Monday, June 18, 2012

Pollination Celebration!

Gaillardia aristata, Blanket Flower
Did you know it was National Pollinator Week? I didn't either! Not until I opened up a copy of National Wildlife magazine and read a little write-up about it. According to the Pollinator Partnership website, who coordinates this international celebration:

"Five years ago the U.S. Senate’s unanimous approval and designation of the final week in June as “National Pollinator Week” marked a necessary step toward addressing the urgent issue of declining pollinator populations.  Pollinator Week has now grown to be an international celebration of the valuable ecosystem services provided by bees, birds, butterflies, bats and beetles. The growing concern for pollinators is a sign of progress, but it is vital that we continue to maximize our collective effort."
Before (

I thought in celebration of pollination I would take a break from posts about plastic removal and compost and bring everyone some beautiful photos of what's getting pollinated in our yard. Remember, a year ago (left) none of these plants were here. To a hummingbird, bee, butterfly or moth our former yard was basically a suburban nectarless desert. Now, thanks to a little help from Slow the Flow, it's dessert! All photos are from my garden, enjoy! (click on them to enlarge)


Asclepias incernata, swamp milkweed in the monarch waystation about to explode in color
Ceanothus americanus, New Jersey Tea, getting ready to be in full flower. I have been desperately searching for this shrub and just found it this weekend at Garden in the Woods! Everybody should have this  in their garden: it tolerates poor, dry soil, fixes nitrogen and is a buffet for butterflies. I bought four!

Heuchera sanguinea, coral bells, blooming in the shade border
Penstemon digitalis, Beardtongue, a favorite of our
neighborhood hummingbirds

Coreopsis lanceolata "Tickseed" in the sun border
Flower stalk of foamflower, Tiarella cordifolia,
a beautiful shady groundcover.
Penstemon and Achillea millefolium,
common yarrow
Bee pollinating my common yarrow
Anemone canadensis, another great shade plant.

A pea flower

 And don't forget the veggie garden. I have eleven varieties of herbs growing plus flowering tomatoes, peas, squash, and pole beans. All of which are relying on pollinators to turn those blossoms into food for my family.

Even tomatoes provide food for pollinators

I hope you enjoy Pollinator Week! I just harvested my first tomato of the year, it was a great way to appreciate all the pollinators that have been hard at work in my yard.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The 'Woodland Island'

An old stump planted with new trillium and jack-in-the-pulpit  
I have never owned a property with shade. I've always longed after the subtle plants one sees on a woodland hike - the trilliums, wood ferns, trout lilies, wild ginger, jack-in-the-pulpits - but I've never had the shade to grow them. Until now.

I have been itching to get my hands in the dirt along the side of house where dense shade lurks. Having already planted the shade border nearer to the road I've had a chance to play around with foam flower, coral bells and solomon's seal. But the area where I've been planning my 'woodland island' is where I really get to play with native woodland plants. The path through the area will create an island of plants with a border all around it,  allowing a lot of frontage in which to display smaller, more subtle specimens that might get lost in a deeper border. 

This area had been yet more bare mulch with an ancient yew shrub that was going (left) and a cool, old, mossy stump, which I was definitely keeping (above). It was a large area to tackle so breaking it up with an island of plants with pathways around it not only avoided a very wide border, but it allowed pathways for my kids to explore, hopefully keeping them from bushwhacking their way through the tender new plants.

Island prepped

After we removed the yew I painstakingly removed the plastic sheeting from the marked-out island area, added a bird bath and outlined the outer path (right). One of my rain barrels in also adjacent to this area and in need of an overflow solution to keep the extra water out of the basement. I plumbed the overflow line from the barrel into a pipe buried underground which drains out under the 'island', making this area slightly wetter than normal.

Finished woodland island
Before I tackled the plastic in the rest of the area I rewarded myself with a shopping trip and native planting session to finish the island (left). Species in this area include bugbane, ostrich fern, sweet pepper bush, lady fern, sensitive fern, wild ginger, trillium, foamflower and goat's beard, all plants that should not only tolerate but do well with the rain barrel overflow.

Plastic removed from the outer border of the woodland garden

Now that the island was done it was time to deal with the rest of the plastic. I brought in reinforcements in the form of two college students who made short work of the remaining sheeting (piled up to the right). It is nice to know it's no longer blocking the flow of rain into the ground. And now I was finally able to brick out the inner pathway with bricks removed from the back patio, leaving a spot for a garden bench along the right side. I only have a few unplanted plants left with which to landscape the outer border, which means one thing: another shopping trip to my favorite local nursery. Oh twist my arm!

The woodland island awaiting its woodland border

Monday, June 4, 2012

the monarch waystation

Monarch on swamp milkweed
I hadn't planned on creating a monarch waystation. Last weekend I rescued a few daylilies from the backyard where our fence was going in and quickly stuck them in a sunny spot near our mailbox, and I hit more plastic. This is an area of the yard that I hadn't planned on landscaping this summer, it's a border of dense beach roses (Rosa rugosa) where the rest of the yard was just bare mulch. At least it had plants, so it could wait. And I assumed since it had plants there wasn't any plastic sheeting, I was wrong.

 Of course I couldn't leave the plastic in and in tearing it out I discovered all the plants in this area, including the four foot high beach roses, were growing on top of the plastic. In getting out the plastic I ended up taking out a lot of the beach roses and suddenly had a nice patch of empty, sunny dirt.

Monarch on butterflyweed
That night I read an article in the summer edition of Country Gardens entitled "Of Milkweeds and Monarchs" (if I could find it online I would include the link) and its message about declining monarchs really struck home. The article sites many facts from, and I instantly went online and poured over their website. Simply put, monarch butterflies are in crisis for the following reasons:
  • Roundup resistant crops now dominate the midwest, meaning about 100 million acres of corn and beans are now sprayed with the glyphosate, creating milkweed-free fields. Monarchs making their way from the north to overwinter in Mexico now navigate a 1000 mile near-nectarless, flowerless, waterless landscape from Kansas through Oklahoma, Texas and into northern Mexico. 
  • Development of subdivisions, shopping centers, etc. now tops 6,000 acres a day. That's 2.2 million acres a year where there was often milkweed and other butterfly supporting plants. 
  • Roadside management practices of mowing and herbicides now often creates monocultures of grass, not native wildflowers. 
  • Illegal logging in the monarch's wintering forest in Mexico has diminished their former 23 acre habitat to a mere 5. 
Monarch on blazing star (Liatris)
It was clear what I had to do.  That nice, newly-cleared and plastic-free sunny patch was destined to be a monarch waystation (places that provide resources necessary for monarchs to produce successive generations and sustain their migration). In fact, the whole yard could qualify. I already planted nectar plants like blanket flower, sedum, beesbalm, blazing star and black eyed susans. I started a milkweed strain called butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa) from seeds this winter and they're about 4 inches tall now and will be amazing in a few years. I just needed at least one more milkweed species to qualify as a certified "monarch waystation" with

A few days ago I went out and purchased swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) and tomorrow a friend with a farm in Rowley is letting me take a few common milkweed plants (A. syriaca) from his unmown fields and then I will have all three species of native milkweed. Where there was once a monoculture of introduced beach rose there will now be milkweed, blanket flower, blazing star, yarrow, echinacea, cardinalflower, and Joe-pye weed. My three-year-old is now eagerly awaiting the appearance of those stunning little yellow and black caterpillars. She's already learned all about monarchs in her preschool and told me one day last fall that she just couldn't eat lunch because she was a monarch and was busy migrating to Mexico. I thought for her sake I would certify our new monarch waystation with monarchwatch and she could proudly display this sign.

As far as I can tell from the International Monarch Waystation Registry our waystation is the first certified in Ipswich, MA. I sure hope it's not the last. Stay tuned for photos of the finished, and flowering, monarch waystation.