Clean Water Is Healthy Water

Clean Water Is Healthy Water

Stormwater management is an important element that separates sustainable and ecological landscape design from conventional, unmanaged landscaping. Stormwater runoff is often contaminated with various substances like fertilizers, pesticides, road salt, oil from cars, trash, sediment, grass clippings, pet waste, and farm waste. These pollutants make their way from yards, driveways, and parking lots into water as rain falls and runs through the landscape, but then it keeps going and eventually makes its way into rivers, lakes, ponds, vernal pools, and oceans.

This pollution affects our quality of life. Many rivers and lakes aren’t clean enough to swim in and fish caught from them can’t be safely eaten. Even many of the the ponds and lakes that offer swimming need to be closed frequently due to dangerous algae blooms that result from the water having too many nutrients, an process called eutrophification. Fertilizers from lawns and gardens get washed into the water and create the perfect  growing conditions for bacteria and algae overgrowth. Pollutants also find ways into wells and public water supplies, increasing the cost of maintaining safe drinking water. Research published in the American Journal of Public Health found that “the estimated annual cost of waterborne illness is comparable to the long-term capital investment needed for improved drinking water treatment and stormwater management.” Properly managing stormwater pollution can directly impact public health and decrease costs associated with treating waterborne illnesses.

Below is one of the first simple, usable criteria I have seen for determining a site’s level of risk for adequate stormwater management (from Penn State; adapted from the Univ. of Nebraska). Tools like this should be adopted to improve awareness about the quality and quantity of stormwater runoff in our communities. By identifying high risk conditions and implementing some simple strategies (think downspout redirection into gardens, choosing deep-rooted plants, decreasing lawn area, and building raingardens), we can decrease the amount of contaminated water running off a site. Whatever water does leave the site could be much cleaner, and clean water is healthy water for us all.

Water Management/Runoff Scorecard:

Vegetable Planting Calendar

We’ve had a few days of such lovely warmth that we might forget it’s still winter. There is plenty of planning to do before vegetable gardens can be planted, so here is a Planting Calendar to help you organize for plan what can be planted first.

Get those seeds out and find a warm, sunny spot for germination (or grow lights if you have them) and start dreaming of your summer harvests and next winter’s treats!



Death to the Butterfly – Cutting Back and Raking Up

Death to the Butterfly – Cutting Back and Raking Up

Summer has rapidly receded, and the autumn colors and cool nights herald the end of the growing season. You might be tempted to go clean up your gardens, but the fallen leaves and dead stalks of plants have great value to many birds, small mammals, and insects, including butterflies. And who doesn’t like butterflies? (Well, I do know one person.) Many people like the idea of attracting butterflies to their gardens and advocate protecting them, but fall cleanup can jeopardize these same butterflies. “How can that be?” you might ask. Below is a list that someone compiled and posted here about the strategies that butterflies use for overwintering:

  1. Fourth-stage caterpillars hibernate in rolled leaves on the ground.
  2. Third-stage caterpillars make a shelter from a rolled leaf tip in which to spend the winter.
  3. Partially-grown caterpillars hibernate at the base of the host plant.
  4. Overwinters as a caterpillar in seed pods of food plant.
  5. Overwinters as a caterpillar in silken nests below host plants on ground.
  6. Overwinters as an adult in the shelter of hollow trees, under bark or utilize seasonal outbuildings.
  7. Hibernate as adults. For protection they use hollow logs, woodpiles and loose bark.
  8. Overwinters as a young caterpillar in a hibernaculum (rolled leaf) on host plants.
  9. Caterpillars overwinter in leafy case on host plants.
  10. Overwinters as caterpillar in leaf tip shelter.

I found this information very interesting. We know that monarchs migrate, but other types of butterflies use a variety of methods that are dependent on leaf litter and dead plant material to survive through the winter into the next spring season. You can imagine how cleaning up all your leaves and carting them away can have a negative impact on the next year’s butterfly population, and the next year’s, and the next.

This article by the PennState Extension provides some simple guidelines for fall cleanup, and identifies which areas are reasonable to clean up (like your vegetable garden) and which to allow to naturalize through the winter. If you’re seeking to adopt more ecologically-friendly habits, please consider leaving most of your leaves and dead plants in place through the winter. Save the cleanup for spring instead – after the redbuds and dogwoods start to bloom. You’ll find that you have some additional free time during the fall too!

Dancing in the Moonlight

Dicentra cucullaria (Dutchman''s breeches)

Dicentra cucullaria (Dutchman”s breeches)

Nighttime in the garden is a magical place, with silverly moonlight caressing leaves and flowers as they sway in a light breeze, the flowers’  fragrance meanders then lingers with the music of nocturnal creatures. The transformation made by moonlight on plants and water and the coolness of the night made moon gardens a popular feature in hot climates. Gardeners chose plants that glowed in the moonlight or infused the air with enticing scents, adding water features that mirrored the moon and stirred silver streams and droplets here and there. Moon gardens became popular in the 1920’s and 1930’s in England and the U.S., but they were somewhat forgotten as people spent more time indoors and the great American lawn replaced flower gardens.

I’ve always had a fascination with moon gardens, though, and I recently began to wonder what native plants would be suitable for nighttime interest. Below is a partial list of North American native plants, predominantly of the Northeast, that could enchant both the moon and you with their blooms and scents. These plants also provide a host of ecological benefits to native pollinators, other insects, and wildlife. As always, choosing the right plants for your site can help decrease water use, maintenance, erosion, and the heat island effect, while providing increased beauty.

Spring: Actaea recemosa and A. pachypoda, Dicentra cucullaria and D. eximia ‘Alba’, Houstonia caerulea, Phlox divaricata and P. stolonifera, Tiarella cordifolia, Trillium grandiflorum and T.  luteum, Magnolia virginiana and M. macrophylla, Halesia monticola, H. tetraptera, and H. carolina, Cephalanthus occidentalis, Chionanthus virginicus, Cornus florida, Aronia arbutifolia and A. melanocarpa, Kalmia latifolia, Rhododendron groenlandicum.

Summer: Allium cernuum and A. tricoccum, Anemone virginiana, Aruncus dioicus, Baptista alba, Echinacea purpurea alba, Geranium maculata, Gillenia trifoliata, Hydrangea quercifolia, Koeleria macrantha, Liatris spicata alba, Maianthemum racemosum and M. stellatum, Phlox paniculata, Physostegia virginiana, Polygonatum biflorum, Rosa blanda, Lobelia cardinalis “Alba”, Ceanothus americanus, Clethra alnifolia, Itea virginiana, Rhododendron arborescent, Viburnum lantanoides, V. lentago, and V. nudum, and Viola walteri ‘Silver Gem’.

Late summer/autumn: Achillea millefolium, Actaea rubifolium, Ageratina altissima, Agrostis scabra, Amsonia tabernaemontana, Andropogon virginicus, Ascelpias verticillata, Clematis virginiana, Doellingeria umbellale, Eurybia divaricata,  Heuchera villosa, Hibiscus moscheutos, Monarda punctata, Muhlenbergia capillaris, Nymphaea odorata, Panicum virgatum, Pycnanthemum tenuifolium and P. virginianum, Sanguisorba canadensis, Symphyotrichum erecoides.

moongardentajmahalIf you are interested in reading more about moon gardens and the discovery of the gardens that existed at the Taj
Mahal in the 1600’s, read The Moonlight Garden: New Discoveries at the Taj Mahal, by Elizabeth B. Moynihan. A short history of moon gardens can be found in this post from Don Statham Design in New York.



Trees Share Carbon

Trees Share Carbon

Interspecies collaboration among trees to share carbon? Pretty cool! New research shows that trees that have an environment with heathy mycorrhizae in their ecosystem not only share water and nutrients with each other, but also carbon. It was also found that trees shared these resources with trees of a variety of species, not just their own. It is thought that this type of sharing could help trees support other trees that are experiencing stresses associated with climate change, helping make the whole forest a healthier place and giving more trees a chance for successful growth. What if our understanding of mycorrhizal activity and interspecies tree collaboration could help support urban forests and streets trees too? What practices could be implemented to support healthy and abundant mycorrhizal activity in tree pits and parks?

Plant Book: Planting in a Post-Wild World

imagesI heard Claudia West speak this past winter at the ELA conference in Amherst, MA, and as a result, this became the first book in a long while that I was excited to read. It does not disappoint. Planting in a Post-Wild World by Thomas Rainer and Claudia West offers a glimpse at what landscapes around us could become. By observing naturally-occurring plant communities, whether native or not, and incorporating the principles seen there, we could turn conventional landscaping on its head and offer more plant diversity, lower maintenance, and ecologically-beneficial practices to our yards, civic spaces, parks, and every place we find green things growing without our help. By intentionally weaving plants together based on their needs and habits, we can find combinations that compliment each other’s growth and space requirements, suppress weeds, support wildlife, and create a tapestry of texture and color that is lacking in most of our gardens. This is a book for the serious gardener and professional who are looking to push landscapes beyond heavily-mulched, fertilizer-dependent, and homogenous landscapes that isolate individual plants. The authors encourage you to look at green open space as an opportunity to engage in adventure and playfulness with plant selections and combinations.

“It is our challenge to reimagine a new expression of nature — one that survives within our built landscapes, and at the same time performs vital ecosystem functions needed to ensure life. We must put aside our romantic ideas of pristine wilderness and embrace a new nature that is largely designed and managed by us… The question is not what grew there in the past but what will grow there in the future.”