If you are looking to be inspired by creatures and colors of the upcoming season, and what to plant to make your garden a welcoming haven for wildlife, please join me tonight at 7pm. I am super excited to be presenting “The Pollinator Garden” for the Mass Pollinator Network. Because it is a Keynote presentation, I was able to add and collage many more photos. The presentation looks great and is chock full of ideas for your pollinator paradise. I hope to see you there!
Monarchs were on the move over the weekend, not only on Cape Ann, but all over northern and northeastern regions of the country* very solid numbers of migrating Monarchs are being shared, from Ontario, to upstate New York, Michigan, and Maine.
Lets keep our hopes up for good weather for the Monarchs on the next leg of their journey southward!
*Ninety percent of the Monarch Butterfly migration takes place east of the Rocky Mountains.
If you would like to help support the Monarchs, think about creating a milkweed patch in your garden. The best and most highly productive milkweed for Monarch caterpillars is Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), the milkweed we see growing in our local marshes and dunes. The seed heads are ripe for plucking when they have split open and you can see the brown seeds and beautiful floss.
MILKWEEDS (ASCLEPIAS SPP.) ARE NOTORIOUSLY DIFFICULT TO GERMINATE. But don’t despair. The Wildflower Center has developed and tested a protocol that results in good germination rates for a number of our native milkweed species. Follow this process and you’ll soon be on your way to supporting monarchs, bumblebees and tons of other insects that depend on milkweed plants. READ the complete article here.
PART THREE: SUMMER
The most joyous story about Cape Ann wildlife during the summer months of 2018 is the story of the high number of Monarch butterflies and caterpillars in gardens and meadows, seen not only in strong numbers along the Massachusetts coastline, but throughout the butterfly’s breeding range–all around New England, the Great Lakes region, Midwest, and Southern Canada.
Three days after celebrating the two week milestone of our one remaining Piping Plover chick, Little Pip, he disappeared from Good Harbor Beach. It was clear there had been a bonfire in the Plover’s nesting area, and the area was overrun with dog and human tracks. The chick’s death was heartbreaking to all who had cared so tenderly, and so vigilantly, for all those many weeks.
Our Mama and Papa were driven off the beach and forced to build a nest in the parking lot because of dogs running through the nesting area. Despite these terrible odds, the Good Harbor Beach Piping Plover pair hatched four adorable, healthy chicks, in the parking lot. Without the help of Gloucester’s DPW, the Piping Plover volunteer monitors, Ken Whittaker, Greenbelt’s Dave Rimmer, and the AAC, the parking lot nest would have been destroyed.
These brave little birds are incredibly resilient, but as we have learned over the past three years, they need our help to survive. It has been shown time and time again throughout the Commonwealth (and wherever chicks are fledging), that when communities come together to monitor the Piping Plovers, educate beach goers, put in effect common sense pet ordinances, and reduce trash, the PiPl have at least a fighting chance to survive.
Little Pip at twelve- through seventeen-days-old
All four chicks were killed either by crows, gulls, dogs, or uneducated beach goers, and in each instance, these human-created issues can be remedied. Ignoring, disregarding, dismissing, or diminishing the following Piping Plover volunteer monitor recommendations for the upcoming 2019 shorebird season at Good Harbor Beach will most assuredly result in the deaths of more Piping Plover chicks.
Not one, but at least two, healthy and very hungry North American River Otters families are dwelling at local ponds, with a total of seven kits spotted. We can thank the fact that our waterways are much cleaner, which has led to the re-establishment of Beavers, and they in turn have created ideal habitat in which these beautiful, social mammals can thrive.
Several species of herons are breeding on our fresh water ponds and the smaller islands off the Cape Ann coastline. By midsummer, the adults and juveniles are seen wading and feeding heartily at nearly every body of water of the main island.
In order to better understand and learn how and why other Massachusetts coastal communities are so much more successful at fledging chicks than is Gloucester, I spent many hours studying and following Piping Plover families with chicks at several north of Boston beaches.
In my travels, I watched Least Terns (also a threatened species) mating and courting, then a week later, discovered a singular nest with two Least Tern eggs and began following this little family, too.
Least Tern Family Life Cycle
Maine had a banner year fledging chicks, as did Cranes Beach, locally. Most exciting of all, we learned at the Massachusetts Coastal Waterbird meeting that Massachusetts is at the fore of Piping Plover recovery, and our state has had the greatest success of all in fledging chicks! This is a wonderful testament to Massachusetts Piping Plover conservation programs and the partnerships between volunteers, DCR, Mass Wildlife, the Trustees, Greenbelt, Audubon, and US Fish and Wildlife.
Friends Jan Crandall and Patti Papows allowed me to raid their gardens for caterpillars for our Cape Ann Museum Kids Saturday. The Museum staff was tremendously helpful and we had a wonderfully interested audience of both kids and adults!
In August I was contacted by the BBC and asked to help write the story about Monarchs in New England for the TV show “Autumnwatch: New England,. Through the course of writing, the producers asked if I would like to be interviewed and if footage from my forthcoming film, Beauty on the Wing, could be borrowed for the show. We filmed the episode at my friend Patti’s beautiful habitat garden in East Gloucester on the drizzliest of days, which was also the last day of summer.
The exquisite Greek Revival architecture of The Mary Prentiss Inn complements perfectly our lively pollinator paradise, bursting with blossoms and bees. We’ve layered the garden in an array of nectar-rich perennials and annuals that bloom from spring through fall and the garden has become mecca for neighborhood pollinators (including seed-seeking songbirds).
Plant for the pollinators and they will come!
Perfectly lovely prior to turning the old garden into a pollinator paradise, but everyone agreed, it was time for a change.
All are welcome at The Mary Prentiss Inn, people and pollinators!
We’ve planted the front dooryard garden with an array of eye-catching, fragrant, and nectar rich flora for both guests and neighbors to enjoy, and to sustain the growing number of bees, butterflies, and songbirds frequenting the garden.
The Mary Prentiss is a stunning twenty-room Greek-Revival style inn located on a quiet street minutes away from Harvard Square. Elegant, comfortable, and charming, with period architectural detail and decor, the Inn is outfitted with all modern amenities. Visit The Mary Prentiss Inn website for more information.
The Mary Prentiss Inn is located at 6 Prentiss Street, Cambridge. Call 617-661-2929 or visit maryprentissinn.com
My friend Patti Papows very thoughtfully invited me to come film and take photos in her gorgeous garden, especially her milkweed patch. Patti purchased milkweed plants from our Cape Ann Milkweed Project several years ago, both the Common and Marsh Milkweed that we offered.
Patti’s Common Milkweed has really taken off this year. The plants are about five feet tall, lush and healthy, and bursting with sweetly fragrant blossoms. The Monarchs are daily visitors, coming not by the ones and twos, but by the dozen. Not only are her milkweed blossoms beckoning to the Monarchs, but the plants are also attracting every bee species imaginable found in a Cape Ann garden, as well as myriad other pollinating insects.
I showed Patti how to find Monarch caterpillars. She found three in about three minutes; we weren’t even trying that hard! They are safer from spiders in my terrariums, so I brought her tiny caterpillars home where they are developing nicely alongside a dozen Monarch eggs. These eggs were discovered in my garden, and at the Common Milkweed plants growing along the edges of the Good Harbor Beach parking lot.
Patti’s patch of native high bush blueberries attracts loads of Catbirds, and dozens more species of songbirds and small mammals. This morning the foliage made a perfect perch for a male Monarch butterfly.
Patti placed the purple chair in the midst of the milkweed patch so that visitors can enjoy being surrounded by the beautiful pollinators buzzing all around and the delightful fragrance emitted by the Common Milkweed. I tried it out and her plan worked, it is pure Heaven!
I had an absolutely wonderful morning filming and photographing, despite the limiting overcast skies, and plan to return on a sunnier day, hopefully this week while the Monarchs are here on Cape Ann busy egg-laying and pollinating our gardens!
Patti shares that at the end of the day, her Monarchs are nectaring from the flowering hosta. She sent these photos this morning, taken yesterday afternoon with her cell phone.
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).