Monthly Archives: May 2013

A New Way of Making Lists

All you listers out there will be interested to know that I have been experimenting with a new listing method that overcomes one of the worst frustrations listers face: the numerical limit.  Top 10 this.  Best 100 that.  The difficulty, if you love something, isn’t coming up with 10, or 100, but getting it down to the required number.  When I compiled my Top 100 Movies list, I started with over 200: cutting those last 25 movies to get down to 100 was a painful experience, and it felt very arbitrary – is Mildred Pierce really better than Cool Hand Luke?

But thanks to a number of websites that ask members to give ratings (1-5 stars, usually, sometimes 1-10) to books, movies, albums, etc., there is another, less frustrating option: listing your 5-star rated items.  Instead of arbitrarily cutting off your favorites at 10 or 100, you can list every book, movie, album, etc,, that you gave the highest rating.  The total number is irrelevant: it could be 7, 99, or 274.  This method provides a more accurate depiction of your favorites and, more importantly avoids the awful pain of cutting just to reach an arbitrary number.

Here are the results of my experiments:

Books: https://beckchris.wordpress.com/the-lists/literature-lists/my-five-star-books/
Films: https://beckchris.wordpress.com/the-lists/movie-lists/my-five-star-films/
Music: https://beckchris.wordpress.com/the-lists/music-lists/my-five-star-albums/

My Favorite Places: Monument Valley

Straddling the border between Arizona and Utah, Monument Valley is a mythic landscape deep in the heart of the Navajo Nation.  Its sandstone buttes have become part of American western iconography through the camera lenses of John Ford and many lesser filmmakers, including those selling cars and other merchandise.

We encountered the Valley close-up and personal on our Arizona trip in 2007.  We arrived at Goulding’s Lodge in the late afternoon and drove over to the park, where a dozen or so photographers had set up to catch the Mitten Buttes in the magic light just before sunset.  

We stopped and played with some dogs and horses, with no one else around.

The next morning we watched the sun rise over the buttes from our balcony.  

Then we returned to the park for a horseback tour with Jasper, our Navajo guide to the off-road areas of the Valley.  

He told us about life in the Navajo Nation, and sang a bit of a tribal chant, which echoed off the bizarre rock formations.  We will never forget that mystical place.

Native Plants I Have Grown and Loved, Part 2

Here is Part Two of my survey of the native plants that have grown in my yard.  Part One covered trees, shrubs and vines.  This part covers herbaceous plants, including grasses, sedges, ferns and club mosses.  CLICK ON PHOTOS TO ENLARGE.

Herbaceous Plants
Round-lobed Hepatica (Hepatica nobilis)
Although the field guides tell us that this plant is a native of southern New England, I went many years before I actually saw it in the wild, and it wasn’t anywhere near eastern Massachusetts.  Until a couple of years ago, it didn’t matter, because I couldn’t find it for sale anywhere.  Then I saw it at Garden in the Woods and brought it home.  It is probably the earliest bloomer in the yard – often blooming in the last week of March.  The composition of the soil determines the color of the flowers, which range from white to pink to purple to blue.  Mine are white, with maybe a tinge of pink.
DSC_0259 DSCF0002

Rue Anemone (Anemonella thalictroides)
With its delicate white flowers and interestingly-shaped leaves, this is another early bloomer.  Although it has survived many years, it has not exactly thrived, so I was surprised to discover a patch of it growing about 100 feet away.Rue anemone close up Rue anemone (Anemonella thalictroides) 9/25/06

Wild Strawberry (Fragaria virginiana)
We planted all our berries for the wildlife, but we were so excited when the first tiny wild strawberries emerged that we had to taste a few.  Little bursts of intense flavor.  These have tended to stray from where I first planted them, almost as if they have used up that area and need to move to fresh ground.
DSCF0003    strawberry close up

Red Baneberry (Actaea rubra)
A delicate tuft of whitish flowers emerges late in April or early in May.  By the end of June, this tuft has transformed into a club of lipstick-red berries that the animals slowly pick off all summer.
DSCF0010 Red Baneberry  (Actaea rubra)  6/26/05

Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum)
These pretty plants have pink-purple flowers and attractive deeply-cut foliage.  The seed capsule (see photo) is a Medieval contraption that flings the seeds across the yard, where another plant will arise.  I planted two originally and one died after a year or two, but the remaining plant has been spreading its seed steadily.
DSCF0019 Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum) 5/20/06  Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum) 7/28/05

Heartleaf Alexander (Zizia aptera)
This was a mistake.  I meant to get Golden Alexanders (Zizia aurea), which is common in Massachusetts woods, but I bought this one instead.  It is native to the middle Atlantic states, but it seems to be doing OK here, so I bent the rules and left it.
golden alexanders

Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum pubescens)
Spreading slowing by underground rhizome, tiny greenish-yellow flowers hanging down from the stems, going almost unnoticed, Solomon’s Seal is the epitome of the subtle woodland flora.  Instead of the big, showy flowers you find at garden centers or in environments with lots more sun and/or moisture, these woodland plants conserve their resources and excel in understatement.
DSC_0267  DSCF0926  DSCF0032

Wild Oats (Uvularia sessifolia)
This plant has three common names: wild oats, merry bells, and sessile bellwort.  (I’ve always though the latter name would be good for a character in a British farce – Cecil Bellwort.)  When they first emerge, the plants look just like miniature Solomon’s seals.  But then the pale, anything-but-merry, drooping flowers appear in late April and they take on a whole different character.  Then, later in the spring, the bizarre seed pod appears like some kind of geometric goiter.
DSCF0016  DSCF0003 DSCF0008

Canada Mayflower (Maianthemum canadense)
An extremely common herb of the oak-hickory forest, Canada mayflower often forms huge patches.  It is also called ‘false lily-of-the-valley’, but the irony is that lily-of-the-valley is a non-native that spreads invasively, including into our yard, from other peoples’ gardens.Canada mayflower DSCF0025

False Solomon’s Seal (Maianthemum racemosum)
Like a cross between Canada mayflower, its close relative, and Solomon’s seal. They are very common in the woods near our house.
DSCF0944 DSCF0945DSCF0013

Wild Columbine (Aquilegia Canadensis)
I’ve never seen these in eastern Massachusetts, so I’m bending my rules a little by bringing them into the yard.  Nevertheless, it is a beautiful, unusual flower and I couldn’t resist.  And I did see them growing on a hilltop in Connecticut.
Aquilegia canadensis 5-22-08

Wild Sarsparilla (Aralia nudicaulis)
This is one of the most common herbs of the southern New England woodland.  Its leaves are everywhere, but it takes a little detective work to find the flowers, which are contained on a separate stalk and are hiding underneath the leaves.  Each globe of tiny flowers looks like an exploding firework.
DSCF0027 Aralia nudicaulis flowers Wild Sarsparilla flowers (Aralia nudicaulis) 5/24/07

Common Cinquefoil (Potentilla simplex)
This volunteer likes to spread along the ground like a vine, with the little yellow flowers poking up from time to time.
Cinquefoil (Potentilla sp.) 5/20/06

Rough Cinquefoil (Potentilla norvegica)
Another native volunteer.
Rough Cinquefoil (Potentilla norvegica) 7/27/06

Yellow Star Grass (Hypoxis hirsuta)
This humble plant wins the award for longest blooms in the yard – they start in early May and continue until mid-September.
B0000396

Robin’s Plantain (Erigeron pulchellus)
The most interesting, attractive and well-behaved member of the fleabane family.
Robin's Plantain (Erigeron pulchellus) 5/31/07  DSCF0012

Daisy Fleabane (Erigeron annuus)
Another volunteer that I go back and forth about.  It has a weedy appearance, but it does brighten up the yard during some periods when almost nothing else is in bloom.
Fleabane (Erigeron sp.) 6/30/06 daisy fleabane close-up

Philadelphia Fleabane (Erigeron philadelphicus)
Another volunteer fleabane that blooms slightly later in the season.

Whorled Loosestrife (Lysimachia quadrifolia)
This is one of my personal favorites.  It spreads by underground rhizomes, like many woodland plants, but it is showier than most.  The yellow flowers with the red markings inside, often perched atop the whorled leaves, stare out like peering eyes, looking in all directions.
Whorled Loosestrife (Lysimachia quadrifolia) 6/30/06 Whorled Loosestrife (Lysimachia quadrifolia) 6/20/06

Poke Milkweed (Asclepias exaltata)
Its strange white flowers dangle from the stem.  Not a showy plant and it has not spread, but the one individual I planted has thrived.
Poke milkweed. DSCF0005

Purple Milkweed (Asclepias purpurascens)
This is an endangered species in Massachusetts, and I am proud to create more habitat for it to flourish.  The flowers have a much deeper color than the common milkweed, with a much less aggressive habit, spreading by seed instead of underground rhizome.  The insects love them.
Purple Milkweed (Asclepias purpurascens) 6/27/06 bumblebee milkweed  Purple Milkweed pods (Asclepias purpurascens) 9/25/06

Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa)
I grew these from seed – first using small containers indoors, then transplanting the seedlings into the yard.  The flowers are a startling neon orange.  They’ve been slowly spreading to create a healthy patch in a sunny spot at the turn of the path.DSCF0015

Blue-stemmed Goldenrod (Solidago caesia)
Also called wreath goldenrod for the way the flowers wind around the stem, this is a common roadside native in eastern Massachusetts, and I have to exert some control over it to ensure it does not take over.  It is the only goldenrod that can thrive in shady conditions.  Still, when they bloom in the fall, they bring a welcome resurgence of color to the fading yard.
wreath goldenrod

Lance-leaf Goldenrod (Euthamia graminifolia)
Also called flat-top goldenrod, these slim volunteers arrived after we took down a row of Norway maples at the back of the yard, thus letting in the morning sun.  I’ve tried to confine them over by the fence, but they tend to come up where they will.  Butterflies flock to them.Lance-leaved Goldenrod (Solidago graminifolia) 7/27/06

Spotted St. John’s Wort (Hypericum punctatum)
Another sun-loving volunteer, this is a native St. John’s Wort, in contrast to the more common non-native  plant of disturbed areas and parking lots.
St. John's Wort (Hypericum sp.) 7/27/06

Whorled Wood Aster (Oclemena acuminatus)
A common aster of the wooded areas in eastern Massachusetts, the flowers are not showy, and the leaves are not actually whorled – they just appear so from above due to their placement on the stem.
B0000018

White Wood Aster
(Eurybia divaricata)
Another common wood aster that spreads slowly around the yard.
White Wood Aster (Eurybia divaricata) 9/10/06 white wood aster

Common Blue Wood Aster (Symphotrichum cordifolium)
Also called heart-leaved aster, this large, leafy volunteer spreads like wildfire, and would quickly obscure everything else in the yard if allowed.  Over the years, I have imposed various restrictions on this plant, and each year I need to impose more limits.  The problem is the thousands of tiny white or light-blue composite flowers that bloom in the fall – each one contains a myriad of even tinier seeds that spread easily around the yard.
Heart-leaved Aster (Symphyotrichum cordifolium) 9/25/06

Common Blue Violet (Viola sororia)
Considered by many to be a lawn weed, this native is a volunteer that can become aggressive, but i have decided to let it go a little wild every spring, and then I do a fair amount of eradication in summer, when the leaves grow to enormous size.  There are blue and white varieties growing side by side.
DSC_0266 Common blue violet  (Viola sp.)  5/2/05

Rattlesnake Plantain (Goodyera pubescens)
The only member of the orchid family that is native to New England (please tell me if I’m wrong, fellow bloggers), I’ve only seen it once in the wild – in a forest glade outside New Milford, Connecticut.  When I finally found it for sale, I bought two and planted them in the fall.  They came up in the spring and flowered (see photos), but didn’t make it through the winter.
Rattlesnake orchid (Goodyera pubescens) 6/18/06 Rattlesnake orchid (Goodyera pubescens) 7/27/06

Starflower (Trientalis borealis)
One of my favorite denizens of the oak-hickory forest floor, Its lucky seven leaflets and petals are extremely rare numbers in the world of plants.  I couldn’t find any for sale, so I transplanted some from my sister’s home in Maine (I’m sure we could debate the ethics of this for hours).  They died without even flowering.

Indian Cucumber Root (Medeola virginiana)
Another Maine transplant, this is a wonderful plant that produces a whorl of leaves the first year, and in the second year, another, smaller whorl above it, with bizarre flowers that remind me of little spaceships.  These flourished for a number of years, but I think they were outcompeted by the invasive lesser celandine.
DSCF0005   Indian cucumber root (Medeola virginiana) 6/11/06

Indian Tobacco (Lobelia inflata)
This is one of those native volunteers that I have debated about over the years.  Like certain other species that show up occasionally (daisy fleabane, pokeweed, beggar ticks), it is a weed (in the technical sense) that colonizes disturbed areas and rarely forms part of an established, integrated plant community.  On the other hand, its tiny light-blue flowers bloom in mid-summer, when most of the garden is green, and its puffy seed pods are mildly amusing.
Indian tobacco (Lobelia inflata) 7/27/06 Indian Tobacco (Lobelia inflata) 9/25/06

Ferns
Interrupted Fern (Osmunda claytoniana)
I really took a chance with these.  They are almost always found in much moister areas than my yard, but I hoped they could adapt, and I was right.  I put them right up against the fence, a very shady spot, but also the lowest part of the yard, and therefore the wettest.  The name ‘interrupted’ comes from the appearance of the fronds from a distance – it looks like there are gaps in the foliage.  Actually, unlike other ferns, which store their spores on the backsides of the fronds, the interrupted fern has evolved separate fertile fronds that look like shrunken, brown versions of the regular fronds and contain all the spores.  Like all the ferns in our yard, it grows in clumps, which are much easier to manage than spreading ferns such as hayscented fern, which I’ve seen spread to cover entire forest floors.
Osmunda claytoniana - web

Christmas Fern (Polystichum acrostichoides)
This fern gets its name from its evergreen habit.  You will see the fronds of Christmas ferns -by now lying flat on the ground – in the middle of winter when the snow melts, still leathery and rich green,  They are among the hardiest ferns, and survive in dry, shady spots in our yard.
DSC_0246

Marginal Wood Fern (Dryopteris marginalis)
This fern is very attractive – a darker green than most.  Its name come from the arrangement of the spores on the backs of the fronds – they are meticulously arranged along the margins.DSCF0024 DSCF0024

Grasses and Sedges
Bottlebrush Grass (Elymus histrix)
This is a native ornamental grass with wonderful flower stalks that last throughout the winter.  They also make nice dried flower arrangements.
Bottlebrush grass (Elymus hystrix) DSCF0010

Deer-Tongue Grass (Dicanthelium clandestinum)
This native grass volunteer has hairy leaves and long, branching flowers.
DSCF0029 DSCF0027

Witchgrass (Panicum capillare)
Another volunteer native grass.

Path Rush (Juncus tenuis)
Path rush lives up to its name – as soon as I dug a path through my backyard, these plants began appearing.  They seem to appreciate the challenge of well-packed rocky soil.Path rush (Juncus tenuis) 6/11/06

Pennsylvania Sedge (Carex pensylvanica)
Not surprisingly, most of the grass species that we use for our lawns are not native to New England.  When I was walking the woods of eastern Massachusetts, I kept coming across a type of grass that looked a lot like lawn grass.  It turns out it isn’t a grass at all, but a sedge: Pennsylvania sedge.  I decided that although I don’t believe in traditional, labor and resource intensive lawns, a ‘lawn’ of Pa. sedge would be a nice alternative.  In addition to the area where I planted it, over the years, it has filled in bare spots all over the yard.  Plus the flowers are quite attractive.
DSC_0247IPennsylvania Sedge  (Carex pensylvanica)  4/22/05Pennsylvania Sedge  (Carex pensylvanica)  4/18/05

Oval-leaf Sedge (Carex cephalophora)
A volunteer sedge that grows in clumps and has an interesting spiky flower.
Sedge (Carex sp.) 6/11/06

Hairy-leaved Sedge (Carex hirsutella)
Another volunteer sedge – no pictures.

Awl-fruited Sedge (Carex stipata)
Still another volunteer sedge.

Club Mosses
Ground Pine (Lycopodium obscurum)
Ground Cedar (Lycopodium complanatum)
Club mosses are primitive plants that evolved before flowering plants.  At the time of the dinosaurs, they grew over a hundred feet high.  Miniature versions of those giants are still common in New England woods – they look a little like Bonsai trees.  I was thrilled to find a native plant nursery that sold two varieties that I often saw on my woodland walks.  Unfortunately, neither of them survived more than a season in my yard.  It may be that they need some special soil fungus to survive, or perhaps it was just too dry.  The photo is of ground cedar.
B0000199

Native Plants I Have Grown and Loved, Part 1

When my wife and I bought a house 12 years ago with a sizeable backyard, I decided to clear out everything that was there except a few trees and start fresh, using only native plants, that is, plants that were living in this part of the country, under similar sun, soil and moisture conditions, before the arrival of Europeans.  Why do such a thing?  Well, there are lots of reasons people garden and landscape with natives, but for me the important point was that these plants have evolved together with the other native plants, animals and microorganisms in this climate and this geology to form highly interdependent communities.  Non-native plant and animal species introduced by humans sometimes disrupt these sensitive ecosystems, which gradually developed over millenia, by outcompeting the natives, creating monocultures (stands of a single plant) or bringing diseases or pests with no native predators.  Also, native landscapes, once established, are generally low maintenance: if you choose native plants that are adapted to the conditions on your property and occur naturally in similar conditions, you shouldn’t have to add water, fertilizer, pesticides, herbicides or anything else – nature will supply the necessary ingredients.

So I did a lot of research – in books, but also in local wild areas, field guide in hand, and created a list of plants that might have formed a community in conditions similar to our backyard – a gradually sloping hillside with low to moderate sun, moderately acidic soil and not too much moisture, an environment very similar to a “woodland edge” or “open woods” in the wild.  I then located native plant nurseries, such as the New England Wild Flower Society’s Garden in the Woods in Framingham, MA, and Tripple Brook Farm in Western Massachusetts, that sold the natives I was looking for and began to create my native paradise.  It has now been nine years since the first plants went into the ground.

The project is not without its challenges.  Despite my research, some native plants could not survive in my backyard.  Also, while I was thrilled to discover some native “volunteers” arrive, many more volunteers were non-native plants, of the most aggressive and obnoxious sort, and eradicating them is a daunting struggle.  But I’d like this post to be a celebration of the native plants that grew, and many of which still grow, in the small parcel of land of which we are the stewards.

[NOTE: There are so many plants and pictures that I’ve decided to divide this into two posts.  The first is for trees, shrubs and vines and the second (click here) is for everything else.  CLICK ON PHOTOS TO ENLARGE.]

TREES
White Oak (Quercus alba)
The dominant forest type in our section of Massachusetts is the oak-hickory, with forests dominated by a variety of oak and hickory species.  (Prior to the blight that killed mature American Chestnut trees, the dominant species were oaks and chestnuts.  Chestnut saplings still sprout from the roots of their parents, but only live for a few years.)   Oaks provide food to many animals – not just acorns for squirrels and others (such as pre-European natives), but the leaves are food for the caterpillars of dozens of moth and butterfly species, and the insects that live in and on the bark and leaves are food for woodpeckers, warblers and other birds.  Oaks provide nesting sites for birds and shade from the sun.  Plus, as oak leaves decompose, their high acid content (and that of the underlying bedrock) contribute to low pH soils, which means the plants that evolved in an oak forest often prefer (or require) acidic conditions.  So imagine my excitement at finding out that two of the trees already living in our backyard when we arrived in 2001 were white oaks.  Each fall they drop heaps of natural compost onto our native plant landscape.
DSC_0271

Wild Black Cherry (Prunus serotina)
When I was clearing out the backyard, which had grown wild for years, I left a twin pair of wild black cherry trees.  Although this native tree is not a component of the mature oak-hickory forest, it plays an important transitional role by colonizing former agricultural land and areas that have been cleared by storms.  The birds and other animals love the tiny black cherries, although a tiny Prunus serotina sprouts wherever the pit ended up, so I have some work to do if I want to avoid a wild black cherry forest.  (Not to mention the invasive Norway maple seedlings from neighboring yards.)
DSC_0269 Wild Black Cherry (Prunus serotina) 5/26/06

Witch Hazel
(Hamemalis virginiana)
I added this tree (or is it a large shrub?) in 2008, fairly late in the experiment.  I thought we needed more trees, and witch hazel is a common understory tree in our area.  Also, it is one of the latest bloomers in the yard – its stringy yellow flowers appear in October or November.  Unfortunately, I don’t have a picture of the flowers.
DSC_0252

SHRUBS
Serviceberry
(Amelanchier canadensis)
The Amelanchiers are in the rose family and they are subject to a number of pests, but the pests don’t kill the plant, so I leave them alone.   Also called Juneberry, this large shrub (or is it a small tree?) can grow to 20 feet, but it has been very slow in getting there.  The birds love the berries.
The Canadian serviceberry - the berries aren't quite blue yet. Serviceberry (aka Shadbush, Juneberry) (Amelanchier canadensis) 4/27/06DSCF0003

Highbush Blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum)
This acid-loving plant comes in many different varieties, or cultivars, that have been selected for various characteristics, usually berry taste and size.  I decided to avoid the cultivars and plant instead the typical specimen you would find in the woods, the kind the birds are used to.  I now have three plants, and while I have seen many flowers, I have yet to see any berries.
DSC_0250 Highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) 4/27/06

Lowbush Blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium)
These nondescript low-lying shrubs are common throughout New England – they seem to thrive in areas where nothing else can, although they only produce flowers and fruit with adequate sun.  Unfortunately, most of the 10 lowbush blueberries I planted died after two or three seasons, and I’ve never had one produce fruit, although I do see flowers now and then.  Right now, I have two left, both in the shadiest, driest part of the yard.
DSC_0264

Black Huckleberry (Gaylussacia baccata)
The blueberries, huckleberries and other similar acid-loving shrubs such as the dangleberry (Gaylussacia frondosa), all belong to the Ericaceae (ericad) family, whose members are very common in New England woods.  I planted about six of these low-growing shrubs and two have survived, one of which has occasionally produced fruit, a dark bluish black berry with a taste less sweet than a blueberry and with several distinctive small pips inside.  One way to tell a blueberry from a huckleberry is to take a small magnifying glass to the leaves.  The huckleberry will be covered with tiny resin pores, which are lacking on the blueberry.
DSC_0257 Black Huckleberry  (Gaylussacia baccata)  5/29/05

Roseshell Azalea (Rhododendron prinophyllum)
The blueberries and huckleberries provide fruit for the birds, while the native azaleas provide nectar for the insects.  We have three of the roseshells, which have gorgeous long-lipped pink flowers and a clove-like scent.
DSC_0255 Roseshell Azalea #2 5-22-08

Pinxterbloom Azalea (Rhododendron periclymenoides)
The pinxterbloom doesn’t have the strong fragrance of the roseshell, but its flowers are just as lovely.  Like all ericads, it likes the acid New England soils.  We have two of them and they are doing well.
DSC_0254
 Pinxterbloom Azalea  (Rhododendron periclymenoides)  5/16/05

Maple-Leaved Viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium)
Walk through any dry southern New England wooded area and you are bound to see lots of maple-leaved viburnum shrubs – in mid-May they put out flat-topped sprays of tiny white flowers, which turn to blue-black berries in the fall, some of which last through the winter (apparently not the birds’ favorites).  I planted two of these in shaded corners and they are thriving.
DSC_0249
 Maple-leaf viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium) 6/11/06

Arrowwood Viburnum (Viburnum dentatum)
The arrowwood (so-called because native Americans reportedly used its straight woody shoots to make arrows) is one of the few New England natives that is regularly sold as an ornamental plant in traditional nurseries.  It is a full-sized multi-stemmed shrub with striking toothed leaves (hence the Latin “dentatum”) and white sprays of tiny flowers that turn into sky-blue berries.  I have one that is thriving in a fairly sunny but dry spot (growing from 5 feet to 8 feet tall in about 6 years), but a second one didn’t make it.
DSC_0253
 Arrowwood Viburnum (Viburnum dentatum) 6/16/05

Bush Honeysuckle (Diervilla lonicera)
Most of the honeysuckles you see (and smell – they are very fragrant) in New England are nasty invasive species introduced from Asia that crowd out the native species and upset the balance of nature achieved over many generations.  The bush honeysuckle, on the other hand, is a home-grown shrub with attractive yellow flowers.  Little shoots sprout up to slowly form a thicket.  I have it growing in front of an old wood pile in a dry, shady area, and it is doing well.
DSCF0009

Sweetfern (Comptonia peregrina)
The sweetfern is neither sweet, nor is it a fern.  It is a shrub with fern-like leaves that has catkins instead of flowers; they form a little fuzzy capsule that holds the seeds.  When you crush the leaves, they give off a strong spicy scent.  In the wild, I’ve often seen sweetferns growing in sunny, sandy disturbed areas such as the edges of parking lots or under high-tension wires.  I tried to grow this in several places, but it kept dying.  Finally I found a sunnier spot where it did fairly well, growing and spreading slowly, until Hurricane Sandy sent a tree limb crashing down on it in fall 2013.  As of spring 2013, two small plants had survived the trauma, both struggling but surviving.
DSCF0020

Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia)
Also members of the ericad family, mountain laurels are another native that is a common landscaping plant.  Although I haven’t seen many mountain laurels growing wild in eastern Massachusetts, you only need to travel west or south to find wooded areas where they are abundant, although straggly, components of the understory.  They only really thrive in sunnier spots.  In addition to the species, which has pink buds and white flowers, there are numerous cultivars available.  Many of these were discovered by Richard Jaynes in Connecticut, who would traipse the woods looking for odd-colored mountain laurel specimens, then cultivate them for sale to gardeners.  Mountain laurels have many unusual features.  They are broad-leaved, but they are evergreen.  The buds are as interesting as the flowers.  The hexagonal flowers have an unusual mousetrap-like mechanism whereby a pollinator steps on the spring and the anther pops out and spreads pollen on the insect’s back.  While they are often sold as shade tolerant, the fact is that they need quite a bit of sun to generate a full-fledged flowering.  Also, mountain laurels teach patience, as they grow very slowly.  The only species plant I have left (the other one died) was about a foot tall when I planted it in 2004; as of 2012 it was just a bit over two feet tall.
Mountain laurel buds (Kalmia latifolia) 5/31/07 DSCF0007

Mountain Laurel “Quinnipiac”  (Kalmia latifolia)
This is one of the Jaynes cultivars.  It has deep red buds and light pink flowers with a dark pink circle at the base of the flower.
mtn laurel Quinnipiac 6-07 DSCF0021

Mountain Laurel “Raspberry glow” (Kalmia latifolia)
This is a dark pink Jaynes cultivar – unfortunately, I don’t have pictures of the flowers.
DSC_0256 

Mountain Laurel [unknown cultivar] (Kalmia latifolia)
I got this at the sale rack at Garden in the Woods so I never did find out what cultivar it was.  The flowers are pink and it appears to be a dwarf, or compact, growth habit.
Mountain laurel cultivar #1 (Kalmia latifolia) 6/11/06

Sheep Laurel (Kalmia angustifolia)
This is a common plant in southern New England woods and is unusual in that it can be found in sunny, dry areas such as hilltops, but also near swampy areas in full shade (although it rarely flowers in the latter conditions).  It is a straggly plant with listless pale leaves that hang down below the tiny hexagonal purple or dark pink flowers.  I planted a number of them, but they all died after a couple of seasons.
Sheep Laurel (Kalmia angustifolia) 5/31/07

Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi)
I took a chance in planting this in my yard, because I have only seen it growing at the sunny tops of rocky hills, and my yard has no such conditions.  It’s a very low-growing evergreen shrub with white flowers and red berries.  I believe the two I planted have died, although there is a chance one has survived and it is hiding underneath some other growth.
DSCF0014

Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens)
This is another acid-loving broad-leaved evergreen ericad that hates the sun.  Unfortunately, I planted it in an area that was shady until we decided to cut down a whole row of Norway maples (an invasive introduced species), which destroyed the conditions for this plant.  I did get to see the waxy, bell-shaped flowers and taste the red berries, which do taste like wintergreen.
B0000272 Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) 11/25/05

Partridge Berry (Mitchella repens)
Another casualty, either of too much sun or not enough acid.  Patridgeberry mats abound in New England woodlands, but they are so unobtrusive, you may never have seen them.  This is a tiny-dark-green-leaved shrub that crawls along the ground.  The flowers are botanically unusual because there are two corollas fused at the bottom into one ovule, so each red berry is the product of two flowers.  I planted two, and one died right away.  The other lasted a couple of seasons and then disappeared.
Partridgeberry (Mitchella repens) 6/18/06

VINES
Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia)
Native plant enthusiasts describe certain non-natives – the ones that spread everywhere and turn a diverse community into a monoculture – “invasive.”  But when a native spreads all over, it is called “aggressive.”  Virginia creeper is an aggressive species, at least in my neighborhood, but it is the only common vine I wanted to include in my community.  (For obvious reasons, I didn’t want the other common native vine – poison ivy – in my community, although it regularly volunteers.)  After a couple of years, the vines were everywhere, and I have to do some management so they don’t overwhelm.  But they do provide food and shelter for the birds and attractive fall color and they like to climb up things like tree trunks and fences and old rock barbecues, which can be aesthetically pleasing or messy, depending on your taste.
DSC_0248 DSC_0251

To see part two, including herbaceous plants, click here.

This Is Not My Favorite Albums List

One of these days I’ll do a ‘favorite 100 albums’ list.  But not today.  Instead, I have a list of ‘albums that changed my life’ – music I listened to in my formative years that meant a lot to me or affected my taste in music in some way.

1.  The Partridge Family, The Partridge Family Album (1970)
Laugh if you must, but singing along to this album was one of the joys of my pre-teen years.

2. The Supremes, I Hear A Symphony (1966)
My first exposure to rhythm & blues.  The bass line of “My World Is Empty Without You Babe” told me of whole new worlds.

3. The Beatles, Revolver (1966)
In elementary school, every time I had a crush on a girl, I ran home and played side two.  Favorite song: “I Want to Tell You.”

4. Neil Young, Harvest (1972)
Side two was my favorite on this one too – favorite song, “Alabama.”

5. Harry Nilsson, Nilsson Schmilsson (1971)
“Without You” was the hit.  This album became a big part of my elementary school soundtrack.

6. Elton John, Don’t Shoot Me, I’m Only the Piano Player (1973)
7. Elton John, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (1973)
More singalong material.

8. Joni Mitchell, Court and Spark (1974)
Later, in college, I taught myself “People’s Parties” from the record.

9. The Beatles, The White Album (1968)
This became my favorite Beatles album in high school.  A musical variety pack.  “Revolution 9” was a peek into the avant-garde.

10. Yes, Yessongs (1973)
11. Genesis, Seconds Out (1977)
12. Renaissance, Live at Carnegie Hall (1976)
I probably listened to these three prog rock live albums more than any other music during high school.  During 1975-1979 I saw Genesis once, Renaissance twice, and Yes four times.

13. Pink Floyd, Wish You Were Here (1975)
On the same theme, this album was frequently on the turntable during the high school years.

14. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Deja vu (1970)
While prog rock was my main focus in high school, I still loved acoustic music and vocal harmonies.

15. Jonathan Richman & the Modern Lovers, Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers (1976)
This was a revelation – a punk sensibility with a goofy undercurrent.  Some of my friends thought I was crazy, but I loved this music.

16.  PretendersPretenders (1980)
17.  Elvis Costello, Armed Forces (1979)
18.  Graham Parker, Squeezing Out Sparks (1979)
19.  Joe Jackson, Look Sharp! (1979)
New Wave sounds from the late 70s: all much-beloved music from late high school on.

20. Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Pictures at an Exhibition (1971)
Classical awakenings: My prog rock faves loved the classics, so it was a logical step to begin exploring on my own.  As far as classical rock goes, my favorite album was Mussorgsky as orchestrated by Ravel as interpreted by Keith Emerson.

21.  J.S. Bach, Mass in B Minor
22.  J.S. Bach, Brandenburg Concertos
23.  Mozart, Flute Concertos
24.  Beethoven, Ninth Symphony
25.  Rimsky-Korsakov, Scheherazade
Early classical pieces I owned and loved (don’t recall performers).

26. Big Band/Swing 78s (1940s)
27.  Billie Holiday, Greatest Hits
Jazz awakenings: My first exposure to jazz was my father’s collection of big band 78s from the 1940s.  In college I bought a Billie Holiday album, which reawakened my interest in jazz.

28.  Buddy Holly, Greatest Hits
This was one of the key albums to influence my musical growth in college – I loved the raw simplicity of the music and the clever songwriting.  We soon incorporated several of his songs into our repertoire.

29. The Roches, The Roches (1979)
This debut album was another college-era revelation – the harmonies, the clever lyrics, Robert Fripp’s bizarre noodlings made this more than just a straight folk album.

30. Patsy Cline, Greatest Hits
This was my first venture into country – just after college.

31. Jimmy Reed, Upside Your Head
My first straight blues album, just after college, and one of my all-time favorite titles.

Books that Changed My Life

Reading is a huge part of my life.  I can’t remember a time that I wasn’t reading books.  So for today’s post, I decided to reminisce about the books that had the biggest influence on me in my formative years.  And, since I’m convinced that my formative years never ended, I’ve included a sampling of post-college books that have had a big impact.

Elementary school (ages 7-14)
Life Long Ago: The Story of Fossils, by Carroll Fenton
The Marvels of Animal Behavior, by National Geographic Staff
Mutiny on the Bounty; Men Against the Sea; Pitcairn’s Island, by Nordhoff & Hall
Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
The Voyage of the Beagle, by Charles Darwin
The Origin of Species, by Charles Darwin
The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien
Dominic Savio: Teenage Saint, by Peter Lappin
American Heroes of the 20th Century, by Harold Faber
Chariots of the Gods, by Erich von Daniken
The Gulag Archipelago, by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
20,000 Leagues Beneath the Sea, by Jules Verne
The Foundation Trilogy, by Isaac Asimov
The Past Through Tomorrow, by Robert Heinlein
Armies of the Night, by Norman Mailer
A Time to Die: The Attica Prison Revolt, by Tom Wicker
The Source, by James Michener
The Drifters, by James Michener
The Closing Circle: Nature, Man & Technology, by Barry Commoner

High School (ages 14-18):
Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert Pirsig
The First Circle, by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
Magister Ludi, by Herman Hesse
Siddhartha, by Herman Hesse
Steppenwolf, by Herman Hesse
As I Lay Dying, by William Faulkner
Light in August, by William Faulkner
The Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
Waiting for Godot, by Samuel Beckett
Selected Poems, by T.S. Eliot
The World According to Garp, by John Irving
Anarchism, by George Woodcock
Existentialism from Dostoevsky to Sartre, edited by Walter Kaufmann
Nausea, by Jean-Paul Sartre
The Four Gospels
Crime and Punishment
, by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Fathers and Sons, by Ivan Turgenev
God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
Breakfast of Champions, by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
The Mentor Book of Major American Poets

College (ages 18-22):
Moby Dick, by Herman Melville
V., by Thomas Pynchon
Gravity’s Rainbow, by Thomas Pynchon
The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, by Tom Wolfe
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, by Hunter S. Thompson
On the Road, by Jack Kerouac
Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, by Tom Robbins
A Treatise of Human Nature, by David Hume
A Theory of Justice, by John Rawls
Beyond Good and Evil, by Friedrich Nietzsche
Complete Poems, by E.E. Cummings
The Selfish Gene, by Richard Dawkins
On Human Nature, by E.O. Wilson
The Myth of the Eternal Return, by Mircea Eliade
Diet for a Small Planet, by Frances Moore Lappe
The Tassajara Bread Book, by Edward Espe Brown
The Women’s Room, by Marilyn French
The Feminist Papers, edited by Alice Rossi

Post-College (ages 22- _):
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, by Dave Eggers
Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace
A Field Guide to Eastern Birds, by Roger Tory Peterson
A Sierra Club Naturalist’s Guide to Southern New England, by Neil Jorgensen
The Family Crucible: The Intense Experience of Family Therapy, by Augustus Y. Napier and Carl Whitaker
Three Novels: Molloy, Molone Dies, The Unnameable, by Samuel Beckett
Henry IV, Part 1, by William Shakespeare
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, by Anne Lamott
Don Quixote, by Miguel de Cervantes
The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, by Laurence Sterne
Lord Jim, by Joseph Conrad
The Omnivore’s Dilemma, by Michael Pollan
The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron
A People’s History of the United States, by Howard Zinn
Where I’m Calling From, by Raymond Carver
Natural Landscaping: Designing with Native Plant Communities, by John Diekelmann
A Brief History of Time, by Stephen Hawking
Life: A Natural History of the First Four Billion Years of Life on Earth, by Richard Fortey
The Best American Short Stories (series)
And the Band Played On, by Randy Shilts
We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families, by Philip Gourevitch
Ulysses, by James Joyce
Midnight’s Children, by Salman Rushdie
The Tin Drum, by Günter Grass
Middlemarch, by George Eliot
The Anti-Federalist Papers
Lennon
, by Tim Riley
A Short History of the Movies, by Gerald Mast
The Rough Guide to Classical Music, by Joe Staines

That’s churches, to those of you who don’t speak Portuguese. Actually, not just igrejas but also mosterios (monasteries) and conventos. We just returned from two weeks in the Westernmost country in Europe, and we toured many religious sites. Not because we’re religious (though we were both raised Catholic), but because these structures contain the best examples of Portuguese art and architecture from the Middle Ages until the 19th Century. In fact, there were so many beautiful churches that we had to skip some of them, using the mantra, “We can’t stop for just gorgeous.”

13. Igreja de Santo Ildefonso, Porto (1709-1739). The azulejos (tilework) was the impressive thing here, both inside and out.
Church of St. Ildefonso, Porto

12. Santuário de Nossa Senhora dos Remédios, Lamego (1129, 1760s). I’m told there isn’t much to see inside the church which was built by Afonso Henriques before he became Portugal’s first king and then rebuilt in the 18th Century, so we didn’t go in. The real attraction is the 686-step staircase (also mid-18th Century) that leads up to the church from the center of town, and the tiles, fountains and sculptures that adorn it.Our Lady of Remedies Church and Staircase, Lamego Our Lady of Remedies Church and Staircase, Lamego

11. Mosteiro de Santa Cruz, Coimbra (1123-1232, 16th Century). Another mix of styles from over the centuries, but well worth the visit. Afonso Henriques, the first king of Portugal, is buried here, in a tomb designed many centuries after his death (see photo). The Santa Cruz cafe next door appears to have been built in a side room of the monastery.Church of Santa Cruz, Coimbra

10. , Lamego. (1129, 16th-18th Centuries). It wasn’t in any of our books, but this Gothic Douro Valley cathedral was quite impressive. The bell tower (see photo) is the only 12th Century element remaining after extensive renovations in the 1500s and 1600s. The ceiling paintings, relying heavily on tones of orange, are breathtaking (see photo).Cathedral, Lamego.Cathedral, Lamego

9. Sé Velha, Coimbra (1139-1220, additions in 16th Century). This cathedral was built at a time when Coimbra was the capital of Portugal, and Portugal’s second king, Sancho I, was crowned here in 1185 (before it was even finished!). It is considered a masterpiece of the Romanesque style. There were major additions, including the tilework, in the 1500s.Old Cathedral, Coimbra Old Cathedral, Coimbra

8. Igreja da Madalena, Lisbon (Alfama) (latest version: 1783). This may be the unluckiest church in Portugal. It was first built in 1150 or 1164 under King Afonso Henriques. A fire destroyed it in 1363, so King Ferdinand I rebuilt it. Then, in 1600, a cyclone demolished it, requiring another rebuild. Then came the 1755 earthquake – you see where I’m going here. Queen Maria I rebuilt the church again in 1783. When we visited in 2013, everything seemed very sturdy and stable, and we hope it stays that way.
Madalena Church, Alfama

7. Igreja de Santa Maria, Óbidos (mid-12th Century, revisions 14th-17th Century). Wonderful floor-to-ceiling azulejos inside, from the 1700s. Site of 1441 marriage of King Afonso V, age 10, to his cousin, Princess Isabella of Coimbra, age 8. When we visited, a wedding had just been performed inside and a crowd of revelers was gathered in the square. The bride and groom appeared to be above the age of consent.

Church of Santa Maria, Óbidos Church of Santa Maria, Óbidos

6. , Lisbon (Alfama) (1147-1203, 1290-1320, 17th Century, 18th Century). Lisbon’s cathedral contains a mix of styles due to frequent rebuilding and renovation, esp. after the 1755 earthquake. It was built after the Christian conquest on the site of Lisbon’s main mosque. A popular story has it that during a war with Spain, an angry mob threw the bishop out of one of the belltowers after finding out he was Spanish. The tombs of nobleman Lopo Fernandes Pacheco (with his dog and sword) and his wife Maria de Villalobos, reading a book (see photos) are delightful.

DSC_0051 Stitch Tomb of Lopo Fernandes Pacheco, Lisbon Cathedral, Alfama, LisbonTomb, Lisbon Cathedral, Alfama, Lisbon

5. Convento da Ordem do Carmo, Lisbon (Chiado) (1389-1423). The roof of this magnificent structure collapsed during 1755 earthquake, but the ruins, now open to the sky, are still impressive.

Carmo Convent, Chiado, Lisbon Carmo Convent, Chiado, Lisbon

4. Jerónimos Mosteiro, Lisbon (Belem) (1501-1600). A masterpiece of Manueline architecture. In the rear of the main church are the tombs of poet Luís de Camões (d. 1570) and explorer Vasco de Gama (d. 1570) (see photo).

Hieronymite Monastery Jeronimos Monastery, Belem, LisbonTomb of Vasco da Gama, Jeronimos Monastery, Belem, Lisbon

3. Mosteiro de Santa Maria de Alcobaça, Alcobaça. (1178-1300). The first king of Portugal, Afonso Henriques, decided to build this monastery to commemorate his victory over the Moors at Santarém in 1147. In the main church are the tombs of King Pedro I (d. 1367) and Inês de Castro (d. 1355), who are facing each other across the aisle. The figures carrying Inês’s tomb include several of her murderers, who were acting on orders from Pedro’s father, King Afonso IV.
Batalha Monastery, Batalha Alcobaca Monastery

2. Mosteiro de Santa Maria da Vitória (Mosteiro Batalha) (1386-1517). Going into battle of Aljubarrota against Spain in 1385, King John I promised Mary that if they were victorious, he would build a church on the site. Portugal was victorious in the batalha (battle) and building of a monastery for the Dominicans began the next year. The Founder’s Chapel contains the tombs of King John I (d.1433) and his wife Philippa of Lancaster (d.1415), their effigies holding hands. The tombs of their children, including Prince Henry the Navigator (d. 1460) are also present. The monastery contains the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers, where members of the Republican Guard stand at attention during the day.Batalha Monastery, Batalha Batalha Monastery, Batalha

1. Igreja de São Francisco, Porto (1383-1425, 1700-1750). After visiting some magnificent buildings, nothing could have prepared us for the interior of this church, with its Baroque gilt wood carvings (known as ‘talha dourada’). Some churches awe by their simplicity and grandeur, or by the delicate detail of their architecture, painting and sculpture. This was just completely over-the-top dazzling. No photographs were allowed, but no photograph (and I’ve looked at many on the Internet) can capture the intense effect of all that gold.