FIELD NOTES: THE INVASIVES – Not a Summer Blockbuster!

I’m one of those gardeners that walks through my garden with a cup of coffee in the morning, checking out what’s blooming, what insects are eating which plants and (always) weeding as I go…

But wait, there’s that vine/weed with the orange root. BITTERSWEET ALERT!

I’ve found that my morning strolls through the garden are the best way to stay on top of the INVAIDERS, otherwise known as the INVAISIVES. No, it’s not a summer blockbuster movie, though, like the mega movie productions,  we’re spending millions of dollars on the removal of these unwanted species that never quit and threaten native species. Oriental Bittersweet, Virginia Creeper, Poison Ivy are just a few vines that keep invading from the woods behind my home. Not to mention Japanese Barberry, Winged Euonymus (Burning Bush), Multiflora Rose and Buckthorn – the invasive shrubs that keep appearing as “reruns”.

I was shocked to learn that my county, Essex County, is #2 in Massachusetts with the most invasive species reported. Here are the  culprits:

Top Ten Abundant Invasive Plants (by number of reports)

  1. multiflora rose – 1190 reports
  2. oriental bittersweet – 1085 reports
  3. glossy buckthorn – 962 reports
  4. perennial pepperweed – 760 reports
  5. Japanese barberry – 637 reports
  6. purple loosestrife – 577 reports
  7. Japanese knotweed – 438 reports
  8. European barberry – 428 reports
  9. coltsfoot – 408 reports
  10. winged burning bush – 407 reports

To see the “cast of characters” and their pretty photos:

Just when I think I’m on top of the situation in my garden, I’m allerted by my boating friends that they need to stay on top of the highly aggressive aquatic invasive species issued by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation.

Then my arborist tells me that the INVAIDERS/INVASIVES are not just plant life. We’re now encouraged to know where our firewood comes from and be sure not to move it from county to county to keep insect infestations from spreading.

How will I ever remember all these threats to my local habitat, let alone to the bigger environment? I do find that the more I read up on these issues, the more I retain (by osmosis, I guess) and can keep my radar up. It seems that’s the best we can do!

TO LEARN MORE and keep your radar up for invasives…

National Invasive Species Information Center 

What The Nature Conservancy Is Doing

Mass Audubon – Invasive Species in Massachusetts

Controlling Invasive Plants at Home

Massachusetts Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs

FIELD NOTES – Living Fences Speak Volumes


What’s that old saying in the Robert Frost poem? “Good Fences make good neighbors”. Well, I don’t believe it. Quite often, putting up an instant barrier with a structural fence sends a different message to your neighbors or passers by. “Going Green” for privacy is the alternative to soften the message.

Fence “structures” do have their place. You know – picket, lattice, board, stacked,  post & rail, stockade and (God forbid) chain link. Having installed many of these for my clients, I’m not saying they aren’t useful. They certainly do the job to contain running kids, keep the dog in the yard and  unwanted critters out, add a safety barrier around a pool, and (best of all) create an instant screen to block a bad view. In other words, often necessary in the neighborhood landscape.

But, before the first post hole goes in the ground, consider this… a Living Fence. If you want to create an pleasurable outdoor living space, a garden room for tranquility or a transition space that you’ll  enjoy passing through each day, the Living Fence should be your choice over a structural fence.  An impressive article by Cynthia Kling,  “LIVING FENCES – Pushing the boundaries of the hedge and its role in the modern-day garden”  (Garden Design, March 2013), really got me excited about the many alternatives and reminded me of the many I’ve introduced into my client’s landscapes.

These property line screens are used, instead of fences, to create “Green Walls” between neighboring yards in residential neighborhoods.




KING - Pond Screen, Green Giant Arbovitae








Below – An effective privacy planting used to screen the required pool fencing in a residential neighborhood.

SPERO-HALL - Pool Screen from neighbor yard

SPERO-HALL - Pool Screen from drive-street

This weekend, my friend and I visited the Lincoln, Franconia, Sugar Hill areas of New Hampshire and were lucky enough to stumble upon the Annual Lupine Festival. What a treat to catch the last 2 days of this 20 year event.  Knowing we were welcome to wander and explore the many fields of wild Lupines along the roadways and farmlands (private property, I’m sure) brought me full circle in thinking about fences. DON’T FENCE ME IN is my new mantra. Take a look…

Lupine Festival, Sugar Hill, NH 1 2013

The Frost Place, Sugar Hill, NH View 1 2013

Lupine Festival, Sugar Hill, NH 2 2013

Lupine Festival, Sugar Hill, NH 3 2013

Lupine Festival, Sugar Hill, NH 4 2013

Getting back to Robert Frost. On the back roads of Sugar Hill, NH,  we also  visited The Frost Place, one of Frost’s homes. For a short period of time, he lived with his family and wrote here. The house was nestled in a serene setting of trees overlooking the White Mountains. 

The Frost Place, Sugar Hill, NH Sign 2013

The Frost Place, Sugar Hill, NH House 1 2013

The Frost Place, Sugar Hill, NH House 2 2013

The Frost Place, Sugar Hill, NH View 2 2013

Seeing the view and wandering the paths through fields behind the house (without a fence in sight), it’s hard to believe he said such a thing, “Good fences make good neighbor’s”. I think not!

Explore the possibilities-

Increase Your Homes Privacy with plants

Hedge Shrubs

Hedge Plants





FIELD NOTES: Focus Your Landscape View

This gallery contains 32 photos.

When designing a landscape, be it large or small, it’s critical to step back, see the whole picture and relate your space to the surroundings. Like a photographer – take the long shot view, then, zoom in on the details. … Continue reading


The first warm days of spring always generate Real Estate listings, bring homeowners outdoors to chat with neighbors and prompt a walk-around-the-yard inspection. Inevitably, my phone rings a lot on Monday mornings in March and April…

“The front of my house looks awful”

 “There’s nothing special about my entry – how can I make it a focal point”

 “No one knows which door to use when they come over”

 “Getting ready to sell our home and need the WOW factor to attract buyers”

If these comments sound familiar, could be your home is in need of a facade face lift. This is often the solution for a client lamenting their lack of “curb appeal” or the mediocre “first impression” of their home. A major structural change or a new paint job isn’t your only recourse for a significant facade improvement. Oh yah, I’ll evaluate your plantings too, after all, that’s how I make my living. But simple structural add-ons, some windowboxes, trellises, a new landing or walkway can make a big impact at a reasonable cost.

 Some before and after examples to get you thinking…

BEFORE - a lost path & blank wall

Adding a new arbor directs visitors from the front driveway/parking area to the entry door the homeowner wants them to use. It not only frames the view, but gives an Asian touch and preview to the interior decor. The homeowner made the custom trellis from my design – its pattern repeats the shape of the upper windows, adds interest at the entry to fill the blank wall and balances with the door and window shapes on the facade. The perennial vine used in the cedar planter keeps from year to year, but the varieties and colors of the annuals can change each year to give a whole new planting look.

The new Bluestone walk includes the square shape repeated in the trellis and upper windows - a unifying feature at the ground level

A secondary Bluestone walk with gravel was added for circulation between the greenhouse, front entry and the right side steps that lead to a screen porch.

BEFORE - 2 story home with massive scale

AFTER - Awning Trellises added to the lower windows align with the roofline of the covered porch


 The awning trellis around the 3 lower windows is just enough to add character and draw the eye down from the massive Dutch Colonial facade…now even the plants are more noticable.

BEFORE – House “disapears” with larger homes beside it

 This homeowner said, “My house disappears with the larger houses next door on both sides. I need something to draw attention to my house”.

The plantings were completely redone and a large tree was transplanted from the backyard to fill and cover the left side of the house where there are no windows. The front entry needed scale added  to draw attention away from the neighbors homes, so a new Granite Porch, steps and wood Pergola with railings were added to give it a new focal point, not to mention “curb appeal”.

AFTER - Granite Porch, Steps, and Wood Pergola add scale to this entry


Here an Arbor and Trellis Fence are used to connect the narrow garden space between the house and a property line hedge, while framing the “Garden Room” for privacy from the street view.

These planters, selected for clean lines, blend well with the architecture around them and plants hide an electric meter on the front facade

 After a new car port was added next to this mid-century style house, the owner wanted to unify the space between the entrance at the side, the car port wall and the driveway.  We used left over concrete pavers (purchased from a neighbor) set in gravel for the stepper path from the driveway to the side entry deck. Again, the square pattern of the windows is replicated in the path material to create unity and interest.

The concrete stepper path blends well with the house style and a wide, gravel dripline seperates the lawn from the foundation to make mowing easier.

Plantings are used to soften the hard surfaces and Car Port wall

If your house sits close to the street or sidewalk, think about eliminating any narrow strip of grass and just go with plantings in scale with the bed depth and front windows of your house.

BEFORE - Sunken brick landing is a tripping hazard and salt spray killed all the plantings (except 1 shrub)

AFTER - The brick landing is re-laid with a cobble accent strip and new plant selections are tough enough to survive road salt and winter plowing. Annuals are added to beds each year for summer color.

 You can always use matching planters to frame a doorway, clamp-on planters spilling over with plants on a railing, or add widowboxes bursting with annuals for an inexpensive, quick fix to add color, scent and eye candy to any entry or facade.


Try putting your houseplants outdoors in unique wall planters this summer. It gives them a growth spurt while they perk up a shady area or covered porch.

Don’t forget the finishing touches:

Happy Spring! It’s just around the corner.

FIELD NOTES: Let’s Talk Rain Gardens

Last winter, 60 inches of snow had fallen on Boston by this point in time.  Snow plowing contractors aren’t very happy this season…but, I’m OK with the 8 inches we’ve had so far. This brings to mind the usual spring thaw and runoff. So let’s talk Rain Gardens.

Hard to believe it’s been 22 years since the first Rain Garden  was built in the state of Maryland to replicate the natural bio-retention systems that had disappeared with the development of the land. But lucky for us, guidelines were developed and monitoring over the years led to improved designs of these plant systems for infiltration and bio-retention of stormwater runoff.

In recent years, many states and towns have adopted Stormwater Regulations and Bylaws to limit and monitor pre-existing and future connections to Municipal Storm Sewer Systems. In an effort to control pollutants, flow amounts and soil erosion – industry, commercial and residential discharge connections to the Municipal Storm Sewer System (MS4) must now be permitted. My town, Ipswich, MA, has issued an official notice (to residents, businesses and developers) with a compliance schedule to be met within 4 years. Rain Gardens are one of many Low Impact Development techniques  (LID) that can be implemented for stormwater management.  Not only are Rain Gardens adding beauty to cities, towns and neighborhoods, they are environmentally friendly, an alternative to concrete drywells, and are now considered an acceptable “lot drainage system” in connection to the MS4.

My first Rain Garden project, back  in 2007, was designed for the Ipswich River Watershed Association (IRWA) at their headquarters at Riverbend. Working with the IRWA staff, interns, volunteers and contractor, we installed a Double Rain Garden. Its size was calculated to handle the amount of water flow from the building roof, access ramp, parking area and driveway and to filter out chemicals and pollutants before the water flowed into the Ipswich River, located downhill from the building and Rain Garden.

Preparing the soil mix in holes on the sloped gradeRain Garden installation completed



Newly planted Double Rain Garden at IRWA

Double Rain Garden located on a slope to capture rainwater runoff

Rain Garden plants filling in - Year 2

Using native plants in a Rain Garden attracts wildlife

Maintenance of a Rain Garden is similar to any garden. Some initial watering is required to establish the planting, depending on rainfall. Weeding on a regular basis keeps the plants thriving, limits competition and is required for keeping out invasive species. Dividing perennials is typically required the 3rd or 4th year after planting.

Dividing perennials in the IRWA Rain Garden last fall

IRWA staff and Volunteers have always helped maintain the Native Plant, Demonstration and Rain Gardens at IRWA. Last fall they helped divide perennials and ferns in the Rain Garden to  maintain the integrety of the original design. 

Another residential project included a Rain Garden in a backyard bordering the Ipswich River on a neighboring street from mine. The positon and shape of the Rain Garden was critical to capture water flowing over the sloped grade behind the car port and from half of the house roof using Rain Chains the homeowner had connected to the gutters. The plants selected are a magnet for butterflys, dragonflys, and birds from the adjacent river habitat.

Rain Garden filtering pollutants from pavement and lawns to keep our river clean

Attract wildlife to the Rain Garden using native plants

Both Rain Garden projects were located within the wetland buffer of the river, necessitating the use of native plant materials. As most natives are tolerant of both wet and dry growing conditions and attract wild life, they are ideal for a Rain Garden habitat. Local Conservation Commissions are very receptive to installing Rain Gardens, whenever possible, as a solution to water management on an appropriate site.

Combine native shrubs and perennials, tolorant of wet and dry conditions

If a natural depression occurs in your yard, a Rain Garden could be the ideal solution for a faster rate of water absorption in that area.

 To learn more-

Benefits of a Rain Garden

Protect our Water Resources

Massachusetts Watershed Coalition

SmartRivers Program – Storm Water Management in Washigton, DC

Why Every City Should Be Planting Rain Gardens

Case Study – School Rain Garden in Portland Oregon

Read about-

Rain Gardens – book

Mini Rain Garden Planter

Homeowner How-T0-Guide