Saturday, June 25, 2011

A day in the Framingham woods

Azaleas as they come in our gardens is not a favorite of mine. Hysterical colors in a thick indistinguishable mass. But if you come to the Garden in the Woods and see the native Azaleas they have there, it's an absolutely stunning experience. As understory shrubs they stretch out and reach for the light and have none of that chubbiness that we are used to. The Swamp azalea below is fragrant as well.

This orange one is Flame Azalea - I think - it wasn't labeled and I didn't have my book. 
 As you can imagine, I'm even less a fan of Rhododendrons. I think they are ugly and outdated and I want to rip them out from every boring front yard I see them in. The only exception so far being these I found today next to the azaleas. Why don't we see more of these, not so overcrowded with flowers, and in intense but more "natural" colors?

Today I also revisited this great native lawn alternative. Wouldn't you wanna take a walk on this soft and beautiful sedge lawn? It looks like a plush rug for your outdoor living room. And it doesn't require irrigation, mowing, fertilization or pesticides.
 If you are short of space in your garden, the keyhole design lets you put more in accessibly than the regular straight beds.

In the section about edible natives, the Three Sisters are growing again just like last year when I was there volonteering. It is a technique that have been around for thousands of years. Archeological evidence in New Hampshire's America's Stonehenge have shown that corn, beans and squash were grown together already 5.000 years ago. The beans climb up the corn stalks, and the squash cover the ground as living mulch. The beans fix nitrogen from the air and transfer it to the soil.

I did the Three Sister thing in my back yard a few years ago. The beans were fantastic and I got a few squashes, but the corn all went to the birds, which I am completely fine with.

This Swamp milkweed is so close to bursting - the buds are great looking too.

I clearly heard this frog several times give up his string-like sound, but while I was waiting with the video camera running he of course didn't make a peep.

Down by the meadow flowers are already growing tall, although it's still early for most of the flowers growing there. Later in the year this place is almost dizzying in it's plentiness of bees and buzzing and 6-7 ft tall flowers like Joe Pyeweed, Culver's root, Mountain mints, Ironweed and others.

I actually have no idea what this yellow Lupine looking flower is. Obviously the name does not matter to all the bees that frantically buzzed around it as if their last minute was near.

This is not a great picture, but it does show a Baltimore Oriole in my neighbor's cherry tree. My generous neighbor has long time ago resigned to the fact that the birds get the berries before he gets a chance.  And I get to watch the show every season.

Another bee favorite is this Catalpa tree flower. Look at the colorful landing pads and intriguing dots meant to securely guide the bee all the way in to the holy nectar. Although even a blind bee wouldn't miss this tree since it also has a wonderful honey sweet fragrance lingering in my neighborhood right now.
This last picture is of the wildflower plantings outside my community garden. Tall Meadow rue - over 6 ft tall this year!

Friday, June 10, 2011

From my own street

This is my community garden plot, and these are my first 2 strawberries.

Question mark butterfly. First time I saw its name, in a long list of butterfly species, I thought it was a typo that had left the publishing house unnoticed. 

Down the street in a windowsill on some pansies, this snowwhite moth with a beige stripe rested for almost 30 minutes. I would love to know its name, if anyone can tell. I wrote to some site on the net and sent a picture, but they have not replied yet.

An early Monarda, Beebalm, is planted outside the community garden plots in a section of native prairie plants.

There is also this amazing Golden Alexander, Zizi Aurea, a member of the Parsley and Dill family. As all of the members of that family, this is a host plant for the Black Swallowtail butterfly. Last year I saw a caterpillar munching on my curly parsley for a week, but then I went on vacation so I never saw what happened. I've read about people "ranching" butterflies - when they find eggs or caterpillars they bring the leaves inside in a vase protected under a net, and watch the caterpillar grow bigger and bigger. You will keep putting fresh leaves inside, and in this netted shelter the caterpillar eventually builds its cocoon. When it finally comes out, you will have some time to admire your butterfly until it has dried its wings and is ready to be released and fly away. If I find any caterpillars on my parsley this year I will definitively try it.

The Arrowwood is planted right next to a Sassafras tree. I love that word: sassafras, sassafras, sassafras

Look how gorgeous it is! Arrowwood has great blue berries that are timed to be ripe when the fall migrating birds are fattening up before their long trip. 

A delirious bumblebee
 Fringe tree or Old Man's beard. I wish I could show you the sweet lovely scent its flowers emit. One day I want one planted under my window so I can smell it during these warm summer evenings.

I really like Oakleaf Hydrangeas. They are native to the South east and I don't know how common they really are. But look at those buds! I'll report more from this one shortly.

Finally the view from my third floor porch - the Chinese dogwood is outdoing itself this year, despite all the years I've spent hacking away at it in my attempts to prune it.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

In Arcadia

Last Saturday I went on a looooong drive to Mass Audubon Arcadia Wildlife sanctuary in Western Mass. I'm a huge fan of Boot Boutwell's nature walks and this one was on my favorite subject, native American shrubs. Now you may think that sounds pretty uninteresting. It's hard to explain it to someone who is not already hooked. But if you have always liked walking in the woods and are fascinated by all things natural, it will give greater pleasure and a stronger sense of connection if you can give names to the things you see around you. And the more you know the more you see.


I would love to be that kind of person who can look at a landscape and conclude what kind of soil, minerals and elevation we are dealing with, what animals we are likely to run in to, what other plants we can expect to see, and the history and present of the place. One thing not many of us know is that pretty much all of Massachusetts was farmed - there were no woods left at all for centuries.

Today, animal pastures or farm fields have again returned to the forested state they once were in. The trees are slowly but methodically taking back the land they were once cleared from. But if you know what to look for you can see the traces of the farm uses. An interesting book on this subject is "Reading the forested landscape" by Tom Wessels. He teaches how to read signs of the forest that will tell if it has been fire, farm or storm that shaped a landscape. He also tells how the Native Americans treated the land - they used fire and controlled burns to prevent the woods from growing too dense and too hard to hunt in.

Right at the beginning of the trail was a planting with the Columbines above. Then we immediately entered the dark moist woods and battled mosquitos with one spray bottle after another. I still have like a hundred bites, at least that's what it feels like.

We soon saw a Witch hazel. What Boot teaches us is to learn tricks to identify what we see, and Witch hazel has a number of things unique - one of them being this little leaf gall called Witch's cap. 
A gall is a plant's response to something that attacks it. An insect or a fungus start to damage the plant, and the plant then grows an abnormal growth to protect itself. There are thousands of different galls and they can be very helpful in identifying something.

Then we saw this little Tulip tree, also easy to recognize - no other tree has leaves like this.

The path took us to a clearing next to a field. There we saw plants that thrive in that particular environment. Sumacs, flowering Blackberries and Multiflora rose grew wild in a happy entangled thicket.

For a moment I paid no attention to our guide, and I sat down in the tall grass next to the field.

A straw of grass is an infinite world. Sit down and you'll hear an endless buzz of thousands of creatures, for whom this grass is all there is.

 A stinkbug.

A catydid?

And who knows his name and what part he plays in his little universe.

An intense color and fragrance.

The path moved on, wild Grape vines forming an arch above us.

Poison Ivy and Virginia Creeper vines climbed up the tallest trees.

 And there she was! Almost following us from tree to tree. A few minutes later we saw her with a chipmunk hanging from her sharp talons.

 A great Jack-in-the-pulpit:

And some Meadow Rue which I absolutely adore.

Another favorite which I never have seen in the wild before is the Pagoda Dogwood tree, called so because of it's branching. There were several beauties blooming.

Some flowers up close

Some parts of the river had really expanded, but it didn't seem to bother these cherry trees in bloom.

 The shagbark Hickory looks like something from a fairy tale.

This is Hop Hornbeam.

We left the riverside, passed through a dense Hemlock forest where I was happy to see no signs of the Wooly Adelgid. Then we were greeted with this beautiful sight:

Sunlit American Chestnut leaves. They were small root sprouts of a former stand of big Chestnuts who since have been killed by the blight. We saw several healthy ones, and a few that was girdled about 3 ft from the ground by the fungus. Everything above the girdle was dead, but below it there was still healthy branches. The roots of the old ones are still alive, but when they die, that might be the very end of it, unless they manage to breed a new variety that has stronger resistance to this disease.

We also saw this funny looking sprouts on a Sweet Birch. Most likely some kind of gall, but no one really knew why it grew in this manner. It didn't seem to harm the rest of the tree.

These guys somehow reminded me of kittens or soft furry puppies all hanging out together in a soft cuddly mass. Tent caterpillars can also be destructive I'm sure, but perhaps people mostly don't like them because of the ugly "tents" they build?

Plants are always under attack from a variety of enemies: insects, fungi, bacteria, viruses. When I heard a lecture in plant pathology I remember thinking it was surprising anything survived at all. But plants have defenses that can keep them strong in many ways - unless the onslaught is too strong at once. This Arrowwood Viburnum stand no chance against these Viburnum Weevils that quickly defoliates the plant completely. A plant without leaves cannot survive.

And at last a greeting from a busy frog in the shallow pool. Arcadia is a great park with a visitor's Center and many activities year round. Hope you get a chance to see it some day!