Priscilla Hutt Williams

35 Turner Road, Townsend, Massachusetts 01469

(TEL) 978-597-3005  (FAX) 772-264-7886


 Volume 5, February 2015

In This Issue



Priscilla at the Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden



















John raises chickens in his spare time









Bark of Clethra barbinervis provides winter interest
























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Greetings from one snowed-in gardener to others!  

What a winter for storms and cold.  I have to admit, I've enjoyed the extra quiet time at home to catch up on reading seed catalogues and garden magazines.  Soon it will be time to get back out there in the warm spring air, and I look forward to that moment.

Our annual spring letter will be in your inbox shortly.  One of the biggest changes we have planned is our expanded social media presence.  Jump in by "liking" our Facebook page or follow us on Instagram.  You'll see updates from winter conference-going posted there, and we'll be counting down to Spring on March 20.  Of course, we'll be growing seedlings again this year.  The pre-order form will be posted on our website and included with your spring letter.
Armchair Travel: Visit Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden, Coral Gables, Florida
Visitors to South Florida this winter will want to take in the special exhibition of works by glass artist extraordinaire, Dale Chihuly.  Twenty-eight very special pieces are arranged around the Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden.  I was surprised at turning one corner to see colorful, needle-like pieces nestled in the cactus garden!  My favorites were the fantastical shapes piled in a wooden boat, gently swaying the breeze, although that was a close tie with the works positioned in the butterfly house as exotic species by the hundreds fluttered around me.  What a day!
Travel Close to Home: Upcoming Garden Shows
Mount Holyoke Bulb Show exhibit

It's almost Bulb Show time again.  I make an annual pilgrimage to the Smith College Bulb Show and Mt. Holyoke College Spring Flower Show in early March to see the displays of forced spring bulbs.  This year's dates are March 7-22.  The theme at Smith is Claude Monet's garden at Giverny, a must-see!  Hours at Smith are 10 am - 4 pm daily, with evening hours until 8 pm on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.  Mt. Holyoke hours are 10 am - 4 pm daily.  Suggested admission is $5, well worth it for this lovely breath of spring.

For those who prefer to see more than flowers, mark your calendar for the Boston Flower and Garden Show, March 11-15 at the Seaport World Trade Center.
What Do Gardeners Do in Winter: Staff Update
Most of us attended a large trade show and conference in Boston called New England Grows.   There we mingled with our colleagues from across the region and attended lectures by nationally known experts in the fields of arboriculture,  horticulture and conservation.  Those of us with professional credentials earned recertification credits. You can also hear me coming from the conference floor giving a recap on my colleague's podcast Finding Safeground.

Reese and Chuck took the exam to become Massachusetts Certified Horticulturists.  This involves a long section of plant identification.  We'll hear soon if they passed but we think they probably did.  Tyler attended the four-day NOFA Organic Land Care accreditation course between stints of plowing snow.  He also completed UMass Green School in early December.

Carmine, Priscilla and Karla attended the Soil and Nutrition Conference and met the prospector from Ontario who discovered the mine of Spanish River Carbonatite that we use in our soil amendment programs as a source of trace minerals!

Carmine has been enjoying more time with his three children at home this winter, but as always has been busy researching new products and materials for the coming season.  Al is also a house husband in the winter months but gets away for ice fishing.

Susan and Priscilla participate in choral singing groups and have performed in winter concerts in the area.

Karla has been keeping up with her herbalist studies and her active teenagers at home.

Estelle has been going to flower shows and is most looking forward to the upcoming one in Philadelphia which is the oldest flower show in the United States.

Gary has been working at a data entry job this winter.  Russell and Peggy are busy with editing and writing projects.

Paul Marean has been doing some wooden floor installation work at home but is still at the drawing board with some planting plans for the coming year.  It's not too late at all to enlist him to help you with renovating or upgrading your garden in 2015.

Doris is at her usual position at the computer and office phone but has been able to take some family vacation time in Florida and at home.

Lisa and her husband bought a motorhome last week and headed south, tired of shoveling!  They are headed for Key West but promise to be back with us by the last week of March.

John has been contradancing and taking care of his flock of backyard chickens.  Also he's getting ready for seed starting season.

Looks like Chris is moving to Colorado so won't be back with us come spring. 
Plant Pick: 2015 Cary Award Winners
Tower Hill Botanic Garden sponsors the Cary Award Program to promote outstanding plants for our New England climate.  Preference is given to plants that extend the season with notable winter features of bark, berries, leaves or silhouette.
Clethra barbinervis in flower

Clethra barbinervis, the Japanese clethra, is a small 10' to 20' tree that is not very well known.  It is absolutely covered with dangling white fragrant flowers in July and August.  Fall foliage ranges from yellow to a mix of maroon, bronze and red.  Slightly exfoliating bark provides winter interest and is somewhat reminiscent of Stewartia.  I like to use this plant in a woodland garden, although it will do fine in morning sun.  It has no serious insect or disease problems.
Fagus sylvatica 'Red Obelisk'

Fagus sylvatica 'Red Obelisk' is a striking columnar form of the very large European beech tree.  Its purple leaves hold their color very well in heat through fall when its smooth grey bark stands out against the winter landscape.  Dimensions are 30' to 40' high and 8' to 10' wide.  This tree can be set out in rows as a striking hedge or used alone as a specimen.
2015: A Call to Consciously Integrate Conservation & Ecology
I hear a lot of drums beating these days.  "Create soil carbon", "Save the monarchs", "Plant something for pollinators".  In my mind, these causes are all connected, just like all of us.

Most of you have heard me repeat many times:  "Cover the soil" or "Leave no bare soil."  Then our crew either plants something, mulches the area heavily with woodchips or puts in a groundcover with an infinitely spreading root system.  Nature abhors a vacuum, and if you don't plant something, the ground will either fill with weeds or erode!

Research now shows that bare soil is actually more likely to release excess carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than soil that is vegetated.  Repeated on a large scale seasonally in agriculture, bare ground leads to a sterile landscape and the problems we see today with a warming climate.  We'd really prefer that this carbon stay below ground where it will do more good feeding microorganisms.  For the same reason, we are not big fans of tillage, or turning the soil where there is no need.  We instead build soil from the top down with topdressing activities and keep our microorganisms alive and multiplying through compost tea and mineral applications.

Monarch butterfly populations have declined 96.4% since 1976 (not all that long ago).  Why?  The neat and tidy syndrome is at work on field edges, eliminating their food sources and egg laying habitat. Stands of goldenrod and milkweed that once nourished new generati
Pollinator Partnership
ons have disappeared.  Roundup Ready crops provide little nutrition for monarchs.  They can't evolve fast enough to find another food source.  So it's up to us in our own backyards and fields (if we have them) to plant native species of flowers that butterflies CAN depend upon.

My friends at the Pollinator Partnership SHARE Map can put your pollinator garden on their map.  We CAN stop pollinator decline together! 

A fascinating fact relayed by Doug Tallamy, author and Professor of Entomology at the University of Delaware, is that birds and insects and flowers have evolved together, region by region, all over our world.  So the North American species of birds need North American insects to eat.  His studies of native vs. exotic flora and the corresponding amount of food for birds therein shows the native plants winning hands down.

What We Can Do One Yard at a Time
  1. Plant native trees
  2. Create corridors of native plants for wildlife and connect natural areas
  3. Reduce lawn areas where feasible in favor of adding new wildlife habitat
How will you know if you are successful?  You'll have breeding and nesting birds, lightning bugs, and a few holes in the leaves to let you know that various caterpillars have been feeding.

You may also like to delve into this topic through two books that are on my reading shelf this winter:

Bringing Nature Home by Doug Tallamy
Cows Save the Planet by Judith Schwartz
Seed Selection for Feeding Birds this Winter
Female Cardinal
Female Cardinal looking for food

A hull-less shelled sunflower or safflower seed will be easier on your garden plants or grass beneath your bird feeder.  These are still quite desirable to species such as goldfinches, titmice, nuthatches and chickadees.  

Black oiled sunflower seeds are shelled by the birds as they feed, and those hulls go right onto the ground.  They do not readily degrade and actually inhibit the growth of the plants that follow in the spring while wildly sprouting themselves.  So save the black oiled seeds for areas over a terrace or asphalt where they can be easily swept up when the snow melts.  

Cardinals and other birds with large conical bills like larger seeds in their diet and will also eat a mix of crimped corn, buckwheat and hulled or hull-less seeds.

Woodpeckers prefer nuts and fruits in winter, along with suet.  These are also shell-less mixes so are easy on garden plants.
Priscilla's February What to Do in Your Garden:
Harvard Vegetable Garden
We will soon be seeing this in the vegetable garden
  • Plan changes to the landscape
  • Review notes from the 2014 garden
  • Plan vegetable gardens
  • Order bare root plants such as roses, small fruits and trees for April planting
  • Sharpen garden tools
  • Water houseplants with a diluted solution of fish fertilizer monthly
  • Scout for pests such as aphids on houseplants and treat with a blast of water from the kitchen sink, or insecticidal soap spray
  • Scout for scale on houseplants and clean leaves with baby wipes.  Spray with well diluted neem oil if found
  • Keep birdfeeders well stocked with seed and suet
  • Enjoy indoor displays of forced paper whites and amaryllis
  • Read up on garden topics of your choice
Feel free to contact me concerning your gardens.  I would love to talk to you.