Friday, September 27, 2013

Christmas Already?! How About Some Other Fall New England Traditions First.

Merry Christmas in September?  Are you freaking
kidding me!  ©2013 BDG
I have always tried to cover interesting topics in a positive way, with the exception of an occasional rant within the context of a post, but I have started to see and hear 'Christmas' over the past several weeks and I cannot contain myself.

Don't get me wrong, I love Christmas and the whole holiday season, but that means wood fires at home, snow on the ground and leaves off the trees.  The fact that our local nursery is setting up its Christmas merchandise or a local farmstand is advertising 'Christmas Trees Coming Soon' makes me think that someone is pulling a massive joke in SEPTEMBER.  I should have been looking for hidden cameras. 

Maybe, before purchasing a Christmas tree two months in advance, we should go to a local farm for some apple picking or hit a pumpkin patch.  Here are some great places to hit, some not so local.

Apple Picking at Old Frog Pond Farm.
Old Frog Pond Farm in Harvard, MA
Organic farm that has pick your own apples and raspberries and sells other organic produce.  Has a very cool sculpture walk that includes a 10' Giraffe by a Winchester artist, Madi Lord, who I recently wrote about in a post:  More At Created From Junk Metal.

Wonderful farm out in central MA to get away from the crowds.  Went several years ago and still remember the warm apple dumplings and other wonderful goodies.  The trip just for the dumplings is worth it!

A nice family friendly farm in Stow with hay rides and other stuff for kids.

Christmas at Mahoneys Garden
Center in Winchester. ©2013 BDG
Having the pressure of Christmas, just reminds me of all the work that has to be done in the garden before the ground freezes, not to mention some of the items I have delayed on over the late summer.  Fall is not my favorite time as it means the end of the season and a lot of messy cold work to set the gardens up for next spring.  Spring is always easy for me as work brings the promise of things to come.

I almost caused a car accident when I saw the sign saying that trees are coming soon.  The earliest conceivable time for trees, considering they need to actually last through Christmas would be the middle of November.  That's two months away, yet they are apparently coming soon.  I wonder why this farm stand isn't preparing for Halloween or Thanksgiving, both considerable holidays for gourds, pumpkins, cornstalks and other high margin goods.

As I am writing this, I wonder if maybe this sign advertising Christmas trees is in fact a brilliant marketing strategy.  I am certainly not going to forget that they will be selling trees and they are the first on my mind.

However, this year, instead of buying a Christmas tree from a local nursery that ships them in from some distance, how about going out and cutting your own.  Here are a few local places to go if you want to spend a little family time and have some fun.


Greenwood Tree Farm in Billerica, MA

I write about these destinations to provide ideas for people to get out and connect with local farms and also as a suggestion to myself to head out with the family and friends and spend a few fall days enjoying some old New England Traditions.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Wright-Locke Farm: Our Own Organic Working Farm in Winchester, MA

Quite a crew of people out picking on Tuesday morning.  ©2013BDG

Wright-Locke Farm is a working farm that grows vegetables and fruit, raises egg-laying chickens, raises sheep, keeps bees, teaches kids and adults, and provides a wonderful space to explore, have parties and get involved.  All of this within our town of Winchester, just 13 miles from busy Boston.  We are so lucky that the housing development fell through several years ago and a group of passionate people were able to save this historic farm.  Very few farms like this exist so close to any big city with land values increasing so drastically in recent decades.

Chickens out at their second home as the coop is getting cleaned.  I
didn't say all the jobs on the farm are glamorous. ©2013 BDG

The success of this farm comes from the collective expertise of local residents who manage most aspects of the farm operation.  An Executive Director, Farmer and Education Coordinator are a few positions at the farm, but most of the work is performed by volunteers from the community.

This past week they held their 3rd Annual Harvest Dinner where they enjoyed produce from the farm and other local venues.  I wrote an article for the Winchester Star covering the event and, with over 80 people in attendance, it was a roaring success -- continuing to reinforce the town's support of this amazing and historic resource.

Big line at the farmstand.  ©2013 BDG

I hope my local readers find a chance to drop by and meet some of the people and see what is going on during the day or weekend.  Right now is a great time as raspberries are ripe and you can come and pick your own.  I spent a few minutes last week with a bucket and camera around my neck picking a few berries.  I didn't have to move to pick several handfuls of raspberries, that I must confess never made it to the home after I paid for them.

Raspberry picking and farmstand hours are on their site, if you scroll through the images on the homepage you will see a button for more information on both.

Picking Hours:

-Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday - 9am-noon
-Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 1pm-4pm
-Closed Monday

The lambs lazing in the shade of their portable cover.
They have to be moved regularly as they graze the
grass so heavily.  ©2013 BDG

After picking, I had to go down and visit the young lambs that I help corral earlier in the season.  They are a tremendous hit with the kids that visit the farm.  While I was talking with the Chef at the Harvest Dinner, I learned that he is hoping to have a workshop where he will show people how they butcher a lamb.  Apparently, this has made some people around the farm queasy, but why do we need to hide our connection to our food.  I think it will be fascinating and look forward to the event.

This week there is a stargazing event with telescopes, and in the coming weeks there are workshops on beekeeping and raising chickens.  Over the past year I have spoken with Archie McIntyre(Executive Director), Sally Quinn (Education Director), Rebekah Carter(Education Coordinator) and many others on a number of occasions, and they all have such a passion for the farm and are looking for people and families who want to come and get involved.

Kids have named the laying chickens. ©2013 BDG

Just recently they announced an initiative to raise $4 million to purchase some adjoining land from the town and make improvements on some existing structures.  The support has been amazing with two people each offering $1 million in challenge grants, but they need a lot more support to reach their goals.

Please come by and visit (78 Ridge St at High St), buy some fresh eggs or bring the family to pick some raspberries.  It is a great place to let the kids run free and enjoy a resource we are lucky to have in our town, and with the weather getting nice come and hike some of the trails on the farm.  Ask about opportunities to get involved, there is plenty of work for individuals and families, and what better way to show your children the source of their food.

Very active beehive mean lots of honey. ©2013 BDG

I have seen it on the farm and in working with Vittorio Ettore at his Seed to Plate Garden, when you have children harvest their own food, they will try anything.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Madeleine Lord: More Art Created From Junk Metal!

Ballerina with fan blade cover for dress, gives
 the illusion of movement.  ©2013 BDG
This past week I visited Madeleine Lord, of Madeleine Lord Metal Art, to see what was growing in her driveway.  Madeleine is a very talented artist here in Winchester, who in recent years has focussed her artistic talents on creating art and sculptures out of recycled junk metal.  For more background on her and her process you can read my post from last year.

I called her to see if she had any interesting projects, as she collects her metal in piles and creates her work on her long driveway.  Little did I know that she was in the final stages of creating a 10' tall Giraffe for display at a sculpture walk.

The Giraffe was transported the next day to a sculpture walk and apple event that will be held at the Old Frog Pond Farm, 38 Eldridge Road Harvard MA (near 495, RTE 111) from 1-5pm Sunday on September 15th. Madeleine and her co-creator, Bob Hesse, will be there.

Along with the massive Giraffe, she has many smaller, new sculptures from 2' to 6' high, all of which are for sale.  What I love most about her work is what she sees in an individual piece of metal, and from that comes the final sculpture.  There is a bent, silver fan blade cover that she uses as a swirling dress for a ballerina.  An old forged pitchfork, with a little bending becomes the wings of an angel.  An odd metal piece with a flange becomes the head and hat for 'Mr Bojangles'.  One of the neatest and most subtle, a dented and twisted piece of square metal reveals a face with eyes, nose and mouth from a certain angle.
Some assorted flowers.  ©2013 BDG

All of these pieces of metal we would overlook, but she sees something and when it is put in place the pieces make absolute sense.  You don't see the the individual pieces of scrap metal as the sculpture comes to life, you see the intended form appear before you.  Its almost like crossing your eyes to see hidden images in those geometric pictures.  If you just lose focus a little, the sculpture comes to life and often just one or two pieces of the sculpture carry it.  Then when you see it and look at the individual elements you are surprised to see all the little scraps and odd castaways that have been used.

I hope you enjoy these images, as they really don't do justice to seeing them in full dimension.  These sculptures are mean't to be kept outside and in the garden and can add a wonderful element for year round interest.  To see Madeleine's images of some recent creations, click HERE.

Mr Bojangles.  ©2013 BDG
Angel with pitchfork wings. ©2013 BDG
Mom with baby. ©2013 BDG
Giraffe being supported.  ©2013 BDG
Pipe holders on neck form the mane. ©2013 BDG
Can you see the face in this simple piece of metal.  ©2013 BDG
The Juggler.  ©2013 BDG
Man and Woman (with anatomical parts). ©2013 BDG

Amazing how the bent piece of metal forms
the praying hands. ©2013 BDG

Friday, September 6, 2013

Franklinia alatamaha: A Rare And Beautiful Find

In my heart more than any other aspect of my professional work, I love plants.  Plants are the center from which everything else radiates -- they are my true passion.

Beautiful, fragrant flowers in September. ©2013 BDG
This summer while working on a significant project, there was a tree along the driveway that had been lollipop pruned by the previous maintenance contractor.  In mid to late summer each year the contractor would come and prune all the shrubs and small trees, resulting in poor flowering or non flowering  plants the following season.  I may have to rant on this topic in a subsequent post.

The related Stewartia flower.
Upon initial inspection, this poor tree appeared to be a Sweetbay Magnolia (Magnolia virginiana).  I knew the contractor who installed the initial landscape and knew that it was one of his favorites, and with the hard pruning there were no flower buds or old seed heads to help in identifying.  The leaf seemed to be close and, with the cessation of  summer pruning, I would wait until later in the year for flower buds develop to confirm the plant's identification.

Nice 10' plant that is starting to grow out of
its heavily pruned form.  ©2013 BDG
As we were finishing the installation of the job, I started to notice clusters of round flower buds forming at the ends of the branches.  This was no Magnolia.  After going back to my books, I believed that it may be a Franklinia (Ben Franklin Tree), a rare tree often not seen in the trade.  Two weeks ago it was confirmed as the first flowers opened to reveal beautifully fragrant white flowers with a bright yellow center.

I have seen a few small specimens over the years and I have seen even fewer for sale at local nurseries.  A neighbor, who is a plant collector,  had a poor specimen for that finally passed a few years ago.  Typically a collectors plant like this is for sale online in small sizes (Rare Find Nursery).    Because it is a hard plant to establish and can succumb to root diseases it is rarely found in retail or wholesale nurseries. The final nail in the coffin for this plant is that it is believed to be extinct in the wild, with the last confirmed sighting of the plant in Georgia in the late 1700's.

The flower is very similar to the Stewartia flower, a close relative that flowers in late spring, and both are reminiscent of Camellia flowers.  These similarities exist because they are all part of the Tea family of plants:  Theaceae.

Interesting bark coloration and
fissuring that will improve with
age.  ©2013 BDG
The tree was first found by John Bartram, a botanist and horticulturist from Philadelphia, who while trekking through Georgia found a grove of plants in 1765 by the Altamaha River.  They are the only plants to have been found in the wild and it is believed that all plants today descend from these original plants.  He named it Franklinia after his good friend in Philadelphia, Benjamin Franklin, and the species name of alatamaha after the river by which it was found.  Bartram's Garden is a National Landmark Historic House and Garden just outside of Philadelphia and the Franklinia is its signature tree. For more details read this article on the history of Bartram and the Franklinia Tree.

Michael Dirr states that the tree in maturity can get to 30', though often they tend to succumb to disease before that time.  He also says it is hardy from zones 5-9, but it seems to do best in the cooler, northern zones. The fragrant flowers come in late summer and can continue into the fall, which makes it valuable for providing color in a typically quiet season.  Like its relative, Stewartia, it has wonderful orange/red fall color, and requires moist, low pH(acid) soil with lots of organic matter.  The bark has white striations or fissures that add to its interest.

Fall color. ©Lucy M Rowland
This specimen has been mechanically pruned over recent years and may take a season or two to open up with some proper pruning, but I am hoping this client will get many years of enjoyment from a one of a kind plant.  In the garden in back, I just installed a Stewartia, so they now can enjoy two of the finest ornamental trees, that happen to be from the same botanical family.

While doing some research, I found that there have been attempts to make longer lived hybrids of Franklinia.  With no native distribution and a narrow gene pool, attempts have been made to cross it with other related plants.  One such by plant is a new hybrid tree called Schimilinia floribunda, a cross of Franklinia and Schimia argentea, but I am unable to find any recent mention of the plant other than a passing reference by Michael Dirr.

Who knows why this 'hard to grow' plant has thrived while being attacked each year with gas pruners, but I am glad to have found it and hope it will continue to thrive for many years.  

©2013 BDG

Large clusters of flower buds. ©2013 BDG

Pollinator checking out this unusual find. ©2013 BDG