Andrew Pighills has a puzzling occupation. His passion and his profession are founded upon the upon the ancient art of building in stone, a practice he likens to solving a giant three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle. And as a lifelong aficionado of brainteasers of all kinds-from crosswords to jigsaws- he is a man in his element.
I’ve always been good at seeing a space and finding the stone that fits it,” he says.
That talent has come in handy during a career devoted to creating artful stone walls and structures. Perhaps the most archaic of architectural creations, stoneworks are so iconic and beloved, particularly in New England, that their construction continues to be in demand. Andrew’s Atlantic-spanning work-he has built stones walls in his native Great Britain and in his new American homeland-and the inspiration behind it will be the subject of his March 20 lecture.
That’s not to say solving stony puzzles is easy. The right stone can be elusive, and the search for it can be challenging. “It can be frustrating,” he says. “But at the end of the day you can look back and see what you’ve built and realize that it’s going to be there for generations. It is so rewarding”
That notion of permanence has given Andrew a reverence for the stone wall’s place in history and the landscape. He’s partial to New England, where three broadly defined styles of wall are readily evident, beginning with what Andrew calls a tossed wall, created by farmers heaving stones to the edge of their field; to the intermediate wall, in which stones are stacked, but rather haphazardly, to the more formally finished wall with stones stacked neatly, sometimes in courses, and a tidy, more or less level top. The latter type wall is the norm in the UK, Andrew says, where the aesthetic for stone walls was standardized in the 18th and 19th century.
New England’s stone walls are an integral part of colonial history, Andrew says, something he tries to emphasize to his clients and to those who attend his lectures. By sharing his enthusiasm he hopes to interest more people in conserving stone walls for future generations.
His commitment to this traditional building art has earned him a devoted list of clients, including the English National Trust and the English National Parks. His stone work has been featured on BBC television, in The New York Times, Martha Stewart Radio, The New Haven Register and numerous other publications. Andrew is a member of the influential Dry Stone Walling Association of Great Britain, and a founding member of the North American chapter of the DSWA.
Andrew’s personal history with stone walls reaches back to his childhood and growing up on his father’s farm in the Yorkshire Dales--best known to Americans as James Herriot country. The family farm had sheep and milk cattle, and if a stone wall fell down or was damaged it had to be repaired before the animals could escape.
“It was through necessity that I got into stonework,” he says. “The more I did the more I enjoyed it and the better I became; I decided to make it my profession.”
In addition to being a builder, Andrew is a gardener and trained in the UK with the Royal Horticultural Society. Then, after several decades of wall building and garden making in the UK, he immigrated to the U.S. in 2001, and lived in Brooklyn, where his professional adventures included hauling five tons of stone through the home of Steve Buscemi, perhaps better known as Nucky Thompson on HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire”, to the actor’s Park Slope backyard to build a series of retaining walls and garden border edgings.
Andrew now lives in Killingsworth. He and his wife Michelle Becker design and build residential landscapes in the tradition of the English cottage garden. Sometimes that involves building follies, whimsical creations such as the architectural ruin of a Revolutionary War era iron foundry he created in the backyard of a Greenwich client.
He is also working on his gardens at home, where he owns what he says may be the only property in town that did not have any stone walls, a situation that, as you might guess, Andrew is working to remedy.
Something’s been bugging Michael Singer for a long time. Since he was a kid, in fact. Insects. He still remembers the day a mourning cloak butterfly fluttered onto the fig tree in the backyard of his parents house in Los Angeles. He snuck up on the creature, and got close enough to gaze on its burgundy brown wings with their creamy margins and blue spots. He found the vibrancy and pattern of its colors captivating.
“It was a strikingly beautiful creature,” Singer says. “I just wanted to keep staring at it, but it flew away.”
The butterfly’s escape led to a decision. “I decided I had to go after these things so I can see them more.”
He started observing, collecting, reading field guides and planting in his childhood garden plants that would attract specific kinds of insects. Years later Singer had earned a doctorate in insect science at the University of Arizona. A decade ago he started teaching at Wesleyan University in Middletown, where he is an associate professor in biology. The guy knows his bugs. Inside and out you might say. He’s even eaten some: mealworm chocolate chip cookies, he says, taste just like a nutty chocolate chip cookie. But, in general, he says, “I don’t tend to eat my study subjects.”
His years of observing insects have opened a window on a world filled with action enough for a Hollywood blockbuster. So when he presents his talk entitled “Insect Drama in your Garden,” he‘s going to deliver.
“The most dramatic stuff,” he says,”as in human drama, is sex and violence.”
There’s plenty of both in the insect world.
Take violence. Cicada killer wasps, for example, have earned that name for a reason. Dragonflies are elegant, airborne predators who pick off their prey on the fly.
And how about parasitism? “A lot of insects are parasitic and the ones who aren’t, they’re probably hosts. They’re all kind of attacking each other,” he says. “A bunch of parasites are like the ‘Alien’ movies. They get inside a host, feed from the inside, and then they burst out, killing the host.”
Then there are all the primordial struggles surrounding mating. Dung beetles pry, jab and duel with their horns to fend off other males. Carpenter bees are territorial, and fight to defend their turf against other males. Mate guarding is another behavior common to insects and, come to think of it, lots of mammals as well. The idea is for males for keep other males away from their mates.
“They want paternity,” Singer says of the vigilant males. “There’s a lot of that going on in the insect world.”
On its quest for fatherhood, you might get a glimpse of a jumping spider doing its courtship dance. “Males dance around and wave their legs and expose colorful parts of their body,” Singer says. Butterflies too exhibit courtship behavior as do many other insects.
Then there’s the sex. “It’s pretty common to see beetles mating,” Singer says. “They’re kind of shameless.”
All these events might be seen in a Connecticut garden. “I want to show pictures of all these different things you can see and describe where you could find it and how you could look for it,” Singer says.
The insect calendar kicks off with the first warm days of spring, then ramps up with a big pulse of activity in May and June. By summer the drama is in full force, with predator insects coming into their own. Things start to wind down in September and October.
Singer knows these cycles well. The northeast, he says, is perhaps the world’s most studied and best known biome. With so much natural history already known, it offers researchers a chance to jump straight to more sophisticated ecological inquiries, such as Singer’s own investigation into the ecology of plant and insect interactions. He studies at several sites in the state, his favorite being Cockaponset State Forest in Killingsworth, which he says has great plant and animal diversity.
You might pass Singer on his way to the CHS meeting this month; he lives in Hartford near Elizabeth Park, where he often goes looking for wild things like the kingfisher that usually lives near the pond there. He’ll tell you where to find them as well.
January 16-Speaker Dave Daly, Curator of the Children’s Garden at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden
Who is that guy eating flowers in the Children’s Garden at Brooklyn Botanic Garden? Is he a teacher? a farmer? or a chef?
Okay, that was a trick question. Dave Daly, who’s been known to nosh on a nasturtium or two, is all three. As curator of the BBG’s Children’s Garden, Dave serves as a sort of uber-farmer guiding the efforts of the nearly 1,000 kids who worked in the garden there last year; he is a teacher instructing them in the basics of horticulture; and he is a chef, demonstrating the best ways to prepare food fresh from the garden (the number one, all-time favorite recipe? Kale chips!) and introducing new taste sensations to the sometimes picky palates of kids from ages two to 17.
If there’s a trick for getting kids into the garden, it seems to be this: let them grow something good to eat. That simple act is an empowering one, and so vegetable gardening, Dave says, is perhaps the best way to generate interest in horticulture among kids. “The fruit or vegetable they get at the end helps them look back and say, “This was a worthwhile experience,” he says.
That holds true for everything from easy-to-raise, fast growing veggies such as radishes to the more sublime rewards of juicy tomatoes. Especially tomatoes. “Once they get to tomatoes, it’s like a light switch going on,” he says, “you can see it.”
Of course part of what makes something fresh from the garden a taste treat is the way it’s prepared, so Dave spends lots of time teaching kids simple recipes for fresh produce. He says it takes kids 18-20 exposures to really latch onto a new taste. The effort is worthwhile, he says, because by broadening their taste palate you’re setting kids up for a better, more enriching life.
Then too there are the related pleasures of gardening, like discovering all kinds of bugs and such. “If you have a child interested in critters, the garden is the place to be,” Dave says. You dig a few inches down and you find life and lots of it. Dragonflies, cicadas, and worms are really popular.”
The whole idea of the Children’s Garden at BBG, which at 100 years of age is the nation’s oldest, is to create a place where both children and plants can grow, be nourished, and thrive. Its mission is to teach children firsthand about the natural world and expose them to the idea of greening the city through sustainable practices. And ideally, to encourage some of those students to become gardeners in their own right. And Dave works hard to make it fun - you don’t just weed - you have a weeding contest, or launch an all-out blitz to see how fast a bunch of kids can pluck 100 pounds of weeds. It’s a process that can be, literally, about learning to stop and smell the roses.
Dave found his own way to the garden in a roundabout fashion. He grew up in suburban Braintree, Massachusetts and never gardened much at all. But he did visit his Uncle Freddy’s radish farm in Maine. Something there, he says must have seeped into his brain. Maybe it was the tractor rides. But he got the notion that farming could be fun.
In college in California, Dave happened to take an agriculture class. That’s when his light bulb went on. “I started going full throttle, and also started teaching environmental education programs,” he says. At the same time, Dave says he began evolving personally, thinking a lot about what kinds of food he was eating, where it came from, and how it might affect his health. He soon became a vegetarian.
Not long afterwards, Dave moved back East and in fairly short order was hired to be curator of the Children’s Garden, a position he’s held for nearly five years and that he says is the perfect way to combine his passions for farming and for environmental education.
The conceptual seeds Daly plants through classes and programs at BBG may not always take root immediately. But he has succeeded simply by introducing his students, through gardening, to the pleasures of growing and eating fresh, to the joys of working outdoors, and to larger concerns such as composting and other acts of environmental stewardship. At least he has opened a door. “Hopefully we’re planting a seed and giving the children something to think about down the line when they are making decisions,” he says. I like to think we’re helping them grow to be the best they can be.”
Thursday November 21, 2013: ADAM WHEELER:
“Fruitful Shrubs for Autumn’s Beauty”
Adam Wheeler is the Propagation & Plant Development Manager at Broken Arrow Nursery. As growers of rare and unusual plants, the Hamden, CT nursery has been in business for nearly 30 years under the stewardship of Dr. Richard Jaynes, noted Kalmia breeder. Adam who shopped as a teenager at Broken Arrow is now a credentialed resident ‘plant geek’ at the place.
His BS is from University of Vermont in Urban Forestry and Landscape Horticulture. On Thursday November 21, 2013 Adam’s talk “ Fruitful Shrubs for Autumn’s Beauty” promises to blend the old, the new, the rare and unusual to give us a full taste of whats available to extend the gardening season well into the winter months using woody ornamentals.
Adam is well known around CHS for his talents as an informative auctioneer in our seasonal Plant Sale & Auctions. Maybe while he’s with us he’ll even deliver a sidebar on those giant pumpkins he grows in his spare time.
Join us! Thursday November 21, 2013, Emanuel Auditorium, 160 Mohegan Drive, West Hartford, CT (Directions above right) Doors open 6:45 pm .
Speakers for the rest of the 2013-2014 season include:
Nov. 21: Adam Wheeler, Broken Arrow Nursery ”Fruitful Shrubs for Autumn’s Beauty”
Jan. 16: Dave Daly, Brooklyn Botanic Garden, “Tricks for Getting Kids into the Garden”
Feb. 20: Michael Singer,PhD. Wesleyan University, “Insect Drama in Your Garden”
Mar. 20: Andrew Pighills, English Gardens and Landscaping, “The Stone Walls and Stonework of New England and Old England: an Evolution”
Apr. 17: Christie Higginbottom, Old Sturbridge Village, “The Up-to-Date Advantages of Heirloom Vegetables”
May 15: Michael Ruggiero “All About Containers: From Design to Installation”
June 19: Rob Cardillo, Garden Photgrapher, "Looking at Gardens with the Photographer's Eye"
David Culp is the creator of the gardens at Brandywine Cottage in Downingtown, Pennsylvania. David has been lecturing about gardens nationwide for more than 15 years. His articles have appeared in Martha Stewart Living,
Country Living, Fine Gardening, Green Scene, and many other publications.
He is a former contributing editor to Horticulture magazine and served as chairman of the Mid-Atlantic Hardy Plant Society. David is Vice President for Sunny Border Nurseries in Connecticut. He is author of the book The Layered Garden published by Timber Press An expert on, David is a herbaceous perennials instructor at Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, PA.
He has developed the Brandywine Hybrid strain of hellebores, and was recently cited in the Wall Street Journal for his expertise on snowdrops. His garden has been featured several times in Martha Stewart Living and on HGTV. Brandywine Cottage is listed in the Smithsonian Institution Archives of American Gardens.
He is a recipient of the Distinguished Garden Award from the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. He has also been awarded the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society Award of Merit. He serves on the Pennsylvania Horticultural Societies Gold Medal Plant Selection Committee.
Join us on TUESDAY September 17, 2013. Doors open at 6:45 pm :Social, raffle, membership renewals, formal business followed by speaker at approx .7:30pm.
The Buzz on Bees, the Comings and Goings of the Queen of Pollinators
Dan Conlon, Warm Colors Apiary, South Deerfield, Mass.
Dan Conlon is a full-time beekeeper and co-owner of Warm Colors Apiary in South Deerfield, Mass. Along with Bonita Conlon, they produce varieties of local and regional honeys and beeswax products, and provide pollination to Pioneer Valley farms and orchards. Dan has been president of the Massachusetts Beekeepers Association and Franklin County Bee Association and served on the Eastern Apicultural Society’s Board of Directors.
Dan was recognized as 2004 Beekeeper of the Year by the Eastern Apicultural Society, and as the Massachusetts Beekeeper of the Year in 2005. Dan and Bonita support sustainable land use and the preservation of farmland and open space. Dan’s beekeeping experience includes 45 years of management, honey production and crop pollination.
Currently Dan is establishing a Russian honeybee breeding program that will meet the requirements and strict protocols to become certified by the Russian Queen Breeder’s Association. Warm Colors Apiary is among 12 apiaries selected to maintain the 18 genetic lines of Russian honeybees under the supervision of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The Russian honeybee offers excellent disease and pest resistance. They are an important part of the solution to today’s challenges facing honeybees and beekeepers.
photo: White Flower Farm
Yesterday’s Herbs for Today’s Gardens
by Colleen Fitzpatrick Michelson
Lungwort, bloodroot, snakeroot. Flax, digitalis, ornamental onions. You may not think “herbs” when you see the names of these plants, but Ruth Rogers Clausen does.
Her definition of an herb is broader than the commonly held one: a seed-producing annual, biennial or perennial plant that dies down each year and has culinary, medicinal or aromatic qualities.
Clausen views herbs through a simpler, more expansive lens, one informed by a medieval sensibility: an herb is any plant that is useful to people, she says. Herbs include dye plants (indigo) and plants whose fibers can be made into clothing (New Zealand flax) or yarn (some yuccas). They include plants that lure butterflies into gardens and plants that lure moths out of clothes closets.
It is precisely because of their usefulness that these plants have endured over the centuries, she says. “They have survived because they were valuable to people.”
Clausen has been familiar with the practical aspects of plants ever since she started gardening, and she’s been gardening for as long as she can remember. Gardening “was not anything I thought about consciously. I did it by osmosis,” she says. “I didn’t have a choice. That’s what we did; that’s what my mother, my grandmother did.”
Born in Wales, she moved to England when she was a year old. After World War II started and her father joined the army, the women redoubled their vegetable- and fruit-growing efforts. “What you didn’t raise, you didn’t eat,” she says.
Clausen was trained in horticulture at the former Studley College in England, a women’s school where the students did everything, from planting, to lugging coal and tending the hand-fired boilers to keep the greenhouses warm, to digging drainage ditches. She received her master’s in botany from Kent State University in Ohio. Since 1976, she has freelanced as a teacher, lecturer and author in the United States and Canada.
Her prolific writings demonstrate the vastness of her horticultural knowledge. Her first book, “Perennials for American Gardens” (Random House, 1989), co-authored with the late Nicolas Ekstrom, was awarded the Quill & Trowel award from the Garden Writers of America Association in 1990. Her most recent book, “50 Beautiful Deer-Resistant Plants,” was published by Timber Press in 2011. She was horticultural editor for Country Living Gardener magazine for more than seven years and has written or consulted for many other periodicals and books.
Clausen, who lives in Westchester County, N.Y., has been a judge at flower shows, including the Cincinnati Flower Show, the Capetown, South Africa Flower Show and the Ellerslie New Zealand Flower Show.
She serves on the advisory committee for the School of Professional Horticulture at The New York Botanical Garden and is a member of the Corporation for The New York Botanical Garden.
Eat the View: Relocalizing the Food Supply to Our Own Backyards
by Colleen Fitzpatrick Michelson
You’ve heard of the commander in chief. Well, there’s also a “noisemaker in chief,” a title Roger Doiron says he held as he tried to convince the folks in the White House to replant a kitchen garden at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
Media writings credit Doiron with having had a key role in inspiring first lady Michelle Obama to create the White House Kitchen Garden—the first occupant to plant such a garden since President John Adams in 1800, although Eleanor Roosevelt reportedly had a small victory garden plot during World War II.
Doiron succeeded where others such as chef Alice Waters and author Michel Pollan failed during the 1990s. Doiron attributes his success partly to timing and to the fact that ordinary Americans rather than celebrities fueled the 14-month campaign: 100,000 people signed a petition asking the first family to turn over some sod to underscore the importance of eating from a locally grown supply of fresh fruits and vegetables.
His work earned him Hearst Media's “Heart of Green” award and recognition by the editors of Fast Company magazine as one of the “10 most inspiring people in sustainable food.”
Doiron’s project these days is Kitchen Gardeners International, the nonprofit network he founded and directs, and which comprises 29,000 people from 100 countries who are taking a hands-on approach to growing their own food and “relocalizing” the food supply.
He has been immersed in recent months in KGI’s Sow it Forward grant and partnership program, which helps nonprofit entities, such as schools and food pantries, start or expand food garden projects that benefit their communities. He was expecting the 50 grant recipients—from a pool of 900 applicants from 48 states and 11 countries—to be announced in late February or early March.
Doiron is firmly grounded in his local food system in Scarborough, Maine, but has experience and remains interested in international food issues. During the 1990s, he was the head of the Friends of the Earth’s European office in Brussels during the furor over mad cow disease. He was also part of the American delegation of nongovernmental organizations to the United Nations World Summit on Food Security in 2009. He graduated from the College of the Holy Cross College in Worcester, Mass., and earned his master’s degree in international relations from The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University in Medford, Mass.
Doiron will combine hands-on gardening advice with a multimedia presentation that he says connects the dots “between small gardens and big-picture problems such as global food insecurity, climate change, peak oil and tasteless tomatoes.”
He linked the recent surge of interest in the local food movement to the economic slump (“When the going gets tough, the tough get gardening.”) and encouraged people as the economy improves not to “lose sight of what we’ve gained in the last five years or so. The question for Connecticut to think about is how you can keep the momentum going in your state.”
Download the plant list from Jerry Fritz's talk.
Cutting-edge Plants for New England Landscapes
by Colleen Fitzpatrick Michelson
When Jerry Fritz was little, his grandmother would admonish, “Make your bed or else you’ll be out there turning the compost.” It wasn’t much of a threat; he liked turning the compost.
Thankfully for gardeners, the use of gardening chores as discipline did not dissuade Fritz from pursuing his love of horticulture. Nor did it diminish his love for his grandmother, who, he says, was the biggest influence on his becoming a plantsman, one of the best in the country, as it turns out.
Fritz grew up mainly on Long Beach Island, N.J. His first job, at age 12, was at nursery center in Ship Bottom. He earned a bachelor’s degree in ornamental horticulture from Delaware Valley College of Science and Agriculture in Doylestown, Pa., and then began work with Gale Nurseries near Philadelphia.
In 1989 he founded Jerry Fritz Garden Design Inc. and has focused on providing clients with original and innovative concepts and plants. He and his wife Amy founded Linden Hill Gardens in the northern Bucks County, Pa., town of Ottsville about 10 years ago to show clients possibilities for their landscapes and to learn from the plant trials he conducts. The farmstead encompasses more than 20 acres and has greenhouses, barns, display gardens and a pond. About 40 garden groups visit Linden Hill each season, he says.
Five years ago at Linden Hill, he started a Friday afternoon farmer’s market that features produce and products from local farms and food artisans. There are seafood, poultry and meat vendors, and Fritz’s staff will grill up purchases, which people can savor while listening to live music. The market has become “the social hangout of upper Buck’s County” and was voted the best farmer’s market in the region, he says.
Fritz belongs to several organizations, including the Perennial Plant Association, the Hardy Plant Society, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, The New York Botanical Garden, the Royal Horticultural Society and the American Nursery and Landscape Association. He has been a guest on the “Martha Stewart Living” show.
In his talk to CHS, he will describe some plants that are “coming down the pipeline.” Fritz travels the world in search of plant rarities for his clients and nursery, collecting stock from breeders and conducting trials. He offers unusual, exceptional new plants for sale a year or two before they hit the tables of most nurseries, he says.
Asked for a teaser, Fritz says his list of cutting-edge plants includes cultivars that come in fantastic new colors and offer longer bloom periods in the hardy geranium (Geranium) and red hot poker (Kniphofia) genera.