NATURE’s TURN: Solstice time plant supports, growers gather, a turkey struts

At Fern Farm on Mt. Washington, baby animals capture the essence of spring’s progress from embryo to new, burgeoning life.

June 20  –  July 3, 2016

bronze turkey
Year-old male Bronze turkey. Photo: Judy Isacoff

The sun arrives at its northernmost position in northern hemisphere skies today: the summer solstice, astronomically the first day of summer. During the next few weeks, mark the morning sun’s furthest northeast position and the high arc our star traces from northeast to northwest, ending at its furthest northwest position at sunset.

Mt. Washington — As the summer sun draws plants up to meet it, we cast about for supports for those that can’t contain themselves – like the great, wayward stems of elecampane (Inula helenium) and five-feet-tall stalks of Culver’s root (Veronicastrum virginicum) that lean into aisles. Vining varieties like coral honeysuckle, morning glory, moonflower, tomato, and cucurbits would crawl along the ground were it not for the benefit of our ingenuity. There are bush varieties of many of these species, and many vining plants grow well if left to meander on the soil surface but, if we are willing to assist, they form spectacularly high garden features, provide more varieties to choose from, and clear growing space for intensive vegetable and flower gardening.

Keating plant supports
Diagrams of plant supports made by Bob Keating.
plant supports
Diagrams of plant supports made by Bob Keating.

Tendrils grasp onto rustic and refined trellises; sinuous stems twine up bamboo and native sapling poles; cornstalks and giant sunflowers are living supports. In addition to these, I’d like to introduce you to sculptor Bob Keating’s eminently functional, attractive and long-lasting garden accessories. I met Bob Keating through Mad Gardeners co-founder Kathleen Nelson, who is reported to have approached Keating and said, “Since you’re a gardener and work with steel, could you design plant supports?” Keating writes, “They had to really stand up to the word “support” and they had to be beautiful off season. I …. wrapped my arms around a tall miscanthus and curled my wrists in to hold on. Standing there I looked down and thought the support needs to do just what I’m doing with my arms. This is how I designed and named the Embracer©. The other supports I offer are appropriately named….”

ewe suckling
Suckling week-old male lamb, Skipper, with ewe Mya at Fern Farm, Mt. Washington, May 30, 2016. Photo: Judy Isacoff

Personally, I have planted in and around many a Keating Space Needle, Tomato/Vine Cage, Embracer, and Peony Ring. His graceful Trefoil is new. Bob’s work is sold at New York Botanical Garden and has been featured in House and Gardens, Connecticut Cottages and Gardens, Litchfield County Times and the New York Times.

For more information go to

naragansett heirloom
Male Naragansett heirloom breed turkey named Tom. Background: female Narragansetts; far left: Rhode Island Red hen; far right: Guinea hen. Photo: Judy Isacoff

At Fern Farm on Mt. Washington, baby animals capture the essence of spring’s progress from embryo to new, burgeoning life. Recently born lambs suckle and spring-hatched chicken and turkey chicks flock and feed on their own. A three-year old Narragansett cock struts about the barnyard and pasture displaying summer’s expansive mood throughout the year.

In northern regions, summertime is celebrated by gatherings and festivals. The annual Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) summer conference takes place this year from August 12 – 14 at the University of Massachusetts Amherst campus. From NOFA’s website: “The NOFA Summer Conference is a dynamic and diverse gathering of people working at the intersections of organic agriculture and gardening, food justice, land management, education, carbon sequestration, environment and health.” There are workshops for all ages. The early bird deadline for a 20 percent registration discount is July 15.

Resources: (NOFA has regional chapters in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont).