Worthy of Words Wednesday 7.4.12 – Culver’s Root!

Worthy of Words Wednesday 7.4.12 – Culver’s Root!

The blossoms of this Culver’s Root (Veronicastrum virginicum) almost resemble the brilliant trails of fireworks, making it an excellent choice for an Independence Day post! As these blossoms open, they will be swarmed by butterflies and other pollinators and later in the season birds will visit to feast on the seed. A tall perennial (4-6′), Culver’s Root also adds a little interest through the frosty months, and provides a safe place for beneficial insects to overwinter. A Wonderful addition to the middle or back of the perennial border, and a great plant for the habitat garden!

"Scott Hokunson" "Blue Heron Landscape Design"
Culver’s Root (Veronicastrum virginicum)
The Great Backyard Birdcount 2011

The Great Backyard Birdcount 2011

A Bluebird in our meadow

Quick post today folks to let you know the Great Backyard Bird count for 2011 starts today! I hope you find a little time to check in with your feathered friends and send in your totals. You’ll find all the info you need to participate on the GBBC website.

Here’s the link – Great Backyard Bird Count


Garden Designers Roundtable: Inviting Nature In!

Garden Designers Roundtable: Inviting Nature In!

This month on the Roundtable we consider habitat gardening and inviting nature into our outdoor spaces.

Certification for a job well done!

Photo courtesy Carole Brown and the Ecosystem Gardening Blog

It would seem that we have come full circle in this country. Early settlers forced nature back into the wilds as they staked their claim to the land and forged out a homestead. Forests were clear cut, and later the grasses and vegetation that sprouted were cut low allowing predators to be spotted before getting too close. Homesteading would lead to communities, then small towns and eventually the larger cities of today.Urban sprawl has created vast deserts of “concrete jungles” where the only wild life is rodents and weekend party goers. In the suburbs, things are a bit greener, but the heavy price of maintaining tailored landscapes with chemicals and pesticides, has cost us more than we may know. Fast forward to 2010, and we find ourselves in a natural renaissance, designing gardens that not only allow the local flora and fauna in, but actually are designed to attract it. Gardening techniques that were once reserved for kooks and hippies (both terms used affectionately here), have been adopted by mainstream America, and I for one could not be happier!

Plants like Goldenrod attract many pollentors

So what does it mean to actually invite nature in? In short, it means designing and implementing habitat that will support native flora and fauna, and then (here’s the best part) go forth and be among them!

Here are five simple things you can do to invite nature in:

1  First, do no harm! Yes this great tenet from the AMA, also applies to gardening with nature. Stop using pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers. Insects, especially native species, are a vulnerable lot, and usage of these products is causing drops in their populations. So what, you say? Insects are near the bottom of the food chain, and when you remove a building block from such a foundation, you affect the whole food chain.

Organic products are becoming easier to find and are effective!

2 Provide food for all stages of fauna. For a long time, plant growers have been touting the pest free nature of certain plants. Such plants are pest free because our native insect populations cannot feed on them. It’s not enough to simply provide a pollen source for adult species of bees, butterflies and moths, it is also necessary to provide the plants on which they lay eggs and on which their young can feed. This alone will bring in greater numbers of pollenators, which will in turn bring in more species of birds to feast on the pollenators, and so on, and so on…

Oak trees support over 200 butterfly and moth species!

3 Provide shelter. Birds, bats, mason bees, and butterflies are all examples of species that will inhabit homes built especially for them. Alternately conifers can be planted to provide year round shelter from cold and predators.

Mason Bee House

Photo Courtesy Gardener’s Supply Company

4 Provide water. All life needs water, yet this is something often overlooked when gardening for nature. You will spend countless enjoyable hours watching your new friends come to the fountain (so to speak) to drink and bathe.

Cardinal bathing

Photo courtesy of Bird Bath Supply.com

5  Get children involved!!! Kids love nature, getting our future generations involved is a great way to keep the natural movement going.

Make changes not only in the way you look at nature, but in the way you garden for it, the rewards are truly delightful. And who knows, you might one day come across a Black Racer out searching for a meal right in your own backyard. Yeah!

Northern Black Racer

Photo courtesy Animal Pictures Archive.com

For more on Inviting nature in, please follow the links below and visit my fellow Roundtable bloggers, and see what they have to say on the topic.

Debbie Roberts : A Garden of Possibilities : Stamford, CT
Douglas Owens-Pike : Energyscapes : Minneapolis, MN
Genevieve Schmidt : North Coast Gardening : Arcata, CA
Pam Penick : Digging : Austin, TX
Rebecca Sweet : Gossip In the Garden : Los Altos, CA

Garden Designers Roundtable: Underused Plants!

Garden Designers Roundtable: Underused Plants!

This month on Garden Designer’s Roundtable, the topic has been chosen by you, faithful readers, ‘Underused Plants’. So today I present the woodland native, an underused plant.

When I was young, the woods surrounding our house fascinated me. There was joy and wonder to be found everywhere. There were forts to be made, streams to be dammed, and a myriad of trails to explore. To this day, I still love being in the woods, although it is not very often I visit. From those days to these, one thing has kept my attention, the wonderful woodland plants found trail and streamside. Back in the day I had no idea whether I was looking at a native to the area, or an exotic invader, soon to render a helpless sapling lifeless. But back then, very few of us did. Today information abounds on the native species inhabiting our woodland, or at least those that are left. It does seem that as time moves forward, not only does native habitat disappear, but so does the beautiful native flora. Here are but a few of the local stars still to be found in the northeast.

Here in Connecticut, despite being a heavily populated area, we are blessed with many open spaces. And any native plant discussion should start with our state flower, Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia). The woods surrounding our house are full of Mountain Laurel, and although they are fickle about blooming every year, when they do, it is a site to behold. This was such a year!

The Mountain Laurel was amazing this year!

At the edge of our yard we are lucky to have the wonderful little Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum), so named for a leaf coloration resembling the side of a brook trout, and the fact that it blooms around the opening of Trout Season each spring.

A welcome site each spring, Trout Lily!

Walking Connecticut’s woods would also reveal Lady Slipper (Cypripedium acaule), Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum) or the edible Indian Cucumber Root (Medeola virginiana).

**Note: the following photos courtesy The Connecticut Botanical Society, credits on each photo. Please visit their wonderful site!**

Lady Slipper
Indian Cucumber Root

These are but a few of our many native woodland fauna, and while these plants are not suitable for every garden, within nearly every garden lays a small shaded corner in which to include one of our native beauties. So when planning your next garden or garden renovation, I hope you find the time and space to add a little native beauty. The youngster within you will be glad.




Now, please follow the links below and find out what plants my fellow Roundtable designers find Underused!

Andrew Keys : Garden Smackdown : Boston, MA »
Carolyn Gail Choi : Sweet Home and Garden Chicago : Chicago, IL »
Christina Salwitz : Personal Garden Coach : Renton, WA »
Debbie Roberts : A Garden of Possibilities : Stamford, CT
Douglas Owens-Pike : Energyscapes : Minneapolis, MN »
Genevieve Schmidt : North Coast Gardening : Arcata, CA »
Jocelyn Chilvers : The Art Garden : Denver, CO »
Lesley Hegarty & Robert Webber : Hegarty Webber Partnership : Bristol, UK »
Pam Penick : Digging : Austin, TX »
Rebecca Sweet : Gossip In the Garden : Los Altos, CA »
Scott Hokunson : Blue Heron Landscapes : Granby, CT »
Susan Cohan : Miss Rumphius’ Rules : Chatham, NJ »
Tara Dillard : Vanishing Threshold: Garden Life Home : Atlanta, GA »

Landscape Challenges – Letting go of a wet lawn!

Landscape Challenges – Letting go of a wet lawn!

The lower area of our yard borders a wetland, it has been a difficult space to work with. The previous owners established and maintained lawn there for years, although I’m not sure it was worth their effort. Americans are funny about our yards and the amount of mown lawn area we think we need, and this area is a prime example. For the first eight or ten years, we made a valiant attempt to keep this area looking “respectable”. But as my thought process changed about the suburban landscape, and the direction my landscape design company would take, I began to see other opportunities for spaces like our wet lawn. Five or six years ago, after so many years of not being able to mow until late June or July when the soil dried out, an idea surfaced; Wet Meadow!

Our Meadow!

This section of lawn receives a good amount of sunshine, and borders a wooded wetland area. We decided to let Mother Nature have her way, and with a limited budget to work with, we simply identified a line on the uphill side of the area that remained dry enough to maintain, and stopped mowing below it. The border line follows the contour of the land, and is defined as a long pleasing natural curve.

Pollinators love visiting the Goldenrod!

We have done little else in the subsequent years to maintain the area, except to mow it once a year in the fall when the soil is dry enough to allow, and I am happy to report that Mother nature did not disappoint us with her plant selection. Aside from the turf grasses that were seeded there (now measuring in feet rather than inches), a wonderful collection of native species is present, and come the end of each July, August and September the meadow is ablaze with Goldenrod (Solidago sp).

Paths mown through the meadow allow visitors a closer experience

New York Ironweed (Vernonia noveboracensis) is also present, as is Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum). The last two years have seen the arrival of American Elder (Sambucus canadensis), and the stands of Winterberry Holly (Ilex verticillata) that once were cut back on the woodland edge are now thriving in greater masses that explode each fall with bright red berries.


Soft Rush (Juncus effusus) is growing throughout and adds a wonderful texture to the grasses. Unfortunately, as with many natural areas these days, several invasives have made their way into our meadow. Each spring gloves are donned and stands of Multiflora Rose (Rosa multiflora) are pulled and disposed of, as is occasional appearances of Common Barberry (Berberis vulgaris) and Oriental Bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus).

Boomer certainly enjoys romping through the meadow!

So far with regular yearly effort these invaders have been easy to keep up with, but constant yearly vigil will be held. Our meadow is quite vibrant in late summer and autumn, but it is little more than green during the early parts of the year. This is soon to change however, as we will be planting a host of wet meadow natives in the coming years to extend the beauty of this area, and draw in many more species of wildlife.

New York Ironweed

The wonder of our meadow I fear, is lost on our family, friends and neighbors, and yet anyone of them that dared venture within when the meadow is blooming, upon hearing the buzz of thousands of pollinators, and watching hundreds of dragonflies and the many bird species that frequent the area now, would surely be won over.

Bluebirds have made the meadow their home this year!

Our suburban mentality and lack of understanding of the natural areas that surround us prevent us from experiencing the simple natural joys in life. Activities that excited us as children are long forgotten as we go about our hectic lives, but every once in a while, nature presents an opportunity to create spaces that remind us of her infinite beauty, if only we would let go.

Well after the season has passed, there is beauty in the meadow!

Do you have a problem area in your yard? Have you come up with a creative solution to dealing with it? We would love to hear about it! Please leave a comment, or head over to the Blue Heron Facebook fan page and tell us about it.

May you find simply joy in your garden!



A Cool Spring Evening!

A Cool Spring Evening!

Spring is a very busy time around here, as you can imagine. Not only does it seem like spring has flown by, but lately it feels like it also. Early April temps in the mid to upper eighties is not spring-like for us here in New England, so it was nice to be able to enjoy a few minutes on the deck tonight as a cold front moved through and started the temperature moving toward normalcy.

Finding a few minutes to unwind is one of the simple things that can keep you sane during the busy season, and I was rewarded not only by the downtime and cooler weather, but with a few other surprises as well.

I caught the first glimpses of our resident bats, as they dashed back and forth against the evening sky, catching all manner of insects. They no doubt are hungry, as they have fasted for the winter during their hibernation. We have been worried that we might not see them again as most of the larger bat communities in the east are succumbing to White nose syndrome (Read more about it here –  http://www.fws.gov/northeast/white_nose.html), but each spring we are relieved to see them return.

Big-Eared Bat (picture from U.S. Fish and wildlife website)

The spring peepers were in full chorale, hoping to find a mate. Stop by www.Naturesound.com to learn more about them and to hear their soothing sound!

A male peeper singing for a mate! (Photo from Naturesound.com)

In the distance, to top off the evening, a whippoorwill sung his melodic song over and over again. It isn’t every night we get to hear a whippoorwill, and when we do it’s never from the same location. It moves around from a small field to the southwest of us to somewhere off east of the house tonight. Whippoorwill populations are declining across the northeast, as their habitat continues to disappear. Visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, read more about them and even hear their beautiful song.

Whippoorwill (photo from The Cornell Lab of Ornithology)

Tonight was a rare treat, and I’m glad found a few minutes to enjoy our local friends of nature before they’re gone. I hope you find the time to stop and enjoy some of nature’s wonders.

I bid you Peace!



Book Review – Bringing Nature Home!

Book Review – Bringing Nature Home!

Several years ago, one of the larger insecticide companies, I believe Ortho, ran a commercial for one of its new products. In this commercial, a homeowner wields his spray bottle of lethal insecticide as if he were Wyatt Earp ridding Tombstone of its hooligans. In the background, a score reminiscent of an old spaghetti western sets the mood, as fewer and fewer bug noises emanate from the owners yard until all falls silent. The final scene: our now satisfied homeowner standing tall amidst the solitude, when suddenly a cricket chirps, he reaches for his “revolver”, the cricket goes silent, seemingly in fear for its life. The homeowner smiles.

I’m sure on some level we can all relate to this homeowner, after all no one likes mosquitoes, gnats, black flies, and other various and sundry pests, yet I felt a disconnect with the message.  I was confused (read: annoyed), that this “hero” would target a cricket, in his blanket approach to eradicating all insects from his property.  I knew nature provided many beneficial insects, as well as pests, but I could never really express my concerns to anyone in a way that made sense to them.

“Bringing Nature Home – How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants” by Doug Tallamy, has provided me with the answers I have been searching for. Published in 2007 by Timber Press, and already in its third printing in 2009, Mr. Tallamy’s book explores native plant communities, and the insect populations that have evolved in relationship to them. We learn through Mr. Tallamy’s research that over time insects develop relationships with plants, based on the chemical makeup of the plant’s tissue. Some insects develop exclusive relationships, such as the Monarch Butterfly and Milkweed, while other insects have evolved to feed on and reproduce with various species of plants. An interesting point made in this book is that our native insect populations will gather nourishments from alien plant material, generally in the form of nectar, as adults, but do not reproduce on alien plant material. They have not developed the ability to process the secondary chemical compounds in alien species, therefore younger stages of native insects, cannot feed on aliens. As native plant populations disappear from our backyards, and as invasive species continue to overrun our natural areas, we are left with healthy adult populations of native insects, but fewer places for them to reproduce. All the wonderful plants brought back to our gardens from all over the world, prized by collectors, garden clubs and hybridizers, are unavailable as a source of nutrition, to the larval stages of our native insect populations.

So what’s wrong with that, you ask? Who wouldn’t want fewer bugs around? That is a question best answered by reading “Brining Nature Home”. Insects play an important role in the health of our ecosystems, and declining populations will have devastating effects on these fragile communities. Leaning about these complex relationships is something I highly recommend to any gardener who cares about our environment. “Bringing Home Nature” is an important tool to be used towards the reestablishment of out native ecosystems. No longer acceptable to simply turn our back on nature as we garden, we now have the power to affect positive change on a “grass roots” level, and Mr. Tallamy’s book is a great place to learn how.

Oh, as for our Earp-like hero referenced above; the natural answer to our bug problem, is to allow and even promote insect populations. That’s right, and as they grow, so will the predators of those populations grow, until balance is restored, and nature keeps everything in check.

See you out in the Garden,



The Great Backyard Bird Count

The Great Backyard Bird Count

February is National Bird Feeding Month, and from the 12th to the 15th, you can take part in The Great backyard bird count. This is fun way to help gather data about our feathered friends and the health of their populations. You’ll find plenty of information by visiting the websites of The National Bird-Feeding Society, and The Great Backyard Bird Count, to help you get started.

Cardinal photo Courtesy Birdsource.org

Creating wildlife habitat in your garden is not only fun, but essential in helping to combat the shrinking populations of birds and insects in our world. Why should we care about bird and insect populations, you ask? Well, we’ll answer that complex question in future posts, but for now, suffice to say that we are all connected in the great web of life, and keeping a healthy and diverse ecosystem benefits each and every one of us.

And if the winter doldrums have still got you down, there is something you can do about it, embrace winter and all it has to offer. For starters, stop by for a visit to the Therapeutic Landscapes Network Blog, where Naomi Sachs, a fellow Landscape designer and Twitter friend is in the middle of a wonderful series on connecting with nature in winter. Follow her suggestions, and you might find yourself enjoying the shortest month of the year.

Until next time, here’s hoping you connect with your surroundings!