Native Plants and Biodiversity

Not too late to order this book for Christmas!
A great book that helps us to understand the importance of bio-diversity within species. We may not always condsider the reason behind diversity and how it plays an essential role in our ecosystems.
Here’s a great article also by Doug Tallamy that makes the point:

Bringing Nature Home
Gardening for Life
Chances are, you have never thought of your garden — indeed, of all of the space on your property — as a wildlife preserve that represents the last chance we have for sustaining plants and animals that were once common throughout the U.S. But that is exactly the role our suburban landscapes are now playing and will play even more in the near future.

If this is news to you, it’s not your fault. We were taught from childhood that gardens are for beauty; they are a chance to express our artistic talents, to have fun with and relax in. And, whether we like it or not, the way we landscape our properties is taken by our neighbors as a statement of our wealth and social status. But no one has taught us that we have forced the plants and animals that evolved in North America (our nation’s biodiversity) to depend more and more on human-dominated landscapes for their continued existence. We have always thought that biodiversity was happy somewhere out there “in nature;” in our local woodlot, or perhaps our state and national parks. We have heard nothing about the rate at which species are disappearing from our neighborhoods, towns, counties, and states. Even worse, we have never been taught how vital biodiversity is for our own well-being.

We Have Taken It All
The population of the U.S., now over 300 million people, has doubled since most of us were kids and continues to grow by 8640 people per day. All of those additional souls, coupled with cheap gas, our love affair with the car, and our quest to own ever larger homes have fueled unprecedented development that continues to sprawl over 2 million additional acres per year (the size of Yellowstone National Park). The Chesapeake Bay watershed has lost 100 acres of forest each day since 1985. We have connected all of our developments with 4 million miles of roads, the paved surface is nearly five times the size of New Jersey. Somewhere along the way we decided to convert most of our living and working spaces into huge expanses of lawn. So far we have planted over 62,500 sq miles, some 40 million acres, in lawn. Each weekend we mow an area 8 times the size of New Jersey to within 1 inch and then congratulate ourselves on a job well done. And it’s not like those little woodlots and “open spaces” we have not paved over or manicured are pristine. Nearly all are second-growth forests that have been thoroughly invaded by alien plants like autumn olive, multiflora rose, Oriental bittersweet, and Japanese honeysuckle. Over 3400 species of alien plants have invaded 100 million acres of the U.S, and that area is expected to double in the next 5 years.

To nature lovers these are horrifying statistics. I stress them so that we can clearly understand the challenge before us. We have turned 54% of the lower 48 states into cities and suburbs, and 41% more into various forms of agriculture. That’s right: we humans have taken 95% of nature and made in unnatural. But does this matter? Are there consequences to turning so much land into the park-like settings humans enjoy? Absolutely, both for biodiversity and for us. Our fellow creatures need food and shelter to survive and reproduce and in too many places we have eliminated both. At least 40% of Delaware’s plant species are rare or extinct, and 41% of its forest birds no longer nest in the state. Over 800 plant and animal species are rare, threatened, or endangered in Pennsylvania and 150 have already disappeared entirely. Many of those that haven’t suffered local extinction are now too rare to perform their role in their ecosystem. These can be considered functionally extinct. The song birds that brighten spring mornings have been in decline since the 1960s, having lost 40% of their numbers so far. Birds that breed in meadows are in even more trouble. Once common species such as the northern bobwhite, eastern meadowlark, field sparrow, and grasshopper sparrow have declined 82%, 72%, 68%, and 65%, respectively, in total numbers, and are completely absent from many areas that used to support healthy populations.

Why We Need Biodiversity
For most of us, hearing such numbers triggers a passing sadness; but few people feel personally threatened by the loss of biodiversity. Here’s why you should. Biodiversity losses are a clear sign that our own life-support systems are failing. The ecosystems that support us – – that determine the carrying capacity of the earth and our local spaces – – are run by biodiversity. It is biodiversity that generates oxygen and clean water; that creates topsoil out of rock and buffers extreme weather events like droughts and floods; and that recycles the mountains of garbage we create every day. And now, with human induced climate change threatening the planet, it is biodiversity that will suck that carbon out of the air and sequester it in living plants if given half a chance. Humans cannot live as the only species on this planet because it is other species that create the ecosystem services essential to us. Every time we force a species to extinction we are encouraging our own demise. Despite the disdain with which we have treated it in the past, biodiversity is not optional.

Parks Are Not Enough
I am often asked why the habitats we have preserved within our park system are not enough to save most species from extinction. Years of research by evolutionary biologists have shown that the area required to sustain biodiversity is pretty much the same as the area required to generate it in the first place. The consequence of this simple relationship is profound. Since we have taken 95% of the U.S. from nature we can expect to lose 95% of the species that once lived here unless we learn how to share our living, working, and agricultural spaces with biodiversity. 95% of all plants and animals! Now there is a statistic that puts climate-change predictions of extinction to shame. And studies of habitat islands with known histories, such as Barro Colorado Island in the Panama Canal and Ashdown Forest in England, have so far shown these predictions to be accurate. Species are lost at the same proportion with which a habitat is reduced in size. The good news is that extinction takes awhile, so if we start sharing our landscapes with other living things, we should be able to save much of the biodiversity that still exists.

Redesigning Suburbia
What will it take to give our local animals what they need to survive and reproduce on our properties? NATIVE PLANTS, and lots of them. This is a scientific fact deduced from thousands of studies about how energy moves through food webs. Here is the general reasoning. All animals get their energy directly from plants, or by eating something that has already eaten a plant. The group of animals most responsible for passing energy from plants to the animals that can’t eat plants is insects. This is what makes insects such vital components of healthy ecosystems. So many animals depend on insects for food (e.g., spiders, reptiles and amphibians, rodents, 96% of all terrestrial birds) that removing insects from an ecosystem spells its doom.

But that is exactly what we have tried to do in our suburban landscapes. For over a century we have favored ornamental landscape plants from China and Europe over those that evolved right here. If all plants were created equal, that would be fine. But every plant species protects its leaves with a species-specific mixture of nasty chemicals. With few exceptions, only insect species that have shared a long evolutionary history with a particular plant lineage have developed the physiological adaptations required to digest the chemicals in their host’s leaves. They have specialized over time to eat only the plants sharing those particular chemicals. When we present insects from Pennsylvania with plants that evolved on another continent, chances are those insects will be unable to eat them. We used to think this was good. Kill all insects before they eat our plants! But an insect that cannot eat part of a leaf cannot fulfill its role in the food web. We have planted Kousa dogwood, a species from China that supports no insect herbivores, instead of our native flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) that supports 117 species of moths and butterflies alone. In hundreds of thousands of acres we have planted goldenraintree from China instead of one of our beautiful oaks and lost the chance to grow 532 species of caterpillars, all of them nutritious bird food. My research has shown that alien ornamentals support 29 times less biodiversity than do native ornamentals.

Your Garden Has a Function
In the past we didn’t designed gardens that play a critical ecological role in the landscape, but we must do so in the future if we hope to avoid a mass extinction from which humans are not likely to recover either. As quickly as possible we need to replace unnecessary lawn with densely planted woodlots that can serve as habitat for our local biodiversity. Homeowners can do this by planting the borders of their properties with native trees plants such as white oaks (Quercus alba), black willows (Salix nigra), red maples (Acer rubrum), green ashes (Fraxinus pennsylvanica), black walnuts (Juglans nigra), river birches (Betula nigra) and shagbark hickories (Carya ovata), under-planted with woodies like serviceberry (Amelanchier canadensis), arrowwood (Viburnum dentatum), hazelnut (Corylus americnus), blueberries (Vaccinium spp) . Our studies have shown that even modest increases in the native plant cover on suburban properties significantly increases the number and species of breeding birds, including birds of conservation concern. As gardeners and stewards of our land, we have never been so empowered to help save biodiversity from extinction, and the need to do so has never been so great. All we need to do is plant native plants!

In The Evening….

If I am lucky and can get myself indoors before dark, make a meal for dinner
(last night was baked winter squash stuffed with roasted garlic and cauliflower and then sprinkled with feta cheese…pretty yummy!), then get cleaned up and find a comfy chair to relax in before my eyes close, I’ll usually read or knit. Right now I am slowly progressing on a pair of baby leggings that should only take me two days to knit up but seem to be taking much longer. Hope that baby’s legs don’t grow too quickly! I am also reading an interesting book by Thor Hanson called, The Triumph Of Seeds, How Grains, Nuts, Kernels, Pulses, and Pips Conquered The Plant kingdom And Shaped Human History. The reading of this book is most likely the reason I am falling short on my knitting project. I am always happy to read about seeds, to better understand their biology, and to consider their vital role in the world. I’m still fascinated by plants and their seeds….or should I say seeds and their plants? As Thor Hanson puts it ” seeds transcend that imaginary boundary we erect between the natural world and the human world, appearing so regularly in our daily lives, in so many forms, that we hardly recognize how utterly dependent we are upon them”. Right now, we are busy collecting seeds throughout the nursery for propagation. Every collection is unique, each seed designed specifically to encapsulate all of the characteristics and functions of that plant. We handle seeds daily, and still, I am fascinated by them. If you want to add a good read to your fall or winter reading list, consider Thor Hanson’s book. I think you’ll find it interesting and informative!

In The Studio

Through the remainder of August and into September we’ll be featuring some local artisans in the studio. If you’d like to get a jump on some holiday gift purchasing and want to support some local artisans, this may be your chance. The studio will be open Wednesday through Sunday, 9-5.
Our friend Sett Balise (brambledragon.com) is an accomplished potter from Liberty, Maine. Sett has a beautiful and functional selection of pottery available ( we eat oatmeal out of some of his bowls all winter!), come check it out!
My friend Sally Savage, photographer and mixed media artist, left a small collection of her polymer clay ‘beach stone’ necklaces for purchase. Sally will also be teaching a class this Fall at Fiber College if you’d like to join the fun and make some stones on your own.
And of course, there will be yarn for sale….handspun, hand-dyed yarn from our own flock of Blue-Face Leicester sheep! It’s never too early to increase your winter yarn stash!
Come check out the studio, wander the gardens, and find out what’s happening these days here at Fernwood!

Come Learn About Ferns!

Maidenhair Fern
Adiantum pedatum

Here at the nursery, we have a large selection of ferns that we sell. When developing or adding to an existing shade garden, ferns are often included in the design. Ferns grow in a wide variety of conditions, from dry to wet and in deep shade to sun.
Identification of some groups of ferns can be confusing. For example, in the genus Dryopteris the differences between species can be difficult to sort out. For some people, all ferns can look very similar to one another and can be difficult to tell apart.

Polystichum acrostichoides
Christmas fern


On Sunday, August 27th from 1:00-3:00, we will offer a free class on identifying ferns. Rick will offer tips on identifying groups and individual species of ferns. We’ll also talk about their specific growing conditions, their uses, and how most ferns reproduce.
Class size is limited to 12, so please sign up if you’d like to join us (fernwoodnursery@fairpoint.net). As with all other classes and workshops here at Fernwood, tea and scones will be served. Come join us and learn something new about the ferns that grow in your woods and gardens!

Athyrium ‘Victoriae’

High Summer

There is a brief window during the season when we experience a slight lull…in the gardens and in the nursery. It happens just after school lets out in late June and continues until the 4th of July weekend. We appreciate the small reprieve. The garden’s beds are planted, weeded, and looking great, the flow of customers is steady but not as busy as in May and June, there’s a calm before the ‘storm’ that the now ‘high summer’ brings. From here on in however, our pace picks up again. The nursery gets re-stocked with late season offerings and with plants that simply needed replacing from earlier sales. Now is the time we do most of our propagating for the next season, this involves collecting seed, taking cuttings, and dividing plants from the stock beds. The greenhouse is cloaked in shade cloth and a misting system gets set up ( in the greenhouse)to provide a constant and controlled amount of moisture. In the vegetable gardens, the bounty to be harvested and preserved is coming fast and furious….summer squash, cucumbers, kale, chard, greens, snow peas and shell peas, beets, and loads and loads of broccoli. Every meal is the essence of freshness, plates of homegrown chicken surrounded by steamed veggies and an extra large green salad. I begin to eye the squash patch with concern, a day of not picking could lead to one of those gigantic zucchinis or an overly bulbous yellow squash. Harvesting the squash patch becomes a secret competition between me and the cucurbits. I am determined to harvest each and everyone before I need the wheel barrow to haul them away. I’m determined to pick them when they’re small and incorporate them into meals before they roll to the back of the fridge and become wobbly. Right now I’m winning, we’re roasting squash, grilling squash, steaming squash, and using them in our favorite squash fritter recipe. So far so good. If you come for dinner more than once a week and think to yourself “squash, again?”, please don’t say it out-loud. I’m on a mission and only looking to feed ‘Team Squash’ while I’m at it. Be happy that your squash fritters include smoked Gouda and that your grilled squash wedges are peppered with a nice spicy dry rub. Eat and be happy.
It’s at this time we begin glancing forward to what’s ahead. Yes, we’ll still be harvesting and preserving well into September, our work at propagating will continue, mowing and weeding and moving sheep fence a constant until the leaves begin dropping, but there will also be firewood to bring in and hay to be gathered and stored, meat birds processed and sheep brought home. It’s not about not living in the moment or in the present (we always hope to manage this as well!), it’s about the cycle of the season and how our lives here are connected to the natural rhythms of time. We’re part of it and I like that. Well, it’s 6:30 a.m. and I must leave you now, my Patty Pan squash and Costata Romanesco zucchini have had well over 12 hours to gain inches and it’s time to rein them in!
And while out in the garden stalking the vegetable bounty….we sure are stopping to smell the flowers!

Adlumia fungosa

Adlumia fungosa

A climbing biennial and native that is covering both the arbor and moving it’s way up the check-out building at the moment. Adlumia fungosa ( also called Allegheny vine or Climbing Fumitory) is considered a threatened (or endangered) species here in Maine, as well as in the other New England states. Adlumia is fast growing, easily reaching 15 -20 feet by mid-summer and produces very light pink blossoms that resemble a bleeding heart. We have been growing it here for more than 25 years, it’s seeds are prolific and can remain in the seed bank for years, so every spring we find hundreds of Adlumia seedlings to dig and pot. I love it’s delicate and airy nature, long bloom ( June through September) and ability to cover the arbor in no time at all.
And…who doesn’t like saying, “please come down to the arbor and meet Adlumia fungosa”? Sounds like some exotic and mysterious character in a romance novel, yes?

Cool But Growing

Our weather here in Maine continues to be on the cool side. I’m almost afraid to tell you that on a few occasions recently we’ve even made a little fire in the wood cookstove to stave off the chill. I’ve done this wearing, mind you, a wool sweater and wool socks. Oh, my.
The gardens are growing and caring on without a hitch. The nursery rows are continuing to be stocked with new plants. We’ve just set out a large block of Cornus canadense…..beautiful full pots! We’ll say goodbye to May, hello to June, and hope for a little sunshine.
Here are few shots from the gardens…

Cypripedium pubescens

Podyphyllum hexandrum, Peony ‘Little Gem’, Peony japonica

Mertensia virginica ‘alba’

Convallaria ” Fernwood’s Golden Slippers”
Our own introduction

What we’re hobnobbing with….

Green growth, the feel of the earth, tree buds, grass, roots and shoots, life bursting and making its presence known, a recent bloom, the divine smell of lilacs, a fleeting ephemeral, the robust intention of the all- mighty and long-lived rhubarb plant, the tender seedlings trying with all their might.
Ahh, the joy, the privilege, the prayer of it all….
I think, truly, Frank Llyod Wright said it best…
Please, pay attention, witness it, get down on your knees and look.
Life, it’s happening….right before your eyes!

Primula

We have had springs like this before, cool and wet. The upside of this kind of weather is that the water table is being replenished and this is a blessing. Water is a blessing, yes? Another advantage to the cooler temperatures is that the blooms on the early woodland plants last longer. The chilly days are slowing the growth of many plants and this allows us to enjoy them a bit longer. We’ve had springs that rush towards summer and cause those same plants to come and go much quicker. We never want to rush things!
Visitors to the nursery wander the gardens discovering and enjoying each little delight….a newly opened trillium, a dainty anemonella, or maybe a sweet crinkled leaf primrose. I think the gardens are like an art gallery at the moment. You stroll through, stopping at each exhibit, and ponder.
Here are a few delights on exhibit at the moment….

Trillium cuneatum

Hellebore orientalis and Cardamine glandulosa

Trillium recurvatum

We’re ready!

Sanguinaria canadense Multi-plex

It has been a busy weekend here at Fernwood! On Saturday, we offered our ‘Early Bloomers and Ephemerals’ class. After a talk and slide show, attendees were able to walk the gardens and view the many early woodland and shade plants gracing the gardens at the moment. So nice to share time with eager gardeners wanting to learn more about those garden gems that are first to bloom here in Maine. Great fun!
The hoop house finally got its new skin. After 5 years, the poly needs replacing and we were happy to have another set of hands to help pull the plastic over and secure it. Thanks, Charles!! It’s looking pretty snazzy…like a kid in their new summer kicks!
We continue to pot up plants for the season, the nursery is well stocked with rows of both new and old selections. Opening day here is Wednesday, May 3rd. Our hours are from 9-5. Regular hours through the season will be Wednesday through Sunday. Closed Monday and Tuesday. Visitors can always call or email us for directions and with questions.
It is always exciting (and busy) this time of year. We are putting as many hours into the day as we can fit…”making hay while the sunshines” as they say. Hope to see you this season!
Now, why not a poem…

April Woods: Morning

Birth of color
out of night and the ground.
Luminous the gatherings
of bloodroot
newly risen, green leaf
white flower
in the sun, the dark
grown absent.

by Wendell Berry