Garden Notes: Seeing your garden as part of nature

And the saga of winning the lottery.


The autumnal equinox’s rainstorm last Thursday measured over an inch in the rain gauge here, and produced a stunning sunset and rainbow, as the front came through. Fall has arrived!

It is the season of ripening seedheads, berries, and fruits. Sad to say, there are almost no beach plums, although poisonous pokeweed is spectacular. Flocks of migratory birds are traveling through, harvesting to fuel their passage. Fungi are popping up all over the place; exercise caution with what you collect. Caterpillars are busy munching; spiders are preying. These episodes — roles in nature — all require our respectful notice.

‘The Garden Paradigm Is Changing’

See your garden as part of the ecosystem. Andrew Bunting’s “The Garden Paradigm Is Changing” guidelines (recent article in The Swarthmorean, here compressed) are for managing gardens in ways that are environmentally positive. Bunting is Pennsylvania Horticultural Society vice president of horticulture.

  • Your garden and what you do in it are part of a larger natural system.
  • Expand your gardening space by reducing lawn as well as pavement, and other impervious surfaces.
  • Use all-organic fertilizers, soil amendments, and other treatments for any problems in your garden.
  • Compost yard waste and food scraps, enriching your soil while decreasing material going to landfills.
  •  Make gardens habitats by incorporating wildlife-friendly elements.
  • Mitigate stormwater runoff.
  • Look for manual and electric alternatives to gas-powered machines.

The lottery

Apropos of ‘Trees Are the Answer,’ I want to share that I won the lottery. Let me describe, because it is not the “big bucks” one.

Back in August, I received an email from American chestnut growers in Quakertown, Pa., announcing that they had finally raised a crop of Castanea dentata to sellable size, the ‘Lee’ strain.

The tubelings (deep plugs) would be available on a first-come, first-served basis, with this honor code proviso: “If you have any doubts about your ability to protect and care for your chestnuts, or your ability to plant them in an appropriate location, please do not place an order.”

ArcheWild means business! (I believe I have these conditions; although if I possessed my Gazette colleague Suzan Bellincampi’s wit, I might’ve attempted a quip about “pulling my chestnuts out of the fire.”)

Vividly imagining a chestnut seedling run like an Argentinian bank run, I fired up the printer that spat out the application form (no online sales), and wrote my check; that was the only ‘big bucks’ part of this story. It was stressful: Would there be any left? I got it into the mail the next morning in an unparalleled spasm of efficiency.

I came home from work last week to find a carton with the order of chestnut seedlings. Ta-dah — bingo, I won the lottery.

I transferred the tubelings into larger nursery pots; I hope I can nurture them to plantable size. There is nothing assured about trying to grow American chestnuts, even ones from carefully selected and back-bred stock carrying an honor code.

Stresses of drought and declining air quality have made most, if not all, tree species vulnerable; the fungal blight issues that killed off the magnificent stands of this incredibly significant North American forest tree continue to exist, still.

For eons before their demise, chestnut trees, and their mast, supported both humans and wildlife, and were later an important source of hardwood lumber. Many older houses contain flooring, paneling, and furniture constructed of the “chestnut brown” wood.

When we buy chestnuts to roast or to cook with (thinking of the delectable Mont Blanc dessert), today they are either imported European nuts of C. sativa, or those of Asian species. Chestnut flour is a choice and valuable baking supply, a nutritious adjunct for people allergic to other grains.

If you are truly interested in helping to recover the American chestnut, educate yourself about the Darling 58 program. The link is to a 15-minute video:

Rodent problem

My husband trapped and destroyed a fat male rat recently that he estimated weighed about a pound! No wonder, feasting nightly in our garden.

Mice invading houses are creating major annoyance; other rodent problems abound. Reports of rat roadkill accumulate. Mice, voles, rats, chipmunks (Are squirrels and chipmunks rodents? Yes). Their roles in nature sure do grab our disrespectful attention.

What to do? The quick ’n’ dirty answer is to place poison bait. It is temporarily effective. Unhappily, poison baits eventually rise through our environment’s food chain, and may poison our dog, cat, or other unintended victims, such as hawks and owls.

Another solution is to trap and destroy, but without poison, this is effective against voles especially. In several client gardens, we see voles creating visible trails; these may be easy to stake out with traps.

Another eco-possibility is to encourage our nocturnal hunters, the Island owl population. Screech owls are relatively common on the Vineyard; barn owl population is precarious. Does your woodland contain habitat trees, snags where owls can find nesting holes? Do you have a shed or garage that could accommodate a barn-owl box? We got a cat.

In the garden

Dusty lavender-gray with mulberry reverse, ‘Crème de Cassis’ is but one of many dahlias that were developed for the cut-flower trade, with good stems, floriferousness, and bushy growth reducing need for staking. I love them planted across one end of our dooryard garden, with a background of other pastel dahlias, pale pink phlox ‘Miss Holland,’ lavender verbena bonariensis, blue and pink asters, and the cloud-like Euphorbia corollata and aster ‘Monte Cassino.’

Native Plant Trust

Native Plant Trust has released its fall and winter catalog for programs and classes for 2022–23, with a wide variety of course materials, including online learning. Go to for information.