Wednesday, August 31, 2016


Does anyone know of a way to purge 50% of your genetics, preferably from the side that may (and in all likelihood will) be voting for Trump come this fall? Seriously though, I'm worried my genes might be seriously defective. Like REALLY REALLY defective. Anyway, until I can cut out every last strand of my paternal genetics I'm stuck in the realm of the attainable. Dealing with reality really sucks sometimes I guess. So while my dad may be, at least at the moment, a complete and utter disappointment I believe the reasonable part of him that actually does listen to numbers, logic and substantiated, reasoned arguments will eventually come through for me. One can hope anyway. So to cut to the chase, my Dad does believe that global warming is an actual thing, and while using any one specific instance/season to support global warming is a bit silly, it certainly doesn't hurt my cause (my cause being getting him to vote for anyone but Trump) that we have had one of the worst summers on record.

Just to give some context, the general Boston area is AHS heat zone 4 with an average of between 14-30 days above 85 degrees a year. This summer (as of the 30th of August) after a very brief look, we've already had 43 days above 85 degrees, and we still have a few weeks left to go. Couple what is now the sixth hottest summer on record (as of August 25), with what is likely to be THE driest summer on record and you have what I like to refer to as a gardener's nightmare. The tiny bit of rain we got has been spread out in small little bursts where things get just wet enough into fooling you that the plants are actually getting water. Our local forests probably haven't seen rain since June. And while our native flora and fauna is resilient, all things have their limits and if we haven't passed them already for many species, I'm sure we're getting close.

While one exceptionally bad summer can not be considered a predictor of summers to come, if this is any indication of what's ahead I've probably missed my window on growing many of my favorite plants I've lusted after of the cool cold climes of the northern hemisphere. I consider USDA zone 6/AHS heat zone 4 to be the unofficial southern limit being able to successfully grow boreal species, and as those 2 delineations move northward, so to does the region where these species can be grown well. Even if in an alternate universe I had somehow managed to obtain and grow some of these plants prior this weather, with the summer we just had, whatever wasn't done in by the drought would have succumbed to the heat, or vice versa. So to reach some sort of closure I thought I'd honor a few of these plants and try to come to terms with the fact that I may never get to grow them (at least in the Boston area). All 3 of these species have a (more or less) circumboreal distributions.

Cornus canadensis (recently changed to Chamaepericlymenum canadense) - Bunch Berry
Zones 2-6(7)
I grew up at the very southern end of this guys range (at least at lower altitudes) so I occasionally would happen across patches of this ground cover in the woods where conditions were just right. So like every plant that we associate with childhood (or at least the ones we don't have to eat) I'm particularly fond of this flowering dogwood relative and have always wanted to have a nice big patch of it someday for my very own... and I suppose I still can, just not where I live currently :-/ Its foliage flushes with beautiful burgundy tones in the fall. This coupled with it's red berries make for quite a show. Apparently, when its happy, it can spread aggressively.
Purchase from:

Linnaea borealis - Twinflower
Zones 2-6
What this diminutive little evergreen creeper lacks in height it more than makes up for with its elegance and grace. All the pictures I've seen make me drool. Have yet to see it in the wild.
Purchase from:

Vaccinium vitis-idaea - Mountain Cranberry or Lingonberry
Zones 3-6(8)
If a blueberry and cranberry had a baby pretty sure it would look something like this species. I've only seen the native form of this evergreen (V. vitis-idaea var. minus) in New England growing in alpine and sub-alpine environments as a diminutive creeper. European forms seem to be much more robust and shrubby as well as more heat tolerant. Edible (have had a berry or 2 myself... not bad).
Purchase from:

Sunday, July 31, 2016


"I'm a lot more drunk than I think I am." 

These insightful words were courtesy of a distinguished young lady outside the garden center where I take my lunch breaks. I wish I could say it was later in the day, but this was a little before noon and and she had just purchased [more] alcohol and was sidewalk drinking with a friend. Thanks to upstanding young people like this woman, along with the booze soaked culture of the many lofty academic institutions that litter the area, the garden center that is my daily treat to myself (Pemberton Farms) will be losing 90% of their real estate to... I'm sure you might be able to guess at this point... alcohol sales. So to all you wonderful speech slurring, vomit covered, barely able to walk students and Cambridge hipsters out there, I'd like to say F#######@K you. Thanks for taking away one of the few pleasures I have during my work day. 

Anyway getting back to the plant portion of this rant, while I would like to put all the blame squarely on the drunken populus, the reality is I have to accept some too. As a self-proclaimed plant geek, I should have done my horticultural duty (aka a lot less lunch strolling and bit more actual buying of plants). It is my failure to do so that has contributed to this sad state of affairs. After all, the main reason the plant section is being reduced is they simply aren't selling enough product. My point being when we, as discriminating plant dorks, find businesses we like, we need to make an effort to support them cause as soon as you take them for granted, poof! they're gone.

I've admired way too many great businesses from afar (Seneca Hill Perennials, Shooting Star Nursery, Munchkin Nursery, etc.) only to find they've closed when I finally go to purchase something. Ultimately the people who own and operate these businesses do it cause they love it, but unfortunately love doesn't pay the bills. Do your part to make sure they can keep selling the amazing plants we love and buy some stuff already!!!

So before my little refuge is reduced to a few tables of sad 6 pack petunias and marigolds I thought I'd take a break from highlighting plants and celebrate a few retail mail order businesses I've come across in the last few years that have really blown me away, whether it be breadth and variety, quality of plant, or just plain old good service. CHECK THESE PLACES OUT!!!!


Thursday, June 30, 2016


So I was talking design with a biologist friend of mine a few weeks back and and he said something along the lines of "it's funny, you guys think you can one up nature." The comment took me a back a bit, and rather than trying to defend or explain, I took the easy way out and did my best to change the subject. While I may have superficially seemed to brushed it off, it actually hit quite a nerve. So I chewed his comment over a bit after, and then sat with it for a while (and "for a while" I mean a few weeks) and formulated my thoughts. But just to clarify, before I get carried away, I definitely DO NOT think that designers can "one up nature." Should we aspire to? Yes. Has anyone done it? Not that I'm aware of. Not even close. Landscape architecture/design, at its best, mitigates human disturbance and, when possible, adds value back to the landscape through active intervention. To say that we could ever replace nature is beyond naive.

While I'd like to use some of my recent professional work to help demonstrate the "added value" part, I'm afraid that would only help prove the contrary, so in an attempt to not go in a totally negative direction I figured I'd use my own personal garden (in progress) to help illustrate a few points. Before I got started the area was more or less 1/4 natives, 1/4 escaped lawn grasses, 1/4 phragmites, 1/4 glossy buckthorn, and a few patches of poison ivy sprinkled in for good measure (technically poison ivy would be part of the native group, but I think it deserves to be in a class all by itself). If I had let things take their "natural" course the natives probably would have been out competed within a couple of years and it would have been mostly a "monoculture" (or bi-culture?) of these 2 species. So I did my best to turn the tide. I drew a line in the sand (or in this case very wet heavy clay) and went about eradicating the offending species. After knocking the phragmites and buckthorn back some, I then added a few additional regional natives, and preserved and propogated those that were already present.


The question is, if you assume existing conditions as a baseline, with all my effort have I really changed anything for the better? Despite the bad rap, both of the invasives I worked so diligently to remove from the area actually do provide valuable ecological functions. Phragmites sequesters nutrients, heavy metals and carbon, builds and stabilizes soils, and persist in places where most plants wouldn't stand a chance, while the glossy buckthorn serves as forage for pollinators, birds, and small mammals. So, at least from an ecological services standpoint I probably haven't moved the needle much, I might have even affected things negatively (hopefully that will change as the plants get established and spread over time). So what value, if any, have I added? Answer: Diversity. If I hadn't intervened it is probably conservative to say that at least 80-90% of the existing natives would have been lost. This is where I see design professionals having the biggest potential to "add value." We may not be able to fully replicate the ecological services of the species we're displacing, but we can provide stand-in plant communities that would otherwise be displaced by introduced invaders... ecological zoos if you will.

When we talk about "value", we need to look at things holistically, in context, otherwise we can over-emphasize the importance of certain aspects, while underestimating others. And relative to context, if we begin to look at the ways people negatively affect the environment around them (encroachment, fragmentation, and degradation) any intervention that keeps at least 2 of these factors constant, while improving at least one is more than worthwhile. So this week, to celebrate diversity, I'm picking three obscure (at least to those who call the northeast home) native-ish plants that you most likely haven't heard of (or at least probably aren't very familiar with). So if any of these happen to be endemic to where you live please give them a try!!!


Synandra hispidula - Guyandotte Beauty
Zones 5-8
One of our spring woodland ephemeral biennials of the appalachains. Self-seeds when happy. Wants a rich, woodsy, evenly moist soil. I'm assuming a closely allied relative of the european woodland wildflower, Melittis melissophyllum aka Bastard Balm.
Purchase from: Enchanters Garden, Izel Native Plants

Thalia dealbata - Powdery Alligator-Flag, Water Canna, or Powdery Thalia
Zones 6(5)-10
A tall (6'-10') semi-aquatic, decidedly tropical looking, very architectural plant. You got a sunny spot with some shallow water and wanna impress you dorky gardening friends?...give Powdery Alligator-Flag a try! There's another less hardy species (to zone 7) Thalia geniculata or Red Stemmed Thalia/ Bent Alligator-Flag.
Purchase from: Niche Gardens, Missouri Wildflower Nursery, Secret Garden Growers, Maryland Aquatic Nursery

Zenobia pulverulenta - Dusty Zenobia
Zones 5-9
If the literature on this is correct, I don't understand why this southern (yet cold hardy) ericaceous shrub isn't more widely grown. Evergreen (or mostly evergreen). Beautiful fall foliage. Tolerance of wet, poorly drained soils. White, bell-shaped, fragrant flowers. I'll find some room for this plant if it kills me. Many selections of forms with silvery blue foliage including 'Woodlanders Blue,' 'Misty Blue,' and 'Blue Sky.'
Purchase from: Rarefind Nursery, American Beauties, Almost Eden, Bluebell Nursery, Broken Arrow Nursery, Nearly Native Nursery, Forest Farm, Panoramic Farm