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?

Earliest Blooming Native Plants of the Northeast

Earliest Blooming Native Plants of the Northeast

Spring brings an element of excitement to many of us who experience long winters. Whether those winters are mild or extreme, we live without foliage and blooms during those many months. Here are thirty different blooms you can plant to welcome spring next year. Many of these flowers are still blooming now, while some are very ephemeral and finished soon after the frosts passed.

Plants for Pollinators

Plants for Pollinators

We hear a lot about supporting pollinators in mainstream publications, but it is often difficult to find information that provides thorough lists of plants (not just the top 5 flowers), includes both larval food and nectar plants, includes bats and beetles rather than just bees and butterflies, or is specific to the regions in which we work. This is a great resource from the Pollinator Partnership on choosing Plants for Pollinators in our ecoregion here in the northeast. Does it include all the plants that support pollinators in our region? No. But it is a great place to start!

Spring Emergence of Pollinators (or When Is It Safe for Spring Cleanup?)

Spring Emergence of Pollinators (or When Is It Safe for Spring Cleanup?)

As pollinator habitat disappears, through development of native habitats, pesticide use, and other stresses, there has been a large body of research and instruction on how to support pollinators (and other beneficial insects) with native plants and overwintering techniques. Many sites recommend leaving dead plant material through the winter to help pollinators and other insects overwinter, and removing it in spring. Yet, spring happens over an extended period of time, weather warms and cools repeatedly, plants bloom early one year and other years, so I find the term “spring” to be rather vague.

Are there indicators we can use as guidelines for ecological garden maintenance? I found it difficult to find practical information about when it is relatively safe to remove overwintered debris in spring, but these sources about native bees that I’m sharing here provide a lot of information that can guide our recommendations and practice.

Bulletin #715 from the University of Maine Understanding Native Bees states, “The most likely place to find bees is in the flowers of native plants, when the day is sunny, relatively calm, and the temperature is above 70°F. To be active, fly and feed, bees need to be warm. A few species are active below 60°, but most prefer temperatures above 72°.” And, “Although some species may be active by late February if temperatures are unusually warm, the vernal bee species (those present in the spring) generally become active by mid-April. You may observe them on early blooming flowers, such as willow catkins and dandelions. Some native bee species continue their activities into the autumn until the last asters, dandelions and autumn dandelions die.”

 “A suitable habitat for any bee species must contain a minimum of productive floral resources and patches, as well as nesting sites, and each of these must be within flight range of each other. While bees can often exploit many different floral resources, solitary bees often have specific species that they utilize for their pollen sources. If these bees require specific pollen sources, their life cycle will often revolve around the blooming period of the specific plants. The adult bees will emerge when the plants are in bloom, so that they are able to maximize pollen collection (Cane, 2001) UVic Restoration Project. For instance, the blue orchard Mason bee nests in stems or manmade nesting tubes and their emergence coincides with the blossoming of most fruit trees, including apples, pears, and stone fruits (Home Orchard Society).

Despite being from California, the general guidelines from entomologist Robbin Thorp should be applicable elsewhere: “It’s probably best to frame the bee calendar in context of the bloom of various plants,” Thorp points out. “Manzanita (a CA native) is one of the first flowering shrubs and when they come in to bloom that is the time to look for queens of our two early bumble bee species, Bombus melanopygus and B. vosnesenskii.  Some of our large digger bees like Habropoda and some Anthophora come on during that bloom.  In the vernal pools, early flowering starts in late February and some of our solitary ground nesting mining bees, Andrena start about then.   When the red bud comes into bloom about mid-March the Blue Orchard Bee (BOB), some otheMy Bookr species of bumble bees, and some sweat bees come out.  Leafcutting bees (Megachile) and some long-horned digger bees (Melissodes and Svastra) start their activity about mid-May. ”

And another great resource is Heather Holme’s website Restoring the Landscape with Native Plants. The website provides very
accessible information on a wide variety of plants and insects native to the Midwest (many that the Northeast has in common) and discusses how the plants and insects interact with each other. The website for her book Pollinators of Native Plants includes links to downloadable full-color pdfs of native plants for specific site conditions, the nesting habits of native bees, and common host plants of butterflies, skippers, and moths.

And for those on the West coast:


Native Plants for Birds

Native Plants for Birds

Below are some helpful online resources showing what native plant species benefit what birds, mostly as food sources, but some as cover or nesting material. Adding a variety of these plants to your landscape can support bird ecology with cover protection, nesting material, fruit and seeds for multiple seasons, and increasing the insect population that many birds feed upon. These plants also support pollinators, such as bees and butterflies, and other beneficial insects. Native plants can easily fit into a traditional landscape while adding beauty, drought resistance, and increased biodiversity for a variety of ecological benefits.

Native Plants for Breeding Birds by Credit Valley Conservation is a beautiful visual reference that includes foraging guilds and nesting.

Gardening for Wildlife Plant List.pdf by Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy. This list includes wildflowers, shrubs, and trees. The document also provides a great list of books used to develop their plant list and which provide even more detailed information.

Audubon now has a Native Plant Database that allows you to enter your zip code to search the native plants in your area and includes information about which bird species those plants support – this one is pictorial and lists plants alphabetically. Or you can use the Full Results page that provides the information as text.  Both tabs allow you to search and filter by plant type, plant resources (think fruit, butterflies, seed) and attractors of specific bird families (hummingbirds, finches, warblers, etc.).