Garden Notes: Uncontrolled growth

Whether its species is human, plant, or animal, unbridled growth is something to watch out for.


As to what is happening with the weather, Hurricane Lee’s Atlantic path titillates in the news, adding a frisson of danger to coastal lives and visits. Despite what could very well become a dangerous and destructive storm, modern weather forecasting provides the insurance of solid information and tracking unavailable to earlier generations.

What is happening with climate, in contrast, is the more unnerving existential question. Most people know that, à la Bob Dylan, “Something is happening, but you don’t know what it is, /Do you, Mr. Jones?”


Local officials discuss the negative effects on our environment of Canada goose and deer increase, and controlling them. It would be good to hear them also acknowledge and debate controlling rampant development’s unrelenting pressures on this finite Island’s natural capital. Instead we must debate addling goose eggs and administering Premarin to deer.

Rampant growth and development are responsible for much observed disequilibrium, not only locally but also globally, not only economically but also ecologically. Climate is but one aspect of this, although it overarches all.

Why blame geese and deer, animals that have neither voice nor vote, when it is prominently we ourselves, Homo sapiens, who increase uncontrollably?


Native Plant Trust’s fall catalog of native plant events and programs is available at Check it out: from Art & Nature “Green Photography” to Horticulture & Design “Winter Pruning,” to Botany & Conservation “Native New England Shrubs,” — wide and interesting offerings will be presented at Garden in the Woods and other New England sites, some available by Zoom.

Cicada killer  

A large and ambiguous moving object next to my truck tire arrested my attention. What the heck was it? I couldn’t tell, and had to look more closely. Part of the object was revealed to be an oversize wasp, wings a-whir. It was sitting atop an even larger, overturned cicada, part-flying it/part-dragging it across the pea stone.

I took the photo (pictured) and shared it with Suzan Bellancampi. Her reply, “Gorgeous cicada killer wasp,” underscored what I had recently read about U.K. solitary wasps in the June edition of The Garden, and the role of Hymenoptera in gardens’ ecology and beauty.

From another source, “Garden Allies,” by Frederique Lavoipierre: “Don’t like wasps? Good news! Most mind their own business of hunting — and most insect pests on the planet have at least one wasp species that preys on it.”

In the case of the cicada killer, Sphecius speciosus: Despite the dangerous sounding name, it is a mild-mannered, large, solitary wasp whose life cycle is dedicated to catching and entombing hapless cicadas in underground galleries for its embryos to feed on.

The burrows of Sphecius speciosus are generally located between six and 10 inches down in warm, sandy soils, such as driveways, that the female can easily excavate for the galleries where she lays her eggs. Each one will be supplied with one of these feasts of cicada insect protein, or maybe even multiple cicada feasts.

There is nothing about this activity to vilify; it is just a part of nature, as are the cicadas themselves, chewing away on trees’ roots.

In addition to cicada killers, other solitary parasitic Hymenoptera you may encounter include mud dauber, thread-waisted, and sand wasps. Large, orange, spider-killer wasps are another with a ferocious-sounding name. They hunt large arachnids such as wolf spiders. Adults of all the above feed exclusively on nectar and pollen: Prey is for their progeny.

And speaking of spider-killer wasps, dodging webs of spiders such as orb weavers in gardens is easier when they are dew-laden! Observe as Argiope aurantia, the black and yellow garden spider, ingests enough insect protein to produce her large egg sac for next year’s spiders.

Native hawthorn?

“Crataegus, commonly called hawthorn, is a genus of several hundred species of shrubs and trees in the family Rosaceae, native to temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere.”  –Wikipedia

Along with many other thoughts relegated to the back burner, I had been dilatorily curious about a hawthorn (Crataegus) in my own garden. I had spotted and nurtured it as a small shrub when we bought this land. I eventually received some insights when the Island botanist sleuths Margaret Curtin and Greg Palermo were in my neighborhood on another mission.

They identified this hawthorn: “As we suspected, it is the native Crataegus flavida. It keyed out nicely. We have previously found only three other occurrences of Crataegus flavida, all in Edgartown, so it’s cool to have one in W.T. as well.”

According to Curtin and Palermo, native hawthorns were common on the Vineyard in earlier times. However, loss of previous habitats, wholesale land clearing, and development resulted in their gradual disappearance. While hawthorns may be found in planted landscapes and wayside areas, they are often species of European hawthorn, C. monogyna. Hawthorns’ thorny branches and haws provide wildlife protection and food.

According to Curtin, “Crataegus is a notoriously difficult genus to key out. There are many species and hybrids with overlapping characteristics, which make it difficult to key and identify species.”

In the garden
Shrubs such as rose of Sharon, ‘PeeGee’ hydrangea, crape myrtle, and early fall bloomers, such as grasses, asters, vernonia, salvia, and dahlias, colorfully hold the spotlight.

Remove and compost spent vegetable plants, such as squash vines; sow a quick-cover crop such as buckwheat in their place. Tired perennials can be cut back for tidiness and surveyed for division. Deadhead and cut back oakleaf hydrangeas.

However, garden debris that is left to overwinter provides for arthropods, their pupae, and eggs to survive until next year. Even hollow stems, that might be removed and composted, are locations for overwintering. The food chain for much wildlife also includes berries and seed heads. Even as we wish to eliminate “insect pests,” we must respect the web of life.