Spring in the Okefenokee Swamp

Pond cypress & Spanish moss

One of my favorite things to do when traveling is to visit gardens: arboretums, public gardens, botanical gardens, greenhouses, and nurseries. On a recent trip to Amelia Island, we didn’t find any of those, but we did make the easy drive to Georgia and the Okefenokee Swamp, to indulge my husband’s fascination with Pogo.  There, we saw many plants in their natural habitat. We enjoyed getting a closer look by taking a boat tour through the swamp.

Pond cypress (Taxodium ascendens) appears majestic when it towers among the lower shrubs in the swamp. In other areas, it created a dense, and mystical forest – especially when surrounded by many of the ‘knees’ that are common to much of this genus. There is a photo of the knees, later in this post.


The sense of mystery created by a group of these trees is especially  noticeable when there are narrow waterways meandering through trees draped in Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides.) Although Spanish moss is neither Spanish, nor a moss, it is related to other Tillandsia, or air plants that are popular, low-maintenance house plants. We saw this plant in many places, and I was tempted to bring a piece home, until we were told that the plant often harbors chiggers. This is especially true of pieces that have fallen to the ground, making a welcome place for these annoying creatures to hide.

Pond Cypress knees

Pond Cypress and Bald or Swamp Cypress (Taxodium distichum) have woody growths known as ‘knees.’ Their purpose is not really known. Theories are that they help to aerate these plants in their very wet environments, that they help to anchor the roots, or that create a barrier to catch sediment and reduce erosion. Whatever their true purpose, the knees and very wide base of these trees are a distinctive key to identification. Pond cypress are native to the Southeastern United States, from Virginia to parts of Florida. The bald cypress has a slightly larger native range. There are planted specimens growing at the Arnold Arboretum, Jamaica Plain, MA.

In early March there were only a few flowers blooming in the Okefenokee. One that I had never seen before was Golden Club (Orontium aquaticum.) This flower has no petals, only a colorful red, white and gold stalk. It is native to much of the country. Some rare populations exist as far north as Massachusetts, where it is considered endangered. It is winter hardy to zone 5, and can be grown in water gardens or at the muddy edge of ponds. 


Another blooming plant, was the fetterbush, or Lyonia lucida. This bog plant is only hardy to zone 7, but is related to heaths, and to leucothoe. We can have similar flowers by growing those in our gardens.

And, of course, if we were in the Okefenokee, we saw many alligators!




Chelsea Flower Show Centennial Celebration

Submitted by Lisa M.

Members of the Garden Club were recently treated to a guided tour of the Centennial Celebration of the Chelsea Flower Show in London, without leaving Groton. Nancy Vargus of Le Garden Blanc led us through the Royal Horticultural Society’s most prestigious show of the year. This show, which first occurred in 1913, is held on the Royal Hospital Chelsea grounds.

Club member Linda A., Chelsea Flower Show presenter Nancy Vargus, and club member Eileen D.

The gardens in the show are divided into three categories for judging: Show Gardens, Artisan Gardens, and Fresh Gardens. Nancy explained that designers must submit a plan and rendering of their garden, then create the design in an outdoor space at the show.

One winning garden was from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and highlighted Emily Dickinson and a cottage garden with inspired textures. Ours was the first U.S. state to have a garden at the show, and the first state to win a Silver Gilt Award.

This sculpture is an example of an artscape in the garden. It is made from Corten steel, which doesn’t rust. Materials have been repurposed, to add visual interest.
Photo credit: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01sy8dc

Some of the highlights Nancy pointed out about the gardens include using a strong concept to make an impact, using simplicity for a powerful statement, and combining various styles, which results in good visual effect. Gardens should have a color theme to tie the various elements together. Purple was the dominant color in many of the gardens showcased during the presentation. In addition, evergreens may be used to accentuate texture and structure in an area of herbaceous beds.

In the pavilion area each booth showcased plants of a single variety. The colors, shapes, and blooms were spectacular. The retail space had many ingenious and unique tools, decorative pieces, and garden implements not found in the U.S.

This presentation provided members with a great chance to see one of the world’s premiere flower shows, up close and personal.


This presentation was on the Centennial Celebration, which actually took place in 2013.The particulars of the show are from that year.

For further information on this year’s show: https://www.rhs.org.uk/shows-events/rhs-chelsea-flower-show

For the Royal Horticulture Society web page: https://www.rhs.org.uk






The Recent “Kill Your Lawn” Lecture

Submitted by Priscilla W.

On Sunday, February 11, 2018, over 65 area townspeople gathered at the Nashua River
Watershed Association to hear Mark Richardson, Director of Horticulture at New England Wild Flower Society, present his “Kill Your Lawn” talk. The Groton Garden Club co-sponsored the event with the NRWA, thanks to a grant from the Groton Commissioners of Trust Funds. Mark had intended that the title of his lecture would grab attention, and indeed it did spark some advance controversy around town.

The talk opened with a discussion of why and how lawns came to be our default
landscape solution, with a resulting negative impact on our environment and our health. He made it clear as he went on, however, that there is the option of having a greatly reduced lawn area, in terms of square footage. Families will still want an outdoor play area, for instance, but it does not have to be immense. And perfection should be abandoned as a goal, for this requires the use of pesticides, be they organic or synthetic. Statistics about nitrogen run-off impacting our rivers and streams were alarming, as were the facts about emissions from unregulated mowers and blowers that are used to maintain lawns.

Continue reading →

Winter Orchid Shows

Paphiopedilum – unidentified vinicolor

In late January I attended the Cape & Islands Orchid Society’s annual show in Hyannis, MA. Winter orchid shows provide a welcome taste of the tropics on a winter day in Massachusetts! There are two other shows coming up in February. This weekend, from Friday, February 9 through Sunday, the New Hampshire Orchid Society will hold their show in Nashua. The Amherst Orchid Society will host their show in Northampton on February 24-25.

Paphiopedilum – unidentified


Orchids come in many colors, shapes, sizes and cultural needs. They are fun to grow, although sometimes challenging to rebloom. It is also fun to simply visit a show and enjoy the beauty of these flowers. I’ve included some pictures and care information for orchids that are quite different from the Phalaenopsis (Phals), or moth orchids that are easily found in supermarkets and other stores. The Phals are lovely, but it’s fun to explore other types of orchids.

Paphiopedilum venustrum album ‘J&L’

There are two main categories of ‘slipper orchids.’ The Paphiopedilums (knowns as Paphs) tend to have waxy flowers that last a long time. Their flowers range from wine-red through bronze-yellow, to green. Most are fairly easy to grow, only requiring the light of an east or west window and the comfortable temperatures of our homes. They want a drop in nighttime temperature, and well-drained, moist potting medium. They don’t like to be soggy, but also don’t like to dry out completely.


Phragmipedium Mem ‘Dick Clements’

Another group of exotic slipper orchids are the Phragmipediums (Phrags.) They typically have softer flowers, with pouches that resemble our native lady-slipper (Cypripedium.) The Phrags are more demanding in culture, with many being very sensitive to drying out and to the quality of water used. To grow these successfully, you need to understand the cultural requirements of the individual variety. Some like to almost dry out between watering, others like to sit in a shallow pool of water at all times. They require good light and air movement. If you like a challenge, these can be worth growing – some come in brilliant colors, such as the one pictured to the right. Others have very long petals that reach a few feet in length, and others that spiral and twist.

Clowesia ‘Rebecca Northen’

The Clowesia orchids are reputed to be easier to maintain than the slipper orchids.  They like bright open shade, good humidity and frequent watering, with good air movement, during their period of active growth in summer. They can be grown in a shade house or under a tree. When weather becomes cold in the fall, these plants will enter dormancy and drop their leaves. At this point they should be brought inside,  not be watered or fed and may be kept on a windowsill, or even put into a basement with no light until they form flower spikes.  The plant will start to form new growths (pseudobulbs) in the spring. Once those start to form new roots,  you may resume watering.

(Note that the plant pictured is mislabeled by the grower. The caption has the correct spelling.)

Brassia  (or hybrid) & Phalaenopsis

Brassias often have many flowers, growing on alternate sides of a long spike. As the flowers themselves are long, this can make a dramatic display with only one plant. They want to be watered once or twice a week when actively growing during warmer months, and less often when growth slows. They can be grown on an east or west facing window, or a shaded south window. If grown in a north facing window, they are unlikely to bloom. As with most orchids, they benefit from high humidity and good air movement.

If any of these orchids tempt you to try your hand at growing, additional information can be found online. The American Orchid Society website is particularly helpful with care sheets on many kinds of orchids. Orchid shows are also a good place to learn more, to meet people who grow orchids, and to learn about local orchid societies.

Information about the New Hampshire Orchid Society’s show can be found at  https://www.nhorchids.org/page-1802582 and the Amherst Orchid Society gives the location of their show at http://amherstorchidsociety.org/club-events/our-show-sale/.

















Clowesias have a totally different look – they drop all their leaves and enjoy a period of dormancy with little to no water. They then reward the grower with a lovely cascade of flowers. The one pictured here is named after Rebecca Tyson Northen, author. (Note that the name is misspelled on the label – an unfortunately common error in the orchid world.)

Kill Your Lawn Lecture Rescheduled – February 11, 2018

The jointly sponsored lecture ‘Kill Your Lawn‘ has been rescheduled due to last minute illness of the presenter, Mark Richardson. The lecture will now be held on Sunday, February 11, 2018 at 2 p.m. at the Nashua River Watershed Association, 592 Main Street, Groton, MA.

We expect this event to be well-attended and advise that you contact the Nashua River Watershed Association to reserve a place and ensure your seat. Please call 978-448-0299 or send an email to  nrwa@NashuaRiverWatershed.org to reserve your place.

Note that registering for this lecture will also put your name on a list to be notified in case snow or other reason requires cancellation. Our new snow date is February 18, 2018.