Authors Posts by Abigail Higgins

Abigail Higgins

Abigail Higgins
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And some helpful hints on staking peonies.

Standards, falls, and beard: bland terms used for the complexity of the iris flower. – Photo by Susan Safford

The “merry month of May” is traditionally characterized by hawthorns in bloom; no matter that May is almost over and the hawthorns are only just starting to flower. Despite the chilly, dry weather, there is much going on in gardens at this wondrous time of year. (And so much in the garden to simply admire and enjoy!) One is often transfixed by indecision on what comes first, as gardening to-do lists are long, and time is short.

Watering should be a priority when dry spells coincide with plants’ efforts to put out leaves or new growth. Recently planted trees and shrubs — planted within the past two years — may need supplemental watering: They are more vulnerable than fully established plantings. Mulching helps retain soil moisture, and may help increase time between waterings.

 

Staking craft   

Peony season means rain to me, even while we are having this drought, so a refresher course in peony staking might be useful. Many classic techniques of garden maintenance are not much known in the United States — we tend to be seat-of-the-pants, self-taught types in many respects — and gardening for ordinary people here has a short history. Thanks to Old House Gardens, this method of staking peonies at the New Hampshire garden Hildene, estate of President Lincoln’s son, is described. It’s called the Hildene star, as Hildene’s gardener, Andrea Luchini, explains:

“I stake the plants when they have flower buds so that I can easily tell where to string them. For each peony, I insert five stakes equidistant from each other, just on the outside edge of the clump. Then I take a piece of jute twine and tie it to one of the stakes, a few inches below the flower buds. Going counter-clockwise, I pass the twine through the plant going to every other stake and tautly wrapping the twine once around each, until I’m back where I started. When I’m finished there’s a jute star in the middle of the plant.

“To catch the outer flowers, I bring the twine around the outside of the plant, wrapping it once around each stake to encircle the entire clump. This method supports the flowers in sections rather than as one big mass.”

 

Iris: Peonies’ fabulous companion

Only a deity could imagine and form the architectural iris blossom, with its structural complexity paired with a foliage statement intensely focused and clean-lined. Unlike peonies, irises generally need no staking, with the exception of tall bearded types with heavily frilled flowers. It is for this reason, although I admire them in other people’s gardens, that I mostly stick to dwarf and intermediate bearded iris (IB iris), the former of which kicks off rhizomatous iris season, with the IBs coming a bit later.

Aitken’s Salmon Creek Garden, at aitken-garden.goodsie.com/intermediate-bearded-iris/, lists an IB, ‘August Treat,’ with good rebloom, mid-blue standards, lighter blue falls, and blue beards that sounds good to me. Also intriguing is their ‘Rust Never Sleeps,’ with cinnamon standards, darker brown falls, blue beards, and possible rebloom.

An 18-inch tall pure white IB from Shreiner’s Iris Gardens, at schreinersgardens.com/intermediate, ‘Angelwalker,’ makes a good choice for the twilight gleam a good white flower gives the garden. Check them, and others out by Googling “intermediate bearded iris.”

Not to be ignored, Siberian irises, with grasslike foliage, begin their bloom time simultaneously with the tall bearded iris. These plants have great utility in the garden as repeat-theme punctuation in the border. Clumps increase rapidly, and if yours have shown diminished bloom, it is time to divide them.

All of the irises mentioned above are great plants for the dry or unirrigated garden, and make good rock-garden subjects. They fare best in situations where they can be dry and baking after their spring bloom; in fact they will be healthier and maintain their foliage better if grown this way.

 

Reblooming plants

It is the aim of landscapes of a turnkey or institutional nature to have “color” all season long, while the charm of a rich and well-planted garden is the endless parade of plants and effects throughout the garden year. Who has not waited with bated breath for a favorite iris to unfold its first bud in all its beauty?

A case may be made for rejecting reblooming irises (or any reblooming version of a plant traditionally a onetime bloomer, for that matter), in the sense that these yearly but ephemeral appearances are special and precious events to the garden lover.

However, in confined spaces where every square foot must pull its weight, an iris that reblooms — or an azalea, a mock orange, a lilac — is a gift. They share the function that annual flowers perform: a long season of dependable bloom.

 

Rose care

Many problems of roses may be avoided by use of manure; they are heavy feeders. A chemical version is no substitute for the best feed for them: stable muck. The best time to give it to them is over winter. A problem with this seemingly simple prescription: Stable muck is in short supply in the 21st century.

Bagged “garden manure” is the likely substitute, but be on the lookout for sources of horse manure. Mellowed in a tarped heap, it will be in usable form by the coming winter. Remove as much of the bedding material as possible, as its breakdown cheats the roses of nitrogen.

Attested to by garden centers’ feet of shelf space devoted to cure-alls for them, roses in deficient soil will manifest many problems that then have to be dealt with. Roses under severe insect attack or demonstrating foliar problems should receive a soil test. Specify that the soil is to grow roses.

 

In the garden

Prune spring-flowering shrubs such as forsythia, viburnum, witch hazel, and fothergilla. Deadhead rhododendrons. Plant beans, and sow more lettuce.

And a note about sumac.

Emerging fiddleheads of ostrich fern, "Matteuccia struthiopteris," in a woodland setting. – Photo by Susan Safford

The air is full of bud scales drifting and blowing about as the expanding leaves free them. They create plugs and stoppers in downspouts and gutters; check on that. Pollen is here too. Early mornings are fragrant and mild, even at dawn, a welcome change from the persistent chill of April and early May, with birdsong for accompaniment.

 Martha's Vineyard hosts four species of sumac, including 'Toxicodendron vernix,' also known as poison sumac.  – Photo courtesy Robert H. Mohlenbrock @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database via Wikimedia Commons
Martha’s Vineyard hosts four species of sumac, including ‘Toxicodendron vernix,’ also known as poison sumac. – Photo courtesy Robert H. Mohlenbrock @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database via Wikimedia Commons

Martha’s Vineyard hosts four species of sumac (plus poison ivy, also in the Rhus family): Rhus copallinum, R. glabra, R. typhina, and Toxicodendron vernix (poison sumac). The first three are widespread, and are found in dry, open sites; the latter is rarer, and is found in wetlands and swampy places. The first three form cones of red berries; those of poison sumac are white.

 

Quiet spring beauties

First-chosen plants for spring gardens tend to be showy: plants such as tulips, bleeding heart, flashy shrubs such as Rhododendron ‘PJM,’ flowering quince, or forsythia. As gardeners mature, so to speak, their appreciation for the subtle and less showy does too. It cannot be 100 percent showy shrubs and perennials; the garden needs tying together with some sort of basso continuo of under-planting.

Ferns and epimediums are a good case in point: perhaps not the first plants one desires for the spring garden, but over time revealing charms — one of which is seldom being eaten by deer — that grow on one. To some, these plants are mere groundcover, but to me they are very much part of the show.

Epimediums, especially, have leapt into prominence (in the plant world) due to the plant collecting and selecting of the Massachusetts plantsman Darrell Probst. Although the plants’ bloom time is ephemeral, they are showy while they last, and leave behind extraordinary foliage that is a three-season delight.

Garden Vision Epimediums and Plant Delights are two good sources of special epimediums.

Even though they have become cliché as “just so much greenery” in hotel lobbies, ferns actually have botanical names, with which I am trying to become more familiar. They are a difficult group to learn, because many resemble one another. I try to start modestly with a few that do stand out in some unique, recognizable way.

The photograph shows Matteuccia struthiopteris, an easily recognizable running fern that is capable of forming colonies, and tolerates quite a lot of sun if it likes the soil. I like pairing Dryopteris erythrosora ‘Autumn Brilliance’ with Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum spp.), but almost all of the large group of Dryopteris make good garden plants. Another favorite is the evergreen Polystichum acrostichoides, the Christmas fern.

Brent and Becky Heath’s excellent daffodil book, Daffodils for North American Gardens (Bright Sky Press, 2001), contains a list on page 65 of companion plants for bulbs, making it automatically a first-rate primer for spring garden planting. Almost everything looks good paired with brunnera or pulmonaria, many cultivars of which have interestingly marked foliage. Hakonechloa, Japanese forest grass, comes in several forms — gold, gold-striped, green, green-striped, and chartreuse-striped — and tells a quiet story, as does Alchemilla mollis.

Although it needs no introduction, the workhorse hosta tribe is a wonderful group of plants for clarifying and simplifying the garden’s texture. The major Vineyard drawback is their attraction for deer, but I do not think they can be excluded for this reason. Deer repellent, fencing or screening until larger — there are ways to have hostas, even in the heart of deer country.

Red lily beetles emerge

One of the least welcome signs of spring is the red lily beetle, Lilioceris lilii, the bane of bulb lilies. I found the first three this morning in the shoots of tiger lilies, and was able to dispatch them between thumb and forefinger. Watch for holes in foliage of lilies, and knock the lily beetles into soapy water, snip with scissors, or crush between the fingers. A surprising amount of control can be achieved this way, but eventually larvae will appear, which will be far more disgusting than the beautiful, if loathed, adults. Sprays made with neem oil are said to inhibit the larval progression to maturity.

 

Garden-pedia

Garden-pedia: An A-to-Z Guide to Gardening Terms is a nifty little companion book by Pamela Bennett and Maria Zampini (St. Lynn’s Press) that explains and defines terms that may bewilder those who did not grow up in a gardening household. Good color photographs are featured on every page. Like an encyclopedia, the garden terms are set up alphabetically; there is also an index in the back. Garden-pedia would make a great addition to the non-specialist garden library or landscaper’s glove compartment.

 

PHA Plant Finder

Gardeners seek answers for what to plant in special or problematic locations. The Martha’s Vineyard Plant Selection Guide, available at Polly Hill Arboretum’s website, plantfinder.pollyhillarboretum.org, is just the resource that Island gardeners have needed for years. We have come a long way since Polly Hill deplored that there were “only 25 of the commonest trees and shrubs” available at Island nurseries; prices have risen too, making every garden purchase a far costlier decision. Many thanks to the PHA staff for working on this valuable tool for gardeners, landscapers, and homeowners alike!

 

In the garden

Mulching and watering are priorities during this period of drought and growth. Soils are dry, and newly planted material needs extra water to establish. Remove flowering stalks of rhubarb when they appear. Deadhead bulbs if they have formed seed capsules. Continue to spray deer and rabbit repellent on favorites such as fruit trees, hostas, rhododendron buds, and roses. Deadhead lilacs.

Your kitchen garden may also be your medicine chest.

Cultivate echinacea to help cure what ails you. – Courtesy Jardin Mahoney

Some of the most interesting and valuable native medicinal plants on Martha’s Vineyard are usually considered to be weeds and, at least until properly appreciated, will be seen as having little glamour. Do you like towering burdock (Arctium lappa — complete with burrs to catch in your pets’ coats) or curly dock (Rumex crispus) in your landscape? By getting used to the look, you could be availing yourself of an herbal medicine chest.

Burdock, for instance, used as root and seed, offers support for the liver, urinary tract, and skin. The plants have ornamental potential–large, coarse texture, appearing similar to rhubarb. It is eaten as a vegetable and may be made into a large array of dried and fresh herbal preparations.

Dock (in the same family as French sorrel, below) leaves may be eaten young as a cooked or salad vegetable, but should be consumed in moderation as they contain oxalates, which may interfere with digestion. The roots are used medicinally for their high iron content as treatment for anemia.

Source books for wild-crafting and growing herbs include Ancestral Plants: A Primitive Skills Guide to Important Wild Edible, Medicinal, and Useful Plants of the Northeast, Arthur Haines (Delta Institute, Anaskimin), and The Essential Herbal for Natural Health, Holly Bellebuono (Shambhala Publications/Roost Books) and Growing 101 Herbs That Heal, Tammi Hartung, (Storey Books).

Herbalists usually separate culinary and medicinal herbs, but sometimes they are one and the same. Take for example, coriander (Coriandrum sativum) or cilantro, as the leaf form is known. High in iron and magnesium, cilantro is an essential ingredient in recipes for salsas and guacamole, and figures prominently in the cuisines of Asia, India, Europe, and Central and South America. The seed, coriander, has been used as an aromatic stimulant and spice since ancient times. More recently, cilantro has been used to mobilize mercury and other heavy metals in the brain and spinal cord tissue out into normal elimination systems. Cold-hardy, coriander seed may be sown in early spring, in full sun. If allowed to, it freely self-sows, so learn to recognize the seedlings.

Garlic (Allium sativum) is another garden subject with known culinary and medicinal properties, especially antiseptic and antibiotic. Its organic sulfur content assists in detoxifying heavy metals as well as infectious microbes. On the Vineyard, garlic is planted in autumn, wintered over, and harvested the following summer. Start with quality seed garlic, and grow it in fertile soil — use your best spot or make a special bed — in full sun.

Raspberries (Rubus idaeus) need no introduction as a fruit prized for desserts, preserves, and eating fresh. All parts of the plant have been valued for their medicinal properties as well. Traditionally, leaves are used as an herbal tea to help with chills, colds, tonsillitis, and stomach complaints (Herbs, Phillips & Foy, Random House), and all aspects of pregnancy and childbirth. Easily grown in a corner of the garden, raspberries respond to fertile soil and annual pruning.

Echinacea, in several species, is a beautiful ornamental and excellent cut flower, which has been widely hybridized to produce an array of colors, heights, and flower forms that were previously unknown. “Advances in immunology have shown that E. angustifolia and E. purpurea … have a marked effect on the body’s resistance to infectious diseases of all kinds, particularly the influenza and herpes viruses.” (ibid.) Root and leaves are used.

Another perennial culinary herb to tuck away in a corner of the vegetable garden is French sorrel (Rumex scutatus), prized as an early spring physic, diuretic, and laxative, and the delicious accompaniment to many fish dishes. It is the main ingredient in sorrel soup. The sorrel plant is used for its leaves primarily. Therefore, flowering stalks are usually discouraged as leaf quality then suffers. The perennial shoots emerge early in spring and are harvested for salad, soup etc as soon as they grow large enough. The flower stalks come later, just like rhubarb, but are cut out, to keep the supply of leaves coming along.

Garden sorrel (R. acetosa) and sheep’s sorrel (R. acetosella) are similar, if less choice, forms than the French. Plant out in rich soil and divide regularly, to keep plants vigorous and producing a continuous supply of brittle, tender leaves.

Raspberries, echinacea and sorrel are grown and sold primarily as container plants; planting them can happen any time the ground is able to be worked, until fall.

And looking for ways to grow some plants with little effort.

The prized Yulan magnolia (M. denudata) with seductively scented, pure white flowers, is an early-blooming species. It is worth the gamble with frost when it flowers. – Photo by Susan Safford

The old joke about Island spring, “January, February, March, March, March, June …” means expectations here are low. The flower buds of lilacs (Syringa spp.) are generally cold-hardy; however, those of magnolias, less so. Owners of magnolia trees collectively hold their breath until their trees have successfully bloomed and the season of frost-snap injuries has passed.

Hybridizing work with magnolias, those wonderful trees, has taken off in the past decade. Most gardeners and visitors to nurseries are aware of the yellow-flowered cultivars, deriving their color from the North American native, M. acuminata, and may wish to find a spotlight location for such a garden specimen. For descriptions of yellow magnolias and all others, go to the Magnolia Society’s website, magnolia-society.org/checklist_ndx.html.

Other, newer shades and colors, such as coral and very dark, almost black, in large flowered hybrids are seen in the breeding work of the Jurys of New Zealand and Dennis Ledvina of Wisconsin. Look also for newer introductions from other outstanding breeders such as Gresham, Savage, Kehr, and de Spoelberch. The Honeytree Nursery (Canada) and Gossler Farms Nursery websites are sources of descriptions of exciting recent introductions.

Island gardeners who wanted to possess an evergreen magnolia (M. grandiflora) received a setback with last winter’s conditions. Some Island specimens I know of look pretty sorry and defoliated. Still, carefully sited and given protective barriers, such as burlap, M. grandiflora can survive and grow fairly well on Martha’s Vineyard.

Many deciduous cultivars have either been bred for frost-hardy flower buds or later flowering. As a rule, though, with these deciduous magnolias, it is desirable for flowering to occur before the leaves emerge. Consider the growth habit of the cultivar too: Twigginess and large furry buds provide much off-season interest, so a lanky type may disappoint.

It would seem that smaller magnolias, such as the National Arboretum series with girls’ names (the “little girls” hybrids), are going to be ideal for the smaller garden. Their stature is practically that of a shrub. One drawback, however, is that their buds are naturally going to be lower down, closer to the ground, and thus face more cold air in a late spring frost than a taller magnolia. Avoid planting where cold air settles or is trapped; observe the principle of cold air flowing away from the plant and settling to a lower point.

Speaking of siting, it is surprising that more effort to combine the pleasures of magnolias and lilacs is not made. Bloom time of most of the choicest deciduous magnolias overlaps with Syringa vulgaris, the common lilac; they like the same deep, well-drained, enriched loam.

Now, even though Island spring was late to begin, lilacs are budding up. The early Syringa x hyacinthiflora hybrid ‘Clarke’s Giant’ is about to flower behind our barn. Lilac time in the northeast, which to most of us means flowering of common lilac, has become earlier and earlier with the climate behavior trends of the past couple of decades, even though the total duration of bloom of all species of Syringa is still about five weeks. The Arnold Arboretum’s Lilac Sunday needed moving up; it historically coincided more or less with Memorial Day.

When it comes to lilacs, I have no more informative a volume than the comprehensive Lilacs: A Gardener’s Encyclopedia (Fiala/Vrugtman, Timber Press, 2008). This is “all you ever wanted to know” about lilacs, and more. It contains suggestions for landscaping with lilacs, and many planting combinations to enhance their effectiveness.

Combinations of white lilacs with the above-mentioned “little girls” series of magnolias is one. Another suggestion is facing down blue-flowered Syringa with blue or blue-grey leaved Hostas, such as H. sieboldiana ‘Elegans’ or ‘Krossa Regal.’ Lilacs suggests (without explanation) planting hostas on the northern or western side of lilac plantings in the northern hemisphere, never on southern or eastern exposures. Another planting suggestion Lilacs makes is combining a lilac with seven to 10 plants of one cultivar of peony. Choose a cultivar that shares bloom time with the lilac.

 

Less effort

Liz Witham and Ken Wentworth’s recent Earth Day program of Sustainable Vineyard films at the Film Center included a Q and A afterward with each short film’s protagonists. Worthy of mention after the program’s seed-library portion was the session, during which the concept of a “seed garden” came up. A seed garden is a regular garden that has been intentionally let go to seed, for the purpose of growing the coming year’s crop of seeds.

I have been trying to get certain plants in my vegetable garden to grow with little or no effort on my part: not exactly a seed garden, not exactly a permaculture garden, but definitely appropriating an easier ongoing approach to it.

Last fall I left lettuce ‘Lollo rosso’ standing until tall stalks surmounted by heads of small yellow flowers appeared. I also let arugula, cilantro, dill, and corn salad (mache) self-sow, and — voilà — am gratified to find many seedlings of each already up and growing far more thriftily than indoor sown plants.

 

Cornus and salix: colorful stems

Shrubby species of Cornus (dogwood) and Salix (willow) selected to produce colorful bark, such as Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’ and Salix alba var. vitellina ‘Britzensis,’ are a joy in winter when their bright color is riveting in the garden.

It is the younger, twiggy growth that produces the best color. These plants are usually pruned in early to mid-spring. This year, of course, everything has been skewed, and I did not think to mention this earlier. If your plants’ buds are only just starting to break (leaf out), the pruning, called stooling back, may still be done. Otherwise, wait: It does not necessarily need to be done every season.

 

And, why bother gardening?

Plants are leaping out of the ground! —File photo by Susie Safford

Stand up for what you stand on

Earth Day is April 22. Space exploration is said to be one of the grandest, vastest human ideas. As the delightful Mary Clear points out in the propaganda gardening video, Peas and Love Revolution, “we are living in extraordinary times: where we have the means to put ‘a little digger’ on Mars; where science, technology — all the things we need to make a better world, we choose not to do …”

Shortsightedness prevails, as our bodies must “learn” to live with chronic disease and contaminated or missing (e.g., avoiding mercury-laden fish) food supplies. We must forcefully contradict the idea that toxics, for the earth and for us, are just the price we pay for 21st century needs, and that colonizing space provides an alternative.

With the designation of 2015 as the U.N. International Year of Soil, we have the rationale for a focus that should be uppermost with all of us, each and every day, and each and every year.

 

Why garden? Upsides, downsides

“The greatest fine art of the future will be the making of a comfortable living from a small piece of land.” —Abraham Lincoln

“Onions” are one reason. As I was planting my onion seedlings (purchased as part of a bulk order by the Homegrown vegetable gardeners group, from Dixondale Farms), I thought how, years past, I often used to discover we were out of onions — just as I’d started cooking dinner!

A small thing, perhaps, to have loads of your own garden’s onions in the cellar, and certainly not the entirety of what Lincoln’s quote addresses, but these days I try to grow enough here at home to last us through the winter. It is a nice challenge, moreover, to attempt to supply yourself, and maybe your relatives and friends too, with as much of “whatever” as it is possible to self-produce, and share.

The key to making large onions is to choose seedling transplants over sets and to plant as early as possible in the season, since they tolerate mild frosts. Feed onions every two to three weeks with a high-nitrogen fertilizer. Make the first application three weeks after planting. Continue every three weeks until the onions start to bulb. Do not apply to the tops, and ensure that the tops are dry when applying fertilizer. For more information, visit dixondalefarms.com.

As an important side note, anyone can start onion seedlings, although I chose not to. In January, sow seed that is day-length-appropriate to your area; our area is “long day.” My criterion is storage, or keeping, quality, but a wide variety of onion types exist: red, white, cipollini, pickling, sweet, etc.

Fill a flat with high-quality seed compost, such as Vermont Compost’s Fort-V or other, and sprinkle the black seed evenly over the top. Barely cover, water lightly, and within days the first bent-double seed leaves emerge. The seed packet will contain cultural advice.

Soil temperature in my vegetable garden is 59°F, “cool” in relative terms, and ideal for beets; greens such as spinach, mustard and Asian greens, and arugula; potatoes; and peas.

“Strawberries” are another reason. Commercially available strawberries are grown with the fumigant methyl bromide, a potent no-no for the body and ozone layer alike.

The strawberry plants, which I have successfully used as a vegetable garden groundcover, are showing top growth. It reminds me of my intention to try cinnamon-leaf oil as a squirrel repellent. Last year, despite a heavy crop of large berries (netting and row cover too), the clever squirrels with their little hand-paws deprived us of all but three! They like strawberries as much as we do, evidently.

For those who are at home all day, the ol’ Red Rider or “wrist rocket” creates deterrence too. Recipes for squirrel may be found in most older cookbooks, or publications such as Country Wisdom & Know-How (Storey Publishing).

An advertisement for “The All Natural Ceylon Cinnamon Oil Pesticide” claims that it “repels all insects, kills fungus, eliminates powdery mildew. Stop the squirrels … Spray on garden vegetables and fruits. Safe for humans. The most effective insect repellent. Period!”

I put my order in. The product is applied by means of a spray. Use once a week, and after heavy rains. It is nontoxic to humans, and can be used the day of harvesting vegetables. Cinnamon has antimicrobial properties that also help to control molds and fungus, as a substitute for liquid copper fungicide. For more information visit cinnamonvogue.com.

Growing your own is not going to eliminate pantry moths, also known as Indian mealmoth. According to Wikipedia, Indianmeal moth is a pyraloid moth of the family Pyralidae. Alternative common names are North American high-flyer, weevil moth, and pantry moth. Spring is pantry moth season. Most of us probably care less about their entomology than about controlling them, once they manifest as the dry food pests they are.

But if your dry beans (or maybe even your grain!) are homegrown, you will be doubly offended to lose any to pantry moths. Storage in tightly closed, airtight containers, in a cool, dark pantry or storage area, is always recommended, but pantry moths also arrive in purchased dry groceries, and may spread. Freezing the entire infested container sometimes kills the larvae. I have had good results with pheromone traps, which can be purchased locally or from garden suppliers such as Gardens Alive or Gardeners Supply.

 

Bed-work

Plants are leaping out of the ground. Continue to clean beds. Side-dress perennials with low-number organic soil food — it gives an early-season boost to the surrounding soil life. Cultivating around emerging crowns helps mark them clearly. Continue deer and rabbit sprays. Check fencing.

 

A welcome sight. – Photo by Susan Safford

In the garden

Where to begin? Snow and crummy conditions may have set our schedules back, but be assured that in the end all will be well. Christmas wreaths come off doors, according to Island custom, on Good Friday. Snowdrop blossoms have actually opened. The grass is greening. Under all that snow (plus Reemay) was a fabulous carrot crop!

Still, predicting settled conditions is a tricky business just now.

Cut back sweet autumn-blooming clematis, and other members of Group 3, to the ground. Prune Group 2s more selectively. Some experts recommend pruning one-half the plant, or pruning Group 2s hard every other year, but in any case it is wise to keep a record of your clematis plants’ groups.

If weather seems good, cut back the sub-shrubs such as potentilla, hypericum, and caryopteris by about one-third, and buddleia by about two-thirds, or more. Prune roses. Clean up dead canes of hydrangeas. All of last year’s growth of grasses, daylilies, and perennials may be cut away. Just a tug often takes care of them. Chit potato and dahlia tubers.

Deer-spray emerging tulips, lilac flower buds, roses, delectable young shoots of daylilies, bulb lilies, fruit trees — in short, just about everything that might tempt a hungry herd of deer or rabbits moving through your place in the wee hours.

Sand (everywhere!) on hardscape walks may be brushed into the cracks with a stiff broom. Damage from salt, snow, and ice continues to manifest; trim it up.

 

2015: The United Nations International Year of Soils

We have experienced many “The Year of …” campaigns over our lifetimes, yawn; can anyone tell me what last year’s was? I cannot, but I am seriously prepared to blurb this year’s UN campaign. In fact, I cannot think of a theme more deserving of international support.

Topsoil loss affects all human beings, because we all eat, but eroded and degraded soils affect the base — we are not alone here — of the pyramid, upon the pinnacle of which Homo sapiens stands.

In terms of farms and gardens, the quality of the soil absolutely reflects the quality of what it produces; farmers’ and gardeners’ mission is, or should be, a never-ending one of soil improvement. The soil can be visualized as an “immune system,” and pests, or problems with its products, viewed as “symptoms.”

 

Related matters …

The Home Garden Seed Association promotes gardening from seed — an easy, economical, and rewarding way to garden. Its web site is ezfromseed.org.

From its Spring 2015 press release, “Pollinators in the City” (which could almost as well read “Pollinators in Island Towns”):

“Nearly 75 percent of all plants on earth require animals for pollination. Native bumblebee populations were shown to increase with increased development. Besides the bumblebee, researchers counted about 50 other types of bees in a five-year study in New York City, including carpenter bees, leaf cutters, borer bees, mason bees, sweat bees, and others, attracted by urban gardeners’ plants.

“Mostly, if we are to sustain [in-town] agriculture, we must support [in-town] bees. Therefore, be prepared for pollinators in spring by planting spring-blooming flowers. Plant flowers, especially pollen-rich ones, in summer. Avoid pesticides. Offer water, and nesting options. Leave spots of undisturbed soil. Most pollinators seen in the urban garden are cavity nesters, and many are solitary bees rather than hive nesters.”

 

The Year of the Sunflower

The Home Garden Association of Fleuroselect has named the sunflower as its plant of the year for 2015. Fleuroselect is the international organization for the ornamental plants industry, whose secretariat is currently based in Noordwijk, the Netherlands. Membership includes breeders, producers, and distributors of ornamental varieties.

In many ways, this is a great tie-in with the International Year of Soils and the Home Garden Seed Association’s emphasis on pollinators. Research has shown that members of the sunflower family, Helianthus, in the Asteraceae, have the ability to remove toxins and heavy metals from contaminated soils, and, as anyone who has grown them at home knows, sunflowers are pollinator magnets, as well as superb cut flowers.

 

Eco-role of lichens

Have you noticed shed lichen covering the snow and ground beneath your trees? The windy and snowy winter conditions seem to combine efficiently to strip these peculiar growths off trees (especially oaks) in great numbers. What is their ecological role, if any?

Lichens are neither plants nor animals, but a “mutualistic symbiosis of a fungus and an organism capable of producing food by photosynthesis,” according to a paper written by Goerig and Chatfield published online by Ohio State University, “10 Things You Should Know About Lichens.”

“Lichens are important partners in nature’s ecosystem,” according to the paper, “and should be admired and studied when seen on landscape plants and hardscapes! They are early colonizers that establish life on rock and barren disturbed sites. Lichens play an important role in soil formation over much of the earth. As lichens colonize rocks, they trap dust, silt, and water….”

Lichens, because of their association with cyanobacteria, can provide themselves with nitrogen compounds. They contribute to the nitrogen cycle by converting nitrogen in the air into nitrates that contribute to their growth and development, this ability (to fix atmospheric nitrogen) being beneficial to other plant life as well.

When it rains, nitrogen is leached from both living and dead lichens, and becomes available to plant life in the immediate area. When lichens die, they contribute decayed organic matter to the area they inhabited, which enables mosses and seeds from vascular plants to begin growth among the pockets of new soil.

It is likely this lichen/nitrogen contribution is occurring now, in the large West Tisbury and Chilmark woodland known as the Frances Newhall Woods Nature and Wildlife Preserve. In the past decade, widespread forest collapse took place there. Caterpillar damage, drought, and other unknown ecological processes caused the collapse of the woodland, now under scientific study by evolutionary biologists from the Harvard [University] Forest.

 

Polly Hill Arboretum

Daffodil Show and Spring Flower Walk, Saturday April 18, 10 am to 2 pm.

 

Getting the garden ready.

Trim winter damage with sharpened loppers, pruning saws, and clippers. – Photos by Susan Safford

Welcome spring! The vernal equinox occurs Friday. It means the center of the Sun spends a roughly equal amount of time above and below the horizon at every location on Earth; night and day are about the same length. It marks the official start of spring. Yay!

Trim winter damage with sharpened loppers, pruning saws, and clippers.
Snowbound pear, surrounded by “the poor man’s fertilizer,” awaits pruning.

Many will be scrambling to take care of matters that were made impossible by heavy snow cover just a short while back. Remove trunk guards from fruit trees, advises Fedco’s John Bunker, and let the trunks breathe. Pruning of fruit trees and dormant oil spraying may commence, as well as pruning of roses. Attend to the unwelcome damage that ice, snow, deer, and gnawing rodents may have delivered to plantings with sharpened loppers, pruning saws, and clippers.

The practice of “hat-racking,” of hollies or other trees, to tighten and improve structure, would be done at this time. My hybrid hollies have been so browsed by deer this winter that hat-racking is the only way to restore the appearance of some of them.

I have begun to be repetitious on the importance of letting soils thoroughly thaw and dry out before attempting anything in beds and the vegetable garden, despite the understandable eagerness to get going. It depends on how fast the weather warms and how much sun we receive; but it is important to refrain from walking upon or stirring the soil when it is sodden, or it will be all clods. Fine mulches may remain in place, but protective pine boughs should be lifted to accelerate warming.

Many gardeners have become wildlife-aware, practicing the habit of leaving perennials standing over winter to provide for birds. The snow will have smashed these remnants down, but they should be fairly easy to rake or break off. Watch for their newly emerging green tips.

“The poor man’s fertilizer”

Snow and rain carry many elements and contaminants, scoured from the air they travel through, on their way to earth. Nitrogen is among the material picked up, formed from the action of lightning on the nitrogen gases present in the atmosphere, and from fossil-fuel pollution.

This is why we hear snow, especially snow falling upon unfrozen soil, called “the poor man’s fertilizer”. This could also be “the poor woman’s fertilizer,” as it falls equally everywhere, without prejudice, unlike wealth. Estimates put the amounts of nitrogen at between five to ten pounds per acre, depending upon how much was able to sink into the soil versus how much was lost through runoff.

In a winter such as this, where the ground was not deeply frosted, it is likely that the haul of nitrogen from snow was a good one. (In addition to nitrogen, beneficial trace amounts of phosphorus and sulfur occur in snow and rain.) The insulating snow cover was also fortunate considering the bitter cold we experienced during February and early March; gardeners would be looking at far more damage to plants and hardscapes had it been otherwise.

Grafting and fruit growing

Kevin Brennan, with Jamie O’Gorman, is giving a class in grafting and fruit growing on Saturday, March 21, from 10 to 11:30 am at Thimble Farm. The topics will be growing and propagating fruits, nuts, and berries best suited to the Vineyard. Donation is $20. Please sign up by calling 201-478-1925 or emailing kevinbrennan15@gmail.com.

Garden prep: Raised beds

Interest in raised beds has increased over the past 20 or so years. Many ascribe this to an aging baby boomer generation’s need for handicap-accessible garden facilities. A raised section of garden warms up faster than surrounding soil, and enjoys better drainage, usually the best conditions for aromatic herbs. Structures filled with superlative, fertile growing medium may produce more crops in a smaller amount of space.

However, according to Wikipedia, introduction to the ideas of French intensive gardening occurred originally “in the 1890s on two acres of land just outside of Paris. The crops were planted in 18 inches of horse manure, a readily available fertilizer, and planted so close together that the mature plants’ leaves touched their neighbors. [It was] introduced to the United States by Alan Chadwick in California in the late ’60s, early ’70s.”

Hilling up earth with a hoe, or a wheel hoe with moldboard plow attachment, makes raised beds that are more modest in height. Those with a supply of logs may find log-supported beds an economical means of achieving the same end. For food gardens, avoid wood preservatives. The logs will eventually rot into the soil, but that is not necessarily a bad thing: the breakdown feeds the micro life of the soil.

Gardening in raised beds does not require purchasing or building custom structures, unless you have those yards of superlative, fertile growing medium to fill them.

What’s new?

Territorial Seed Co. is offering “Ketchup ’n’ Fries,” the TomTato, a tomato/potato graft. “Tomatoes are members of the potato family and are therefore naturally compatible with potatoes … There is no genetic modification,” according to the catalogue. For gardeners with limited space, this sounds like an exciting introduction.

Seed starting

Early and cold-hardy crops to sow: arugula, parsley, lettuce, spinach, beets, and cole crops such as mustard and broccoli. If you sow too early without a cold frame to move seedlings out into, the seedlings just get leggy. Celery and peppers (not cold-hardy) take a long time to reach size; start them now.

There is no reason to start peas indoors if you can protect them in the garden. However, since the tender plants appeal to all sorts of tastes, not just human ones, I find it safer and preferable to start them inside. Plant lots, more than you think you will need, as you cannot have too many pea plants, or peas!

Winter crop: cold-hardy pea shoots. – Photo by Susan Safford

In her book The Soil Will Save Us (Rodale Books, 2014, 242 ppg; $23.99) Kristin Ohlson tells a good story, on a topic many would consider dull: soil and carbon sequestration. With her colorful and often amusing narrative, one learns what soil is, its importance, and how plants’ exudates and soils’ systems work together. Ms. Ohlson conveys the excitement about the regenerative power of carbon farming.

The book’s principal message is the value of increasing carbon content in soils. Carbon farming transfers carbon from atmosphere into soil affordably. By increasing soils’ carbon content, fertility and water-holding capacity increase; so do bottom lines. Water follows carbon follows water. Replace into the soil everything that is of organic origin.

It is the conversations with these carbon farmers — soils scientists, conservationists, farmers, ranchers, and ecologists — that I find good reading. Mob grazing, keyline farming, perennial agriculture, building the soil food web, agroforestry, and reforestation are the means used. Ms. Ohlson describes how many have changed their modus operandi from scornful dismissal to becoming true believers. They restore farmed-out (whether by ignorance or by dependence upon industrial soil-management techniques), degraded “dirt” to healthy productive soil.

Gabe Brown and the Burleigh County Soil Conservation District in North Dakota, Dr. Elaine Ingham of the Soil Foodweb, Allan Savory of Holistic Management, Abe Collins, technicians from dozens of agencies and agricultural working groups; all these and more contribute their experiences to this book. They “stand up for what they stand on” — soil, our only true capital.

"The Soil Will Save Us" describes strategies that build carbon-rich and naturally productive soils. – Photo by Susan Safford
“The Soil Will Save Us” describes strategies that build carbon-rich and naturally productive soils. – Photo by Susan Safford

The Soil Will Save Us has a strong reference section at the back of the book, but no footnotes or index. It is a narrative, and a good one, in the style of Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Read it, and become excited about what you can do, in your own backyard or garden, on our own Island, in our only world.

The weather

My greenhouse has been like an igloo; at the moment pea shoots are its happiest occupants. Spring — snowdrops, cyclamen, and crocus galore — is already appearing in the British Isles and European points east. The equinoxes, solstices, and their companion seasons line up pretty well in the Old World (although that may be changing). Here in the Western Hemisphere, we seem to be getting knocked further and further out of sync with these markers.

Polar vortices dive-bombed repeatedly into the more southerly part of the continent last month, bringing a cold snap determined to hang around, and around. The entire Northeast has noticed the pattern, but will it become the new paradigm for future Februarys?

Persistent near-zero temperatures have consequences that we’d like to know about in advance. Our meteorologists have done a pretty good job of predicting what was about to happen outside the window this 2015 winter, but most of us are very interested in long-term patterns, and in knowing if winter 2016 is likely to parallel winter 2015.

Wood ash, utilizing organic by-products

With the cold snap promoting more round-the-clock stove use, wood-ash production proliferated. It is a mighty handy antislip substance to have for walks, steps, and parking areas, as most people know and appreciate; but that hardly used the entire backlog. Our recent garden soil tests have commanded “no more wood ash,” so that means of disposal was eliminated.

My flock of chickens has been separated from the ground for weeks. Snow cover and frozen soil have limited their scratch and peck and their means of dust-bathing to clean their plumage. My solution to ash disposal has been to strew them — cold, of course — over the deep litter in the henhouse.

Deep litter can accept bucketsful of the stuff, and the hens appreciate all of it for dust bathing. It will eventually be composted and end up on the vegetable garden soil, but only after the shavings’ pH has been moderated by the fermenting action of the deep litter, and been transformed by composting.

By the way, “deep litter” is a system of henhouse management that contradicts the sanitized, clean-your-coop-weekly philosophy. Instead, at regular intervals, bedding material such as wood chips, shavings, sawdust, or leaves, is added. Eventually it creates its own critical mass, fermenting, producing vitamin B12, beneficial nematodes that consume eggs of parasites, and microorganisms — until it is a living probiotic pile in the henhouse. Droppings are scraped off into the bedding, where stirring and processes of decomposition eventually break them down.

Proponents of deep litter claim that when this system is used, poultry health is enhanced. The litter is contributing to the flock’s immunities; a complete coop clean-out actually interrupts the protective action. Similar to inoculating a batch of sourdough with a starter from the previous batch, it is preferable to leave behind a layer of this litter for when the flock moves back in as you remove it for your gardens.

Chunks of charcoal from firewood (not briquettes) also contribute to animal health. Powdered or chunked and added to drinking water or feed, it is a “sweeper” of unwanted bacteria or parasites from the gastrointestinal tract. Using it in the henhouse turns the chicken manure black; you may find that your flock’s manure has little or no odor and is dry and easy to handle.

Fertilizer certificate course

As of Jan. 15, new fertilizer regulations have been in effect. Adult & Community Education of Martha’s Vineyard (ACE MV) is hosting a fertilizer certificate course Saturday, March 21, from 10 am to 4 pm at the MVRHS Performing Arts Center. Josh Aronie’s food truck will provide free coffee and light breakfast, as well as lunch. Lunch will be free for those who pay the full $85 and are taking the exam. To register, please contact ACE MV at 508-693-9222 or acemv.org.

February is the time to prune your fruit trees.

Witch hazel flowers brave dead of winter: Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Jelena.’ — Photos by Susan Safford

In blizzard mode once again, Martha’s Vineyard is enjoying a February 2015 weather pattern somewhat different from the past few decades. A comforting thought is that beneath the snow cover, soils and plants are cozy and insulated from frigid temperatures. Voles: Stay away!

The experience is also exposing a financial pattern different from days of yore when, forced by weather, people hunkered down and sat it out. (OK — had no other choice but to hunker down and sit it out.)

I know, it is so “yesterday” to talk about putting aside contingency funds, but bitter weather shows that modern life pares things way too close. This is too slim a margin for anyone to feel comfortable with: Where too many are unable to stay safely at home, driven as they are by unrelenting financial commitments. Where electricity bills suddenly skyrocket. Where the estimate is three days’ worth of food before the Island runs out. Where we are at the wrong end of vulnerable supply lines.

Growing and harvesting a food garden is a small contingency fund. It could be the practice that gives you that little bit of security and respite during a stormy winter. In addition, starting and growing a garden is one of the most enjoyable accomplishments there is, whether alone or with your family.

Bob Childs

It is sad to note the death of the University of Massachusetts entomologist Robert D. Childs Jr. on Jan. 30, 2015, after a long fight with cancer. Bob Childs was a frequent visitor to the Vineyard in his capacity as UMass Extension Service entomologist, gregariously advising and sharing his expertise on insects and their related issues with interested Island audiences. A son of Massachusetts and a product of Massachusetts’s educational opportunities, Bob spent almost his entire professional career serving UMass, its students, and residents of the greater commonwealth in one capacity or another through Stockbridge School of Agriculture and the Extension Service.

The age of echinaceas arrives

It is truly astonishing to observe the breeding results of the broadening echinacea field. Less than 15 years ago the typical choices were quite limited: variations on the pink, droopy, ray-flowered species (E. purpurea) type; a dwarfed ‘Kim’s Knee High’; and a white-flowered form, ‘White Swan.’ Even the native North American species, such as the yellow, E. paradoxa, were uncommon except at specializing nurseries such as Garden in the Woods.

The ground shifted slightly with the introduction of ‘Rubenstern’ and ‘Magnus,’ cultivars whose pink ray-florets stood out horizontally, making the flowers appear larger, unlike the typical coneflower with its droopy ray-florets. In fairly short order, plant breeders had released several echinaceas with frizzy, bombe-type centers that replaced the typical echinacea with its bristly cone of disc-florets.

And now there are seemingly dozens of cultivars. Sylvan Nursery in Westport is listing 15, and Bluestone Perennials lists 20 different cultivars. They range in size from dwarf to standard, and in colors from cool green to white, through pink and yellow, all the way to hot corals and reds. Many are plant-patented cultivars.

Echinaceas are primarily plants of the prairie, making dependable, long-lived garden plants. Plant them in full sun in well-drained soil. A ‘White Swan’ given to me almost 30 years ago still bravely stands up to the population pressures that rambunctious neighboring Anemone tomentosa ‘Robustissima’ exerts. The many typical pink-flowered forms self-sow easily, and may be moved about when small, but blooms commonly become dingy as they age. I lack much experience with the new, hot-colored cultivars, but I welcome the strong, clear colors they come in.

Pruning fruit trees

(And grapevines.) That is one of the usual outside garden jobs for February, and in recent years, even dormant oil sprays could be applied during warm spells occurring in February. This year I think we had better hold off on those tasks.

Boxwood bent open by heavy snow load. Selective interior pruning strengthens and tightens plants’ structures and minimizes such splitting.
Boxwood bent open by heavy snow load. Selective interior pruning strengthens and tightens plants’ structures and minimizes such splitting.

Since many modern fruit trees are grafted on dwarfing or semidwarfing stock, pruning is simplified: no longer much need to climb into the tree with pruning saw, loppers, and pruning clippers dangling from belts. Prune inward or overlong twigs back by about one-third to a spur, unless your cultivar is a tip-bearer.

The general idea is to let light and air into the tree’s crown. One pruning style is called cup, or goblet, with the aim of producing an open, cup-like structure of four or five main branches circling the open center of the tree, so all fruit gets maximum sun exposure and air flow.

Prune grapevines back to a framework, and then prune the laterals back to two buds. Grapevines begin to bleed very early in the season, so whenever the snows permit, do this job. Clematis vines also start into growth very early; clematis group three, whose blooms occur on new wood, may be cut down to about a foot above the ground now. Leave groups one and two alone.

The Nonstop Color Garden

While the Island is deeply snowbound, the ideal of color in the garden hovers like an elusive dream. Nellie Neal’s book, The Nonstop Color Garden: Design Flowering Landscapes & Gardens for Year-Round Enjoyment (Cool Springs Press, 192 pages) is a real how-to book for achieving just that. Here is a book for lovers of Technicolor. Main sections are “designing with color,” “problem solving with color,” and “plants for nonstop color.”

The book’s most unusual aspects are the uses of winter color, and the plant lists in the final “plants for nonstop color” section. The reproduction of the many color photographs is satisfying, and the drawings are clearly executed.

This otherwise useful book’s main drawback is that its photographs’ captions do not identify the many striking specimens illustrated, a consideration I have come to expect, but perhaps less important to those designing with color than to plants-people.

Blankets of snow protect birds and small animals.

Snow creates a tent-like structure on Everegreens. – Photo by Susan Safford

That was fun! All those snow days — yippee! (For a while, anyhow.) The winter-wonderland weather and storms are insuring that some of us get “a long winter’s nap,” while others, perforce, must work long hours to keep lives and essential services ticking along and operational. Thanks, and appreciation to all.

Winter storm Juno’s snow was dry and light, so fortunately it did not provide a particularly good example of dealing with winter damage to trees and shrubs; the aftermath, though, has been heavy on treacherous freezing rain and slush.

The time to clear snow accumulation from plantings is during the window of opportunity while the plants are still pliable, before the typical temperature plunges in the wake of low-pressure storms. Once it is frigid, it is almost impossible to avoid breaking twigs and branches; better to let them bend than to create more damage. If damage has occurred, attempt to clean up breaks with loppers or pruning saws, and stake up bent limbs later on. Beware of how brittle and heavy wood can become when cold.

When conifers are covered in snow, the snow blankets make valuable shelter for birds and small animals, enclosing a microclimate and a bit of open ground inside.

Island woods are full of standing dead timber that was toppled by Juno’s high winds. Many of these are hung up on surrounding trees, and present one of the more dangerous of situations: they are not called “widow makers” for nothing! Patience, and a couple more windstorms, may see them on the ground by gravity and rot.

I am hypothesizing here, but I suspect this may be a bad winter for deer damage, and that snow cover, if available, may provide some protection for plants that would otherwise become browse. The acorn crop seemed smaller in 2014, and deer herds may be wintering over in an undernourished state.

2015 award winners

Each year, various panels and trials of seeds and plants evaluate the season’s new offerings. Fleuroselect (fleuroselect.com), National Garden Bureau (ngb.org), All-America Selections (all-americaselections.org), Perennial Plant of the Year (perennialplant.org), and others have announced their 2015 results. Lengthy press releases and images are to be found at these web sites. Those who are online may have a fuller look there at what to expect for highlighted annuals, perennials, and vegetables this season.

Formerly pretty much taboo, hot apricot/orange color ranges figure in a number of selections. National Garden Bureau has chosen gaillardia as one of its Plants of the Year. Fleuroselect has named 2015 the Year of the Sunflower, which is good news for Island gardeners and cut-flower sellers. Sunflowers do well here, and are totally in sync with Island style. Furthermore, as an edible crop, usually from strains bred for large-size seed, they are not only for the birds. Sprouted sunflower seeds and sunflower microgreens are among the most nutritious things you can sprout on your kitchen counter. Start sunflower transplants in root trainers, for they resent disturbance.

My daughter gave me a birthday present of garden seeds, including a strain of sunflower seed, ‘Autumn Beauty,’ from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, whose color range sounds lovely. The pollenless kinds are useful for cut flowers, but for garden use, it is the pollen that is prized by beneficial insects. Other longtime sunflower favorites of mine are ‘Italian White,’ and another — not a Helianthus sunflower — tithonia, the flame-colored Mexican sunflower.

Members of the Garden Writers Association, to which I belong, receive many promotional press releases and free samples. A recently arrived complementary sample, a packet of MiniClover, a Trifolium repens product that is ready-inoculated with crop-specific rhizobia, interests me. According to the handout: “Use MiniClover for an environmentally friendly lawn alternative. Less fertilizer, less water, less or no mowing, and less herbicides characterize the remarkable traits of this new, small-leaf clover.” Go tooutsidepride.com for a look at the rest of the interesting offerings of this Oregon company, including seed for cover crops, pastures, ornamental and native grasses, flowers, and much more.

Orchid orphans

Many Islanders have acquired orchids from Wendy Oliver of Frosty Hollow Orchids, but most of mine have fallen into my hands because they are orphans from jobs. They have been left behind to expire at the end of their owners’ period of residence; most have no pot tags.

I have bought one or two supermarket orchids, but otherwise that is how I have come to possess this small collection of orchids I know little about; luckily, since this is the age of the Internet, I can glean some information online, enough to keep the plants mostly alive and flowering. An informative web site is orchidsbyhausermann.com.

Plants like Cymbidium, Odontoglossum, Miltonias, and some Paphiopedilum and Dendrobium prefer the cool 55° to 70°F temperature range, and would be ideal for conditions I have here, although the typical orphan is a phalaenopsis, or “moth” orchid. Phalaenopsis prefer warmer temperatures, but can tolerate the conditions I have.

All I knew about orchids when the first ones — they were Oncidiums Sweet Sugar ‘Kalendar’ — came into my possession was that they are mostly epiphytic and are grown in chunks of free-draining bark. Ha ha, there is a bit more to it than that, but it was sufficient to have kept those plants alive for more than 20 years! Now I know enough to see that repotting will help some, and that some may do better affixed to bark plaques and suspended from wires, which I intend to try.

Winter walk at Polly Hill Arboretum

PHA (pollyhillarboretum.org) offers free guided walks that encourage visitors to enjoy the spare elegance of winter interest that such an extensive collection provides. Naturally, in winter it is evergreens, both coniferous and broad-leaved, and bark effects that predominate, but the walkers will see precocious bloom too. Walks are scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 7, and Saturday, Feb. 14, at 10:00 am.

Homegrown

Homegrown will meet at Agricultural Hall Sunday, Feb. 15, at 3 pm to finalize onion and potato orders.