Grow these 10 Native Woodland Wildflowers for Pollinators

Every April I look forward to the appearance of our native wildflowers in our woodlands. Not only are they beautiful but they provide critical early nectar for our pollinators (bees, moths, and butterflies, all of which need some love.  There are nearly 4000 species of native ground and twig nesting bees in the U.S., with several hundred in Vermont – such diversity is critical for long-term survival on a rapidly changing planet.  Native bees currently pollinate many crops in addition to wildflowers and pollinator/plant adaptations have evolved, whether it is blooming time or blossom shape, to mutually benefit both species.

A question I often get from clients is “how can I establish a blooming carpet of native wildflowers in my own woods?”  The most adventurous approach would be to try to propagate your own – see Bill Cullina’s very thorough book on the subject:

cullina Grow these 10 Native Woodland Wildflowers for PollinatorsThe New England Wild Flower Society Guide to Growing and Propagating Wildflowers of the United States and Canada

If you don’t have an existing stand of plants on your property, please DO NOT collect them from the wild.  Instead, you can purchase seed and bareroot plants from an online source such as Prairie Moon Nursery, or even better, purchase container plants from a local nursery.  Up until recently Northeast native wildflowers have not been that readily available in most garden centers, but that is changing thanks to the efforts of wholesale grower Van Berkum Nursery, which sells a line of native plants called New England Woodlanders®, and NEWFS at Garden in the Woods and Nasami Farm, which sells natives to garden centers as well as retail.

Here I have listed my Top 10 New England Woodland Wildflowers that will be easier to find, as well as some fun facts and growing tips:

Photo
Common name
Latin name
Growing Tip
Fun Fact
Flower hepatica 150x150 Grow these 10 Native Woodland Wildflowers for Pollinators

Hepatica, Anemone americana

Round-lobed Hepatica, and Sharp-lobed HepaticaAnemone americana, and Anemone acutilobaGrows on wooded slopes in rich alkaline soils. 1/3 of flowers are white in Vermont dense forest, making them easier to find by pollinators.Blooms before trees leaf out; evergreen; was used for "snake oil" cures for the liver in the 1800's due to its leaf shape. 40 species of insects visit the flowers, mostly native solitary bees and bumblebees; ants disperse the seeds.
columbine 150x150 Grow these 10 Native Woodland Wildflowers for Pollinators

Wild Red Columbine

Wild Red ColumbineAquilegia canadensislikes dry rocky slopes; seeds are nicked as they roll down through gravel crevices, increasing germinationLarval host for the Dusky Wing Butterfly; Only Bumblebee and Ruby-Throated Hummingbird tongues are long enough to reach the nectar in tips of spurs - other insects get impatient and chew holes; Aquilegia = Eagle, spurs resemble claws; bloom time coincides with migratory arrival of hummingbirds
IMG 8811 e1393367320293 150x150 Grow these 10 Native Woodland Wildflowers for Pollinators

Marsh Marigold in Monkton, VT

Marsh MarigoldCaltha palustrisprefers moist boggy soil, can grow in shallow standing water in springAppears as plain yellow to humans but insects see nectar guidelines to a dark center in UV light;
claytonia virginica 150x150 Grow these 10 Native Woodland Wildflowers for Pollinators

Claytonia virginica

Spring BeautyClaytonia virginicacan carpet large areas on woodland margins, in small grassy clearings in woodlands; flower to seed in 2 weeks; true ephemeralCarpets woodland edges; flowers are white to pink with deeper pink lines that serve as a nectar guide; flowers open above 52° F since andrenid bees need 55° for flight.
dutchmans breeches 150x150 Grow these 10 Native Woodland Wildflowers for Pollinators

Dutchmans Breeches

Dutchman's BreechesDicentra cucullariaRich loamy soils; often inbetween rocky areas; small underground white bulblets found a few inches below ground; loses its leaves after floweringBloom synched with Queen bumblebees emerging from their ground nests; seeds carried by ants
trout lily 150x150 Grow these 10 Native Woodland Wildflowers for Pollinators

Trout lily

Trout LilyErythronium americanumplants don't flower until they are 4-7 yrs old; best propagated by bulb offsets; grows on moist woodland floors; flowers close on overcast daysOnly bumblebee tongue long enough to reach nectar; blooms along trout streams, has leaves spooted like the fish and blooms when anglers return to streams in spring; reliant on pollinators to reproduce
Podophyllum peltatum 150x150 Grow these 10 Native Woodland Wildflowers for Pollinators

Podophyllum peltatum

MayapplePodophyllum peltatumThrives in moist soil; spreads to form large colonies spreading with rhizomes; can grow under pines in dry semi-shadeWhite flower develops into large fruits in the fall that are a favorite food of box turtles
Sanguinaria canadensis Bloodroot 150x150 Grow these 10 Native Woodland Wildflowers for Pollinators

Sanguinaria canadensis

Bloodrootsanguinaria canadensisgrows in rich forests and hillsides, leaves and flowers emerge at the same time (developed underground the year before); Only member of its genus in the world; red juice was used by Native Americans to dye clothes and paint faces; remains on cloudy days when Andrena bees aren't flying to conserve pollen
IMG 5484 150x150 Grow these 10 Native Woodland Wildflowers for Pollinators

Trillium grandiflorum

Large-Flowered TrilliumTrillium grandiflorumplant is 4-years old from seed before it shows its 3 leaves, and 16-17 years old before flowering. T. grandiflorum found on alkaline soils; flowers turn pink as they ageTrillium= 3 leaves, 3petals, 3-celled ovaries, 3-ribbed berries; Look for bloom as the trees are beginning to leaf out and Robins return (why its called Wake Robin); polinated by bumblebees
uvularia grandiflora 150x150 Grow these 10 Native Woodland Wildflowers for Pollinators

Uvularia grandiflora

Large MerrybellsUvularia grandifolialikes rich moist alkaline soil; drought tolerant once establishedSeeds are carried in inflated star-shaped capsules

 

Our Essential List of Native Plant Nurseries

P painted lady web Our Essential List of Native Plant Nurseries

Aster oblongifolius ‘October Skies’ providing later nectar for a Frittilary in one of our meadows

Over the last five years the number of native plant nurseries has grown in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic making it easier to find sources of native plants that are adapted to our growing conditions and are appropriate for use in our landscapes.  Many excellent Vermont retail garden centers are also expanding their stock of native plants – check the Green Works website to find one close to you.

Clients often ask me where we get our plants, so here are a few of our favorite wholesale growers.  If you are trying to locate plants in large quantities we can acquire them for you (see below) or help you with a design.   I’ll start with the growers closest to us and then go further afield:

Cobble Creek 150x150 Our Essential List of Native Plant Nurseries

Cobble Creek Nursery

Cobble Creek Nursery is our wholesale source for native trees and shrubs in Bristol, VT.  John and Patti Padua and their staff are some of the most knowledgeable plant people in Vermont and are very active in Green Works, the VT Nursery and Landscape Association.  Tim and I learn something new every time we walk through the aisles at Cobble Creek, and we occasionally bring clients with us when we select their plants.

Van Berkum 150x150 Our Essential List of Native Plant Nurseries

Van Berkum Nursery

Van Berkum Nursery is in Deerfield, NH and is our primary source for native New England and Appalachian Woodland Perennials as well as plants that are indigenous and grow well in meadow-like conditions.  Several retail nurseries in VT carry their plants – check the Van Berkum website.

Vt wetland Our Essential List of Native Plant Nurseries

Asclepias incarnata

Vermont Wetland Plant Supply is a wholesale nursery owned by Dan Redondo in Orwell VT, who grows and sells herbaceous wetland plants primarily for the ecological restoration industries, but he also supplies plants for residential ponds and natural swimming pools.  If we need to plant near a wetland, pond, lake or stream, Dan is our man.  It also happens that one of his employees, Lena Curtis, spends her days collecting seed locally of wetland species, and her nights here at our farm, so we get the inside scoop on all things wetland.

Intervale Conservation Nursery 150x150 Our Essential List of Native Plant Nurseries

Intervale Conservation Nursery

Intervale Center Conservation Nursery - The Intervale Conservation Nursery (ICN) grows native riparian trees and shrubs for conservation projects statewide.  Their plants are grown from seeds or cuttings, collected from native wild populations in Vermont.  Their catalog is a wonderful resource for learning the species that grow in riparian zones in VT.

 

Project native 150x150 Our Essential List of Native Plant Nurseries

Project native

Project Native is non-profit wholesale and retail nursery in Housatonic, MA.  They grow about 200 varieties of Northeast native plants (mostly perennials), have started a Berkshire seed bank, and also host lots of educational events.

Nasami 150x150 Our Essential List of Native Plant Nurseries

Nasami Farm

Nasami Farm is the Nursery arm of the New England Wildflower Society and is located near Garden in the Woods in Whately, MA.  They recently build a LEED Platinum building for education, research and retail sales.  They collect NE native seeds from the wild and then focus on propagation and research to bring different and hard-to-grow plants into production.  They also partner with local nurseries (like Van Berkum) to grow propagated plants to retail size.

 

American Beauties Our Essential List of Native Plant Nurseries

American Beauties

American Beauties is a line of native plants from Pride’s Corner Farms in Lebanon,CT, who also happens to be the grower for the LiveRoof plant modules for our Green Roof planting of the Burlington Airport.  We have been very pleased with the large 2-gal size containers and use them for NWF Schoolyard Habitats where we need instant impact.  The American Beauties website is a wonderful interactive learning tool.

 

North Creek Our Essential List of Native Plant Nurseries

North Creek Nurseries

North Creek Nurseries in Landenberg, PA is our source for plugs, and they are constantly innovating, developing stronger varieties of native plants and exploring the use of ecological materials such as biochar in their soil mixes.  We couldn’t plant meadows without them.  They are wholeslae only but are a terrific resource for all native plant enthusiasts.

 

roundstone 150x150 Our Essential List of Native Plant Nurseries

Roundstone Native Seed

Roundstone Native Seed is the leading source for ecotype seed (regionally adapted, scientifically designed mixes used by The Nature Conservancy, NRCS, and Ecological Restoration companies).   Everything from native grasses, wildflowers, woodland edge and pollinator mixes, you can also build your own custom mix online.  Min order is only 1 lb. of seed - www.roundstoneseed.com.

 

We will be having a Native Plant Sale and Spring Open House here at the farm on Saturday May 24th, so mark your calendars.  I will post a list of available plants by April 1st – its a good idea to email me a list of what you want before April 15th so I’ll be sure to reserve it for you.  We will have plants available from many of the sources listed above and it’s a great opportunity for you to buy native plants specifically selected for the Vermont landscape at a great price, especially if you’re planning a large planting and want smaller plants.

  

Jeepers Peepers! How to make an Amphibian Happy

We love our spring chorus of frogs – it’s one of the best parts of living in a place that’s still fairly wild.  Spring is officially announced by a jubilant symphony of birds in the morning and mating calls of some of our most familiar amphibians in the evening, especially spring peepers.  So how do we make sure our landscapes will continue to have healthy, happy amphibians for generations to come?  Three crucial steps - learn more about them, design and maintain landscapes that protect their habitat (ponds, marshes, slow shallow streams, vernal pools) and share the experience in a fun way with children and adults.

So let’s have a little Amphibian Quiz – Can you name the 15 Amphibians (salamanders, toads, newts and frogs) breeding in April in VT?  I can’t ID them all yet, but Mary Holland sure can – she lists them in her book Naturally Curious, which chronicles New England flora and fauna month-by-month.  (I’ll give you the answer at the bottom of the post).

Here are three of the most common frogs and toads that you’ll hear this spring, a few fun facts about each and some ID tips including a recording of their call:

 

toad singing 300x233 Jeepers Peepers! How to make an Amphibian Happy

American Toad singing

American Toad -

  • There is a large bean-shaped gland behind their eyes that contains a neurotoxin that deters predators, but eastern hognose snakes can still eat them.
  • American toads dig themselves backwards into the soil in the fall and spend the winter hibernating 12″ below the surface
  • They are primarily nocturnal and solitary but during their peak breeding season in late April they appear during the day
  • They lay their eggs in two gelatinous strings of black pearls
  • American Toad call

 

Spring Peeper I 150x150 Jeepers Peepers! How to make an Amphibian Happy

Spring Peeper

Spring Peepers

  • these are small frogs about 1″ long with an “X” on their backs
  • spring peepers can freeze as solid as a rock for several months during hibernation and then, on a warm day, thaw out in a few hours and resume a normal, active life.
  • Female can lay up to 800 eggs, either singly or in small groups, on plants within the male’s territory. The frogs remain joined (a position known as “amplexus”) for up to four hours.  After egg-laying and fertilization is completed, the female peeper returns to the woods; the male remains at the pond and resumes singing.
  • Spring Peeper call

 

wood frog 150x150 Jeepers Peepers! How to make an Amphibian Happy

wood frog

Wood Frog

  • Has amazing camouflage that helps them blend in on the forest floor.  They have a black marking over the eyes that looks like a robber’s mask.
  • During winter, they take shelter in leaf litter and can freeze solid like Peepers. They stop breathing and their hearts cease to beat. They produce a special antifreeze substance that prevents ice from freezing within their cells.
  • eggs are laid in clumps (up to 2,000) in vernal pools.   Once hatched they can recognize their own family – sibling tadpoles seek each other out and group together.
  • Wood Frog Male call sounds like a “quack”

 

Jefferson salamander 150x150 Jeepers Peepers! How to make an Amphibian Happy

Jefferson salamander

Of course there are also salamanders and turtles that use a similar habitat and so keep an eye out for those as well.  Some towns even have crossing brigades to help these species safely cross busy roads during their peak breeding days, especially for the rare Jefferson Salamander.  Eastern box turtles are often seen crossing roads in April on their way to nesting sites, where at most they will lay 10 eggs per year, but an individual can live up to 100 years in a protected environment.

So how can we protect them? The first step is to protect riparian areas with buffers. 

  1. Designate an area to remain vegetated and not to be disturbed by farm animals or other activities – the size of the buffer depends upon water type (wetland, stream, lake, etc. and its class and width.   On our new property in Shelburne we’ve designated an area 50′ on either side of a shallow emergent marsh that drains into the Class 2 wetlands of Shelburne Pond.  It’s too small to be formally protected under Vermont Wetland Rules, but it’s obvious to us that it still provides wetland function and provides important wildlife habitat.
  2. Remove invasive species (purple loosestrife, Phragmites, yellow iris) and plan for long-term control
  3. If there are farm animals nearby design a fenced animal crossing bridge that doesn’t interfere with the flow or edges of the wet area.
  4. Replant natives (such as Eupatorium, Spirea alba and Spirea tomentosa, Salix discolor, Asters, Chelone glabra)
  5. Monitor for the wildlife using the area and tailor the habitat to their specific needs
3 Ecological Site Plan 1024x446 Jeepers Peepers! How to make an Amphibian Happy

Ecological Landscape Concept Plan showing 50′ Buffer

Most importantly, have fun exploring!  Maintaining a connection with the land reinforces our appreciation of the value of wildlife and intact ecosystems.

Quiz Answer:  15 April Breeding Amphibians – Eastern Newt, Jefferson salamander, Spotted salamander, Blue-Spotted salamander, Northern dusky salamander, Eastern red-backed salamander, Slimy salamander, Northern two-lined salamander, Eastern spadefoot, American toad, Spring peeper, Green frog, Wood frog, Pickerel frog, Northern leopard frog

 

EcoLandscape Principles get Real – A Concept Plan in 10 Steps

Shelburne 300x225 EcoLandscape Principles get Real   A Concept Plan in 10 Steps

Walking the new Shelburne Property

We are waist-deep in the design of our new Shelburne, VT property and we’ve been thinking about how we can share our design process with others. We would like to demonstrate how we move from Principles of Ecological Landscaping and Sustainable Agriculture to the actual application, and how a similar design process could be applied to other properties.  The model could help others visualize what Ecological Landscape Design means in the context of their daily lives, and then be tailored to help achieve site specific goals.

The design process starts with drafting a concept plan.  First we look at the existing property on Google Earth or Bing Maps.  Here’s what our property looks like now:

2 sample 15 acre plot EcoLandscape Principles get Real   A Concept Plan in 10 Steps

15 acre property before applying concepts

Here’s what it looks like after I draw in the landscape concept “bubbles”:

3 Ecological Site Plan EcoLandscape Principles get Real   A Concept Plan in 10 Steps

Ecological Landscape Concept Plan for 15-acre Shelburne VT Property

Each bubble is numbered and encompasses an area that represents an individual biotope (habitat), or human use such as agriculture or housing.  I will list here what our goals are for each area.  (Many of this year’s blog posts will focus on these 10 different goals, our strategies for accomplishing them in the Champlain Valley and how we can incorporate them into properties of all sizes in the Northeast US).

Here they are:

1) Protect Rare and Uncommon Species

2) Connect Habitat Blocks with Corridors

3) Protect Water with Buffers

4) Keep Forest Areas Forested

5) Preserve High Quality Agricultural Lands while Protecting Grassland Habitat

6) Site New Structures for Least Disturbance (houses, barns, driveways)

7) Allow Old Fields to Succeed into Shrubland

8) Create Pollinator Meadows

9) Plan the Landscape of the Home Zone to be Beautiful and Functional

10) Create a Habitat Trail

Moving forward I will draw two additional sample concept plans for smaller typical residential parcels in the Champlain Valley - a 2-acre parcel and a 1/2-acre parcel. I’ve selected the smaller two parcels at random, but one thing all three parcels have in common is that they are all in Shelburne, VT and have open space that was probably once farmland and is currently being mowed.  Here’s what they look like:

2 acre lot EcoLandscape Principles get Real   A Concept Plan in 10 Steps

2 acre parcel

half acre lot EcoLandscape Principles get Real   A Concept Plan in 10 Steps

Randomly selected 1/2-Acre Parcel in Shelburne VT

Once I complete the sample plans I will use all three in presentations both to individual clients but also to different groups (Rotary, garden clubs, conferences, schools, etc.) to illustrate how we can achieve typical aesthetic landscape goals while providing ecosystem services (water quality protection, habitat for wildlife, carbon footprint reduction, etc.).  Let me know if you are interested in hearing the presentation and I’ll add you to the list.  Time to get back to the drawing board!

 

 

Heartbreak and Hope – When you Lose a Beehive

photo 2 e1392926523577 150x150 Heartbreak and Hope   When you Lose a Beehive

The dead hive opened

On a walk past the bee yard the other day I paused to put my ear to the hive, something I do regularly throughout the winter.  I discovered that only one of our two hives was making its normal faint buzzing sound.  It was a warm (45 degree) sunny day so I opened the silent hive and found it full of dead bees, many of them near the top but also many with their noses deep in the comb, a sign of starvation.

photo 1 e1392926584262 150x150 Heartbreak and Hope   When you Lose a Beehive

our hives under snow

I felt terrible – I thought I had left them enough honey for the winter, but maybe not?  On closer inspection I found a few frames of capped honey not far from the cluster of bees.  The upper entrance showed evidence of cleansing flights and there were quite a few dead bees outside on the ground in the snow – had they been sick or was it just too cold?  Each hive had an insulated winter cover with plenty of air flow to keep them dry.

I tried not to get teary, but instead stomped around the bee yard in frustration.  Like any new parent I was plagued with doubt  and guilt – what did I do wrong?  Plenty, I’m sure, but how do I make sure I don’t make the same mistakes again?

Our adventure with bees began three years ago at the Burlington screening of the award-winning documentary film “Queen of the Sun: What Bees are Telling Us”.  I then took Ross Conrad’s Organic Beekeeping course and passed the exam given by the Vermont Beekeeper’s Association.

Our two hives did fairly well the first year, but to be safe we didn’t extract any honey.  They came through the winter very strong, so strong that I missed preventing one of the hives from swarming, leaving it mostly empty with a Queen cell.  I’m afraid I did something to interrupt the acceptance of the new queen or she didn’t return from her mating flight, because after 6 weeks there were no new eggs.

2013 05 01 15.08.50 150x150 Heartbreak and Hope   When you Lose a Beehive

The two hives after splitting and new Queen

So I split the strong hive and introduced a new Russian Queen.  I made notes on which boxes had nectar, eggs, and capped brood.  Throughout the rest of summer they seemed very strong, I added supers as they needed them, and then we extracted honey in early September.

2013 09 07 13.18.44 150x150 Heartbreak and Hope   When you Lose a Beehive

extracting honey

We took 3.5 gallons total from the two hives, leaving a full shallow on each, and an empty shallow for the bees to fill during the goldenrod flow.  In October one of the two hives seemed weaker and hadn’t filled their second super, so I did a mite count using my IPM board and they both had a fairly heavy infestation, so I fed the hive, adding BeeHealthy, and treated them both for mites with ApiVar.  There was no evidence of Nosema or Foulbrood.   We did have some pretty cold weather this winter, but I’m questioning how much honey I left them, and plan to leave them more next year.

bee inspection 150x150 Heartbreak and Hope   When you Lose a Beehive

Bee inspection in September

So what’s my plan for my dead hive?  First I’m going to clean it out and do some more investigating.  Here’s my plan - Take out the frames one by one and brush off the dead bees and vacuum out the ones still in cells.  Scrape of any bridge or burr comb and propolis from the frames and inspect the comb to see if any frames need replacing.  Do the same with the hive bodies, cleaning off the frame rests etc. where the propolis really gets in the way.  Then I’ll work my way down to the bottom board getting everything cleaned up.  It might be a while before the new bee package arrives so I’ll store the empty hive in the barn (where it’s still freezing) in a plastic bag until it warms up outside and then air it out in the greenhouse so it doesn’t mildew.

IMG 1307 150x150 Heartbreak and Hope   When you Lose a Beehive

installing new bees with Gabbie

I have to decide soon if I’m going to order a new package of bees with a new Russian Queen or try to raise a new queen from the overwintered hive, and split it in June.  The advantage of splitting an overwintered hive is that hopefully some of the genetic material of the bees that survived can be passed to the new hive, breeding tougher, more resistant bees.  This is the approach of both Ross Conrad and Kirk Webster, a well-known Vermont honeybee queen breeder, who didn’t use chemicals at all when tracheal mites were first discovered in the state in the late 1980s. He lost 95 percent of his bees the first year, but by breeding the survivors, now has a resistant stock.  I would love one of his queens but there’s a two-year wait-list.  Knowing how busy we are in spring, I’ll probably start with a fresh box of bees in early May.

zombie bee 150x150 Heartbreak and Hope   When you Lose a Beehive

zombie bee

Losing hives is fairly common now (30% is the average) – honey bee colonies are overrun with difficulties (Colony Collapse Disorder, Nosema, and now Zombie bees.  Our wild bees are almost extinct (the national Academy of Science reported a 96% decline in the four abundant species), and it’s now being shown that wild and domesticated bees are passing diseases to each other.

To make matters worse the U.S. market is being flooded with cheap honey from China (laundered through other Asian countries – see this article on Honey laundering) and this honey is often contaminated with banned antibiotics and diluted with corn syrup, yuck.  The flood of cheap foreign honey is reducing demand for local honey = fewer hives = fewer pollinators = less local food.

So, yes if we want to keep eating healthy food we need to become advocates for healthy bees and local raw honey.  Let’s all cross our fingers, and say a prayer for a warm spring full of blossoms and healthy bees.

 

 

BioChar – a Critical Soil Ingredient

biochar 300x225 BioChar   a Critical Soil Ingredient

biochar

Biochar is a great example of an ancient technique turned modern superhero.  It’s a carbon-enriched additive to soils that can help:

  • enhance soil fertility,
  • reduce nutrient leaching and ground water contamination,
  • increase soil microbial activity,
  • increase water retention,
  • stimulate plant growth, and
  • reduce disease and insect susceptibility.

Many organizations from around the world are researching, using and promoting biochar – probably the most well known is the International Biochar Initiative.

I first heard about it in 2011 through Peter Hirst from New England Biochar at the Ecological Landscaping Alliance conference where he was demonstrating the process of making biochar.  Peter makes biochar using a Burner to heat wood chips in the absence of oxygen.

Biochar is a physically stable but chemically reactive humus, which increases cation exchange capacity and buffers acidic soil.  As a soil amendment for agricultural purposes biochar can prevent the leaching of nutrients out of the soil, partly because it absorbs and immobilizes them and that’s why biochar is ideally first soaked in compost tea.  The nutrients as well as the microbiota from the compost tea are held in reserve and made available to plants over a longer period of time than if the compost tea is spread alone.  Biochar also has the ability to improve water quality (think Brita filter), reduce soil emissions of green house gases, reduce leaching of nutrients, and reduce irrigation and fertilizer requirements.

In the last year we have seen Biochar start to pop up in products and services everywhere, and you’ll probably hear mention of it at some local garden centers.  Bartlett Tree Experts now uses it in their urban street tree plantings and other challenging sites.  Our native plant plug supplier North Creek Nurseries is now using it in their soil mixes.  We will start broadcast spreading it into our planting holes this spring as well, as we join the effort to “get the planet back in the black”!

If you are in Vermont and want to buy it from a local producer check out Vermont Biochar (Michael Low at Green Fire Farm) out of West Danville, VT.  Their product is called GreenFireChar, and is available in a 4-lb. bag or bulk at the farm.

Prune Now for Beautiful Blooms and Fruit

apple pruning 300x225 Prune Now for Beautiful Blooms and FruitA sunny day in late February or early March is usually when we prune the apple and plum trees here at Linden Farm and on our clients properties.
Here’s a quick overview of the process:

1) Prune every year.  Why? To encourage more fruiting spurs and to create a supporting framework as the tree grows.  Removing branches thins out the canopy and increases light to maximize annual flower production, fruit growth and quality.

2) Remove 4 types of branches - Dead or Damaged, then Water Sprouts, then Weak drooping Wood, then Crossing-over branches.

3) Pick a Method - There are two systems that are popular in the northeast – the Modified Central Leader and the Slender Spindle.  The central leader is the classic method used by most orchards in VT and NY since the 1800s, and the only disadvantage is the amount of space each mature tree needs. The slender spindle is a method that was developed in Holland and now many orchards are transitioning to this method because it produces more pounds of fruit per acre.  We are particularly interested in Spindle pruning for the backyard orchard because with dwarf trees spaced every 4′ on a trellis you can have 5 varieties in a 20′ row -  and with disease resistant varieties you can practice organic methods and still get fruit you can eat!

There are tons of videos online explaining how to approach a tangled mature tree – this one is a good one from WikiHow: http://www.wikihow.com/Prune-Apple-Trees

Good Luck and enjoy some garden time outside with a pair of pruners!

10 Years on the L.A.N.D. and 60 Things We’ve Learned

2013 10 19 09.14.46 e1393004531238 1024x671 10 Years on the L.A.N.D. and 60 Things Weve Learned

The New Year brought the classic moment of looking back to look forward – and I realized that in September we will celebrate the 10-year anniversary of our business, designing and building landscapes here in the Champlain Valley of VT.  We have experienced significant growth and change during that time and I am very grateful for Tim’s infinite patience, as well as the extreme hard work performed by Tim and the crew, and the faith of our clients as we have evolved our design process and methods.

Looking back at some of our first designs I admit it’s a bit like looking at photos of myself in the 80′s and wondering how I could possibly have thought shoulder pads were a good idea.  Thankfully, we’ve learned along the way, and continue to do so, and we have found ways to successfully integrate our interests in ecology, agriculture, and landscapes.  Recently I was giving a particularly interactive lecture to some UVM students about Ecological Design and the discussion turned to whether I thought they should go to grad school in order to secure a job.  I told them that “it depends”, but that no matter where their path takes them I believe that education is continual beyond any formal school setting, and needs to be a part of daily life.  We choose to be Learners and our identify morphs with our constantly evolving body of knowledge.  I am not the same gardener-designer-farmer-wife-mother that I was yesterday or 10 years ago, and it’s the process of sharing those experiences that has proved more valuable than any piece of paper.

So yes, research is important but so is hands-on experience, and most importantly, learning from each others’ hands-on experiences.  With this in mind I have assembled an index of the topics that I’ve written about in the last three years to share with you – think of it as a distillation of our recent experiences.  I write about 20 posts per year, so there are 60 articles here organized by topic for you to pick through and hopefully find something useful.  Be sure to sign up for our newsletter if you would enjoy getting our happy rantings each month.  Have fun and please share your thoughts.

http://conta.cc/1eNl1BB

Why “Naturalistic” Landscapes will Rage On

Highline in August 5 300x200 Why Naturalistic Landscapes will Rage On

High line in August

Something Old – Something New

Yes, it’s true, there’s nothing new about “naturalistic” style garden design.  As a primer for those not familiar with the concept, these constructed landscapes combine thousands of plants (often perennials and grasses), arranged in co-mingled layers, massed in coherent patterns, timed very carefully to bloom sequentially and have foliar interest year-round.   They have the feeling of a wild planting (they are an ornamental and romantic interpretation of nature), but their success in the public eye hinges on their ability to maintain enough order to be legible within our human built environment.

Oudolf Thews 300x225 Why Naturalistic Landscapes will Rage On

Oudolph private garden at Thews

The style has been resurfacing for many years and has been called:

1) cottage style (coined by William Robinson 1838-1935 – an Irish garden designer who pioneered the man-made “wild garden dominated by hardy perennials, native plants and flowers); and

2) Dutch Wave, and the New Perennials Movement (coined by Piet Oudolph, a Dutch garden designer influenced by Karl Foerster, who has very successfully popularized mass plantings of ornamental grasses and perennials) and

3) the New American Garden style (pioneered by the late Wolfgang Oehme and James van Sweden and their firm OvS).

Larry Weaner meadow 300x138 Why Naturalistic Landscapes will Rage On

Larry Weaner meadow

Now with our increased awareness of environmental issues landscape designers are borrowing techniques from the science of Ecological Restoration.  Although these “Native Planting Designs” are not actual ecological restorations, they do help provide ecosystems services.  Meadows and woodland gardens replace large swaths of lawn, increase biodiversity, repair wetlands and protect surface water quality with buffers. That’s how terms like “Natural Plant Community Design” enter the picture as well.

Michael King 300x199 Why Naturalistic Landscapes will Rage On

Perennial Meadow by Michael King

A question that keeps popping up is whether or not this natural-feeling design style is a fashion that is destined to fade, or whether it is here to stay.  Will it lose its ability to move the masses to breath-catching moments of awe, or will it be hum-drum within the decade?  Michael King, a “Perennial Meadow” expert , author, and accomplished Landscape Designer, has been stirring the pot among designers, asking us to question our intentions, our terms and they way we market an aesthetic.  He writes:

“The current style of perennial planting is nothing more than a response to what came before it and an affirmation of good practice in contemporary thinking: respect for nature, low in environmental impact, wildlife friendly, eco….. The one thing these schemes are not is natural but they can bring us close to the idea which is really all that they are about. Let’s enjoy them for what they are and not try and make them sound more important than their reality.”

I think he has some good points, and we should be wary of any dogma –  but honestly if the country were carpeted with wildflower meadows instead of clipped lawns and yew hedges, I’d break out the champagne!

Nigel Dunnet Why Naturalistic Landscapes will Rage On

Nigel Dunnett Olympic meadow

I don’t think hum-drum is in the forecast.  Do we really think the public is going to yawn at brightly colored, swaying tapestries full of birds and butterflies anytime soon?  Naturalistic gardens are more interesting than traditional mixed borders, and we increasingly demand dramatic entertainment.   Naturalistic gardens are less Grace Kelly and more Beyoncé – they dance, sing, demand to be touched, and have complex relationships.  In short, they’re more fun.

I think Naturalistic design is here to stay.  Our love affair with nature has gone public and has permeated our collective awareness.  Call it the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon of naturalistic landscapes.  Scores of public gardens such as the High Line and the London Olympic Park meadows, as well as high-profile exhibitions such as the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, have established a baseline, opened the public eye, taught the opening phrases of a new language, and now a collective awareness is being integrated.  By surrounding ourselves with beautiful imitations of nature, even if they are far from perfect, they evoke a positive emotion about nature, and that collective response changes our values, and in turn affects how we make land use decisions, what we teach our children, and the future of the wilderness that remains.

Sarah Price Olympic Park 300x204 Why Naturalistic Landscapes will Rage On

Sarah Price’s North American Garden at London Olympic Park

So I say Hooray for Mainstreaming Naturalistic Design

I think we need to have some faith in this large-scale public experiment.  Sure, there will be some flops, but it might also evolve into something amazing.  Let the public try out the paint-by-number perennial mixes in Europe.  Let them explore the advice of British landscape Designer Sarah Price.  Even better, let’s help tailor their designs to our specific regions, adding our knowledge of the ecology of that place, wherever it may be.  Let’s educate them about dotted spires and umbels, layers, and eventually habitats.  Yes, let’s be careful not to make broad sweeping claims of ecological benefit, and instead evaluate each situation individually and tailor our goals appropriately.  Hopefully with the simultaneous dissemination of plant knowledge by growers, designers, and nurseries, it will retain some of the genius of nature’s original architecture.   Most importantly, let’s not get bogged down in a discussion about the novelty of an idea or nomenclature – instead let’s put on our dancing shoes and have some fun.

Related articles across the web

Children in Nature – The Importance of Getting Muddy

getting muddy 238x300 Children in Nature   The Importance of Getting MuddyI love this photo of Gabbie – it was taken eight years ago on her first birthday at a jobsite on the south end of Lake George, about 2 hours south of us.  The usual routine for remote jobsites includes Tim and the crew staying in a nearby hotel and working long hours until the project is complete, while I visit periodically for design oversight.  This project was special - the clients very graciously let us stay in their guesthouse on the property, and so we took the whole family, including my mom who watched the girls while we worked.  The days were punctuated with barbecues and swimming and even birthday cake.  Occasionally the girls both got to “help” which was code for getting reeaally muddy, much to their delight.  I’ll never forget that project, not only because Elsa had her first asthma attack/emergency room visit, but because the girls had the unique opportunity to “help” us and understand what we do all day while we are away from them.  I have learned that the strength of our family is built through participation in each others’ lives, and it seems even more true as the girls get older.  I have to dig deeper now when they get off the bus and I ask them “what did you do at school today?” and the first response is “not much”.  The answers take their time and usually emerge during a walk up to the woods or a stroll through the garden.  It’s difficult at times to remember to take this time to connect when I have a design that’s due, or I’m deep into preparing a presentation, but the best things happen when I step away from the computer or the phone, and walk outside.  So yes, getting muddy is important – all pretenses are shed, our true selves revealed, smiles emerge and bonds are formed.  I’m off to meet the girls at the bus stop and maybe get my hands in the dirt…