snow like we had this winter.  It will also do well in dry, hot weather that we always get mid-summer here in Connecticut -- when my husband starts cursing at his patchy crabgrassy tiny backyard.  He tries every summer to have some pretty green "traditional" grass, and it starts well...but it never ends well.  Maybe he'll let me convert most of it to one of the many versatile sedges.

A sustainable garden or landscape must have native plants in its design to truly work.  A native is any plant that lived in our region before Europeans settled on our continent.   So in the New England region, we need to use native plants that live in our region.  If you are in another part of the country, use your region's natives.  Nurseries are stocking natives more and more often, and this trend will hopefully continue to grow as more and more of us become aware of how these plants help us create sustainable landscapes, preserve species and bring wildlife back to our gardens.  We'll see more bees, butterflies and birds visiting the habitats we create for them, and we'll enjoy learning more about them and the land around us with our families.

As a designer, I create ecologically sustainable gardens, but I also love many ornamentals and understand their value in our gardens as well.  We don't have to exclusively use natives, but having them as the backbone of our sustainable landscapes, we'll still receive all the benefits.  And we can mix in our favorite ornamentals plants, making sure they fit into the site chosen so they are healthy and happy.  Plus herbs and vegetables can be incorporated into our gardens with our flowers for a harmonious, colorful design that will bring bees and butterflies and give us food for our summer table.

A native, sustainable design doesn't mean out of control and wild.  If natives are chosen properly for the site you have, planted in optimal soil and maintained the way they need to be, the garden will be as refined as a garden with all ornamentals.  In fact, creating a sustainable garden has all the same criteria as creating an ornamental garden, but we reap all the healthy benefits and we'll help instill our neighborhoods with their own unique and special regional and cultural identity.  We all probably have many natives in our gardens now, like this common coneflower...lovely and happy home to many bees and butterflies.

Just writing about this for the last half hour makes me itch to get out and see what's coming up in my own gardens and to shop for some new natives myself!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

"Bees" by Candace Savage - 'Nature's Little Wonders'

My son just checked this book out of the library, and since we both love bees, I have been snatching it whenever he's not around, reading it as fast as I can.  I just had to share this from the book:

"What bees ask of us is simple: a world free from poisons and other stressors, with places where they can nest and a sweet, season-long supply of flowering plants.  In return, they offer to teach us their deepest lesson yet.  Much as a honeybee belongs to her colony, so we humans belong to the living community of the Earth.  The wild lies all around us, and we draw it in like breath.  Our lives are indivisible from the lives of insects."  p. 109 "Bees" by Candace Savage

This is a beautifully written book, published in 2008.  Candace Savage has captured the magical world of our garden friends so perfectly.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A cardinal in the Berkshire mountains - barely visible in this photo I took with my phone through two panes of glass


We were in the Berkshire mountains skiing for three days last week and my bird loving son and I had the most fun watching the huge colony of birds feeding every morning. Amongst these were at least three pair of cardinals each day, along with black capped chickadees and lots of sparrows.  The house we rented was on a hill, isolated in the middle of the woods. The owners generously load their many feeders so their families of birds can munch away all winter long, in the midst of feet of snow.  What a joy for us to watch while we ate breakfast and got ready for a full day of skiing.  Of course we were the only ones of the five of us with any interest.  My teenage daughter and other son lounged in their pj's checking Facebook and watching espn til the last possible second before getting ready to ski. And my sweet husband snoozed away as long as possible.  But what peaceful mornings for us all.