Gardening with Hügelkultur in the Quiet Corner

Spring Tutorial

By Brian Karlsson-Barnes

Garden planning is well done in winter, time to reflect, re-evaluate…

Perhaps revaluate an embedded attitude. Winter dormancy and rejuvenation drew me to a landscape career forty years ago, mostly working with clients’ well-manicured desires. Five years in Chaplin has evolved my appreciation of weeds. They feed the Web of Life, and I like ornamental aspects of Pokeberry Phytolacca and many clump grasses. 

Weeding is an expression of human ego which can be morally justified, excused because many do it, but no excuse. Coexistence is an expression of landscape ethics, the right thing, and less work. Part of the Web of Life, not apart.

Winter in the Northeast is horticulturally dormant. Some go south for the winter, but the coldest season makes spring so sweet. I love our wee woods, thickets and gardens all year long. Winter is time to observe the quiet landscape of buds and birds on bare branches. To recognize the ornamental grace of dead herbaceous growth above ground like Chinese Silver Grass / Miscanthus ‘Morning Light’ and many weeds. Seeking signs of health and rebirth, dormant buds swelling in late winter that is finally early spring,. 

SPRING!  Leaves and flowers appear, and we want to plant! If ad hoc, plant a native Serviceberry / Amelanchier tree here, birds love ‘em, a fragrant Roseshell Azalea / Rhododendron there, and herbaceous flowers wherever easily seen. Plant Daffodils (blooming now in stores) where you have full sun; a tree canopy may shade later, but daffs go dormant. They’ll likely come back next year. In fall, bury bulbs nearby, and you have a large drift of Narcissus next spring.

Style is yours and yours alone. My naturalistic style has ornamental edges blending to wild, whimsical and whatever Betsey wants. Coexistence requires an appreciation or at least a tolerance of some weeds. Whatever the style, all agree on the importance of plant health. Observe plants All Year Long. Writing mid-March, red buds are swelling on my towering Red Maple / Acer, common in climax woodlands of New England, and part of the diverse Eastern Deciduous Forest extending west to the Mississippi River.

Not so common is Bull Bay. Buds are healthy and some leaves are still a lustrous green on my Southern Magnolia / Magnoliagrandiflora from a Connecticut College plant sale two years ago, Planted as a small whip, it’s still only 24” high, but surviving winter. Native north to USDA cold-hardiness zone 6, Virginia and Maryland. The internet says Chaplin’s zone is 6b (minus 5°F to 0°F) in 2023, but it hasn’t been that cold recently in this crease between coastal lowland and highland Connecticut. Flowers are heavenly.

TUTORIAL  After five years, clients and friends were invited to my first spring tutorial at Chapel of the Birchnear the Natchaug River in Chaplin, Connecticut. I am the Chaplain, coo coo ka choo. I am he as you are he as you are me. And we are all together.” – John Lennon, I Am the Walrus

All is Good, gardening in Coexistence. 

On Sunday, March 17th, we pruned dead wood and crossing branches to improve air circulation because climate change has increased humidity, thus pests and disease. We staked multi-stems of clump trees. Restored compost saucers plus a kelp tonic. Used wood debris in Hügelkultur and leaves in garden beds with a topdressing of compost. I showed some container gardening with Lily / Lilium bulbs and bareroot Strawberry / Fragaria. We had fun! 

The chilly weather was biblical, early rain and the clouds parted. Amy and Carl Love came from Wayland, Mass. Sulo Salmela from Northbridge MA, Corleen Law of Putnam, and Liz Zimmer of Woodstock (great sister RE team who sold the house) pruned the Redtwig Dogwood (Benthamidia formerly Cornus) shrubs; removing 3 to 5 oldest canes promotes new red branching. 

We celebrated with a Saint Patrick’s Day Bonfire, marshmallows and a food run to Willimantic for gourmet pizza from Trigo which was closed on the holiday! C’mon. Tony’s Pizza (117 Main Street) was great off the bench as were the Celtics beating the Wizards 130-104 without starters. Maybe a Summer Solstice Bonfire with a tutorial on herbaceous perennials?

CLEAN UP  Some manicure their landscapes, some don’t. Your choice. I enjoy mowing my flowing pattern of lawn, leaving some unmown as a mini-meadow. I leave ground-hugging old growth of herbaceous perennials past the danger of a hard freeze. Old shelters new. If exposed, fresh growth emerges too early, vulnerable to frost. New England springs are unpredictable with climate change. Last year, a hard freeze in the middle of May killed buds on my native Redbud / Cercis and Japanese Maple / AcerJapanese Painted Fern / Athyrium died to the ground. 

All recovered.

I fertilize with compost saucers and granular BioTone. My first tonic offered customers as a landscape designer for Weston Nurseries (Hopkinton MA) was a topdressing of compost; forming a “saucer” to hold water is better. But first is the example of our woods: the value of leaves. Compost leaves for nutrient-rich leaf mulch. Next is the value of wood debris.

HÜGELKULTUR (pronounced hyoo-gul-kulture)   German word for mound or hill culture in which a planting bed is filled with wood and organic materials, topped with soil, better with compost. German gardeners and other Europeans have practiced it for centuries.

This horticultural technique mounds decaying wood debris and other compostable biomass materials as a raised bed. Small logs can be stacked below grade; above grade, cutting debris into small pieces increases wood surface and hastens decomposition. Decomposing wood ties up nitrogen that fuels plant growth; compensate with high-nitrogen materials like grass clippings or manure. As with composting, alternate layers of green and brown material.

Embraced by Permaculture for growing harvest plants, hügelkulturing is not for most trees because the mound sinks with decomposition. (My whitebark birch are planted in an 18” mound of compost, no wood debris.) Use for some woody shrubs, herbaceous perennials and annuals.

MANTRA  When nursery plants are available, Suit the Site’s cold hardiness and sun exposure. Soil nutrient and moisture is often amended; Water Makes Things Grow! Then Fit the Space using mature size to guide location. (Mind you, the nursery industry wants you to update and replace more than necessary.) Third, Seek Beauty.

Photos by the author.

Brian Karlsson-Barnes, Master gardener / designer, Boston, Massachusetts & Chaplin, Connecticut

Email:  briankarlssonbarnes@gmail.com     Text: 617.957.6611 (preferred)

KB garden design, 12 Cross Road, Chaplin CT 06235

Did Native Americans Transform the World?

Sustainability, Liberty and the Noble Savage

By Brian Karlsson-Barnes

First Nations in New England were intimately connected to the Earth that had sustained them for centuries. They revered the Land. It defined their spirituality. Generous in spirit, Nipmuc Indians took maize from the Quiet Corner along Old Connecticut Path to starving colonists in Boston, a long trek in the 1630s. But native Americans gave us much more than generosity and corn.

SUSTAINABILITY is a mantra of American Indian cultures, such as the principles of a Potawatomi‘Honorable Harvest’ (reported in ‘Our Relationship to the Land’ by Loretta Wrobel, Jan/Feb 2024 Neighbors):     

Ask permission, listen, be grateful and reciprocate. 

Never take the first one, and take only what you need … 

Share and minimize harm …

Also drawing on ancient wisdom, the 7th Principle of Unitarian-Universalism teaches: 

Respect for the Interdependent Web of All Existence of Which We Are a Part.   Not apart.

LIBERTY   Indian Givers (a 1988 book by Jack Weatherford, Anthropology professor at Macalester College, St. Paul, Minnesota) asks, “Did Native Americans Transform the World?” 

Yes! Native culture has given us much more than the wisdom of sustainability: modern medicine, agriculture and ecology… potatoes, chillies and chocolate!… and our democratic system of government with our uniquely American concept of freedom… all are Indian gifts. 

Personal Liberty is our American Indian notion of freedom. “Freedom does not have a long pedigree in the Old World,” Weatherford observes. Ancient Mediterranean literature refers to group freedom from domination, such as freeing Jews from Egyptian bondage. American personal freedom, however, is an individual’s liberty from rulers and wealthy elites.

After 1493 when Columbus founded settlement for Queen Isabella on Hispaniola (Haiti and the Dominican Republic), exploration decimated Indian leadership and grafted the Spanish language and religion on native roots throughout the region. Less invasive French and British adventurers observed North American Indians living in harmony and prosperity without royal rule, without “magistrates, forced services, riches, poverty and inheritance.” 

Indians were instead egalitarian and ethical without the European mania for money. 

By the 17th and 18th centuries of the “Enlightenment”, American Indians were belittled as “Noble Savages” by European elites. Per US historian Henry Steele Commager, “Europe was ruled by the well born, the rich, the privileged, by those who held their places by divine favor, inheritance, prescription or purchase.” German philosopher Immanuel Kant claimed that American Indians are “incapable of civilization… without affection and passion… not drawn to one another by love… hardly speak at all, never caress one another, care about nothing, and are lazy.”

Ugly racist bigotry. Elite, not enlightened.

The Indian spark of personal liberty lit the fire of the 1776 American and 1789 French Revolutions. It illuminated the way to a global age of democracy, more than two centuries to a world now threatened in Ukraine, Gaza, even America. Do we need a global powwow?

Powwow  Weatherford’s book resonated with my Minnesota memories of the Headwaters Green Party in the late 1990s. Greens as I were invited to an annual gathering north of The Cities. 

Powwows seem chaotic to nonnatives. No one is in control, no one tells dancers to start. Slowly activated by drum and song, dancers moved in a spiral of respect, a continual shuffling to the rhythmic beating of a drum. Veterans were invited early, regardless of ethnicity or service (my 7 years USAF). The circle spun larger and larger, growing organically as more dancers joined the spiral. Mesmerizing. My spirit still dances in harmony with the Land.

Ralph Nader’s 2000 running mate was Winona LaDuke, environmental activist, Harvard economics graduate, member of the White Earth Indian tribe, an Ojibwe “Warrior Woman” and a force of nature. The Green Party shared her issues of environmental sustainability. 

Although she studied in Boston, LaDuke wasn’t well known on the East Coast. Some Democrats disliked Greens, we Stewards of the Earth, as competition for their bipartisan power. Some Greens disliked consumer-advocate Nader who wasn’t a party member but craved attention and lent celebrity. Some Dems still disdain the Green Party. I’m now an Independent. 

UGLY AMERICANS  The United States now indulges environmental abuse, recalling the epithet depicting Americans who were arrogant, loud and ostentatious overseas (from a 1958 political novel about Southeast Asia diplomacy). Overconsumption is a new Ugly.

American Consumerism is now too much about marketing and deceit, profit and greed, and overconsumption and waste. As Wrobel wrote, “When we take only what we need, we stop producing mountains of waste.” We need to buy; we just don’t need so much. Yet Americans are only 4% of the world’s people and in the triage of global crises, the effects of climate change – increasing drought and fire, flooding and rising sea levels — are devastating world-wide. Loss of species is more alarming, perhaps 200 species disappearing daily. Perhaps triage is pointless. Everything is interconnected.

Problems grew exponentially in the 20th century as Americans became less connected to the Land, less in touch with nature and nobility, and consumed by consumption. Since we began buying and driving more, and more, and frivolously flying afar. Fortunately, we are blessed in the with nature in our quiet corner of Connecticut. 

Any little journey can include a woodsy walk.

Old Connecticut Path

By Brian Karlsson-Barnes

Everything Is Connected. Native trails first led westward from the Massachusetts Bay Colony to the Connecticut River Valley. Old Connecticut Path was first of North American routes west from the seacoast settlement that is Boston, founded 1630. From the Hub, everything was connected, land and sea. 

The word Connecticut has little to do with our verb of connection, however; it is derived from anglicized spellings of Quinnetuket, a Mohegan-Pequot word for the state’s “long tidal river”.

Indians already knew the efficient trails, skirting wet meadows of river bottoms, crossing streams at the easiest fords, and walking the ridges. When Bay colonists were short of grain in the early 1630s, Nipmuc farmers in Connecticut took surplus maize along this familiar route to the mouth of the Charles River, trading food for metal goods and woolen cloth (and unintentional disease for which no immunity). 

1635 Watertown settlers took this route moving to Wethersfield, Connecticut. In 1636, Hartford was founded when Congregational minister Thomas Hooker (advocate of universal Christian suffrage who disagreed with the Puritans) took a hundred of his dissenting congregation on a two-week trek with 160 cattle along the Path to the Connecticut River, a place called Saukiog, meaning “blackness of earth”. Early colonists driving cattle made the Path wider.

By 1643, Sudbury Village in Massachusetts, documents called this trail “Old Connecticut Path”. With a postal system in 1672, “The Great Trail of New England” became the first colonial Post Road. The Path crossed the Blackstone River, crossing known as North Bridge, and the Quinebaug River crossing was South Bridge, thus naming Northbridge and Southbridge. The Path still partly follows Routes 9 and 126.

The ease of growing corn led to small grist mills on waterways throughout the region, as in Gurleyville near Storrs, dating to about 1749 on the Fenton River near Mansfield Hollow and the Nipmuc Trail.

GARDEN PATH  Everything Is connected. Moving to Boston in 2004, I often drove Route 9 from Jamaica Plain to Hopkinton’s Weston Nurseries, my first connection to the Path. JP is also home to Arnold Arboretum, nature’s solace for many, where I was a volunteer docent. In the1970s, architectural studies at the University of Minnesota connected with spatial work at Bachman’s Garden Center in Minneapolis, and Dundee Nursery in Plymouth MN.Unitarian-Universalism taught its 7th Principle: 

Respect for the Interdependent Web of All Existence of Which We Are a Part

Not apart.

Route  

Centuries before European settlement, Old Connecticut Path led west from Massachusetts Bay along the north bank of the Charles River … to Cambridge (New Town) and newly settled Watertown, through now-Waltham and Weston… curving south to Wayland where Route 126 still bears the Old Path name. (Wayland, where “Bay Path” diverged from Connecticut Path to head straight west through Worcester to the Connecticut River from Mass Bay.) 

Southwestward, Connecticut Path passed along the north side of Cochituate Pond to cross the Sudbury River in now-Framingham (Route 126 also retains name), then threaded between the Charles and Sudbury Rivers. From Framingham, Old Connecticut Path ran south through Ashland (Megunko, where I later lived on Sudbury headquarters) through Hopkinton (Quansigamog) into now-Westborough. 

Native Indians were coerced to settle in “praying towns”, instructed in European customs and converted to Christianity. Trekking over Fay Mountain to Grafton, known as the praying town of Hassanamesit / Hassanamisco, the Old Path led through Sutton woods to Connecticut. It entered at the praying town of Mannexit, now Thompson, continued into Woodstock and crossed the Quiet Corner through Eastford, Ashford and Willington. 

Today, travelers in the Quiet Corner can walk Old Connecticut Path in Fenton-Ruby Park (Willington) and along the Nipmuc (aka Nipmuck)  Trail north from Mansfield Hollow (Windham) to Bigelow Hollow (Union) at the Massachusetts border. 

NIPMUC TRAIL A west branch starts on Puddin’ Lane in suburban Mansfield, and the east branch extends north from Mansfield Hollow State Park (Windham), through the Natchaug / Nipmuck State Forests and Yale Forest, into Bigelow Hollow State Park (Union). The 45-mile trail hikes woods, open fields and ridges, to which many other trails connect town and conservation lands, notably Joshua’s Trust. 

Westward, the Old Path crosses Tolland, Vernon and Manchester to arrive at the Connecticut River. 

GARDEN PATH  Working in Hopkinton, Weston Nurseries’ vast inventory of plants instructed me. Better than a graduate degree. Working at Bachman’s and Dundee Nursery in Minnesota, had converted me to Horticulturalism, but WN enhanced my sense of landscape design and my earlier experience with plants suitable to Minnesota’s bitter winters.

My mantra:                                                      Suit the Site, Fit the Space, Then Seek Beauty

Master gardening was most instructive. This interconnection of all things horticultural was studied at the Massachusetts Horticultural Society at Elm Bank, Wellesley, as I began KB garden design in Jamaica Plain. 

2018  My path arrived in the Quiet Corner at a 1750 farmhouse in Chaplin near the Natchaug River with a scary basement and two wooded acres. Over sixty more trees, many flowering, and many more shrubs and herbaceous perennials have been planted, coexisting with glorious weeds. Love the wild landscape.

Learn

What I most want to take root, however, is the notion of horticultural interconnection.  Spiritual respect for the environment assists book and field learning. Key for me was master gardening training with MassHort.

Locally, the UCONN Master Gardening Program is in Storrs. Volunteer to learn more. Arnold Arboretum taught me more about mature growth and landscape design; in New London, learn from ornamental and natural habitats at Connecticut College. 

Master Gardener is an amateur designation; Horticulturist is a professional one. Skill and passion overlap, and becoming a Master Gardener doesn’t replace a professional degree or working as a project manager at a “design-build” nursery, but master gardening connects many variables. Gardening benefits all landscape designers. Nothing beats experience, except imagination.

Dedicated to the memory of Ryan Lefsky who died unexpectedly in October, a hard worker with overwhelming family responsibilities who loved walking the woods of Sutton, Mass.

Brian Karlsson-Barnes, Master gardener/designer, Chaplin CT  

Briankarlssonbarnes@gmail.com

My Garden Path to the Quiet Corner

Old Connecticut Path

By Brian Karlsson-Barnes

Everything Is Connected. Native trails first led westward from the Massachusetts Bay Colony to the Connecticut River Valley. Old Connecticut Path was first of North American routes west from the seacoast settlement that is Boston, founded 1630. From the Hub, everything was connected, land and sea. 

The word Connecticut has little to do with our verb of connection, however; it is derived from anglicized spellings of Quinnetuket, a Mohegan-Pequot word for the state’s “long tidal river”.

Indians already knew the efficient trails, skirting wet meadows of river bottoms, crossing streams at the easiest fords, and walking the ridges. When Bay colonists were short of grain in the early 1630s, Nipmuc farmers in Connecticut took surplus maize along this familiar route to the mouth of the Charles River, trading food for metal goods and woolen cloth (and unintentional disease for which no immunity). 

1635 Watertown settlers took this route moving to Wethersfield, Connecticut. In 1636, Hartford was founded when Congregational minister Thomas Hooker (advocate of universal Christian suffrage who disagreed with the Puritans) took a hundred of his dissenting congregation on a two-week trek with 160 cattle along the Path to the Connecticut River, a place called Saukiog, meaning “blackness of earth”. Early colonists driving cattle made the Path wider.

By 1643, Sudbury Village in Massachusetts, documents called this trail “Old Connecticut Path”. With a postal system in 1672, “The Great Trail of New England” became the first colonial Post Road. The Path crossed the Blackstone River, crossing known as North Bridge, and the Quinebaug River crossing was South Bridge, thus naming Northbridge and Southbridge. The Path still partly follows Routes 9 and 126.

The ease of growing corn led to small grist mills on waterways throughout the region, as in Gurleyville near Storrs, dating to about 1749 on the Fenton River near Mansfield Hollow and the Nipmuc Trail.

GARDEN PATH  Everything Is connected. Moving to Boston in 2004, I often drove Route 9 from Jamaica Plain to Hopkinton’s Weston Nurseries, my first connection to the Path. JP is also home to Arnold Arboretum, nature’s solace for many, where I was a volunteer docent. In the1970s, architectural studies at the University of Minnesota connected with spatial work at Bachman’s Garden Center in Minneapolis, and Dundee Nursery in Plymouth MN.Unitarian-Universalism taught its 7th Principle: 

Respect for the Interdependent Web of All Existence of Which We Are a Part

Not apart.

Route  

Centuries before European settlement, Old Connecticut Path led west from Massachusetts Bay along the north bank of the Charles River … to Cambridge (New Town) and newly settled Watertown, through now-Waltham and Weston… curving south to Wayland where Route 126 still bears the Old Path name. (Wayland, where “Bay Path” diverged from Connecticut Path to head straight west through Worcester to the Connecticut River from Mass Bay.) 

Southwestward, Connecticut Path passed along the north side of Cochituate Pond to cross the Sudbury River in now-Framingham (Route 126 also retains name), then threaded between the Charles and Sudbury Rivers. From Framingham, Old Connecticut Path ran south through Ashland (Megunko, where I later lived on Sudbury headquarters) through Hopkinton (Quansigamog) into now-Westborough. 

Native Indians were coerced to settle in “praying towns”, instructed in European customs and converted to Christianity. Trekking over Fay Mountain to Grafton, known as the praying town of Hassanamesit / Hassanamisco, the Old Path led through Sutton woods to Connecticut. It entered at the praying town of Mannexit, now Thompson, continued into Woodstock and crossed the Quiet Corner through Eastford, Ashford and Willington. 

Today, travelers in the Quiet Corner can walk Old Connecticut Path in Fenton-Ruby Park (Willington) and along the Nipmuc (aka Nipmuck)  Trail north from Mansfield Hollow (Windham) to Bigelow Hollow (Union) at the Massachusetts border. 

NIPMUC TRAIL A west branch starts on Puddin’ Lane in suburban Mansfield, and the east branch extends north from Mansfield Hollow State Park (Windham), through the Natchaug / Nipmuck State Forests and Yale Forest, into Bigelow Hollow State Park (Union). The 45-mile trail hikes woods, open fields and ridges, to which many other trails connect town and conservation lands, notably Joshua’s Trust. 

Westward, the Old Path crosses Tolland, Vernon and Manchester to arrive at the Connecticut River. 

GARDEN PATH  Working in Hopkinton, Weston Nurseries’ vast inventory of plants instructed me. Better than a graduate degree. Working at Bachman’s and Dundee Nursery in Minnesota, had converted me to Horticulturalism, but WN enhanced my sense of landscape design and my earlier experience with plants suitable to Minnesota’s bitter winters.

My mantra:                                                      Suit the Site, Fit the Space, Then Seek Beauty

Master gardening was most instructive. This interconnection of all things horticultural was studied at the Massachusetts Horticultural Society at Elm Bank, Wellesley, as I began KB garden design in Jamaica Plain. 

2018  My path arrived in the Quiet Corner at a 1750 farmhouse in Chaplin near the Natchaug River with a scary basement and two wooded acres. Over sixty more trees, many flowering, and many more shrubs and herbaceous perennials have been planted, coexisting with glorious weeds. Love the wild landscape.

Learn

What I most want to take root, however, is the notion of horticultural interconnection.  Spiritual respect for the environment assists book and field learning. Key for me was master gardening training with MassHort.

Locally, the UCONN Master Gardening Program is in Storrs. Volunteer to learn more. Arnold Arboretum taught me more about mature growth and landscape design; in New London, learn from ornamental and natural habitats at Connecticut College. 

Master Gardener is an amateur designation; Horticulturist is a professional one. Skill and passion overlap, and becoming a Master Gardener doesn’t replace a professional degree or working as a project manager at a “design-build” nursery, but master gardening connects many variables. Gardening benefits all landscape designers. Nothing beats experience, except imagination.

Dedicated to the memory of Ryan Lefsky who died unexpectedly in October, a hard worker with overwhelming family responsibilities who loved walking the woods of Sutton, Mass.

Brian Karlsson-Barnes, Master gardener/designer, Chaplin CT  

Briankarlssonbarnes@gmail.com

In Summer’s Lull, Think Autumn Planting

By Brian Karlsson-Barnes

Our temperate climate’s change in seasons decided my career path decades ago. I liked the rhythm of seasonal work. Busy, not busy, busy again… then dormant. 

Explosive growth in spring has many garden needs, surging again in fall. Physical and spiritual restoral comes in summer’s reprieve and winter’s rejuvenation. Winter is time to read, research, write and plan for next year’s garden.

This winter was different.

A Boston client wanted a “microforest” designed for spring planting, and a Northborough, grower (Brian Lewis of The Natural Landscape) wanted a list of the showiest trees and shrubs for New England. 

Such as Cary Award-winning plants named by the Worcester County Horticultural Society. All are proven reliably hardy to USDA Zone 4 with exceptional pest and disease resistance and are adaptable to the range of cultural conditions across New England.

Michael Dirr, Ph.D / University of Georgia horticultural professor, is my go-to authority. His Manual of Woody Landscape Plants is an old-school botanical bible. With two decades of hort experience in the northeast, seven with Weston Nurseries, I have my favorites. 

TREES  Three species of native deciduous trees for temperate New England (that I have planted in the Quiet Corner) were used in Boston: redbud, serviceberry and whitebarked birch. 

·    Redbud (Cercis)   Dark red buds open to purple-pink flowers in early spring before leafout at every node along ascending wide-spreading branches — best at edges of tree plantings to reduce crossing branches. Likes part shade to full sun. Mature height of 20 feet.

One is planted in Chaplin to screen a view.

·    Serviceberry (Amelanchier)   AKA Juneberry and Shadblow because it blooms when the shad (herring) run. Pure white flowers cover the tree in April with tasty berries in June — but birds beat you to ‘em. Orange-to-red fall color; ‘Autumn Brilliance’ is a brilliant red. Often available in multi-stem clump form. Height 25 feet.

Allegheny Serviceberry (Amelanchier laevis) is a native tree that naturally hybridizes with twenty species of small trees and smaller shrubs like Shadbush (A. canadensis).

Masses of showy, slightly fragrant white flowers last a week or two in early spring before leaves appear. Shadbush blooms a few weeks later. Then fruit for excellent blueberry-like pie, but birds beat you to ‘em. Yellow-orange-to-brick-red fall color. 

Orange fungal galls can mar fruit if near host junipers for Cedar Apple RustSpores can form on eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) a mile away, but the cosmetic damage doesn’t harm the apple-family tree.

Found naturally in woodland borders, full sun to part shade. Vulnerable to caterpillars that I remove by hand or with a jet spray of water or least-toxic pesticide; systemics are not used to protect birds. Grows fast to 25-feet.

Three native A. laevis are planted in Chaplin with one A. canadensis

·    Whitebarked Birch (Betula spp)   Striking white bark in all seasons, more so in multi-stem form. Native cultivar (nativar) ‘Whitespire’ (Betula populifolia) resists native bugs. Height 35-40 feet in full sun. 

Smaller nonnative Himalayan Birch (Betula utilis var. jacquemontii) is the purest white, but suffers caterpillars and borers more than native trees, especially in the country.

TIP  Improving horticultural conditions helps all plants survive pests. I use copious compost and kelp, and pay very close attention. 

Three ‘Whitespire’ and one Himalayan Birch are planted at my Chaplin “Chapel of the Birch” Others are Paper / Canoe Birch, Sweet and Yellow Birch.

Japanese plants are also suited to our temperate coastal climate, such as colorful Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum) and evergreen Umbrella Pine (Sciadopitys). Also planted in the Quiet Corner.

SHRUBS  Deciduous Azalea (Rhododendron) shrubs completed the woody planting in Boston. Flower, fragrance and fall color! Other native shrubs planted in Connecticut are Redtwig Dogwood(formerly Cornus, now Benthamidia), and evergreen Mountain Laurel (Kalmia) and Rosebay (Rhodendron)

SUMMER is a welcome lull to consider fall planting. Less plant material is available in autumn but prices are discounted by October. September is a great time to plant and establish roots before the stress of next summer’s heat, perhaps drought.

Large sizes have visual impact, but small plants cost less and adapt better. Both can be planted in naturalistic groups to mimic nature. Dry-tolerant plants are better in global warming. Best using plants native to the conditions of your site’s microclimate — they establish sooner to thrive not simply survive. 

Brian Karlsson-Barnes, Master gardener/designer    Briankarlssonbarnes@gmail.com

KB garden design, 12 Cross Road, Chaplin CT 06235    Text 617.957.6611

Our Latest 2024 Issue is Released

Enjoy our new improved website. Did you know you can now see past articles of your favorite writers? That’s right! Just click on their name on the right of the screen as we begin to populate their past offerings!

Jul/Aug  2024 Issue

Back Issues? Yes!
To view our back issue list, see the Archives icon in the right lower corner after you click in the latest issue above.