Sunday, May 26, 2024

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The hyacinth grown in a controlled setting and planted away from traffic has had a much easier road than the hyacinth rescued from compost and nursed back to health. I will call the rescued hyacinth a win for this Lazy Berkshire Gardener because they aren’t dead yet!


I planted a circle of hyacinths around my young lilac, and they are blooming! It seems a bit formal and out of character for me. I usually prefer wild smash-ups of native plants flowing through the landscape. But I garden mostly for my own entertainment, so who will complain? I love the fragrance of hyacinth. What better place to plant these bulbs last fall than around the fragrant lilac. It is my new sniffing spot.

I noticed the robust hyacinth blooms this past weekend and thought I should explain why they look so perky compared to my other hyacinth growing next to my front step. In October, I purchased new bulbs that had been carefully raised and fertilized for sale to plant around the lilac. The somewhat tattered ones near my step were saved from the compost pile after they were forced into bloom two years ago.

I transferred the rescued bulbs to the garden while they were in their green stage. They suffered a bit. The following year, they tried to bloom, but dogs broke their wimpy stems. I fertilized the soil, but my dog loves digging at the organic fertilizer. Ugh. This year, I am pleased to see them blooming, albeit weakly. I will scratch some more fertilizer around them again to encourage the bulb. Now that green leaves have appeared, they should grow stronger and naturalize.

The hyacinth grown in a controlled setting and planted away from traffic (see above) has had a much easier road than the hyacinth rescued from compost and nursed back to health (see below). I will call the rescued hyacinth a win for this Lazy Berkshire Gardener because they aren’t dead yet!

Hyacinth bulbs that were forced into bloom but have taken longer to acclimate to a new growing location.

Scout for early leaf growth on invasive honeysuckle, bittersweet, multiflora rose, barberry, common buckthorn, and wild blackberry. These shrubby, fast-growing bullies will overcome native plantings and will create a real tangle that gets harder to control as the season continues.

Instead of nursing these jerks along, prune the pesky shrubs to the ground and plan to circle back to do it again midseason and then in late summer. By depriving them of the food-producing leaves, you can gradually get them under control.

Also this week, I turned over the winter rye in more sections of my raised veggie beds. Where I turned the rye last week, I went ahead and scattered mixed lettuce and spinach seed. By the time these greens root, the rye will have decomposed and added the nitrogen to the soil.

I am trying to grow lettuce among my strawberry plants this year. The strawberry crowns take quite a bit of space in the raised bed, but I think I can get lettuce growing early and again later between berry flushes. Both crops benefit from regular visits, picking and snipping, to keep the plants in production.

To share the space, I have scattered lettuce seed in blocks of loose soil instead of rows. After scattering, I pressed the seed into the soil surface. Lettuce prefers light to germinate. After watering, I added a very thin layer of chopped straw to help keep the soil moist for germination.

White lettuce seeds appear on the soil surface above and have been covered lightly with straw below.

I also planted a section of carrots along with radishes. Radishes sprout and grow much faster than carrots. By planting them together, you mark the row until carrots sprout. That will remind me to keep the row moist. The radishes will germinate, grow, and be ready to pick before carrots reach any significant size.

More of our woodland wildflowers are starting to bud and bloom. These aren’t usually showy flowers, but they don’t have to be. They have evolved along with specific insects over centuries. Rather than worry and stress about the decline of diversity around our properties, consider how you might contribute to nature and enjoy a few of these spring ephemerals (or as I think of them, spring show-offs) in your own spring garden. They can be ordered online from specialty growers or at independent garden centers that source the plants from these specialty growers. Do not collect them from their wild habitats.

Striking spring flowers, the ephemeral spring beauty (Claytonia virginica) is at left, and early blue cohosh (Caulophyllum giganteum) is on the right. The early blue cohosh emerges as a deep purple-blue, turning green later in spring and developing blue fruits. The early blue cohosh and blue cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides) look similar eventually, with a delicate ferny texture for shade, but prefer different terrain, and this one flowers earlier than C. thalictroides.

Most need a moist woodland setting where leaves don’t provide shade until early to mid-May. Your “woodland” could amount to a shrub that has plenty of undergrowth space. Since their flowers are brief and small, try to choose a spot where you can easily enjoy them in season. Along a driveway or sidewalk already lined with deciduous shrubs or trees might be a good spot. Of course, avoid putting these native plants where the soil might be damaged from de-icing salts in the winter. And they will grow best if you can more closely mimic their natural soil habitat.

Many early spring perennial plants are called ephemeral because they leaf out, flower, and die back during the cool spring season. An exception would be bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis). Bloodroot flower stems shoot up first and the white ray-like flowers open when the sun shines warm, then close tightly on cloudy days and at night. Bloodroot leaves will persist into the summer months as well. They add a unique color and texture to a shaded garden.

I have tried to spread the ephemeral trout lily (Erythronium americanum), but it seems easier to encourage it where you find it. We found some on our neighbors’ property that has been slowly cleared of invasives. Semi-regular mowing has revealed hundreds of the tell-tale speckled trout lily leaves. A large patch of trout lily plants may only have six or 10 flowers blooming. Most often, the leaves occur singly. If you see a pair of leaves, that is where the lily-like yellow flower will appear.

On top, the Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) flowers can be up to two inches wide, and the foliage persists into summer until it becomes too hot and dry. Trout lily (Erythronium Americanum) sends up its smaller yellow bell flowers from pairs of leaves only, and these swaths of speckled leaves disappear before summer starts.

Late April is also a time to notice woodpeckers, or at least woodpecker damage. The pileated woodpecker is so large and out of place when you see it anywhere but high in a tree. I spotted one attacking some decaying logs near our compost pile. The wood must have been full of bugs. You can see these rectangular holes in decaying trees in our forests and know a pileated has been nearby.

The yellow-bellied sapsucker woodpecker is more interested in sap and insects are like a happy accident. The sapsucker makes a series of holes in rows horizontally around a tree trunk, “tapping” for sap. The bird forages with its tongue to extract the sap and the occasional insect. Sapsuckers will return to the same tree every April. The series of holes become an easy entry for disease, weakening the tree and eventually killing it. Try to dissuade sapsuckers from attacking your prized trees by wrapping damaged trunks in late April with burlap or hardware cloth.

A pileated woodpecker has been excavating some old logs in our yard. Typical oblong damage is visible on the log above, along with chunks of wood. Lower left shows damage from a yellow-bellied sapsucker, over numerous years. This tree is just about dead from being attacked regularly. At lower right, the pileated woodpecker is a very large bird when compared to usual backyard visitors.

Frost warning! – This week’s clear warm days have also seen temperatures dipping below freezing. Check the weather in your area for Thursday and Friday nights too! If you have fruit trees in flower, try to protect as many of the buds as possible by stretching a tarp over the plants or covering with sheets or light-weight fabric.

I call myself the Lazy Berkshire Gardener because I don’t want to work too hard in my gardens. I want to enjoy them. I find it easier to observe my landscape and let the compost happen, the water pool up, or daisies to self-sow. I look for ways to do the minimum task for the biggest impact. For example, mulching is better than spraying and much better than weeding all season. I look for beautiful, low-maintenance plants that thrive in or at least tolerate my garden conditions. Plus, I’m willing to live with the consequences if I miss something.


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But Not To Produce.

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While we busily plant our annuals as a rite of the start of summer, just like Memorial Day, don’t neglect your perennial gardens.


I mentioned spongy moth caterpillars briefly last week. I hear Columbia County in New York has a tremendous outbreak now.

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The Edge Is Free To Read.

But Not To Produce.