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Wanted: Useful Plants for Lathrop Landscaping

Wanted: Useful Plants for Lathrop Landscaping

By Barbara Walvoord

At Lathrop, new plants are always being installed and old plants replaced. Imagine that you are interviewing new plant candidates for your garden or other landscaped areas around you.

Today’s candidates include two alien plants that evolved in Asia but are currently found on both campuses (burning bush [Euonymus alata] and daylily (Hemerocallis ‘stella d’oro’] and two native plants that evolved in New England and are currently planted by a few residents in their cottage gardens (native highbush blueberry [Vaccinium corymbusum] and native butterfly weed [Asclepius tuberosa], a member of the milkweed family).

Interviewer:  Do you look beautiful, and can you be kept looking neat?   All plants:  YES!

Interviewer: Do you need lots of water, herbicides, and fertilizer?  All plants:  Nope, not a lot.

Interviewer: Birds, bees, and butterflies are in decline.  How can you help them? Continue reading Wanted: Useful Plants for Lathrop Landscaping


Farming Lathrop Land: A Long History

Seeds are for sale now at our local stores. Our community gardeners are planning their spinach, beans, peas, tomatoes, and squash.  We’re part of a very old farming tradition.  The old barbed wire on our land, as well as an old manure spreader abandoned in an east campus field, reminds us that European colonists farmed our Lathrop land for several centuries.

But in fact, agriculture on Lathrop land goes back even farther. Early European settlers tended to see the land they found as a wilderness, because it did not look like the farms they left behind in Europe.  But they were wrong.  The land they found in the Connecticut Valley was actually an extensive and well-regulated agricultural system that provided the basis of the diet of the native American tribes who lived here.

European settlers did not see the native American farms because women did the farming, and because the fields looked messy to European eyes.  English settlers assumed that only men farmed, and that the work of men was much more important, so they were blind to the fact that an Indian woman might be working up to 2 acres, raising 25-60 bushels of corn. Farming contributed up to three-fourths of total calories consumed. Continue reading Farming Lathrop Land: A Long History

Young Singers in Concert at Lathrop

by Barbara Walvoord

Originally published in Lathrop Lamp Post, Aug.  3, 2017.

Summer music camps for kids are in full swing now, and Tanglewood  is featuring its Young Concert Artists’ Series.  At Lathrop, our coyote youngsters are also starting to perform in evening or pre-dawn concerts.

The young performers will have been born in April or May, in a burrow dug by their mother under a fallen tree or in a thicket.  The den might be up to 15 feet deep and a foot or two wide.   Careful moms will have made several dens so the kids can be moved from one to the other to avoid detection and keep down parasites.  Not a bad excavation achievement for a critter weighing 20 or 30 pounds, with only her feet as tools.

The youngsters have emerged from the den by now, and as their young bodies grow, mom is increasingly busy hunting to feed them.  She’ll take a wide variety of food–mice, Continue reading Young Singers in Concert at Lathrop

Lathrop’s Hard-Headed Residents

By Barbara Walvoord

(From Lathrop Lamp Post Feb. 9, 2017)

Some of Lathrop’s human residents may be a bit hard-headed, truth to tell, but if you walk on our land these days you may hear our most hard-headed resident–the pileated wood pecker, whose loud drumming or whinnying cry rings through the woods.  Crow-size, it’s America’s largest woodpecker.  Sharon and I were lucky to see one the other day, energetically pounding away at a dead tree behind our house, it’s red-crested head whamming back and forth, and wood chips flying all around.

Pileated woodpecker holes on east campus
Pileated woodpecker holes on east campus

Many residents are drawn to Lathrop because of our beautiful forests, and the same is true for our pileated woodpeckers. However, to a woodpecker, the most beautiful tree is a dead one with lots of carpenter ants and other insects burrowed into it. Continue reading Lathrop’s Hard-Headed Residents

The Power of Berries

by Barbara Walvoord

(First published in the Lathrop Lamp Post Oct. 22, 2016)

Our Lathrop berries are powerful forces in nature. Through the fall and winter, the sweet fruit provides critical  nourishment for our birds, chipmunks, and bears.  But to the plant, a berry is a seed with an enticement–a sweet treat that gets some creature to eat the berry and pass it out the other end, in some distant place, with a nice little blob of fertilizer. Berries are a plant’s wings–they allow it to spread beyond its rooted place.

For that very reason, the berries of invasive plants are really bad news.  Berries eaten and then excreted spread invasive burning bush, barberry, and honeysuckle from our landscaped areas into our forests, where they crowd out native plants, but fail to provide the insects, cover, and nesting areas that our wildlife needs. Birds that eat these berries unwittingly spread their own destruction.

One of the worst berries is the alien invasive buckthorn berry, because it gives birds diarrhea, thus weakening them as winter approaches.  Nineteenth-century European settlers brought buckthorn with them, but they didn’t bring the enemies and competitors that limit buckthorn’s spread in its native land. Buckthorn’s heavy thickets crowd out our native plants and change the composition of the soil, making is less hospitable to natives.

Another bad berry is invasive bittersweet vine, whose orange berries are popping out now, as the vines smother our trees.


As we have been removing these bad berries at Lathrop, we have saved and nurtured our good berries: pin cherry berries cascading from their branches (top of this page)  black cherry; arrowwood vibernum; red mulberry; high-bush blueberry, whose popular berries are almost all eaten by now; grey dogwood, with its unusual waxy white berries; winterberry, which some of us have planted in our gardens for a fall and winter show of brilliant red berries lining every branch; and, pictured below,  wintergreen berries nestling one by one on our forest floor.


We are making our land a feast of powerful berries.

How to Remove Poison Ivy

by Barbara Walvoord

(first published in the Lathrop Lamp Post Sept. 9, 2016)

Last week’s column talked about how to walk in the woods or fields and not get poison ivy.  When I am working, rather than just walking, where there may be poison ivy, I use the same precautions that were described last week, except that now I wear canvas work gloves and long sleeves, with no gap between glove and sleeve; when I get home, I spray and rinse not only my boots, but also my tools; and I throw my gloves into the washing machine along with any other clothing that may be contaminated. Then, if poison ivy has gotten on my skin in the process of all this, I have 30 minutes to wash it off, first using rubbing alcohol and then soap, with plenty of cool rinse water.
If I am actually going to pull poison ivy, here’s what I do: I have in my
pocket a few of those plastic bags that newspapers come in, and a
few regular plastic grocery bags. To remove the poison ivy, I slip newspaper plastic bags over both my work gloves, pulling the bags up high on my arm so the top edge does not get contaminated.

Continue reading How to Remove Poison Ivy

Be a Steward for our Land

by Barbara Walvoord

We now have 50 acres of forested land, on both campuses, that is either  free of invasive plants or part way through a 3-year invasives-removal process.  Yeah!!!

But we don’t want just “once and done.” We want to see with new eyes the beauty of our restored land, catch new invasives as they arise, and learn more about our amazing ecosystem.

So the Land Conservation Committee is inviting residents to become “stewards” of a plot of land of their own choosing–a plot that is not landscaped.  The plot can be ten feet square, lying along a road/path accessible to a walker or electric wheelchair, or it may be a plot that is more remote. It can be forest, stream bank, wetland, meadow, or the unlandscaped land right behind your house. Continue reading Be a Steward for our Land