A monthly gardening update by OSV staff horticulturist Roberta McQuaid
This behind-the-scenes glimpse of the Village gardens will explore a range of topics including what’s growing in our gardens and the culture and history of specific heirloom plants. We hope that you will find this monthly online feature informative and perhaps it will enrich your next visit to the museum - maybe even adding to your own gardening adventures at home.
The Lodges’ Oliver Wight House Garden: Where Old is New Again!
As part of The Old Sturbridge Inn and Reeder Family Lodges renovation project, the surrounding landscape was enhanced by the addition of several flower gardens. In this garden newsletter edition we will share information about the Oliver Wight House patio garden and its plant selection. This stone wall rimmed garden to the north of the Oliver Wight House was planted in early May and is now maturing towards its full potential. (See photo above.)
When it came time to design the garden, it was only natural to consider perennials. Because the adjoining brick patio space would be utilized by guests only during the warmest parts of the year, it would be easy to choose plants that would capitalize on this timeframe. I thought it would be interesting to use modern cultivars of common heirloom plants- that way we would have the “feel” of heirlooms, but benefit in this modern space from new and different color options, increased bloom time or disease resistance.
Just a week after planting I was wishing that instead of disease resistance we had some sort of woodchuck resistance. With all nine of the purple coneflowers nibbled to the ground by a resident groundhog we named ‘Oliver,’ we got right to work and set a Havahart trap. Eventually he was tempted into a trip to the “salad bar” and was moved to a faraway (at least from any gardens!) spot on OSV property. Continue reading below for tips and tricks to thwart your own unwelcomed woodchuck.
Echinacea purpurea 'Prairie Splendor'
This species is native to prairies and open woods of the eastern United States. The genus Echinacea is from the Greek word ‘hedgehog’ and refers to the mass of prickly spines in the seed head. Common names of Indian Root and Scurvy Root refer to the medicinal value of the plant. It is a remedy for a wide variety of ailments, from the common cold to snakebites and scurvy.
Purple Coneflower is drought resistant and thrives in full sun to partial shade. Long-lasting summer flowers have purple-pink petals that are most often reflexed. The central cone, or ‘disk,’ is orange-brown and comprised of tiny florets that butterflies find very appealing. The stems of Echinacea are rigid and the leaves are hairy and toothed. It grows approximately 36” tall and benefits from staking.
Joseph Breck in The Flower Garden of 1851 had this observation regarding Echinacea: “The disk of the flower is very rich, appearing in the sun, of a golden crimson; the rays are purple, and in some of the varieties, quite long.” The earliest known citation of Echinacea purpurea was in 1783. Purple Coneflower blooms in the Salem Towne house cutting gardens.
'Prairie Splendor' is an improved variety of E. purpurea that is more contained than species and blooms two weeks earlier. It is a 2007 Fleuroselect Winner.
Iberis sempervirens 'Tahoe'
Perennial Candytuft was first found growing on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. The genus Iberis is from the Roman name for ancient Spain, Iberia. According to the Victorian-era "language of flowers" perennial candytuft was the symbol of indifference because it was able to grow in a variety of conditions. It was introduced to our country in 1739. “The ideal home for it is in the rock garden where its rambling habit will receive no check.” (Dorothy Cloud, The Culture of Perennials, 1927.)
As stated, the best use of Iberis is as a rock garden plant or edging plant. One and a half inch wide finger-shaped racemes of white flowers bloom in spring. It requires good drainage, but will stop flowering if kept too dry. Prune immediately after blooming to keep the plant from getting lanky and sparse in the middle. Once established, Perennial Candytuft does not like to be moved. It can be propagated by cuttings in late summer. In cold climates apply a winter mulch of conifer boughs to prevent browning. Inside Old Sturbridge Village you will see this plant blooming in the Towne Garden in mid-May.
'Tahoe' is an early booming selection that is hardy to Zone 3. It was chosen for use in the patio garden.
Bee Balm or Oswego Tea
Monarda didyma 'Marshall’s Delight'
Bee Balm is a North American native, first collected by American botanist and explorer John Bartram near Oswego, NY. Its aromatic foliage was known to be a suitable substitute for imported tea after the Boston Tea Party in 1773.
As with other members of the mint family, bee balm is a rampant grower that spreads by underground runners. It must be divided regularly to keep it within reigns. Despite that, and the fact it is prone to powdery mildew, bee balm continues to be a popular garden perennial.
'Marshall’s Delight' is a Canadian introduction that is quite resistant to powdery mildew. It has lovely pink flowers that blend nicely with the color scheme of the other flowers in the Oliver Wight border. The blooms of this cultivar are different from the red, multi-whorled species in that they are a single round whorl- still very much enjoyed by bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.
Phlox paniculata 'David'
Border Phlox is native from New York and Illinois south to Georgia and Arkansas. The genus Phlox is derived from the Greek word meaning flame, in obvious reference to the panicles or loose bunches of magenta, pink or white florets that top the 3-4’ plants each summer. Flowers are unique in that they bloom twice from each cluster of flowers. Remove spent flowers shortly after the second flush of blooms to prevent unwanted seedlings from invading the yard.
The bane of Border Phlox is powdery mildew. Plant cultivars known to be resistant of the fungal disease and still take appropriate action to diminish the infection, such as: Provide decent air circulation by spacing the plants 2’ apart from their nearest neighbor and by thinning the plant to 4 or 5 strong stems each spring (or take up to 1/3 of the plant.) Planting phlox in the outer corners of a border will allow for the most air circulation. Wilting plants are also prone to infection. Therefore, provide adequate water during periods of drought.
Twentieth-century author and gardener Vita Sackville-West called border phlox “monuments of solidity” but also said they smelled “like pigsties.” Decide for yourself on the stench- or fragrance- of phlox when you see them in bloom in July and August in the Parsonage dooryard garden.
'David' is an improved variety of Border Phlox that was chosen for the patio garden at the Oliver Wight House. Named Perennial Plant of the Year in 2002, it was heralded for its huge white flowers, long bloom time and mildew-resistant foliage. Interestingly enough, it was found growing at Brandywine Museum in PA.
'David’s Lavender' will add another color feature to the space. It grows 3-4’ tall and has lavender-pink flowers with similar attributes as above.
Physostegia virginiana 'Miss Manners'
This plant gets its name from its unique flowers. Individual florets can be bent into any position and will stay put, hence they are “obedient.” For this reason it is loved by florists who can manipulate them to the visible side of the stem in an arrangement. Entire flower spikes are 6-10” tall and leafless. On the ground, however, it is not so well-behaved, and spreads from vigorous underground runners. Divide frequently to keep it within its boundaries. Provide moist, not overly fertile soil in full sun to part shade. The Obedient Plant is a North American native.
“In planning the rear of a broad border this is almost indispensable for it has height, clean foliage and pleasant spikes of pink or white flowers July-frost. It makes a fine background for Phlox and an excellent companion for tall Veronica.” (Richardson Wright, The Practical Book of Outdoor Flowers, 1924.)
'Miss Manners' is a 24” tall noninvasive introduction by Massachusetts’s horticulturist Darrell Probst, valued for its “manners” and numerous side shoots of white flowers. We will soon see if it lives up to its reputation, by comparing the clumps growing in the Oliver Wight House garden with those in the Parsonage dooryard.
Veronica spicata 'Red Fox'
The popular garden perennial Speedwell is named for the ship that left port with the Mayflower but returned awhile later because it was not sea-worthy. It’s flowers are fondly referred to as “upside-down icicles.”
These are superb plants for the front of the border. They thrive in full sun and well-drained soil. Deadhead immediately after flowering is complete.
'Red Fox' (syn. 'Rotfuchs') is the cultivar chosen for the Oliver Wight perennial border. It grows 15” tall and has delicate red-pink spikes that bloom spring through late summer. This is a unique color choice that attracts both butterflies and hummingbirds. See the blue, species variety in flower at the Parsonage during a good portion of July.
The Wiley Woodchuck
Most gardeners wonder why Punxsutawney Phil was ever given his own holiday. Tradition has it that if he emerges from his underground home on February 2 and sees his shadow we will endure another 6 weeks of winter. If he doesn’t, spring will arrive early. Usually the news anchors play up the big event, panning the camera on the groundhog for his annual 15 minutes of fame. Kids think the whole thing is a big deal, but most adults ignore Phil’s wisdom and get back to reading the evening paper or folding the laundry, knowing that spring will arrive on or about March 20, regardless of the critter’s observations. Ignoring him then is one thing, but ignoring him and his kin should they appear in your garden is a whole different story.
For years the groundhog, or woodchuck, was the bane of my gardening experience. I admit, it was my own fault. I was the one who invaded his, or should I say THEIR, territory. I planted a garden smack dab in the middle of a 9-acre field, not close to the house or the road, but in no man’s land…Woodchuck Central, USA. Suddenly, broccoli appeared on the menu and clover and vetch didn’t taste as good as it used to. The first summer that we gardened in “the field” my Dad caught fourteen of the buggers with a Havahart trap. We joked that the same few hitchhiked back from the drop off location just to torment us again and again! If you find yourself if a similar predicament, stay tuned for some advice on how to get Phil, Philomena, and the entire family to pack their bags, or at least, leave your garden alone.
Control them early. Woodchucks hibernate in winter, emerging from the den beginning in March or so. After a brief mating period a litter of 4 or more pups are born 28 days later, usually in April or May. They begin to venture out of the den in search of food when they are a month old. By July, they are forced from the nest and take up a solitary residence. With this information in mind, plan your strategy.
Live-trap. If you intend to catch woodchucks using a Havahart trap, do so before they reproduce, and while food is still scarce. Start in March. Be forewarned, Massachusetts forbids the relocation of animals. You must either release them on your own property or, according to one source, get the permission of the property owner before releasing them on his. Use your own discretion here. Bait for the trap includes salad greens, whole kernel corn, carrots with tops, apples, beans, peas, and cucumbers. If you can, locate either hole into the den (usually there are 2) and position the trap no more than 5 or 10 feet from the opening. Camouflaging it may help to lure the animal in. Check the trap throughout the day and remember to exercise caution in dealing with any trapped animal, woodchuck or otherwise; it is likely and understandable that they will be in an agitated state.
Clear the land. If trapping isn’t your thing, you can still exert control early in the season by clearing tall patches of weeds and brush from locations nearby the garden to reduce launching pads for sneak attacks.
Fence the garden. According to Wildlife Damage Control, the fence should be at least four feet high, at least one foot buried below the ground, and bent one foot outward at the top. One-inch chicken wire reportedly works well. Stake the fence every few feet, but keep it floppy rather that taut; it will be more of a deterrent.
Use repellents. There are various products that can be used to make vegetation unpalatable to woodchucks, but not all are meant to be used on food grown for human consumption. Check the labels! These repellents may include predator urines, hot pepper sprays, castor bean oil, Epsom salts and ammonia. Most will need to be reapplied after it rains or once the smell fades.
They may look cute and cuddly, but don’t be deceived, woodchucks WILL definitely wreak havoc in your gardens.. sometimes in just one dusk-lite foray!
About the Author
Roberta McQuaid has been the staff horticulturist at Old Sturbridge Village for over 23 years, propagating and planting heirloom and non-heirloom plant material in the Museum Operations Department’s gardens each growing season. As well, Roberta regularly holds greenhouse sessions for members, provides articles for The Old Sturbridge Village Visitor Magazine and writes a weekly gardening column for various Turley Press publications, where she is warmly known as the “Garden Lady.” Most recently, Roberta organized the State’s first “seed lending library” located within the Paige Memorial Library in Hardwick, MA.
Special thanks go out to Trustee Bob & Lorraine Reeder for making the revitalization of the gardens and buildings at OSV’s lodges all possible!
(Even though… ‘Oliver’ probably was not particularly happy about the renovation…and his subsequent relocation!)