On The Bookshelf: The Green Garden: A New England Guide

Are you a New England gardener seeking a good gardening book in which to lose yourself during cold winter months? Look no further than Ellen Sousa’s book The Green Garden: A New England Guide to Planning, Planting & Maintaining the Eco-Friendly Habitat Garden.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Sousa is a fellow garden coach and a natural gardening instructor. She holds a certificate in Native Plant Horticulture & Design from the New England Wild Flower Society and has written about habitat gardening for National Wildlife Federation and other magazines. Sousa writes for a few blogs, including Native Plants & Wildlife Gardens, and the Massachusetts farm she shares with her husband is a Certified Wildlife Habitat and Monarch Waystation.

She walks the walk and talks the talk.

Now she has compiled an extensive and comprehensive guide for other New England landowners interested in making their property more user-friendly for non-human naturally-residing creatures and, ultimately, more enjoyable for human residents as well.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASousa explains the what, why, and wherefore of habitat gardening in rural, suburban and urban areas in addition to forests, fields, fresh and saltwater shorelines, and wetlands.

She explains how to replace lawns – or most of a lawn – with diverse plantings needing less human input.

She describes how to begin transforming a patch or a property to a wildlife habitat – perhaps as simply as insuring a fresh water source for birds or planting nectar sources for butterflies and moths- and how continue the multi-year process.

Sousa separates plants as:

· New England natives – growing in New England prior to European settlement. Think violets, goldenrod, hemlock and oak;

· naturalized non-natives – plants that native creatures have adapted to and count on. Think Queen Anne’s lace;

· introduced non-natives – cosmos, peonies and nasturtiums – brought to New England as ornamentals or edibles. These provide some nectar, pollen or seed benefits to native wildlife;

· and to be avoided and controlled invasive non-natives like Asiatic bittersweet vines that overpower and destroy trees and the purple loosestrife overtaking many New England wetlands.

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Then, so readers are not left guessing, she offers more than 40 pages of specific tree, shrub and plant recommendations keyed for their habitat value (attractive to birds, butterflies and moths, amphibians or mammals) and growth characteristics (light and water requirements, deer resistance, ease of growth, etc.).

Sousa further provides lists and links to more information, source nurseries, public habitat gardens, and wildlife gardening organizations, just in case readers crave even more guidance and learning.

The Green Garden: A New England Guide to Planning, Planting & Maintaining the Eco-friendly Habitat Garden is a wonderful primer for those just learning about natural habitat gardening, but it’s also a valuable educational resource for seasoned gardeners seeking to hone their habitat gardening knowledge.

It is one of the books I’ll reach for time and again as I care for my property and continue to urge others to garden thoughtfully.

Want to read another great book about habitats and native plant gardening? Check out my review of Bringing Nature Home by Doug Tallamy.

Disclaimer: Ellen Sousa provided this book, free of charge, for me to review. I know Ellen only through her blog and through our mutual membership in a Facebook group. If I did not like her book you would not be reading about it here.

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A tad early for narcissi in Connecticut

A quick stroll around my Connecticut gardens brought this surprize.

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That’s right … narcissi bulbs already poking their inquisitive heads out of the ground as if to say, “Is it time?”

My response when I first spotted them on January 2?  A resounding, “NO!”

The calendar says January. We should have snow on the ground and be bundled up in front of a roaring fire.

But, outside of a couple of below-freezing days earlier this week it’s been ridiculously warm. Today it’s 50 degrees outside and there is no snow or winter-type cold in the forecast.

Obviously, bulbs don’t follow the calendar. They follow a mysterious internal clock that signals when it’s time to grow.

From their point of view they had snow (it came in October), they had some cold here and there, and now they’re responding to a stretch of spring-like warmth.

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Maybe I should listen to what their presence is suggesting. Maybe … though it’s January … mild temperatures will continue. Maybe narcissi will be blooming in February.

I’m not ready to buy this. I still expect to get slammed with a nasty stretch of winter weather. Of course it will hit when all New Englanders have really let their winter guard down and lost their winter blood. That’s just the way these things work.

So I did what any mother hen gardener would do.

I covered my early risers hoping a conifer blanket will hold the chill in the soil and slow the bulbs’ growth.

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Time will tell if this tactic works.

At the very least it makes me feel that I’ve done my best to fool the young whippersnappers back to sleep.

Re-GOOPs: a review of 2011’s gardening-oops

Welcome to January 1, 2012. The first of each month is confessional time. Time to fess up to a gardening blunder, or gardening oops. GOOPs for short. I share one of my gardening mis-steps and hope you’ll do the same.

This is Re-GOOPs month, when I look back at some of the GOOPs from last year.

The GOOPs that drew the most comments is from June 2011. I described how the landscape fabric we installed, as directed by the block manufacturer, while building a retaining wall planting bed became blocked with fine soil silt. It hinders drainage to the point of making the bed virtually unplantable (new word?) during rainy springs/summers. Most of the comments to this post mentioned similar and other landscape fabric issues. I even had a manufacturer suggest we had installed the landscape fabric incorrectly …. we didn’t.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA To use the bed last season I dug out some of the soil so large clay pots would rest on the fabric layer. I filled the pots with new soil and planted them with hot peppers, cherry tomatoes and eggplant.

Trailing nasturtium seeds and coleus seedlings went into the remaining soil surrounding the sunken pots.

I promised, back in June, to report whether my scheme worked.

The hot peppers thrived, the tomatoes did okay, and the eggplant was not happy.

I planted bush and pole beans between a couple of pots at the far end but, with such a wet growing season, the soil remained too moist for the beans to really thrive.

The nasturtiums and coleus, however, had a banner year.

No aphids … not one.

The nasturtiums went wild, they never had a mid-summer slump, and the coleus grew mighty tall and bushy right up to first frost.

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Eventually I plan to remove all the soil from this bed. I’m on the lookout for decorative planters that will fit the space and style of the surrounding block. The planters, which I’ll fill seasonally, will sit in the raised bed on top of and within decorative stone. The stone will facilitate drainage and the planters will add seasonal interest and break up the visual impact of the long, narrow bed. I can also add other interesting accents – think cool rocks, shells, candles – at my whim. The new design is still germinating in my idea seed bank but, in the meantime, the sunken clay pots work as a temporary planting solution.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy GOOPs tale of voles eating crocus bulbs and deer nibbling on crocus and Tete-a-tete narcissi garnered a number of sympathetic comments. I think the photos of bright, cheery blooms followed by shots of stubby green leftovers helped in the sympathy department. Isn’t this sad?

My solution for the narcissi is to cover newly emerging shoots with upside-down apple baskets each night and to keep a sharp eye out for marauding deer during daylight. For the crocus issue I’ve taken the advice from Nell Jean at Seedscatterer. I planted tommies (Crocus tommasinianus Ruby Giant and Barr’s Purple).

I won’t know till spring whether voles left the tommies alone. Keeping fingers crossed and praying to the bulb gods.

 

The last Re-GOOPs for today is Don’t count your tomatoes … a gardening oops. It’s another tale, and another sad photo, of creature damage. This time from those cute, fast-moving, devilish chipmunks.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThey have superb ripe-tomato radar. The only way for me to beat them to the fruit was to pick before the tomatoes were totally ripe and let them finish ripening on a windowsill. So far the chipmunks haven’t figured out how to get into my kitchen. Keeping fingers crossed and praying to the fox gods.

Looking back reminded … though I didn’t really need it … that weather had a huge impact in 2011. Three GOOPs posts  – February, March and November – involved snow and I hurricane/tropical storm Irene prevented a GOOPs post on September 1 (no power for seven days).

I suspect 2012’s GOOPs will also involve weather and creatures and creatures and weather. At least that gives me the chance to blame something besides my own actions.

I hope you’ll join the GOOPs party this year. If you are REALLY gardening then you must have made a GOOPs or two.

Either add your GOOPs tale in a comment below or post your GOOPs on your blog and leave a teaser in a comment below.

Happy New Year. Garden thoughtfully.