Tuesday, February 28, 2017



The hand ringing has started early this year for me. Given the freakishly hot February (I feel like I'm saying this more and more) all the snow is gone and the ground has pretty much entirely thawed a month a head of schedule. I took advantage of the early and extreme thaw to do my usual walk through and survey the damage after being away for 2 months. Between the frost heaves, deer trampling, woodchuck holes, and the reaffirmation that I have some of clay-eyist soils around after digging around a bit, I immediately went into gloom and doom mode, but after a few deep breaths and repeatedly reminding myself that February and March have come and gone before and the plants manage to survive just fine, I avoided a panic attack... that is until I saw the voles, or more precisely, what the voles had done.

Over the past few years I've been waging a violet inspired battle. Trying and failing to protect my Liatris, Iris, Dalea, Baptisia, ect.) against the many critters that call my garden home. But the most villainous of them all, the one that leaves so little trace of its victims that you start to convince yourself that you never planted them to begin with, is the insidious vole. The list of plants I can't grow because of them gets longer and longer with each passing season, but the latest casualty (the few last remaining clumps of Baptisia 'Purple Smoke' that I have waited years to reach maturity) pushed me over the edge. I suppose I should have seen it coming, this was the last of several clumps that the voles have been working through since they were planted. While I've at least partially accepted that the remaining Baptisia probably won't last more than another season or 2, I'm still going to do my best to defend them against the invading onslaught of furry little devils (including the various non-toxic chemical deterrents out there, like Repellex and castor oil. So in honor of this very worthy foe, I figured I'd list a few plants that supposedly help deter all pests of the 4 legged variety, but that also don't mind or even prefer a heavier soil (something that's a must in my garden).

Allium suaveolense - Odorous Garlic or Fragrant Leek
Zone: 4-8

Probably one of the more random plants I've come across in the rabbit hole that is the internet. One of a handful of allium species that can tolerate saturated soils. European native. Growing up a flats of these to test this season to see how well it fairs in my wet clay. Update to follow... As with all alliums, a good all around pest deterrent.
Purchase from: Specialty Perennials, Jelitto

Delphinium tricorne - Dwarf Larkspur or Spring Larkspur
Zone: 3/4-8, no source out there seems to be consistent on this. Best guess.

I've been looking for an excuse to grow this species as they take a few years from seed to reach flowering size, but given this genus' high toxicity I think I finally found a reason. The literature seems to suggest this species might be more tolerant of poorly drained soils, hoping for this along with some level of pest deterrence. Native spring ephemeral.
Purchase from: American Meadows, Enchanter's Garden, Lazy S'S Farm Nursery, Prairie Moon Nursery, Sunshine Farm and Gardens

Fritillaria meleagris - Checkered Lily or Snake’s Head Fritillary
Zone: 3-8

While unusual and exotic looking, this plant is by no means rare, and is offered by pretty much all the bulb companies out there. Appears to do well in any moist soil (provided it's not too acidic). Has the typical strong skunky smell of the genus and is great at repelling pests. Howeve,r asiatic lily beetles do love them, so if these are a problem in your area you may want to look elsewhere. But even with the lily beetle scourge these guys have persisted for 10+ years in a perpetually mucky spot.
Purchase from: Brent and Becky's Bulbs, McClure & Zimmerman, Van Engelen, K.Van Bourgondien & Sons, Etc.

Leucojum aestivum - Summer Snowflake
Zone: 4-8(9)

Probably one of the most versatile and adaptable bulbs I can think of. Falls into the same category as the previous plant (offered by pretty much all of the bulb companies out there), but still underutilized. As with all plants in the family Amaryllidaceae (this includes daffodils) pretty much vole immune. 'Gravetye giant' is a commonly offered variety that is larger and more vigourous than the species.
Purchase from: Brent and Becky's Bulbs, McClure & Zimmerman, Van Engelen, K.Van Bourgondien & Sons, Etc.

IMAGE SOURCES: TOP IMAGE; A. suaveolense (LEFT, RIGHT); D. tricorne (LEFT, RIGHT); F. meleagris; L. aestivum (LEFT, RIGHT);

Tuesday, January 31, 2017



I've done my best to stay positive these past few months. My very, very, very, very best, despite every fiber of being trying to drag me down to wallow in all my fears, anxieties, and rage, but at this point I think I owe it myself to give in to the bottomless panic that's been threatening to swallow me whole. So for the moment I'm going to stop re-assuring myself that somehow everything will work out, that humanity will finally stop fumbling around in the dark and somehow manage to find its way out of the massive hole we've dug ourselves. Everything is not ok, we are all horrible, and each and every one of us is royally screwed. And so without further adieu I give you multiple (ecological) reasons to lie awake at night, knowing full well the future is not bright, and we are all collectively to blame (and for the record this is only a fraction of the human induced disease and infestations that are currently afflicting our forests here in the northeast. I chose to focus on either recently-ish introduced disease and pests or those that have, for whatever reason, yet to be widely publicized outside of the scientific community). Enjoy.

Disease/Pest: Geosmithia morbida, Thousand Cankers Disease
Description: A fungus spread by the Walnut Twig Beetle, Pityophthorus juglandis.
Primary species affected: Black Walnut, Juglans nigra & Butternut, Juglans cinerea
Mortality: ≈ 100%
Resistant varieties: None
Other Susceptible species: Juglans spp.
Year first reported and location: 2001, Colorado
Successful efforts to combat: Given the recent appearance of the disease there have been no coordinated efforts to fight back, simply curb the spread. Currently, there are no reported cases of resistant J. nigra individuals.

Disease/Pest: Butternut Canker, Sirococcus clavigignenti-juglandacearum
Description: A spore spread fungus.
Primary species affected: Butternut, Juglans cinerea
Mortality: ≈ close to 100% (with an occasional resistant individual)
Resistant varieties: None
Other susceptible species: Black Walnut, Juglans nigra
Year First reported and location: 1967 in southwestern Wisconsin
Successful efforts to combat: Yes, a germplasm of resistant Butternuts has been gathered by the forest service and partnership state and private organizations for breeding. While efforts are promising, they have yet to publicly release any resistant Butternut strains. To further complicate matters some resistant "Butternuts" were actually hybrids between J. cinerea and J. ailantifolia (Japanese Walnut).

The northeastern and mid-atlantic forest once had economic value far beyond the raw materials of the trees themselves. American Chestnuts, Butternuts, and Walnuts once sustained local people well beyond simple subsistence, forming the backbone of local economies up and down the eastern seaboard. But with the appearance of chestnut blight at the turn of the 20th century this economy quickly began to collapse as the once great American Chestnut went functionally extinct. While not as productive or as prevalent both the Black Walnut and Butternut (also highly valued for their nuts) are now at risk of succumbing to the same fate. The 2 diseases that threaten these trees highlight what exactly it is we lose when these foreign pathogens are unleashed upon an otherwise healthy functioning landscape: productivity. Natural systems that could once support diverse populations of native flora and fauna along with local human populations all but collapse leaving the disparate elements to compete for the few resources that remain.

Disease/Pest: Winter Moth, Operophtera brumata
Description: A moth native to Europe and the near East. Males are most commonly observed in late fall and early winter in the evening in search of flightless females.
Primary species affected: Multiple deciduous trees and shrubs including Acer spp., Quercus spp., Fraxinus spp., Malus spp., Vaccinium spp., etc.
Mortality: (?) less than 5% maybe, buy this is a total guess. It may indirectly be much higher (they weaken the trees and make them more susceptible to other disease).
Resistant species and varieties: Conifers
Year first reported and location: Nova Scotia sometime prior to 1950.
Successful efforts to combat: Yes, a parastic fly and natural predator of the moth (Cyzenis albicans) has been studied (see article), and appears to have successfully curbed infestations. It has already been used successfully in Nova Scotia and British Colombia, and results in the northeast look promising. The fly is a specialist and does not appear to target other native lepidoptera species. While not yet available to the larger public, UMass Amherst professor Joseph Elkinton has done several controlled releases across Massachusetts in hopes of curbing the outbreak (see article).

So I only found out recently that the multitude of moths I've been seeing fluttering around at night during the end of November are not only pretty much all the same species (and all male), but a noxious introduced pest that has been responsible for the (often) complete defoliation of a multitude of deciduous tree species, including many natives. This, along with 2 other introduced lepidoptera pest (Gypsy Moth, Lymantria dispar and Browntail Moth, Euproctis chrysorrhoea - both of which have their origins in my great state of Massachusetts...ugh) make a destructive trio that are wreaking havoc across the northeast and continuing to expand their range with each passing year. 2016 was a particularly bad year given the record setting drought (drought compounds the infestation as one of the few natural controls of these voracious little wrigglers is a virus, baculovirus, that relies on rainfall to spread). This confluence of accelerated population growth and extreme drought resulted in some pretty disturbing scenes. There were stretches along the drive to my garden (from Boston to Ipswich) this past summer where it looked like it was winter in mid-July. Thousands upon thousands of big mature oaks were stripped down to their bare branches for pretty much the entirety of the summer.

Disease/Pest: Woolly Adelgid, Adelges tsugae
Description: A miniscule sucking insect. Egg sacks are visible as white cottony masses.
Primary species affected: Tsuga canadensis
Mortality: ≈ 100%
Resistant varieties: None
Other susceptible species: Tsuga carolina
Year first reported and location:
Successful efforts to combat: Tentative yes?, research is currently underway looking into the effectiveness of a few species of predatory beetle (see article). Unfortunately, at least one of the beetles has even less cold tolerance than the adelgid itself, so it may only be effective in the southern Appalachians. There are also efforts to propagate resistant individuals of both native hemlock species as well as various breeding programs looking at crossing both T. canadensis and T. carolina with more resistant Asian species. T. canadensis has not yet made any successful crosses with asian species.


This insect has become a relatively recent poster child for how disastrous invasive pests can be. These nearly microscopic little SOBs have rivaled chestnut blight for the speed at which they've spread and their virulence (granted the trees take a few years to succumb, but mortality is nearly 100% and unlike the chestnut, hemlocks lack the ability to re-sprout; once they're dead, they're dead). I've written about this so often mainly because I've witnessed the before and after of this plague first hand, and it has had a profound impact on me personally. Hemlocks were not particularly common in my area to begin with, so when you were lucky enough to come across a stand it made the ecological influence that the trees had on their environment even more profound. Overall, these places were quieter, cooler, and lusher than the surrounding woodland. As tragic as it has been to see this species all but wiped out in my area, where the hemlock are more common and a dominant species, their loss has been catastrophic and will permanently change the landscape they once called home.

While I could go on, and probably should, I'll leave you with an image of the current state of our forests relative to a decade ago. If anything these numbers have probably increased. You can see what it looks like for other parts of the east (here) as well and it ain't pretty. The reality is that soon enough they're may not be any species left to take the place of the ones that get wiped out... and where are we then? And just in case you weren't concerned enough, I'll leave you with a list of a few of the other wonderful human induced plagues that are currently ravaging woodlands up and down the east coast. Keep in mind I didn't even touch upon native disease/pests or other invasive plants... I can only fit so much negativity into one post.

- Asian Longhorned Beetle, Anoplophora glabripennis

- Emerald Ash Borer, Agrilus planipennis

- Beech bark disease, Cryptococcus fagisuga

- Dogwood anthracnose, Discula destructiva

- Viburnum Leaf Beetle, Pyrrhalta viburni

- Oak wilt, Ceratocystis fagacearum

- Dutch Elm Disease, Caused by 3 different species of ascomycete microfungi: Ophiostoma ulmi, Ophiostoma himal-ulmi, Ophiostoma novo-ulmi

- White Pine Blister Rust, Cronartium ribicola

- Chestnut Blight, Cryphonectria parasitica

IMAGE SOURCES: Thousand Cankers Disease Map, Butternut Canker Distribution Map, 2015 Forest Health Aerial Survey, Woolly Adelgid Spread Map, Dead Hemlocks, Northeast Tree Mortality Map

Wednesday, November 30, 2016


We all have moments when we feel like the darker parts of our subconscious seep out to infiltrate our reality, even if just for a moment. It might happen a bit more often than I'd like, but I normally just brush it off and blame it on my over-active imagination and some combination of stress, exhaustion, and coincidence... but this past weekend was a bit exceptional.

I've been pretty desperate the past few weekends (and by "few" I mean since April) trying to get everything prepped and planted before the ground freezes... So I found myself the night after thanksgiving hacking away at the remains of a gravel road with an uncomfortably large number of winter moths fluttering past my head lamp, moving in and out of the cold fog that kept me from seeing much past the end of my pickaxe. Add this to the occasional muffled sound of howling coyotes, faint church bells, and the distant whirring of a passing train and I think any sane person would begin to question if they had wandered into a dream, or at the very least lost their grip on reality...

Getting to my point (I do have them occasionally) this odd out of body experience made me reflect on (not only my own sanity) but if the thing I was doing was really necessary at all. Given that nearly every bit of my free time has been consumed by my pursuit to "finish" the gardens I've started nearly 5 years ago I've been doing my best to try to be more efficient, or at the very least making sure the gardens don't consume me entirely. So while taking a pickaxe to the edge of a road may not have fallen under the category of completely necessary, with the complete lack of soil in certain areas and extreme compaction in others, I don't feel I was (completely) crazy for tearing it all up. BUT the reality is there are more than a handful of plants that are well equipped to deal with barely there heavily compacted "soils" that are a byproduct of current construction practices (a byproduct that at some point nearly every gardener has had to deal with). So if you would rather not rip up a road or that horrible corner of your yard where nothing will grow, consider these amazingly resilient plants that seem to bask in the compacted, clay-ey, gravel-ey poor excuse for soil that is an unfortunate and often overlooked cost of modern living.

Juncus tenuis - Poverty Rush or Path Rush
Zones 3-9
Find any old road in the northeast and this little guy is probably close by. An awkward little fella, but cute and mostly evergreen. Always a few darker shades green than the plants around it. I'm going to attempt to use it as a ground cover on the remainder of the old road I was hacking to pieces. Hopefully it works out.
Purchase from: (RETAIL) - Agrecol, Everwilde Farms, Ion Exchange, Niche Gardens, Morning Sky Greenery, Toadshade Wildflower Farm, Prairie Moon (WHOLESALE) - Northcreek Nursery, Midwest Groundcovers, New Moon Nursery

Ruellia humilis - Wild Petunia
Zones 4-8
By all accounts tough as nails and indifferent to soil. Planted a few during our drought this summer. Barely watered it. Didn't skip a beat. So far hasn't been browsed.
Purchase from: (RETAIL) - American Meadows, Agrecol, Butterfly Gardens to Go, Everwilde Farms, Heritage Flower Farm, High Country Gardens, Ion Exchange, J.L. Hudson, Seedman's, Lazy S'S Farm Nursery, Morning Sky Greenery, Prairie Nursery, Rare Find Nursery, Sunshine Farms and Gardens, Toadshade Wildflower Farm, Wildflower Farm (WHOLESALE) - Midwest Groundcovers, Northcreek Nurseries, New Moon Nurseries, Van Berkum Nursery

Symphyotrichum cordifolium - Blue Wood Aster
Zones 3-8
Other than being deer candy I have no complaints about this one. Its powder blue flowers are best appreciated in mass (and a great re-seeder so if you leave it to its own devices you'll have plenty in time). All sources list it as browse resistant, the local deer population says otherwise. Closely related a similarly adaptable species include S. drummondii S. ciliolatum, S. shortii, S. sagittifolium, and S. oolentangiense.
Purchase from: (RETAIL) - Amanda's Native Plants, Prairie Nursery, Prairie Moon Nursery (WHOLESALE) - Northcreek Nursery, New Moon Nursery, Van Berkum Nursery

Symphyotrichum novae-angliae - New England Aster
Zones 3-8
Always a bit obsessed with any species that seem to have a ridiculous (and seemingly pointless) level of diversity. All the populations I've come across have purples, light pinks, magentas, and everything in between. Its height is dependent on soil fertility. Gets a bit over rambunctious and floppy in overly rich ones.
Purchase from: (RETAIL) - Agrecol, Amanda's Garden, American Meadows, Everwilde Farms, Grimm's Gardens, High Country Gardens, Ion Exchange, Morning Sky Greenery, Prairie Nursery, Prairie Moon Nursery, Toadshade Wildflower Farm (WHOLESALE) - Midwest Groundcovers, New Moon Nursery, North Creek Nursery

Symphyotrichum pilosum - Frost Aster
Zones 3-8
I know this plant from my bike rides to work, growing happily in what looks like concrete alongside the railroad tracks. This plant will look like crap if you give it good soil, crappy soils of low fertility produce the best plants. Mainly white, but have come across light pink variants as well.
Purchase from: (RETAIL) - Agrecol, Ion Exchange, Prairie Moon Nursery, Plant Delights Nursery, Prairie Nursery, Toadshade Wildflower Farm (WHOLESALE) - New Moon Nursery

Scutellaria incana - Hoary or Downy Skullcap
Zones 4 (although I've seen a few 3 and 5)-9 (a few 8s too)
I'm a sucker for blue, and if it wasn't for the deer I would have given this guy a try. I've seen what they've done to deer resistant plants, can only imagine what they'd do to a plant without the resistance. Supposedly a fan of clays so extra bummer for me.
Purchase from: (RETAIL) - Easy Wildflowers, Everwilde Farms, Gardens in the Wood of Grassy Creek, Lazy S'S
Farm Nursery
, Niche Gardens, Odyssey Perennials, Prairie Moon Nursery (WHOLESALE) - Forrest Keeling, Northcreek Nursery, New Moon Nursery

IMAGE SOURCES: J. tenuis (LEFT, RIGHT); R. humilis; S. incana (LEFT, RIGHT)