Gardener’s Corner


April 2021

Winter Moths

Winter moth populations have been decreasing for several years, though they can still be a problem for  people growing apples, pears, and blueberries. Over the last decade, winter moth eggs started hatching  anywhere from mid-March to mid-April, depending primarily on temperature. Last year they started  hatching on March 20th. I don’t expect eggs to begin hatching until after red maples start blooming and  when McIntosh apple buds crack open, exposing a little bit of green tissue (called Green Tip). Hopefully, this is still a couple of weeks away, but warm weather this week is pushing things along.   

Winter moth eggs tend to hatch at McIntosh apple ‘green tip’ and red maple bloom. 

Tree wraps were set up in early November, 2020, to monitor eggs at 3 locations in RI – Charlestown,  Kingston, and Portsmouth. In November and December, as female winter moths climbed trees and  encountered tree wraps, female moths deposited eggs below the wraps, aggregating eggs, and making it easier to monitor eggs hatching. Winter moth eggs are orange now, but turn blue a couple of days  before hatching. This trait makes it very handy for monitoring egg hatch!

Eggs are nearly impossible to find without setting up tree wrap in the fall. Tree wrap and close up of small, orange winter moth eggs found below tree wrap.

Tree wraps were removed last week, and 2 of 3 locations have fewer eggs than in 2020. In Portsmouth I  found only 6 eggs compared to 80 found there last year. In Charlestown there are 373 eggs to monitor  and last year there were 500 eggs. In Kingston I found the same number of eggs both years, 136 eggs.  

Overall, it seems that winter moth populations continue to decline in southeastern New England. In  November and December several people contacted me about seeing clouds of male winter moths flying,  but I don’t think this will lead to any winter moth outbreaks. For the last few years, no insecticides have  been needed to control winter moth caterpillars in landscape trees. Winter moth caterpillars will always  be with us, but the population should stay under control and not require pesticide applications. 

Growers of fruit (apple, pear, and blueberry) may need to apply insecticides against winter moths.  Winter moth caterpillars hatch early in the spring and enter developing buds. The problem for apple,  pear, and blueberry plants is winter moth caterpillars enter flower buds. It doesn’t take a very large  population of winter moth caterpillars to cause significant damage to flowers and therefore to the crop. 

We don’t have a really good threshold to indicate whether or not to spray apples, pears, or blueberries  for winter moth caterpillars. Some Nova Scotia guides recommend spraying apple trees when 1-2  caterpillars are found in 20 buds (>5% infested buds). A good time to scout, and then spray if needed, is  at bud separation – when the flower buds start separating from the cluster, but before blossoms open. We are several weeks away from this bud stage. All common insecticides labeled for apples and  blueberries control winter moth caterpillars well. Bt insecticides (such as Dipel) are also effective. Bt  insecticides kill only caterpillars so don’t harm bees and other insects.

Apple tight cluster and apple bud separation are good times to look for caterpillars. Blueberry tight cluster is also a good time to  check, but it is more difficult to check blueberry flower buds than apple flower buds. 

The URI Plant Clinic has moved into the Skogley Turf Research Center, but you can still drop off or mail  samples to 3 East Alumni Ave., Kingston, RI 02881. There is a$10 charge for landscapers and plant  owners. 

Heather Faubert, 

URI Cooperative Extension


March 2021

Sogkonate Garden Club March Presentation:

Backyard Entomology:  Who’s Who in Your Garden’s Ecosystem?  By Pam Gilpin 

Pam Gilpin  has compiled an informative photo essay to accompany a discussion of insects that can be seen in our gardens and their importance to the ecosystem.  Her relationship with entomologists throughout the country, book learning and her work as an estate gardener over the past 29 years have provided her with a unique education in the science of entomology.    She’s a RI Certified Horticulturalist, has  served as a member of the Newport Tree and Open Space Commission, served on the board of the Newport Tree Conservancy and is currently a member of the Living Collection Committee for the Newport Tree Conservancy.   In 2013 she was the recipient of the Julie Morris Horticultural Award at Blithewold Gardens and Arboretum.  

Program Description: Insects play an essential role as pollinators, predators and recyclers of decomposing animal and plant material. They are of vital importance as a source of food for birds, mammals and other insects. Given the right habitat, you can help sustain the all-important ecosystem in your garden and have the insects working for you. 

Backyard Entomology:  Who’s Who in Your Garden’s Ecosystem?





We frequently receive questions about how we perform spring cut backs for the managed parts of our trial and demonstration gardens.
Great questions such as—what tools do you use? When do you perform these tasks? What about hibernating insects? How tall do you leave the cutback plant material? Do you rake up the herbaceous debris, mulch it in place, burn, or compost?
The one thing we have learned about spring cutbacks is that everyone does the process a little bit differently. People have different preferences for timing, tools, and cleanup depending on project goals and client preferences. Follow along as we break down each of these parts for you to choose which strategies align with your project needs.

How North Creek does it (tools, stubble height, clean up)
We use a tri-blade attachment to our string trimmer. We find this much more durable than higher gauge plastic string and it is especially effective on small weedy trees that may have opportunistically settled into our plantings. In our formal trial areas, we trim the plant material to about 8-12″ inches, rake up the material from our gardens and stack it in a loose heap in our compost area. These trial areas are high visibility, high traffic areas with visitors enjoying these spaces year-round.  In the more natural areas such as our bioswale, tall and mid-height meadows, and vegetation surrounding our constructed wetland—the material is trimmed and the largest brush is collected for the mulch pile while the rest is left to decompose in place

When we do it (timing)
The optimal time to perform cutbacks is in early spring, just as plants wake up. This gives maximum time for wildlife to use the area as shelter and as a food source but isn’t so late that you’re cutting the tips of warm season grasses as they’re actively growing.
Realistically, however, cut back timing depends on client preference, your available labor hours, and how many jobs you need to complete throughout the early spring window. Understanding the limitations that those who manage gardens face, late winter cutbacks are preferable to cutting back plant material before December from a wildlife habitat perspective but the balance between leaving winter cutbacks versus time available is part of the calculations that garden management companies make

As you can see, variability abounds and finding the right way to perform cut backs for your garden project needs will be based on factors like timing, customer preference, local laws, and your labor supply.
In wild or natural areas, no cutbacks are required except perhaps when a property performs a controlled burn to rejuvenate prairie species and to get rid of invasive plant material. Other properties may require a very high level of care and management and will need to do yearly cutbacks, early in the season, to meet customer taste or local municipality ordinance. Whatever the job, garden management styles can be tailored to meet the demand.
Do you have a different method that you employ for spring cut backs? Let us know! We’d love to hear your questions, comments, and feedback at

Country Letter by Sidney Tynan

Sometimes things work – and sometimes they don’t. The new feeder holding 20 pounds of black oil seed is a huge success and we have had to refill it. Of course there has been some help from a squirrel but my little hunter doesn’t let it linger. I had hoped for Goldfinches after I had filled the old feeder but that didn’t happen. Maybe later. I have envied two friends their resident Carolina Wrens so I put up two adorable little wren houses. No luck and I think they like broken down old baskets or old straw hats instead.

John Gwynne reminded me that Crocus tomasina was blooming so on that lovely warm Friday I took my stroller out of its winter stable and sallied forth. To my surprise and delight I found an area with SEVEN little clumps in the back 40.  The area had been mowed in January otherwise I would never have seen them in the dead meadow grass. (When I went to look up how to spell tomasina I was surprised to find a number of sweet scented early blooming other crocus. Are you tempted? Remember McLure Zimmerman if you are.) John also reminded me that Sakonnet Garden will be opening May 1st for small groups and by reservation only.

Between now and the next time I write – there will be a lot of changes. I think the virus has so occupied our minds and our lives that we forgot spring was coming. But it is and the birds and tiny flowers will tell us.   

February 2021

Country Letter by Sidney Tynan

Venturing out over crusty, slippery snow to fill the bird feeder was something I wasn’t willing to do so a kind friend has been filling it on Mondays and Fridays. Pretty soon it was emptied by Thursday morning so off to the bird house maker went my friend and ordered a feeder that would hold TWENTY POUNDS! The bird house maker said it couldn’t be done but three days later he called to say it was ready. A big success and I have two or three kinds of birds on it at one time and on a snowy day two red cardinals and one Blue Jay are a cheerful sight. Little sparrows and finches are on the deck below eating the spilled seeds but alas no “snow birds” or Juncos. Do you remember when we would see them all winter? On the advice of the Audubon sanctuary in Bristol I am going to fill the now empty feeder with Niger seeds to see if I can get Goldfinches to come as they don’t seem to like the black oil seed in the big feeder. Suet and small dogs are not a good combination but there wasn’t anything I could do when the ferocious wind on top of my hill opened the wire cage and dumped a suet cake on the ground. Of course all the sparrows and finches love it but so does my little spaniel. Thank goodness he can only lick it and not chew off
hunks but his appetite for dry food has fallen off.

Well, brace yourself for another month of winter and hope for a milder March.

November 2020

Designing a Stylish Pollinator Garden 

Presentation by LC’s own John Gwynne and based upon his article in Fine Gardening, August 2020.  John and Michael Folcarelli developed their garden at their home in Little Compton over the past few years.  John speaks about their process creating a space that is both beautiful and beneficial to important insects. [Note the link to this presentation will be available until Dec 4, 2020, so enjoy now!]

Take a look at the SGC Meadow as featured in the Sakonnet Times! 


What to Know About Bird Feeders – a wonderfully illustrated short piece


To rake or not to rake…

Scott Hoffman Black provides valuable insight into this question in a recent Xerces blog  

Leave the Leaves to benefit Wildlife

Photo by Jude Beck


October 2020

Impact of Environmental Changes on Migratory Birds

Since 1970 the bird population has dropped by 20%.  This means that there are 2.9 billion fewer birds on the wing than there were 50 years ago. Dr Clarkson, an ornithologist at URI, spoke about the impacts of environmental change on migratory bird population at our October program.  (Link is no longer active).


Country Letter by Sidney Tynan

If it’s a gray day and if you are lucky and if you are where there are overhead trees in a damp area, you might see our native Witch Hazel in fluffy, leafless, yellow bloom. Although not as striking as the Chinese variety which has been introduced and which blooms in February to gladden our hearts with the promise of spring. Our native variety has long been used as a soothing lotion for the skin first by our local Indians who then taught the English settlers who then made a factory on the banks of the Connecticut River which now produces GALLONS for lotions, creams etc. Buy some and see if the scent doesn’t take you childhood.

The other harbinger of spring or so I thought were Blue Birds, Wrong. Now I find I have two neighbors who see them all winter long. One feeds suet cakes embedded with mealy worms, the other puts out scraps of yarn from knitting projects and finds little nests with charmingly laid out pieces. I have seen them only once at my bird bath when 5 young ones gathered to have a drink. We will be having a warm winter with La Nina keeping our fuel bills low but perhaps damaging apple and peach trees if they think spring has come early. We shall see. Please do all you can to stay safe.

Drought – Keep Watering!

This map from late September shows that Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts are in extreme drought.   Until we get some serious rainfall, our new plantings will need to be watered until the ground freezes. Even our established plants, including shrubs and trees, will need water to prepare for the winter. During periods of drought, it’s particularly important to water well leading up to the first freeze to help prepare for the winter ahead.





September 2020

Country Letter by Sidney Tynan

Well, as far as I’m concerned it is still summer. I know that our nights are now longer than our days but I don’t care. You have about two more weeks to keep those amazing hummingbirds fed and as a friend suggested I increase the sugar content to give them added strength I am doing that. Frankly, so far I haven’t seen one but it is best to try. The catbirds are still around and when I pause at the bottom of the Back 40 to enjoy the damp scents and see the richness of the varied leaves sooner or later they drift slowly through the little fringe of trees there to see what I am about.

 I am pretty sure I have been hearing a Carolina Wren. Although it is tiny it has an inordinately large voice and as it is the only cheerful thing in our dreary winters, I cherish it.  So to encourage them to stick around we have put up two wren houses. One is directly in front of the computer and I will certainly be astonished and delighted if I see a wren entering. 

Finally I have found a bird feeder with an attached saucer which will hold spilled seeds and –I hope- keep in the squirrels from knowing what’s going on. Later on I’ll let you know. 

Here and there there are a few red leaves and we can easily see where the deer come into the Back 40 to sleep at night. I hope they sleep well as soon – October 1st- marks the beginning of the season in which they can be shot. There are really too many of them so don’t go weeping around for poor Little Bambi. 

The golden fields will be no more next time I write so get out and walk while you can.

Marty and Dick Fisher’s Garden

Marty Fisher hosted three members of the SGC website committee for a socially distanced terrace discussion and tour of the Fisher yard and garden “operation”on August 19. Marty and her longtime husband and partner Dick shared their passion for native plants, hers are floral and his trees and shrubs.  Jeanne McAllister had some questions prepared, Dominique Coulombe was ready with pen and paper to capture the details, and new member Ginger Ryan observed and offered insights. 

 You are gardeners of 12 years in RI, but you began in Colorado 30 years ago. Anywhere before that?

Dick and I grew up in Pennsylvania where our first gardening project consisted of growing tomatoes in a pot.  In 1968 we moved to Colorado and slowly learned how to grow plants in the West. This became a business after we purchased a part of an old ranch. Our weekend hobby turned into a business in 1992.


What was your gardening operation like then/in Colorado? Did you/how did you transition that gardening effort over to new owners/caretakers?

In western Colorado where the altitude reaches 5,000 to 8,000 feet and the climate is very dry, we would get up to 35 feet of snow.  The soil is frost free for only six weeks during the summer and is very clay-based. We collected seeds during the fall and in the spring scarified some of the seeds before planting. The temperature could drop to 40 below in the winter.

How have you developed and evolved as a gardener?

When we lived first in Colorado I was observing and taken by the abundance and diversity of wildflowers in the area.  In the early 1980s the concept of native plants was already popular in that part of the country and my interest and “can do” attitude prompted me to start growing organic plants.  What began as a hobby evolved a few years later into a business which was so successful that I ended up retiring from my teaching job and devoting my time entirely to the gardening business.  After Dick retired, we moved to RI to be closer to our family and looked for a large open space to grow vegetables, fruits, shrubs and trees.


What is the scope of your efforts now? What are the major differences between growing and cultivating in CO and in RI?

When we started our current garden on Austin Lane, here in Little Compton, we needed to adapt our habits to a different climate, soil, and altitude.  We use the greenhouse which is unheated all year round as our workshop and are now planning to expand it.  Dick takes care of the trees, shrubs and vegetables and I take care of the flowers.  The watering, especially this summer, has been very time-consuming.  When we were in Colorado, we were managing a business and thus had a mission statement. You needed a Colorado organic certificate in order to be able to sell native plants at the farmers market. Since we moved to RI, we give away many of our plants, trees and shrubs in support of the Rhode Island Plant Society and the Sogkonate Garden Club.  The Department of Environmental Management checks the trees before we can give them away.   The Rhode Island Plant Society accepts Rhode Island natives only.  The concept of “cultivar” versus “native” is generating a lot of discussion. 

[Note: SGC members who are interested in learning more about this may want to watch the presentation How Native Plant Cultivars Affect Pollinators by the Grow Native Massachusetts organization.] To our delight we have identified some native plants which are growing right on our property such as syriaca milkweed and Joe Pye weed.  We have also gathered seeds from other native plants (bayberries, beach plums, and dune grasses for example) in places such as Horseneck Beach and along the roads of Little Compton.

[Note: The area all around Austin Lane used to be farmland. There is actually a Historical Cemetery at the end of this dead-end street where you can decipher some of the original family names].


You are a major contributor to the annual plant sale for SGC Blossoms and Sweets.

We grow a large number of plants for the sale of the RI Wild Plant Society.  We have some extras which we donate to the Sogkonate Garden Club for the annual sale.  Under normal circumstances when the plant sale is being held in the center of town, we load the plants onto our truck and bring them to the sale area.  We also help with the pricing and tagging of plants contributed by other members.


As a newer SGC member (JMcA) I have heard that you are a seed propagation expert?

We start everything from local seeds.  We keep them in jars.  The planting soil we use is a mix of 2/3 compost, potting soil and Alaska fertilizer. We include the fertilizer only after the plant has a minimum of four leaves.  Some seeds you can plant directly once they are dry and ready, others we save.  


We also have heard that you take “Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle” to new levels.

We save and reuse flower pots of various sizes but also use yogurt containers and spice/herb bottles.  Our friends leave available used pots at the end of our driveway, we are happy to take and reuse these.  We compost everything and Dick has fashioned a screen to run the fine compost through.  We collect the rainwater as much as possible and use all of it for watering.


What are you most proud of; what is most unique about what you do?

I am most proud of the way I introduce other Garden Club members and friends to natives.  Through my connection with the RI Wild Plant Society I am also able to connect with great speakers and invite them to participate in our programs. These are two important ways I feel that all Sogkonate Garden Club members benefit from my involvement and commitment to fine gardening and my love of plants.

A walking tour took us around and through shrubs, walkways with flowers, a greenhouse and planting area, a berry and grape area, meadows, an orchard and any number of native trees grown from seed.  As part of her “show and tell” Marty showed us how to pry open pods and collect seeds from lupine flowers.  We also went home with end cuts of cedar for our closets and a native plant or two.  Thank you, Marty and Dick, for your dedication, lessons, time and gifts!


August 2020

Country Letter by Sidney Tynan

I have been trying to ignore the yellowing fields, both the “south 40” and the one outside the house. But when tall sunflowers on slender stalks joined the goldenrod I have to admit that fall is on its way. As I think I tell you every fall there are so many different kinds of goldenrod that I don’t try to identify them but at last I know what the sunflowers are – Jerusalem Artichokes! I am indebted to  David Attenborough for explaining the derivation of the name. As the plant was discovered in South America by Europeans and the root tasted like the artichoke with which they were familiar, they translated the Spanish “el girasole” meaning turning with the sun, to “Jerusalem”. The roots really are sweet and crunchy and can be used in place of water chestnuts. BUT be careful where you plant them as they will take over as they have here, from a tiny patch to a whole beautiful field. The Goldfinches will like them to.

Hummingbirds will be around until October so keep those feeders going. I note that mine love the Cardinal flowers ( Lobelia cardinalis) which grew very tall due to the constant flow of water from my birdbath, but only early in the morning.

So far I have not heard a Blue Jay. I really regard them as the voice of doom as they herald frosts and leaves turning. So fill your eyes with green while it is still here.


July 2020

Ball Blue Book

Easy Guide to Tasty Canning and Preserving, by Mary Marra

In the 70’s I became interested in preserving food, especially pickles and jams, so for $1.00 I invested in the Ball Blue Book. Some of my efforts were met with disaster such as the time I tried to make brined pickles. They turned to slime. I put the sodden mess in our compost pile. Our young dog quickly found the pickles and ate everyone of them. He passed seeds for days.

I still use this book’s recipes to cook jam and preserves. I only use sugar and the natural juices , sometimes helped with a little lemon juice. I don’t use pectin. A water bath is safe for me. I can remember my mother’s pressure cooking spraying food all over the ceiling.




Only recently did I read the last page about preserving your husband. Hope you enjoy it.












Sidney Tynan’s country letter

I wish you could be with me to walk through the Back 40. The paths are rimmed with dainty Queen Anne’s Lace and the tall grasses that look like tiny bulrushes. Joe Pye has decided to bloom pale pink and very early. You may laugh at me but every time we have our stroll I look to see what has changed since the day before.. Yesterday had a wonderful surprise: a single stalk of Turk’s Head lily with two dangling buds. Tonight I’ll see if the deer found them before they could open. I also checked on my favorite milkweed plant as it had 4 pinky lavender mop heads of flowers. As expected no more flowers and on one two tiny milkweed pods, another had five. Next summer I will count the number of flowers – at least 20 per mop– so I guess the pollinators aren’t very attracted although we think the flowers smell so sweet.

I knew it was going to happen but I can’t help feeling a bit sad.  A page in the book called summer was turned and all of a sudden there was no more bird song – or very little – and all the summer birds left. Red Winged blackbirds have lost their red stripe, juvenile Cardinals have brown bodies and a crest but a telltale red tail. There was a surprise – a little group of Titmice! Their breasts were white with pink streaks and I had to look in my tattered old Peterson to see what other little birds might possibly have a crest. My bird guru thinks it was a family not a flock. So when you see them  this winter, all shrunken and gray , picture them in their warm weather clothes.

Cherish the days.  

June 2020

7 Tips for a Successful Monarch Butterfly Pollinator Garden by Levi Novey


Who doesn’t wish for a native flower garden that attracts butterflies, especially monarch butterflies? This article by Levi Novey, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, provides a wealth of information about species to plant, expectations, and potential problems with pests. To view the article, click on 7 Tips for a Successful Monarch Butterfly Pollinator Garden.
Another excellent source of information can be found at the site  Butterfly gardening information can be found at Monarch Watch: Butterfly Garden.Monarch Watch: Butterfly Garden.


Country Letter by Sidney Tynan

As I stroll through the back 40 in the late afternoons I don’t wonder that so many people are miserable with allergy attacks. I have spotted at least three different grasses – a low fluffy one, a tall one which already has seeds resembling wheat which means its pollen has already been spread and my favorite – a very tall one that looks like a miniature green bulrush. It doesn’t seem to have seeds, but is covered with little quarter inch “pinklogs”. I have no idea if these are seeds and don’t plan to learn anything about them or other grasses , any more than I plan to learn about mosses or warblers.
I am sure I have mentioned my continuous flow bird bath. This year we are filling it to the top and I am seeing red-winged blackbirds for the first time. The males really seem to like splashing around in the water; sometimes they puff up their red patch as big as a golf ball. As I really enjoy spending my extra time watching, I now know a lot of useless facts, but will give you only one. Although robins splash out the water and won’t let in any other large birds they stand aloof when the Baltimore and Orchard orioles claim priority.
At last lovely summer is here but dare I make a small request? A little more rain please.




May 2020

Country Letter by Sidney Tynan

Well, as you can imagine, I am housebound until July 1st. Inside the house it is beginning to get really boring as I do the same things every day as you probably do too. However outside is a different story. First the rampant invasive rose bushes turned my world a misty green now they are big, bright rolls and all the low bushes have followed suit.There are puddles of blue flowers and a peony opened its big marble sized buds when I cut some and brought them into the house.
Outside I refill the grape jelly glass every day for the Orioles and Catbirds and put orange halves on the deck to remind the Orioles that this is really a nice place for them. It isn’t always their treat as a chipmunk was seen spread eagled on top of a piece. With that charming mental picture I will leave you as I go out to see what has changed since yesterday.

April 2020


April 30, 2020

Winter moth caterpillars are growing so slowly in this cool weather! They started hatching in Kingston about March 22, 50% hatched in early April, and 90% hatched in mid-late April. Most of the caterpillars I see are still so tiny. Nearly all winter moth caterpillars are first instars – so they haven’t even molted once. This will be changing soon as warmer weather allows them to develop.
This weekend will be a good time to check apple, pear, and blueberry buds for winter moth damage and caterpillars. Using magnification, pry open fruit buds looking for caterpillars or frass (insect droppings). At URI’s orchard and blueberry patch, and at another blueberry planting in South County, RI, we have 35-50% buds with one or more winter moth caterpillars or frass. This isn’t a large population like in past years, but it’s enough to warrant spraying an insecticide. I’ve looked in a few apple and blueberry plantings in Providence and Kent County and have found very few winter moth caterpillars there. The only places I’ve seen many winter moth caterpillars is South County. I have not looked in Massachusetts.
Next week will be a good time to spray for winter moth caterpillars in fruit plantings. Most insecticides work pretty well against these caterpillars. DiPel and other Bt insecticides are good choices since they kill only caterpillars. Bt breaks down quickly and may need to be reapplied about 5 days later. Whatever insecticide you use be sure to follow the label.
People concerned about winter moth caterpillars attacking landscape trees should scouted for winter moth caterpillars in a week or so, once caterpillars are larger and easier to find. If you have questions please email me:
The URI Plant Clinic is still open and samples can be mailed to:
URI Plant Clinic
3 East Alumni Ave.
Kingston, RI 02881
There is a $10 charge for diagnosing plant problems. Checks can be made out to URI Plant Clinic.



By Marty Fisher

Long, long ago, about three weeks ago, I suggested to you that if you found a bare spot in your flower bed to plant a native there. As time has passed I am rethinking that idea. Much as I would love to move on hundreds of native perennials, I think it is time for us to get serious about growing more of our own food.

Getting started is no great problem. Right now you can put in pea seeds and have some to eat by the end of June. If you plant a whole packet of seeds you will have enough to shell and pop in the freezer for next winter. Dick and I planted a sample set up in the kids’ garden at the LCCC. We used the old tomato frames for the leaves to climb but long sticks work just as well. There is rough rope woven up and down the frame for the tentacles of the plants to grab on to. Yarn would work as well. A 12” circle of bare space is all you need. Don’t worry about how it looks between your flowers. Just think how good they will taste when you know they are fresh, organic and safe to eat!

Lettuce, spinach, cabbage, broccoli, and radishes can be planted now too. In a few weeks when the soil warms the rest of the vegetables can be started. There are several garden shops in the area that will have vegetable plugs started already for you. Find a bare spot and dig them in. I know that Linda Wildes and Mary Marra have started tomatoes and I have lots coming in the cool greenhouse so we have those covered. Rachael Downs-Honey has herbs coming along. Rikki Laberge is a great source for proper vegetable gardening.

Thinking ahead with all those baskets of harvested vegetables, we may need some advice from Donna Pilkington and Mikel Folcarelli on how to do water bath canning. I do some but mostly I just clean the food and pop it into a freezer bag to enjoy all through the winter. For the over load of tomatoes, I do cook them down with onions and peppers for spaghetti sauce and then freeze. I still have some left now in April!

Think how nice it would be now to dive into the freezer and pull out something special to eat or find a favorite jar of pickles or jam on the shelf that you know is delicious and safe. You can do it. Many of us can help you along the way. Give it a try.

Note that Sue Theriault has packets of pea seeds, beans, other vegetables and flower seeds available. If interested email her to arrange for pickup.


Country Letter by Sidney Tynan

In the past April 15th has always been a reminder for two things – Taxes and Hummingbirds. Well. This year you only need to pay attention to the latter.:1 cup sugar boiled with 4 cups water and no need to color as your feeder probably has some red on it. The bluebirds arrived at my neighbors on time and I will depend on a faithful reader in Oak Forest to let me know when her “Herbie” the Hummingbird arrives. Here I have been checking and checking the bird boxes to see if the lovely Tree Swallow have come. Alas nosign and I fear it is now too late and I will miss hearing their pretty gurgling calls or seeing their graceful arabesques on the twilight sky.
There’s one thing I have learned after 32 years of gardening here. Just because I want a perennial to be happy and bloom doesn’t mean it will. Fortunately I have not kept a list of our disagreements. On the positive side almost every year I am delighted by the ones that seem content and have in some cases spread. This year there is a big patch of velvety Foxglove leaves descended from a single stalk last year which I did not “dead head”. (What a miserable term). So we who are lucky enough to have a garden are in a time when almost every day there is something new to cheer us. I wish you could be here to see mine.

March 2020


By Marty Fisher

(March 18, 2020, Coronavirus Social Distancing: Week One)


Marty Fisher’s Seedlings


            This year you have no excuse. Your garden could be perfect! Think about all the time you have to examine every small inch of it. From your window imagine how you can improve the view from the inside and then grab your jacket and get going.
            On sunny days, even partly sunny days, you will feel the sun’s warmth immediately. The wind can be chilling but it changes direction daily so work on the downside of the house and soon you will have cleaned up your whole yard.
            Now is the time to cut the lavender to half its size. It will look a little scraggly with odd brown twigs staring at you but in short time it will be full of leaves with bees diving into the blooms. Native grasses can be trimmed to 4” from the ground. You must lean over to do this and I admit that after a half hour my back is complaining but just think about al the free exercise you are getting!
            The birds long ago have stripped the echinacea seeds from their tall stalks. These can be twisted and cracked off without much bending. I don’t disturb the leaves around the base in case all the insects that wintered there are not ready to wake up.
            My tulip leaves are 7” tall and looking handsome on the south side of the house. I have even seen blooming daffodils along stone walls this week. Against my garage the lupine have sent up their lacy leaves already. The ones I am growing for you are out on my side porch, shivering some mornings when the temperature is below freezing but continuing to grow on warmer days.
            Watch your gardens for bare spaces. I hope you have a lot! I have some natives for you and they are coming along fast and strong. For sure I will have an early sale here at the house. I could spread them out so they (and you) are socially distanced and we could have a good time.
            So on the next sunny day, grab your gardening gloves and head out to clip, cut, grab, and pull.  Also, don’t forget to look up and check out the returning birds. Listen to their songs as they try to find a mate, and be thankful that we live here where there is enough space and fresh air for us to enjoy each spring day.



Follow the link:





Demonstration Meadow

This demonstration meadow is a horticultural project of the Sogkonate Garden Club to show the community how to create a thriving pollinator meadow in a grassy area. 

The area is a sunny rectangle 25 x 10 located alongside the walking path at the town Rec Field and adjacent to the tennis courts. 
In the fall of 2017, this lawn area was rototilled and covered with black plastic (solarized) weighted with wall stones for the winter. 

In June 2018 it was uncovered, tilled, planted with very small plants (plugs) of native flowers and grasses, watered, and mulched by club members.  To consult the list of   grasses and pollinators, native to New England, that were selected, click on Meadow Plant List.

During the summer of 2018, it was watered three times and weeded about one hour per month.

It was left to overwinter in its natural state and mowed down by town workers in early spring 2019.    



Plants began to emerge in May 2019.  The plot was not watered during the summer and weeded twice monthly for about a half hour by garden club members.  The Monarda fistulata was found to be too aggressive and was thinned.  The Muhlenbergia capillaris grass was not viable and that area was replanted.






In fall 2019, all plants were left in place to overwinter and provide food for the birds


February 2020

Country Letter by Sidney Tynan

Well, I am sure I don’t need to tell you that January was the warmest EVER recorded and I wouldn’t be surprised if February didn’t follow suit. Here crocus are blooming, and an occasional sheltered Forsythia is throwing its pale yellow branches around. I was longing to cut some fat budded branches of my Star Magnolia but before I did, I checked with Sakonnet Garden and they said they had never had any luck.  However there are several shrubs that you can cut right now and bring in the house, such as Forsythia, Flowering Quince, Pussy Willows and Cornelia Cherry Dogwood (or Cornus mas) which doesn’t look like a Dogwood nor does it have cherries. If you are lucky enough to be near Peckham’s, at the west side of the main greenhouse, there is one just coming into bloom. Of course most blossoms which are forced indoors will be much paler than usual.

I have to alert you on a disturbing note. I am sure you shudder at the thought of using Round Up, but I will quote from a bulletin put out by PRIG, a non -profit environmental group. “On August 9, the EPA announced it will prohibit companies from putting warning labels on products containing glyphosate”.  So we will just have to tell our neighbors not to use it and join whatever group is protesting even though with so many things to protest it may seem minor.

Just because we are having such blissful weather doesn’t mean it will last. I   am wondering “Is a weather shoe going to drop?” Let’s hope not.


Planting Ruta Baga Turnips (in 1843)

Nancy Webb researches gardening practices in old microfilmed newspapers.  She recently came across an 1843 piece describing how to plant ruta baga turnips.  The piece also offers help to the gardener with cucumber bugs!  The clip is posted here but in case it is hard to read, it is reprinted  (verbatim).  This is from the Arkansas Intelligencer, August 5, 1843


Ruta Baga Turnips. – We would particularly remind those who many desire to cultivate a crop of Ruta Baga turnips, the present season, that the time has arrived for sowing the seed.  As we have repeatedly given directions for their culture we will now only make a few general remarks.

  1. The ground must be well manured, with the same kind of manure as are used for other turnips.
  2. The ground should be twice ploughed, the first time very deep, and after being harrowed, the manure should be put on and ploughed in about 2 or 3 inces deep; then the ground should be harrowed and rolled.
  3. The ground being thus prepared, drills must be made 2 feet a part and 1 inch deep. As the drills are made, drill in the seed thinly cover them with mould or well rotted manure mixed as follows, to every 5 bushels of mould add 1 bushel of ashes and incorporate them well together.   After the seed is covered with the compost, let the drill be patted down with the hoe. 
  4. In preparing the seed, soak them 24 hours in fish oil, then drain and dry them in plaster or ashes, when they must be immediately drilled. – No danger need be apprehended from the seed remaining almost any length of time in oil.  If oil be not convenient, soak the seed in a brine made of salt and hot
  5. When the plants first come up, sprinkle fresh slacked lime over them, two or three mornings in succession, while the dew is on them.
  6. Keep them clean of weeds from their first coming up, till you lay them by; take care that you never permit the weeds to get ahead of you – and besure to keep the earth open.
  7. As soon as the plants are two or three inches high, and beyond harm from the fly, thin out, so as to stand from 6 to 8 inches apart in the rows.

Be sure, if you wish a good crop, and desire to raise plenty of roots for your sheep and other stock, to sow your seed without further delay.                                             American Farmer   


To keep Bugs from Cutting your Cucumber Vines.  – Divide a pine knot into splits and stick three or four around each hill, or drop a few drops of turpentine on each hill, (not on the vines,) and it will effectually keep the bugs away until the vine is too old for them to cut it.  They only attack the vine from the time it first comes up until it is about an inch high. 


January 2020

Happy New Year!  Have your thoughts yet turned to seeds, seedlings and new plantings?  Of course along with these winter dreams comes the thoughts of weeds and weeding (remember!).  Here is an interesting piece reporting some little known facts about dandelions (source unknown, thanks to Rita Nazareth): 

November  2019


What would be a Thanksgiving dinner without cranberry sauce, sherbert or other cranberry treat?  The wetlands and bogs around southeastern Massachusetts and Cape Cod offer the perfect environment for cultivating this crop.

At this time of year I very much enjoy visiting the cranberry farms in Tiverton, Acushnet or Wareham, learning about their growing practices and purchasing freshly picked fruits which are still attached to the vine with dark green leaves.
I was thus very much interested in reading the latest article of the Center for Agriculture, Food and the Environment of UMass Amherst which features a cranberry pathologist. To consult the article, simply click Day job: Cranberry Pathologist. Off duty: Inspires Women and Farmers


Image by Zdeněk Chalupský from Pixabay


October  2019

Sidney Tynan’s October column

My old records show frosts on this date but what an amazing end of summer September gave us! Clear, sun filled, cloudless and windless (well almost) days in which we felt we could clear out every drawer and answer every letter. I don’t ever remember anything like them. Everything is still green and the Back 40 full of flowers. A young speaker from the URI Dept of Science and Entomology showed a slide of an invasive Knapweed which grows there and I had always thought was native as it looked like a soft, lavender thistle. So now I know. So counting the Knapweed I have EIGHT invasive plants and shrubs but fortunately not the miserable, vining Swallowort. This is a member of the Milkweed family and although the Monarchs do lay their eggs on it, but it gobbles up whole fields. URI has been able to introduce a moth whose caterpillars can destroy it but not the three varieties on which the Monarchs depend.

The chief Horticulturists at Blithewold suggested I read Bringing Nature Home: How you can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants. Of course the title is pretty explanatory but wait till you see all the photos of shrubs and trees and caterpillars and butter flies and helpful lists of what to plant in Rhode Island. So if you or a neighbor are planning on planting trees or shrubs, take a look at this wonderful book by Douglas W. Tallamy. Our library system has it.    

I dread to think that the next time I write there won’t be a leaf left but now you can put away the Hummingbird feeders.

September  2019

Claire and Steve Johnson’s Garden

On June 5, Claire and Steve Johnson offered a tour of their garden to members of the Sogkonate Garden Club. Participants were delighted to discover the various sections of the garden and this history of how it has evolved over the years from a lawn surrounded by woods to a colorful personalized heaven of seasonal plantings and garden decorations. 

Jeanne McAllister and Dominique Coulombe followed up with an interview with Claire who kindly offered to answer our questions. 

Can you tell us a little history about your “garden” and how it evolved?

I started gardening about 50 years ago as a child and a teen in central Massachusetts helping my Dad who had a huge vegetable garden and grew up on a farm in Vermont. My Dad’s garden was his pride and joy, and he is the person who continues to inspire the design, creation and maintenance of my garden. When my husband and I lived in an apartment in Fitchburg, we planted our own garden plot in a local Community Garden.

When we moved into our present home thirty years ago, there was no grass anywhere-just topsoil and plywood planks to walk on the mud!  We raked the stones and rocks and planted the grass ourselves, which was heavy work. In addition, we had several trees near the house removed over the years, among them were some tupelo and oak trees.  The first summer here, even without the grass all planted and growing, I couldn’t wait to plant a vegetable garden using a rototiller, my Dad’s compost (which was like brown gold) and some cow manure I obtained from Linda Wilde’s farm, driving over and shoveling some into trash bags.

As the shade from the growing trees nearby increased over the years, this eventually became a flower garden with Phlox and Goldsturm Rudbeckia plants, which eventually overtook the entire bed.

My second garden contained a collection of mail order day lilies, and other perennials, some of which over the years have survived. Every summer I would either enlarge a bed I had created, or dig a new one, always dividing plants I had and always finding something new to add.

One summer I had an abundance of seedling Hellebores, and they needed a new home. My eyes saw the mass of Goldsturm Rudbeckias, and I dug out almost two thirds of that garden, replanting the Rudbeckias in other beds, giving many away, but also finally heaping them in my compost.   I planted my baby hellebores in this newly created space and added  other deer resistant plants such as extra Astilbes, Greek onions, which remained from my first vegetable garden, and rhubarb, a special gift from my late Mother in law about 25 years ago.

When we first moved in, Ellen Burchard of Old Acre, offered to give us forsythia from her property on West Main Road, if we were willing to dig them up. We lugged them home, planted them, and they still grace our early spring every year. However, I have to remember to cut them back after blooming, and they demand regular heavy pruning.  I have lugged so many gallon containers of Azalea, PJM Rhodies, and Spirea and other bushes over the years, I have lost track of how many. This created a happy assortment of plants that bloom at different times and is especially pretty in the spring and early summer.  Over the years, each garden bed was created in circular flowing patterns with grassy paths between them.  

How have you personally developed and evolved as a gardener?

When I first work on a garden, I consider the location and what it already offers. In general, I favor perennials which are easy to care for and English gardens. I have learned to always plant in threes which helps create a swath and a broader color scheme. I also learned to divide and replant. Sidney Tynan has always been an inspiration with her gardens and back forty; she gave me the Sheffield pink chrysanthemums and Japanese Anemones, which are blooming now.  When they bloom, they always remind me of her. I now cultivate more varieties of plants and try to experiment with different combinations.

My two favorite theme gardens are the Cross Garden, which has the four quadrants and is the last one I created, with help from my son Will before he moved to California, and of course Steve.   Dad & Gunther’s Garden is dedicated to the memory of my father. I created that bed the year Dad passed away in 1999, and planted some of Dad’s favorite species: rhododendrons, day lilies, peonies and irises. We have always had cats, and Gunther died the same year as Dad, so the cat statue is there as a remembrance.

My newest garden is dedicated to my Mom who passed away last year; it has three little new hydrangea varieties called Let’s Dance and Twist and Shout. Mom was a professional piano player and played in dance bands all her life.

I didn’t even plan it, but after planting the hydrangeas I realized it was for Mom as she was the life of the party, and got everyone up dancing to the music!                                                                                 




What is your daily work like in the different seasons?

In November I cut back many of the plants and do some light raking. In late February I do more serious raking and in late March and April, I edge, weed, and divide. The early summer months, I finally get to mulch. Often my beds are so full of flowers, I need only mulch along the front of the bed.  In the winter I place the outdoor pots which contain my Black and Blue, and Purple Spire Salvias in the cellar after cutting the plants back. I remove the plants from the very large pots, replanting them in peat moss, and also place them in the cellar over the winter, watering them once a month.

I keep a garden journal which includes my own drawings, pictures and all my sales receipts, and plant labels, so I can keep track of what is still growing and what is not.

What have these gardens taught you?

Gardening has taught me that patience is a virtue. It’s important to take one step at a time. On some days I can work for as long as five hours. Those are my big project days; but I am finally learning it is very important to take s often, sit back and enjoy the view.


Do you have 3 top tips for others as they invest time and resources into evolving their personal gardens? 

  • Draw pictures /plans of your garden ideas
  • Use plants that work for you in your yard, those that are happy and thriving
  • Don’t be afraid to pull and clear overgrown beds and try new plants





What are you most proud of; what is most unique about how you have approached these gardens?

The Cross Garden with the Peonies and Dahlias which is the most formal garden, and the Aster Garden which blooms at the end of the season.


What else do you want to make certain your readers understand about your gardening process/experiences?

Surprise seedling baby plants that appear in my gardens bring me so much joy: for example, the Red Lobelia plants that have sprung up in new places in the garden for the past few years, as well as the Brunnera babies that seem to grow every summer in my brick walkway. I love finding surprise plants or even hydrangeas that have sprung up near the compost heap in the woods!

Plants keep on giving. So many plants given to me by a friend or relative over the past 30 years continue to bring a smile and memory of that friend or relative when I see them growing.

The quote “Your Gardening is your Zen” by Jenny Hendy summarizes my experience of feeling serene, at peace and centered when I am in my garden.


Sidney Tynan’s Country Letter

For the past few weeks whenever I have looked out onto the back of my backyard from upstairs I have seen two pink fields. One is Joe Pye Weed, pale pink this year and always an indicator of damp ground and just across the path a Vetch with its pea like flowers. Although there are 140 varieties, according to Newcomb’s Wild flower Guide I am sure it is Cow Vetch – used for cow fodder. Now patches of yellow have opened up in all the fields – my three varieties of Golden Rod, and as I have mentioned in other years, I am too lazy to try and identify which of the 32 varieties I have.

That purple butterfly bush not only attracted Monarchs, but they stayed around to lay eggs. So in my dining room I have a cheesecloth covered aquarium where one Monarch caterpillar, with its wonderful stripes and long black whiskers, has already hung its chrysalis aka “pup” and an egg hatched a tiny little one, who now on a daily diet of fresh Milkweed leaves, has become huge and should be ready very soon to make its “pup”. The current chrysalis is where we can examine it every day with a flashlight. We hope to see if the walls of the “pup” are getting thinner so that we can see the folded up butterfly inside. A thrill every time.

I am sure you have noticed how quiet it is, although the crows are very raucous at times. All the Orioles have gone except for one who seems to be addicted to my grape jelly. Catbirds are still here and Gold Finches. Soon the noisy Blue Jays will start coming out of the woods looking for your filled bird seed feeders (and so will the squirrels!).

I am in deep denial over the name of this month as it means the end of summer. How can that be?




August  2019

Rikky and Roger Laberge’s Garden

On June 5, Rikky and Roger Laberge offered a tour of their garden to members of the Sogkonate Garden Club. Participants were very impressed by the scale, quality and purpose of their operation. They donate a large part of the produce they grow to two local Food Banks. Jeanne McAllister and Dominique Coulombe followed up with an interview with Rikky who kindly offered to answer our questions.

Can you tell us about your “garden” or food growing operation today?

Prompt: How would you describe its key elements/characteristics?

We are a sustainable no till growing operation. We eat and preserve a lot of what we grow but it is by choice that we grow far more produce than we can eat. Mother Nature presents us with some challenges every year. We are not a certified organic garden but do grow organic produce. We focus on soil health and fertility having our soil tested (not just pH) regularly. We have acquired some of our knowledge from many workshops, seminars, reading, and information from URI and UMass emails.

How have you developed and evolved as a gardener?

Prompt: How have your gardens evolved with you?

We are both lifelong growers. We have lived here 12 years. We started with the upper garden, then added the middle section, and finally the lower section. We also added seven rows of berries and pear trees. The high tunnel was set up five years ago allowing us to grow year round. When we started 12 years ago, we already had a surplus of produce. We started donating to the Food Banks about 8 years ago. Since we moved to Tiverton we have set a goal to reeducate ourselves in our gardening knowledge while improving our techniques. We are both Master Gardeners and members of the RI Chapter of the Natural Organic Farmers Association (NOFA), the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardener’s Association (MOGA), and the Southeastern Massachusetts Agricultural Partnership (SEMAP).

 What is the daily work like in the different seasons?      

Prompt: Your husband helps you and describes beginning the day “spinning the wheel of work”. What do you do together and what do you each take responsibility for? How do you set priorities?

The year starts in January with seed inventory and ordering. Seeds are started with Grow Lights in February; the calendar is made up and I begin our gardening journal. Seed starting continues throughout the growing seasons. Pea seeds are the first ones to be direct seeded in March. The garden is at its most colorful beauty in June, however the biggest harvest time is July August with the tomatoes squash, garlic, potatoes, etc. The summer harvest continues until October with the squash and pumpkins which we grow in an offsite field.
A drip irrigation system takes care of the watering for the summer crops. Fertilizer is sprayed early morning when the leaves are wet or added through the irrigation system.

I (Rikky) am in charge of the food products and Roger takes care of the flowers, trees, and shrubs. He also takes care of the irrigation and the hardscape in the vegetables. We never leave any bed bare and do not till. We plant all beds or use cover crops such as rye, buckwheat or oat that will winter over. We work solo or together whenever needed.



You compost and even use a “compost tea”, can you tell us more?

We have three compost piles:

  •  One totally finished is for use
  •  One shut down in spring (to cook along)
  •  One started in spring to add to including shavings from chicken coop.

We add chopped leaves, garden and yard clippings, and kitchen scraps but the chickens get the weeds we pull. In a perfect world the compost would get hot enough to kill any weed seeds but we all know it isn’t often perfect. Leaves and debris are chopped with a chipper/shredder.


What is your relationship with the food banks and how did this evolve?  

Prompt: Do your “consumers” need recipes or guidance on how to make the best use of the vegetables available to them?

We deliver fresh produce to two food pantries (in Fall River and in Tiverton)
If the produce are uncommon (for example kohlrabi or hakurei turnips) we explain to the volunteers of the Food Banks how they may be prepared. Volunteers and recipients are very grateful for the food donations.

Do you have 3-5 top food growing tips for others that originate in your lessons learned as a food growing gardener?

  • Onions: a ring forms for every leaf that an onion grows. The goal for a perfect onion is 13 leaves. They should be watered from the bottom because if there is any disease on a leaf, it is transferred to the corresponding ring by watering from above. You then cut into the onion and find one ring rotted.
  • Tomatoes: need air circulation. I prune at least the bottom 2 feet of all leaves and remove all but one sucker from our indeterminate tomatoes. That one sucker then becomes another lead stem. Tomatoes are classified as determinate or indeterminate. Determinate tomatoes can grow in a large cage (4 to 5 “ tall); indeterminate tomatoes “climb” and need to be staked
  • Softneck and hardneck garlic: softneck garlic is what is found in stores; it has a mild flavor and multiple small cloves; I grow both hardneck and softneck garlic. Hardneck has fewer but larger cloves but doesn’t store as well as softneck.


What are you most proud of; what is most unique about what you do?

 Prompt: What else do you want to make certain your readers understand about your gardening operation?

I feel very good about having my “retirement” job be something I love to do, it is in my own backyard and I work with my partner. It is extremely rewarding to take the deliveries to the Food Banks where specific needs are being met.




July  2019

Why Tetanus? – Because we are Gardeners by Bente Hoegsberg, MD.

Tetanus, or lockjaw, is a serious, preventable disease that results in death of 10% of cases; the risks of infection and death are highest in the >65 age group. Clostridium tetani, a bacterium found aplenty in soil and animal feces, produces a neurotoxin that is responsible for the symptoms.
Immunity is a result of vaccination, as few people have natural immunity. Less than 50% people of >65 have been (re)vaccinated in the last 10 years and are therefore at risk.
If you do not remember when you last were vaccinated, get vaccinated. You don’t need a doctor’s appointment or prescription, most pharmacies dispense to walk-ins. Tetanus vaccinations can be given alone or combined with vaccinations for diphtheria and pertussis (whopping cough), called Tdap.
The combination vaccine is recommended as many adults are not immune to whopping cough. Cases have been on the rise and pertussis is very serious in infants and small children. We can all do our part by getting vaccinated.

Sources: CDC and MMWR

To Deadhead or Not? by Marty Fisher


Many gardeners like to have a tidy, pretty and colorful garden to enjoy and share with others. Landscapers aspire to this end. To achieve this, all wilted petals and punctured leaves need to be pinched off, or deadheaded. However, here are some other things to think about when caring for your garden.


First, as a propagator of native plants I need fresh seed every year in order to grow perennials for several organizations. As the flowers wilt and start to produce seed heads, I watch for the stems to turn brown and the heads to do the same. Carefully the seeds are poured into glass jars to be saved until the correct time for starting the growing process. My collecting year begins the first of July with the native red columbine and ends when the fall asters finally have mature seeds, sometimes after the frost. In between these times my garden looks a little unkept with the brown heads mixing in with the late flowering perennials.

The second compelling reason to not deadhead is to preserve your favorite plants. If you don’t let some seeds return to the earth, in time your plants will disappear. Columbine, for instance, is a three to five year plant. If you deadhead or remove all the seeds, the plant in time will no longer be there. When collecting seeds, I drop some seeds back in the area to help new seedlings get started.

Next, the visual effect of standing stems of flowers with seed heads or standing grasses after a winter snow is amazing. Snow stacks up like cotton balls while the stems sway with the wind. This scene will remind you of what your garden produced last summer and you can dream of what is to come when the dreary months have finally passed.

Finally, and maybe most important of all, the seeds on our native plants provide the perfect blend of nutrition for our wintering birds. In my mind this must be better than some seed mix the farmers in Iowa have packaged up. Also, these seeds are beneficial for certain migratory birds when they start their long journey south.

So when you are tempted to “clean up” your drooping, spent flowers, pause and consider the benefits to the birds and other creatures. Look beyond the ragged edges and smile, knowing that you are giving a boost to the survival of all our native species.


Summertime by Sidney Tynan

My triple dining room windows reach almost to the floor and so I can look out on a wild tangle of deep purple Butterfly Bush flowers mixed with Christmas red Crocosmia with its tiny Gladiola like flowers. So it should be no surprise that all day long I can spy on Monarchs and Hummingbirds and of course they can’t see ME.
The orioles have undertaken the job of letting me know when they can’t reach the grape jelly and their fractious call doesn’t sound like an oriole at all, more like an electric typewriter having a bad day.
Having seen a wild pink Mallow in bloom I wanted to see if the ones I started from seed many years ago were in bloom too, as the deer won’t touch them. So with my new, sturdy walking stroller which lets me go over uneven ground, we went through the back 40. To my surprise it was pink with Joe Pye Weed which I usually see much later and then across the little bridge and into the Sluiceway Garden. No Mallows but a wonderfully enlarged area of Swamp Milkweed topped with its little tufts of pink flowers AND a pair of hovering Monarchs.
If you are enjoying bird song pause and listen because very soon you will realize something is different outdoors –and then it will occur to you – no songs.

Growing Herbs

Who doesn’t love to grow and collect fresh herbs from their garden? I certainly do! Recently, I was consulting the site of the UMass Amherst Center for Agriculture, Food and the Environment and found this tipsheet for growing parsley, thyme, mint, chives, basil, lavender and rosemary. I hope people new to gardening will enjoy reading it as much as I did:


  • Basil grows best from transplants. There are many types of basil, even with purple leaves! Cut leaves for fresh use or for drying just before the flowers open for best results. Basil loves hot weather. Plant two weeks after last expected frost. Use fresh or dried spicy‐scented basil leaves to flavor tomato dishes. Try quick and easy basil pesto, made from fresh leaves.
  • Harvest parsley, grown from transplants, soon after planting. Choose curly or the Italian flat‐leaved kind, or both. The curly type grows 10‐12”, the Italian about 18” tall. As soon as the leaves grow to a respectable size, use fresh or dried in just about any thing!
  • Thyme grows only 6 – 10” tall with small purple flowers and fragrant leaves. Grow thyme from transplants. Tuck it along the sunny edges of garden beds or use in a rock garden. Cut leafy tops and flowers when the first blossoms open. Thyme adds its light, aromatic flavor to salad dressings and seafood.
  • The long‐lasting fragrant lavender leaves and flowers are used to make dried sachets, wreaths as well as in cooking. Lavender grows best from transplants planted in a sunny, garden with warm, well‐drained soil. Pick leaves anytime. For the best fragrance, cut
    flower stems, just as buds start to open.
  • Young rosemary plants will transplant readily. Rosemary grows best in well‐drained soil, in sunny gardens that have been limed. The narrow leaves have a leathery feel and a spicy fragrance. Pick leaves anytime. Use finely chopped leaves in soups, sauces, salads and pasta. Rosemary’s flavor complements chicken dishes well.Many gardeners take rosemary indoors and keep it as a potted plant during the winter.
  • Chives grow easily from transplants. Small dainty, onion‐like plants, they grow in clumps reaching about 10 inches high and bear light purple flowers in early summer. Chives need little care and will survive our winters. Plant as early as the soil can be worked. As the plants get large, divide and share with friends or move to a new place in the garden. Cut whole spears of chives from the outside of the clump; snip just above the ground level. Renew the clump during the season by cutting back tough leaves and faded flowers.Use chives for a delicious, light, onion‐like
    flavor to foods, especially potatoes!
  • Mints, ready for transplanting, come in a wide range of scents and flavor, such as spearmint, orange, peppermint, and apple. Mints thrive in moist soil in shade or sun and easily survive our winters. Mint tends to “bully” other plants; it spreads quickly and grows to up to 2’ tall. For this reason, some gardeners plant mint in containers, sunk in the ground, to corral the roots. Pick mint leaves when young and tender for
    best aroma and flavor. To keep plants producing leaves, nip off the flower spikes before they open.


June  2019

Cherish the month of June, by Sydney Tynan

At last Round Up is getting attention. As you probably know it now belongs to Bayer and massive suits have been brought against Bayer because of the cancers it has caused. Bayer has said they will continue to sell Round Up but will spend billions on making alternative weed killers. As Round Up has been found in breakfast oatmeal I hope every  parent will be careful and  demand a non toxic brand and see that school yards are no longer sprayed with it.

Icterus galbula1.jpg
By David Menke
This image originates from the National Digital Library of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service
Although the Orioles didn’t nest here this spring as there were no leaves on my windy hill to give them shelter, I have enticed them with a feeder that looks like a big orange flower and which screws onto a Smucker’s grape jelly jar. Of course the cat birds are always there and take their time gobbling up at least three mouthfuls, but the orioles do come, quietly, and snatch a quick bite.  I can tell when the jelly is beyond beak reach as one particular catbird sits in the tree and makes really nasty cat sounds to alert me.

Although we are being rationed extraordinarily beautiful days they remind us to cherish each moment.

May  2019

Spring Update, by Sydney Tynan

While we non-farmers have been counting up the rainy days and bemoaning the lack of warm and spring like weather the local potato and sweet corn growers have been in serious, deep trouble. The potato farmer in Tiverton would expect his tubers to be blooming by May 10th. This year he hadn’t even been able to plow under the winter wheat to get the fields ready by that date but of course potatoes can stay in the ground. For the sweet corn grower in Little Compton it’s a very different story. With luck and if the ground warms up maybe corn will be ready by mid-July. In other years by April 20th there have been three plantings. This year by that date there has only been one.  Now translate this into a normal 4th of July weekend when on Saturday AND  Sunday 50 bushels are sold at the stand, each bushel containing 5 dozen ears and this does not count the bushels sold  on the wholesale market.

 On a more cheerful note I promised you an alternative to the dreaded and dreadful Monsanto  Round Up. (It has now been proven to cause cancer in humans as well deforming salamanders and frogs and butterflies.) We have actually tested the following on my driveway which was turning green no matter what we tried and will be a boon to those who have flagstones and bricks and cobblestones.  The magic potion is D-LIMONADE which you will have to order on the web 888-854-3914. This is derived from citrus peel and used as follows (while wearing rubber gloves and protective glasses)  1Tbs dish soap, 2Tbs Limonade, 1 gal ordinary white household vinegar. You will need a good sprayer and as you will have a quart of the Limonade you will see that it lasts a good many summers. (Ace Hardware will have a non-toxic alterative to Round Up but they don’t know when).

My fact checker was correct about the hours for Sakonnet Garden – 9-6 Sat and Sun May 25 and 26, but really messed up on the Blossom and Sweets sale outside of Wilburs. It will be SATURDAY also, from 7:30 -10:30.

Enjoy every minute of our fleeting spring now that it has finally arrived.


My Meadow Intention by Sue Theriault 

I have this “random” area of my yard that is not shaded by trees and therefore bakes in the hot summer sun.  The grass there seems thin and dry and common milkweed likes to grow naturally.  When I run my lawn mower over this area it’s like giving a bald man a hair cut.   Maybe this is a perfect spot for a meadow?

I had this project in mind when I agreed to go with Donna Pilkington to Kathleen Connolly’s all day meadow presentation sponsored by “Grow Native Massachusetts”.  The presentation helped me to formulate a plan.  First, I am going to measure an area of approximately 250 square feet which was recommended as manageable for one person.  Next, I’m going to smother the existing grass and weeds by laying down a layer of cardboard and topping it off with wood chips.  This is by no means the only way to smother!  But I like to make use of materials that I already have and I think it will look halfway attractive.  I will do this in May and leave it for one year.  No mowing there this summer!

Next May I will scrape off the wood chips.  (I think it will be interesting to see if the cardboard fully decomposed.)  All of the grass should be dead, but there may be some viable weed seeds in the soil.  So I am supposed to encourage the sprouting of these seeds for up to two months by watering.  Then I remove the sprouted weeds with a rake or hoe.  I’m going to be honest, I am so tempted to skip this step because I want to get to the planting part.  Patience grasshopper…

Now after 14 months, I can finally plant.  A meadow is defined as a community of grasses and wildflowers that is self perpetuating, and so I plan to use plugs for the native grasses and probably a combination of plants and seeds for the native wildflowers.  Think of grasses as being either cool or warm season grasses, and either bunching or sod forming.  Cool season grasses are greenest in the fall and spring, while warm season grasses are greenest in the summer.  Most meadow grasses are of the bunching variety, and a combination of cool and warm season varieties can provide longer color.  The most amazing part of these grasses is not even visible – its their incredibly long root systems that can reach down for water during droughts, foster the absorption of water during heavy rains and sequester carbon from our atmosphere.  The shallow roots of turf grass can’t even compare.

Hopefully with some watering and weeding the grass plugs and wild flowers will take.  After about a year I will institute an annual mowing or weed whacking in the late spring to early summer to suspend the natural succession to woody shrubs and trees.  I may need to add more flowering plants or seeds over the years because although the wildflowers I’m planting are perennial, some may only live about three years.  But I’m getting ahead of myself!  Let me know if you would like a copy of Kathleen Connolly’s hand-out and list of resources.


April 2019

Springtime by Sydney Tynan

So you have made the Hummingbird  syrup/nectar(1 cup sugar to 4 cups water boiled)? And filled the feeder to greet the weary travelers? Good for you!

I love this time of year as almost every morning something new has started to bloom.  Outside my south facing window I have a Star Magnolia (Magnolia stellata) whose double row of white petals give it a frilly look . The first to bloom of the four types of Magnolias I’ve seen here. Next comes the yellow Magnolia acuminate closely followed by the pink tulip like Magnolia soulangeana. There are a few of the large leafed Magnolia grandiflora that we think of as southern. I have not seen them bloom and they have a bit of a hard time in our northern  winters. The very last to bloom, our only native and I bet you’ve never seen one , is Magnolia virginiana. This blooms in July or August and the air smells like Ponds Cold Cream. It does really well if it can have damp feet.

If you are making your plans for May please note that Sakonnet Garden is open this year the two days BEFORE Memorial Day, May 25 and 26 from 9-6. They suggest you come late in the day as it is less crowded. However do not overlook Memorial Day as the Blossom  and Sweets sale of local plants and home -made cookies and muffins  takes place next to  Wilburs. Sales  open at 7:30 and the local plants, known  to be hardy, just  fly  out.

My next letter will tell you of our  success  in  an alternative to  the dreaded  Round Up.    


Gardening for Water Quality in the Ocean State

At the April 3 program of the Sogkonate Garden Club, Elizabeth Herron, program coordinator for the URI Watershed Watch program, Rhode Island’s largest volunteer water quality monitoring, spoke about the impact of gardening and garden care products on the water bodies in Rhode Island.  She explained the difference between point (a single, identifiable source such as a pipe or a drain) and nonpoint sources of water pollution ( generally results from land runoff, precipitation, atmospheric deposition, drainage, seepage or hydrologic modification).

To reduce pollution she recommended to:


  • choose the right plant for the right site
  • reduce pesticides and fertilizer
  • avoid excess nutrients (nitrogen and phospherous)
  • avoid over-watering


The URI Watershed website offers a wealth of information, with tip sheets, resources and workshop announcements. To access these click on safewater publications.  For publications focusing specifically on the use of pesticides and fertilizers, click on Proper Use of Pesticides and Fertilizers

Winter moths, gypsy moths and ticks

        Spring is finally here …  and while we are delighted to enjoy warmer and longer days, we also need to worry about winter moths, gupsy moths and ticks adjusting to warmer temperatures and invading our trees and shrubs.  The news are not so grim for winter moths and gypsy moths as announced by Heather Faubert from the URI Cooperative Extension in her first Winter moth & Gypsy moth update of the 2019 season.  

         The news about ticks’ are unfortunately not as good.  To keep current, you can consult the URI TickEncounter Resource Center for information on identification,  testing and prevention.  One way to reduce the tick population in your yard is by the use of tick tubes.  Since mice are the primary culprits for producing infected ticks and are always on the lookout for nesting material, tubes filled with cotton impregnated with permethrin help control the tick infestation. If you prefer to make your own, easy directions on how to make tick tubes are available on YouTube.  


October 2018

Electric Fences by Rob Marra

Dear Fellow Gardeners,

We gratefully share our Town with an abundant animal population. Sharing the hard work of our vegetable gardens with the local herds of deer does not make for productive vegetable gardens.

In a single night, early this summer, visiting deer visited the buffet table of our garden. Tomato plants were trimmed, top, bottom and they ate unripe fruit. Beet tops, green beans and squash plants nibbled to the ground. They love parsley. Our pumpkin and squash plots were trampled, flowers disappeared.

Our vegetable garden is protected with wire sunken six inches into the soil and controls damage by rabbits and raccoons.  Deer can easily jump a fence less than eight feet.

The damage this Summer was probably intensified by the lack of rain and the deer sought moisture from the plants.

We protect a row of arborvitae trees every fall with an application of Deer Off. The deer were oblivious to the application of the repellant around the vegetable garden perimeter.

After consultation with our neighboring dairyman, Andrew Morley, he suggested installing an electric wire above the four-foot garden fence.

We called his electric fence supplier, Wellscroft Fence 1-855-327-6336.

In three days, they shipped half inch seven-foot poles, a power pack, connectors, grounding rod, wire and the woven ribbon wire that would carry the electric current.

A friend at a local marina provided a used 12V marine deep cycle battery We also bought a small solar panel to charge the battery.

A half day of carpentry built supports for the system components. Jeremy Allen and I installed the system in an hour. The fence provides 5000-9000 volts of shock. We baited the ribbon with apple syrup to acquaint the deer with the new sensation.

The deers have moved on to a different late-night buffet.

Please do not ask the cost, we do not have a vegetable garden to save money.


September 2018

Bring back the Monarchs by Sue Talbot

While walking on Goosewing/South Shore Beach last September, I saw a ribbon of monarch butterflies flying along the shore. For years, I have been cultivating milkweed in my garden to welcome monarchs. Each year I have seen a few more monarchs, but never the numbers that I saw on the beach that day. I knew that volunteers, along the Dartmouth, Westport and Little Compton shorelines, have been tagging monarchs since the early 1990s. I wanted to know the outcomes of these studies.
To learn more about the monarch migration, I contacted John Berg at The Nature Conservancy. He directed me to Mark Mello at the Lloyd Center in Dartmouth. I asked Mark two questions:
1. When is the best time to view the monarch migration?
2. What is the winter destination of “our monarchs”?

Mark replied that peak times for viewing monarchs depend on the weather. It may be as early as mid-September or as late as mid-October. The best time is a day or two after the passage of a cold front when the wind comes from the north or northwest.

“Our monarchs” are heading to Mexico, but they do not all make it there. Mark tags monarchs with school children at Barney’s Joy, the Lloyd Center, and Gooseberry Neck. He has received notices from the Monarch Tagging Program that some of these monarchs died before leaving Rhode Island (poor things) but others were recovered in Florida, Texas, and Mexico.

I also contacted Cheryl Wiitala at The Nature Conservancy, RI. She directed me to the website It has a great deal of information about monarch tagging, population status, waystations, and habitat restoration.
If you are interested in learning more about the monarch migration rent the documentary film, The Flight of the Butterflies. The film follows the butterflyhighway from Mexico to Canada and back again.






Looking for good readings? In December 2011, Dominique Browning published a list of books about gardening in the New York Times book review section called: Reliable sources for Gardeners