Come on over to the Sawyer Free Library tonight and learn how you can create a welcoming haven for birds, bees, and butterflies!
I spent the afternoon in New Hampshire today at my publisher’s warehouse picking up a batch of books. Although there was evidence of the drought all along the route, the lack of rain didn’t seem to effect these roadside beauties (or the intoxicated bee, see Instagram video below).
Europe took a significant step as a majority of EU member states voted for a partial ban of three bee-killer pesticides. This, despite fierce behind-the-scenes lobbying from insecticide firms Syngenta and Bayer. “A series of high-profile scientific studies has linked neonicotinoids to huge losses in the number of queens produced and big increases in “disappeared” bees – those that fail to return from foraging trips. Pesticide manufacturers and UK ministers have argued that the science is inconclusive and that a ban would harm food production, but conservationists say harm stemming from dying pollinators is even greater.” (The Guardian, UK).
It is a landmark vote and was supported by petitions signed by millions of people. Although it is only a two year ban, the hope is the ban will give the beleaguered bee a break, and allow time for reexamination of data. Under the EU measures, restricions on the following apply: for treating seeds, soil and leaves on flowering crops attractive to bees such as corn, sunflowers and rapeseed (the source of canola oil). The products may still be used on crops like winter wheat for which the danger to bees is deemed to be small. Use by home gardeners will be prohibited.
The three banned insecticides are imidacloprid, thiametoxam, and clothianidin. The neonicotinoid I see commonly listed on pesticides that are readily available to the home gardener is imidacloprid. I urge every home gardener not to use pesticides. I don’t use them, ever, in my own garden, and never in both the private and public gardens that I design and maintain. Several years ago, I reported that Alain Baraton, the head gardener at the Palace of Versailles stopped using pesticides at the palace gardens. Within the year, a natural balance began to take hold in the gardens, including the return of songbirds to the gardens which in turn eat the insects. If the no-pesticide policy is successful at Versailles, which receives millions upon millions of annual visitors, a pestide ban can certainly be implemented for our private homes and public spaces.
A dear friend of mine, Heidi Kost-Gross, is Vice Chair of the Natural Resources Commission for the Town of Wellesley (garden club readers–she is also President of the Federated Garden Club of Massachusetts). Heidi has been instrumental in pesticide reduction throughout Massachusetts. The Wellesley Natural Resources Commission has created an outstanding Pesticide Reduction Resource Guide for Citizens and Municipalities of Massachusetts, which is available for free to distribute anything found in the guide.
Magnolia viginiana and Eastern Carpenter Bee
Is there a tree more lovely in flower than the North American native dogwood?
Whether flowering with the classic white bracts, the stunning rubra bracts, or the less often seen pale, creamy rose-tinted bracts, our native dogwood (Cornus florida) never ceases to give pause for beauty given.
At this time of year when traveling along southern New England roadways we are graced by the beauty of the dogwood dotting sunny roadside borders where meets the woodland edge. The bracts and flowers emerge before the leaves, serving only to heighten their loveliness. The fresh beauty of the bract-clad boughs is offset by the impressionistic symphony of tree foliage unfurling, shimmering in hues of apple green, chartruese, moss, and lime peel.
*Bract – A bract is a leaf-like structure surrounding a flower or inflorescence. The colorful bracts of poinsettias, the hot pink bracts of bougainvillea, and the bracts of dogwoods are often mistaken for flower petals.
The open florets (pea-green colored) and unopened buds are surrounded by the rose red-shaded bracts.
Read about how to help prevent an attack by the lethal dogwood anthracnose.
Prunus armeniaca ‘Harglow’
The genus Prunus evokes a multitude of images of picturesque spring ﬂowering and summer fruit-bearing trees. The wands of branches shrouded in ﬁve-petal blossoms hold their color high up while the ﬂoor of the garden is carpeted in companionable tulips, jonquils, forget-me-nots, and lily of-the-valley. Falling blossoms swirling like snow sift their fragrant petals through the ﬂoral carpet, clinging and scattering along the pathways.
The apricot tree (Prunus armeniaca), abricocke as it was known of old, may seem like an odd selection of fruit tree for a garden in the northeastern region of the United States. Apricots are generally considered more suitable for a warmer Mediterranean climate, though several cultivars are hardy through zone ﬁve! Prunus armeniaca was formerly thought to originate from Armenia, therein the name armeniaca. There is little doubt that its original habitat was in the temperate areas of Asia. Never having seen a living apricot tree, nonetheless we were inspired to grow Prunus armeniaca from an old photograph of one pictured in an enclosed garden setting, as well as by our desire to make apricot tarts from our own tree-ripened fruit.
With its ornamental round-headed silhouette and broad, oval leaves, it is a tree of graceful beauty. The sweetly scented pure white ﬂowers issue forth from plump violet colored sepal-enclosed buds. The two colors of violet and white are visible while the tree is leaﬂess and in bloom and, from a distance, create the illusion of a delicately pale pink ﬂower. We sited our apricot tree at the top of our fragrant path to savor the lilting honey scent of its blossoms.
The apricot buds swell at the earliest hint of warm air and are the ﬁrst fruit bearing trees to ﬂower in our garden. Unfortunately the ﬂowers, and therefore the fruit crop, may be damaged by a late spring frost. Spring in New England is predictably unpredictable; some years the tree sets fruit and some years it does not. Nevertheless, the apricot is a worthy specimen for the beauty of its blooms and branches alone.
There are several varieties of European apricots that are suitable to grow in a northern climate. We chose ‘Harglow’. Named varieties beginning with ‘Har’ (‘Harval,’ ‘Hargrand,’ Harcot,’ and ‘Harlayne’) were developed in Canada at the Harrow Research Station. For the most part, these cultivars are resistant to fungal and bacterial diseases caused by exceedingly damp, wet springs and humid summers. They are an ideal choice for a garden in a temperate zone where the growing season is shorter than a Mediterranean climate and are grown extensively in the Paciﬁc Northwest.
Apricots are also a sound selection for the urban garden as they are less affected by air pollution than other fruit trees. ‘Harglow’ is a perfect cultivar for the small garden. They are self-pollinating and grown on a semi-dwarf rootstock, ultimately reaching only ﬁfteen to eighteen feet in height. For four seasons of beauty I encourage every gardener who lives in a suitable climate, including those with only a wee bit of space, to consider growing the elegant apricot tree. When planning where to site an apricot tree, choose a sunny, sheltered location out of the path of drying winter winds. Plant apricot trees in loose soil with excellent drainage. After the ﬁrst hard frost, cover the root area with several inches of compost. Water apricot trees deeply, once a week during the growing season and more if you are experiencing drought-like conditions.
Standard and semi-dwarf apricot trees require regular pruning to maintain their height for ease of harvesting fruit and to allow light and air to penetrate the interior of the tree. Most fruits are borne on one- to three-year-old spurs that look like short, stubby branchlets. To best see the overall shape of the tree, prune in late winter or early spring, just after ﬂowering, while the tree is leaﬂess.
Apricots are plagued by many of the same pests as peach trees. Be on the lookout for signs of the Oriental fruit moth and peachtree borer. Peachtree borers burrow into the bark of the tree, leaving a gummy exudate of sap and tree dust. To prevent this problematic creature from destroying the tree, wrap the trunk of a newly planted tree with strips of brown paper up to the ﬁrst lateral branch. Cultivate the soil four inches deep within the drip-line of the tree, being mindful of the tree’s root system. With its distinguishable black body banded with vermilion or yellow, the adult peach tree borer moth is easy to detect, and unlike most moths, this one ﬂies during the day. From the ﬁrst indication of an infestation of Oriental fruit moth, you will observe the new growing tips have a drooping and wilted appearance. Caused by adult moths burrowing into the tips of the tender new shoots, the subsequent generations of larvae will then burrow into the fruit. Cut (and discard) the infested twig tips back to healthy growth. Again, working the soil at the base of the tree will help to destroy the pupae and therefore any future attacks by the Oriental fruit moth. The adult Oriental fruit moth is a mottled gray-brown with a relatively small wingspan (1⁄2 inch).
At the ﬁrst sign of disease or pest problem, cut out the infected growth. Practicing good housekeeping and growing disease-resistant varieties may be the best remedies for growing healthy, strong fruit trees. Weak and stressed plants are at a much greater risk than those that are healthy and vigorous.
Apricots are ready to be picked when all traces of their green color have disappeared and they turn a glowing golden yellow. Gently grasp the fruit and pull with a bit of an upward twist. As with pear trees, do not pull the fruit off vigorously. The fruit-bearing spurs may be damaged, thereby reducing next year’s potential harvest. The Persians referred to apricots as “seeds of the sun.” Some cultivars (‘Stark Sweethearts’ for example) produce fruits with large and edible sweet pits inside the stone fruit. And since apricots and almonds are closely related, the edible pits taste characteristically like an almond.
Excerpt from Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities! Notes from a Gloucester Garden, written and illustrated by Kim Smith (David R. Godine, Publisher).