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Ellen Barcel

'Salt Glazed Pitcher' by Ken Davies

By Ellen Barcel

After a remarkable career spanning over 60 years, artist Ken Davies has earned the title of one of the top masters of realistic still life. Now Davies is the star of a special group show at the Reboli Center for Art and History in Stony Brook, appropriately titled Ken Davies: Realism in the 20th Century.

The 50-piece exhibit, which is the second show at the newly opened gallery and runs through April 30, focuses on Davies and his students, including Joseph Reboli, Richard Newman, Dennis Coburn and George (Gig) Thompson, all college classmates and lifelong friends of Reboli. In addition, work by Jo-Anne Scavetta and Daniel Patrick Buckley, collaborators of Davies, will be on display.

Davies was Reboli’s teacher, mentor and friend. “When Joe chose a college to go to, he selected Paier [School of Art in Hamden, Connecticut] because of its classical tradition. Ken Davies was the person who wrote the curriculum for Paier,” noted Colleen Hanson, trustee of the Reboli Center.

With many works in private collections as well as museums, Davies, 92, is known for his almost photographic-like quality of painting, taking the ordinary and transforming it to a work of fine art. Close to two dozen of the award-winning artist and former dean of Paier paintings will be on display. “We have paintings of Joe’s alongside of Ken’s to show his influence on Joe’s paintings,” said Hanson.

Ken Davies

Said Lois Reboli, Joseph Reboli’s widow and president of the Reboli Center, “I know my husband thought so highly of Ken Davies. He had such an influence on [Joe’s] paintings. ” She added that it was Davies who recommended Joe Reboli represent New York in the White House commemorative calendar published in 2000.

Reboli’s paintings on display at the current exhibit include three of the Pemaquid Lighthouse, circa 1994 (“Stairlight 1987,” on loan; “Fennel,” on loan; and “Beets,” part of the Reboli Center’s collection). Also on display will be “Shell,” a painting Reboli did as a student at the Paier School. A fifth, “Bellport Gate,” is on loan from Gallery North.

In addition, four of Reboli’s works from private collectors — “Hoses,” “Green Barn,” “West Meadow Beach” and “Screened Window” will be on display and for sale. The commissions from those sales will benefit the center and help finance the purchase of additional paintings for the center’s collection.

Said Hanson, “The reason we chose this to be the second exhibit is to expand people’s understanding and knowledge of Joe as a painter. In our first exhibit, A Sense of Place, we wanted to show both how important the community setting had been in the subject matter of Joe’s paintings and also how relevant the site of the Reboli Center was to Joe’s background, how close it was to his childhood home …”

Hanson went on to explain that Reboli’s aunt was an important part of the bank, the Stony Brook building that now houses the Reboli Center, and that “his grandfathers’ careers (were) involved in the setting — the grist mill, tavern, green grocer, etc.” in Stony Brook Village.

On March 17 from 5 to 7 p.m., as part of the center’s Third Friday series of programs, Long Island artist Dan Pollera will be speaking about his paintings of Long Island, his career, his connection with Reboli and his inspiration as a working artist. A question and answer period will follow.

April’s Third Friday program will feature poet and novelist Claire White. Christina Strassfield of Guild Hall is scheduled to speak in May and in June Deborah Johnson, author of “Joseph Reboli,” a volume published in connection with The Long Island Museum’s exhibit in 1998 will speak. The programs are free and open to the public; no reservations are required.

Johnson’s volume is for sale at the center. Lois Reboli noted that when the center ran out of the books, The Long Island Museum generously donated a number of copies. “We were thrilled with that. They were very kind to us. We’re so grateful to the community for all the support they’ve shown us. We hope to borrow more paintings from community members in the future.” She especially thanked Howard Eskin who recently passed away. “He was wonderful in letting us borrow paintings.”

Future plans include a garden show beginning in May. “We hope to never have the same show twice,” Lois Reboli said, adding that a garden party fundraiser is planned for June. She also noted that Fort Salonga sculptor David Haussler, who recently passed away, just had some sculptures delivered to the center for display. “We’re grateful to have his sculptures on the property… He’s remarkable.”

The Reboli Center for Art and History, 64 Main Street, Stony Brook is open Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m. Call 631-751-7707 or visit www.rebolicenter.org for further details.

Native to North America, mountain laurel produces beautiful white to dark pink flowers with purple markings in May and June. Photo by Ellen Barcel

By Ellen Barcel

Most varieties of holly need at least one male plant in the area to produce an abundance of red berries. Photo by Ellen Barcel

Broadleaf evergreens are not conifers (which evolved about 300 million years ago), but flowering plants (which evolved about 125 million years ago). It’s just that broadleaf evergreens happen to keep their leaves throughout the winter and in many cases can be used the same way that conifers can — as a year-round privacy screen. Yes, eventually they will lose their leaves, but they will stay on the plant over winter and will present a beautiful, almost Christmas card, scene covered with snow.

Azaleas and rhododendrons immediately come to mind, especially in Long Island’s acidic soil. But, there are a number of other evergreen shrubs to consider.

Euonymus come in a wide variety of sizes and colors. Small cream-colored flowers will produce red berries in autumn on some varieties. Some are fast growers that reach an enormous size and need to be pruned back several times a year — unless you really want a massive shrub. The golden variety can revert to type (that is, have its leaves turn all green), resulting in a shrub that’s part golden and part green.

The foliage on the euonymus often reverts to green, so you wind up with a bush that’s half green and half yellow. Photo by Ellen Barcel

Some are considered invasive in Suffolk County, including Euonymus alatus (winged euonymus, also called burning bush due to its red leaves in autumn) and E. fortunei (winter creeper), and are on the Do Not Sell/Transfer list. I had one that had a branch root underneath a house shutter — how’s that for invasive? Since this shrub has a number of negatives, why plant it? Do so only if you find noninvasive varieties and are sure you have the room to grow it to its potential.

Holly is one of my favorite shrubs, although over time, they can reach the size of small specimen trees. Most varieties need at least one male plant (which does not produce red berries) in the area to pollinate the female shrubs. Even holly varieties that are self-fertile will produce more red berries with a male plant in the vicinity. Holly prefers an acidic soil, so is ideal for Long Island’s soil. Another plus is that they are fairly disease and insect resistant. Some varieties are even deer resistant. While a number of my shrubs has been munched on by deer, the holly have never been touched.

Native to North America, mountain laurel produces beautiful white to dark pink flowers with purple markings in May and June. Photo by Ellen Barcel

Mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia), in the heather family, is native to North America. It blooms in May and June and is hardy in zones 4 to 9. This can be a very large shrub, maturing at 7 to 15 feet tall and easily about as wide. Do not plant this one in front of a window, unless you really want to block the view. However, it is a slow grower. It prefers full sun and, like rhodies, prefers an acidic soil (in a pH range of 4.5 to 5.5). The plant is toxic to humans and some animals — this is strictly an ornamental here. Its uniquely shaped flowers bloom in white to dark pink colors, all with purple markings.

Firethorn (Pyracantha) are thorny, evergreen shrubs in the Rosaceae family. They tend to be upright, rather than bushy shrubs, and due to the thorns should not be planted anywhere near walkways or pools. The plants can get to be quite tall, up to 12 feet at maturity. They present small white flowers in spring and summer that mature to either orange or yellow berries in autumn, which the birds love but are not edible for humans. They are hardy in zones 6 to 9. It’s an easy plant to grow and pretty much pest free. They grow in a wide variety of soil pH levels from acidic to alkaline. They grow well in shady areas and, an added bonus for those of you with clay soil, do well in sandy, loamy and even heavy (clay) soils. If it wasn’t for the thorns, this would be pretty much a perfect plant.

No plant is perfect for every location. Always read plant tags carefully to check for requirements and final size. You don’t want your home to have its windows blocked by giant shrubs or spend entirely too much time pruning them back.

Ellen Barcel is a freelance writer and master gardener. To reach Cornell Cooperative Extension and its Master Gardener program, call 631-727-7850.

Ideally, window boxes should be filled with plants that bloom continuously throughout the growing season. Photo by Ellen Barcel

By Ellen Barcel

Depending on your home and gardening style, you may want to add window boxes to at least the first floor’s front windows. I also have window boxes on windows that look out on my back patio. I like sitting in the back yard, reading my newspaper and being surrounded by these colorful plants.

In general, since window boxes are not very deep, think in terms of smaller plants, ones where the tops can be seen through the windows from inside the house, but not so tall that they totally obscure the view.

Most people use annuals since perennials will usually grow too large. I have seen window boxes filled with hydrangeas, which presented a beautiful scene all growing season long, but there are a number of problems associated with keeping perennials growing in a window box such as overwintering them. The small pots needed to fit into a window box may not provide enough protection from the cold. For another, the plants really want to get much bigger and will eventually block the view. They will easily become root bound — all roots and no soil.

Geraniums are ideal, easy care plants for window boxes. Photo by Ellen Barcel

Ideal window box plants are those that bloom more or less continuously throughout the growing season. I particularly like geraniums (Pelargonium) because they are drought tolerant and are, for the most part, disease and insect pest free. In other words, once planted you can pretty much ignore them except during periods of drought when they do need supplemental water. Use a good-quality potting soil and add fertilizer, following package directions. If a little is good, a lot is not necessarily better.

Other annuals that look great in a window box include marigolds and petunias. Consider adding some Dusty Miller for its contrasting light blue-gray leaves. If your window boxes don’t get a lot of sunlight, use coleus, impatiens or fuchsia.

Adding some vinelike plants creates a charming effect, as they cascade down between the flowering plants. Consider orange nasturtium scattered between white geraniums, for example, or green potato vines between hot pink geraniums in a black window box.

Herbs are great in window boxes, especially boxes that are outside kitchen windows. Usually there is enough sun and it makes harvesting the herbs for use with a meal really easy — just open your window and pick what you need. There are many herbs that are suited to window boxes such as mints, thyme and parsley. But those that get very tall, like pineapple sage, may block out your view.

These early spring flowering plants may be replaced later in the season with ones that do well in summer and fall. Photo by Ellen Barcel

Unless you have very sturdy window boxes, it may be easier for you to transfer your small seedlings into larger pots and settle those pots into the window box, rather than filling the window box itself with soil. This is especially important if your window boxes are made of wood, which may soon rot away with the damp soil. To deal with this problem, I have liners of a man-made material in several of my window boxes.

For those more exuberant gardeners, you can change the plants in the widow boxes seasonally. Maybe you want mums in the fall or small bulbs in the spring. Deadheading is one chore that annoys me but really should be done with window boxes, since the plants in them are so visible, especially those on the front of your house. So, whether you go for a very formal look, a riot of colors or a way to grow your herbs, consider widow boxes this coming gardening season.

Ellen Barcel is a freelance writer and master gardener. To reach Cornell Cooperative Extension and its Master Gardener program, call 631-727-7850.

The medium-sized pinecones of a Colorado blue spruce can be used for crafts. Photo by Ellen Barcel

By Ellen Barcel

If you decide to plant one or more conifers this spring, here’s a quick rundown of some interesting plants to consider. If you are growing a particular conifer to gather the cones for crafts, make sure you select the correct tree.

Cryptomeria cones are not really suited for crafts. Photo by Ellen Barcel

Crytomeria japonica (in the cyprus family) has mature cones that are very unusual, being small, green and roundish. The tree can grow to an enormous size. As its name suggests, it is a native of Japan.

The Leyland cypress has been advertised in recent years as a fast-growing privacy hedge or, more accurately, wall. This is a cross between the Monterey cypress and the Nootka cypress. It can reach 100 feet at maturity and can grow as much as three feet a year. If you’re looking for a quick-growing screen, this is one to consider, but they do take up a lot of space.

Arborvitae are also in the cypress family. They, too, are fast growing but not as fast as the Leyland cypress. As with many evergreen, arborvitae are very difficult to prune attractively. Depending on the species, they can grow to great heights, so read the tag carefully before buying and planting them. Then, make sure you give them enough room to spread out.

All three of the above have a feathery appearance, rather than the sharp needles so many of us associate with conifers.

Fir trees are your typical Christmas trees and include Balsam fir and Frasier fir with short, flat needles and typical pine cones. There are approximately 50 different species of fir trees, but they are not fast growers. If you’re looking for a tree that won’t quickly take over, consider a fir. Size and shape vary so research your choice to see if it’s what you want for a particular craft.

The medium-sized pinecones of a Colorado blue spruce can be used for crafts. Photo by Ellen Barcel

Pine trees grow well in acidic soil, so you’ll notice many pine trees on Long Island. There are over 100 species of pine including the eastern white pine. They have longish needles and their cones are round in shape. They don’t have the elegance, to my mind, of firs and spruce but they are quick growers and provide a high privacy screen, many losing their lower limbs as they mature. Be careful where you plant them because of their sticky sap that can get on your car if you park it in their shade.

There are a number of spruce trees you might want to consider for your garden. Dwarf Alberta spruce, a sport of the larger white spruce, is used extensively in landscaping because of its small stature and thick evergreen foliage. It can, however, on rare occasions revert to type. It’s accustomed to the cold and does well in U.S.D.A. hardiness zones 2 through 7 (Long Island is 7). It generally doesn’t produce cones.

Another spruce is the Colorado blue spruce with its beautiful bluish needles. This is an elegant, medium-sized tree and not particularly a rapid grower.

Norway spruce is a magnificent tree. The branches on mature specimens drape down gracefully. The tree, however, is enormous at maturity. One in my neighborhood dwarfed a two-story house and it was planted about 45 years ago. If you have room for this magnificent tree, then go for it, but beware of how large this one can get. It’s cones are slightly curved and about five to six inches long.

Hemlock are beautiful and fast growing evergreens, but they have a major problem. They have been attacked by woolly adelgids (the appearance of white, cottony deposits on the needles are the egg cases), to the point that few have survived without yearly spraying. Even treated they do not always survive. They do make a quick growing and beautiful privacy hedge.

The Norway spruce is an elegant tree that reaches great heights. Its cones are approximately six inches long and slightly curved. Photo by Ellen Barcel

Dawn redwood Metasequoia, is a beautiful and fascinating tree, but unfortunately is not an evergreen. Unlike most conifers, this one is deciduous, that is, it loses its needles in fall. So, during winter you have a tree as bare as your maple or oak. Considered a “living fossil” the dawn redwood was believed extinct until it was found growing in the 1940s in China.

Yews (taxus) are small trees and shrubs with unusual cones, which remind one of red berries, rather than the more typical, woody, brown-layered cones. Many birds enjoy eating the seeds. Various species of yews are native to North America, Europe and Asia. Even mature, specimens are relatively small.

Cedar are beautiful, but very large evergreen conifers. The golden deodar cedar has branches tinged with gold, while the blue Atlas cedar have the same bluish cast as the Colorado blue spruce. Cedar cones tend to be very small, but the tree itself can get quite large. They can easily spread out to 40 feet across at the base at maturity. This can be a problem for gardeners who don’t realize their mature size and plant them right up against their house. There are also weeping versions of blue cedar, which are smaller in height but really spread out to make a great specimen plant as well as living screen.

So, do your homework and select just that perfect tree for next year’s garden as well as your craft projects.

Ellen Barcel is a freelance writer and master gardener. To reach Cornell Cooperative Extension and its Master Gardener program, call 631-727-7850.

A watermelon-shaped minaudiére with crystal rhinestones and onyx details by Judith Leiber, 1991. Image from LIM

By Ellen Barcel

The Long Island Museum in Stony Brook is busy putting the final touches on a stunning new exhibit, “Brilliant Partners: Judith Leiber’s Handbags and the Art of Gerson Leiber,” which will be on view from Feb. 24 to June 4.

Julie Diamond, director of communications said, “One of things we wanted to stress is that this was a real partnership, right from the beginning.” Diamond noted that of the nearly 200 items on display, the purses “have been paired with the paintings, not matching, but you can see the inspiration there.”

The museum is known for its large costume collection, so the exhibit was a logical choice. “We’ve been thinking about doing an exhibition about the Leibers for a couple of years now. It’s such a fascinating and multilayered story, and I think it was an interesting challenge … not simply to explore two very different creative figures, but to consider their influences upon one another over the course of their marriage and their careers,” said Joshua Ruff, museum director of interpretations and collections and exhibit curator.

Tiffany-inspired minaudiére with dragonfly pattern and sodalite lock, 1992, by Judith Leiber. Image from LIM

The Liebers have been married over 70 years, having met while he was a solider in World War II, she having avoided Nazi persecution in Europe. Judith’s early training in making handbags was the result of her having a traineeship at a handbag company in Europe.

After the couple married and moved to the U.S. Judith Leiber began her designing career working for Nettie Rosenstein (1913-1975), fashion designer, in New York City. Rosenstein was known for the famous “little black dress,” a fashion piece that every woman must have. An award-winning designer, she was often copied and, as a result, had a major impact on women’s fashion in the first half of the 20th century. In addition to dresses, she was known for designing accessories, such as purses.

In 1963 Judith Leiber started her own company. Her handbags — 130 of them — will be part of the Brilliant Partners exhibit. Some are referred to as chatelaines, small purses usually hanging at the waist from a belt or sash. Some are minaudiéres, small decorative handbags without handles or a strap, essentially clutch bags. Her elegant bags have been carried by many stars, first ladies and have walked the “red carpet.”

Many of her works are fashioned after animals — a polar bear, a penguin, an elephant’s head. Some are inspired by natural objects such as the purse that resembles a slice of watermelon, while others are more abstract in design such as the purse inspired by a painting done by the Dutch artist Piet Mondrian. Some were inspired by Fabergé eggs. She even designed a feminine interpretation of a briefcase for a successful businesswoman.

Gerson Leiber, an American abstract artist, was born in Brooklyn. He is known for his award-winning, brilliantly colored paintings, 50 of which will be on display in Brilliant Partners. While many are oils, he also works in watercolors and produced many woodcuts, etchings and engravings.

‘The Simple Swagger of Spring,’ 2014, oil and graphite on linen by Gerson Leiber. Image from LIM

In addition to his paintings, Gerson Leiber is also a sculptor and designed the gardens around The Leiber Collection, a gallery in the Hamptons they built to display their work. The gallery is open spring through fall.

In addition to her purses and his paintings, a portrait of the couple done by one of Gerson Leiber’s teachers at the Art Students League in New York, Will Barnet will be on display. Barnet remained close to his former student and did the portrait in 2000 as the couple were each nearly 80.

There are two museum programs related to the exhibit. On March 26 from 2 to 3:30 p.m., senior conservator from the Smithsonian, Sunae Park Evans will explain the process of conserving textiles and costume pieces. Afterward, participants are invited to view Brilliant Partners, including the one-of-a-kind bag Judith Leiber designed for former first lady Mamie Eisenhower.

Senior Tuesday will be held on Tuesday, May 9 from 10 a.m. to noon when those 62 and over are invited to tour the exhibit, free of charge. No reservations are required and groups are welcome. In addition, the museum is sponsoring a bus trip to The Leiber Collection in the Hamptons on June 5. Call the museum for details and reservations.

The Long Island Museum is located at 1200 Route 25A, Stony Brook. The Art Museum will reopen to the public on Thursday, Feb. 23; “Brilliant Partners” opens on Feb. 24. Hours are Thursday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. Call 631-751-0066 or visit www.longislandmuseum.org for further information.

‘Still Life with Peaches’ by Christian White. Photo courtesy of Gallery North

By Ellen Barcel

Gallery North will be presenting a new exhibit, one guaranteed to make the viewer both hungry and thirsty. Thirty artists will have their work on display in The Art of Eating opening Feb. 23 and running through Friday, March 17.

‘Mussels’ by Bruce Lieberman. Image courtesy of Gallery North

Judith Levy, executive director of the gallery, noted that the first time she curated The Art of Eating, six years ago, she had been reading food author M.F.K. Fisher’s collection of essays, “The Art of Eating,” when she got the idea to actually display paintings that focused on food.

In that first exhibit, an artist brought in five images of pizza, the last one showing only the leftover crust. “Some people had unique images,” she observed. This time, Levy said, some of the paintings would be “quirky, some extravagant, some really fun … Someone even did a painting of a wine cork. There’s a wide variety of paintings …. Hanging the show is so much fun seeing the pictures communicate with each other.”

Jackie Lima, one of the artists in the show, is currently in Asia. She was so interested in being in the show, she sent a painting, “Thali,” all the way from India when she heard about the upcoming exhibit. Thali, typical Indian fare, features various dishes served on a platter.

‘Carrots and Oranges’ by Denis Ponsot. Image courtesy of Gallery North

Three Village’s own Christian White will be showing two paintings including “Still Life With Peaches,” a tempting display of fruit and thick, crusty bread with beautiful flowers in the background. Setauket artist Eleanor Meier, well known for her still lifes, many with various food themes, will be showing three pieces, “Pepper Parade,” “Pears and a Blue Plate” and “Juicy Sweet.” Bruce Lieberman’s “Mussels” is so appropriate with Long Island’s seafaring history as is Joan Branca’s “Fish for Sale.” Then there’s Denis Ponsot’s “Carrots and Oranges,” and Tim Kennedy’s “Layer Cake,” the perfect ending to this visual meal.

Styles for the 30 artists vary as does the media from oils to acrylics and water colors as well as drawings and hand pulled prints. Expect realism as well as more abstract styles, all inspired by food and beverages.

There are two special events connected with The Art of Eating. An opening reception will be held on Feb. 23 from 5 to 7 p.m. to which the public is invited. In keeping with the theme of the exhibit, on March 12, from 3 to 5 p.m. the gallery plans to have a tasting menu, A Little Taste of France, prepared by renown chef Guy Reuge of Mirabelle Tavern at the Three Village Inn. Referred to as “France’s gift to Long Island,” the award-winning chef will have his new book, “A Chef’s Odyssey,” available for purchase at the event and will sign copies. The book, described as “an insider’s tour” of restaurants, also includes some of his favorite recipes. Cost of the tasting menu is $45 per person. Call the gallery or email info@gallerynorth.com to register (by March 8) and for further details.

Gallery North is located at 90 North Country Road in Setauket. It is open Wednesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. For further information, call 631-751-2676 or visit www.gallerynorth.org.

The intense red berries appearing on yews in autumn are really greatly modified cones. Photo by Ellen Barcel

By Ellen Barcel

As you plan your new garden consider adding one or more conifers. Conifers are trees that bear cones and have evergreen needles (actually modified leaves). Many are pyramidal in shape, meaning that they don’t usually grow into your utility lines. Since they are evergreen, they provide a year-round screen.

The cones contain the seeds for the next generation. Conifers include pines, cedars, cypresses, redwoods, spruces and yews. They are woody plants and, almost without exception, are evergreens. The main exception, the dawn redwood, loses its needles in autumn and sprouts new ones in the spring. Note, however, that not all evergreens are conifers (more about that in a future column).

Conifers were the dominant land plant until, evolutionary wise, they were overtaken by flowering plants. So, yes, conifers are older than flowering trees. It is thought that conifers were the main food of herbivorous dinosaurs. Today, the soft wood is used for lumber, furniture and paper. Even turpentine is made from the resin of conifers, mainly pine trees.

The cones of the golden deodar cedar come out green and mature within one growing season. Photo by Ellen Barcel

If you are unable to identify a particular tree, checking out the cones themselves may help you. For example, the cones of the golden deodar cedar are born upright on the branches and are just two inches long. The cones grow upright during the summer and fall to the ground in autumn. The cones of the Norway spruce are long, up to six or more inches long and slightly curved. The cones of some pines are short, round and stubby. Some cones don’t even look like the “typical” pinecone.

Since many people use cones for crafts, particularly around Christmas, growing conifers has another advantage: material for those wreaths and other craft projects. If this is your plan, make sure that the conifers you select will yield the type of craft material you want.

If you can’t grow a tree that has the specific cone you are looking for, crafts shops frequently carry them. For example, the tree with the largest cones is the Coulter pine. The cones can be 8 to 10 inches long and can weight four to 11 pounds (less when dried out). Since this pine’s natural environment is coastal California, this is one you need to buy from craft shops.

The woody long cones on the Norway spruce are distinctive. Photo by Ellen Barcel

Depending on the variety of the tree, cones can form and mature in just a single growing season (like the golden deodar cedar) or can take up to two or three years. Most conifers have both male and female cones on the same tree. The male cones are generally smaller and produce pollen while the female cones are larger and produce the seeds. If you’ve ever used a closed pinecone in a craft and it gradually opened only to release the seeds all over your table or floor, you’ve got a female pinecone.

Conifers rarely need pruning, except to remove dangerous branches or a double or triple leader at the top of a pyramidal tree. If the conifer you’ve selected is very feathery, it needs careful pruning or it will look terrible. Feather the cuts. As always, it’s best to know the final size of your mature plant so that it doesn’t take over. You should not have to spend a ton of time pruning back overgrown plants.

Again, I recommend the Audubon Society’s guide to the trees of the eastern U.S. as an excellent reference. They have color photos of not only the needles of each conifer but of the cones as well. Next week, an overview of some specific conifers.

Ellen Barcel is a freelance writer and master gardener. To reach Cornell Cooperative Extension and its Master Gardener program, call 631-727-7850.

Attract chickadees to your yard in the winter by filling your feeder with a mix of sunflower seeds, peanuts and cracked corn. Stock photo

By Ellen Barcel

Before the holidays I wrote a column on the Christmas Bird Count, a citizen-scientist effort to preserve and count birds, rather than hunt them as had been done in the 1800s. Now it’s time for the Great Backyard Bird Count.

Let the count begin

The GBBC will be held on Friday, Feb. 17, through Monday, Feb. 20. Billed as a “real time snapshot of where birds are,” the count helps not only the Audubon Society but the Cornell Lab of Ornithology as well. The GBBC organizers note that bird populations are in constant flux. Having people count birds in their backyard (or any location they select) does something that scientists can’t do since they are simply not enough to do the job. Last year, over 160,000 people took part in the count.

Participants count the birds they see for at least 15 minutes, or any length of time they chose and report their findings online. This makes the count a “real time” picture of what’s happening. The website for the count notes that some of the questions being studied are:

• How will the weather and climate change influence bird populations?

• Some birds, such as winter finches, appear in large numbers during some years but not others. Where are these species from year to year, and what can we learn from these patterns?

• How will the timing of birds’ migrations compare with past years?

• How are bird diseases, such as West Nile virus, affecting birds in different regions?

• What kinds of differences in bird diversity are apparent in cities versus suburban, rural, and natural areas?

You may be wondering why the GBBC takes place in February, notoriously the coldest month in the United States. The answer is that when the count first started 20 years ago, the goal was to check out the bird populations just before their spring migrations began, usually in March.

Getting started is easy. Go to www.birdcount.org and register. The website is very useful. There’s even a way online to help identify birds and details on a related photo contest. EBird, another program, is a way for Cornell Lab to keep track of bird populations throughout the entire year.

Attracting birds to the garden

Attracting birds to your garden in winter is easy. Just put out one or more bird feeders and keep them filled with seed. A heated water supply is nice, if you can manage it.

Black-eyed Susans provide seed for birds as the growing season comes to a close. Photo by Ellen Barcel

Attracting birds to the garden in late summer and autumn is just a matter of growing plants with seeds that the birds enjoy. Consider, for example, growing sunflowers. They’re beautiful annuals, come in a variety of colors and sizes, and the birds love the seeds in late summer and fall (and sometimes even into winter). Birds also enjoy all sorts of seeds, including the seeds of the black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia), purple coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea), Liatris, Coreopsis, zinnias, marigolds, poppies and cosmos.

Note that virtually all of these flowers prefers a sunny location to grow to their full potential. Birds are also attracted by plants that produce fruit in the fall, such as the dogwood, elderberry, beautyberry and grape.

Another way to attract birds to the garden is to provide one or more birdhouses and to make sure that some brush and twigs, etc. are available in your yard for birds to use for nesting material. Keep a birdbath or two in the yard as well. Remember to change the water frequently so as not to provide a breeding place for mosquitoes.

So, as you plan next year’s garden, consider adding one or more of these flowers, which add not only lovely color to your garden but lots of nice food for the local birds. Since many birds eat insects as well as seed, attracting birds to the garden is an easy way to help keep those harmful insects in check.

Ellen Barcel is a freelance writer and master gardener. To reach Cornell Cooperative Extension and its Master Gardener program, call 631-727-7850. 

Learn how to transform your yard into a wildlife-friendly habitat at one of 12 free workshops offered. Photo courtesy of Jay Gammill

By Ellen Barcel

The Maritime Explorium, a nonprofit organization based in Port Jefferson and dedicated to science-themed exhibits and activities, will be holding a very special series of workshops dedicated to helping gardeners “transform 100 square feet of your yard into a butterfly, bee and bird friendly habitat that keeps our waterways clean and clear …”

Lauren Hubbard, founding president and former executive director of The Maritime Explorium is the program director. She noted that there are a number of reasons for transforming part of your yard into a wildlife-friendly habitat, and there are many ecological benefits to using native plants.

“They provide food for pollinators as well as food for birds,” she said. It is these very pollinators that guarantee the seeds for the next generation of plants and that farmers rely on to produce our food. She noted that native plants don’t required fertilizers. This reduces the runoff of nitrogen [from chemical fertilizers] into the surrounding waters. Excess nitrogen leads to poor water quality, which for one thing affects eel grass which is a fish nursery. Excess nitrogen also increases algae in the Sound.

Hubbard added that native plants have roots that go very deep, that is, many have taproots. They need less supplemental water from the gardener and they catch runoff of excess rain. Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) and other varieties of milkweed, for example, have a taproot. And, many, like the New England aster, are deer resistant. Native plants also feed native birds, who also eat many of the garden pests, insects, for example, that damage our gardens.

Each project participant registers for only one workshop, but to make the workshops and project convenient, they are spread over the next six months and are held at two locations. Those at the Flax Pond Marine Laboratory in Old Field are held on Saturdays (Jan. 28, Feb. 18, March 25, April 29, May 27 and June 24). Those at The Barn at Avalon Park and Preserve in Stony Brook (off Shep Jones Lane) will be held on Sundays (Jan. 29, Feb. 19, March 26, April 30, May 28 and June 25), all from 9 to 11:30 a.m.

Not only are the workshops free, but each project participant is reimbursed up to $50 for plants they buy to create their own butterfly, bee and bird-friendly garden if they complete the project. The workshops are open to all who are interested, but there are several requirements to participate in the project and receive the reimbursement. The piece of property you wish to transform (100 square feet, i.e., roughly 10 by 10 feet) must be within the Long Island Sound watershed (water on your street drains to the Sound as opposed to the Great South Bay and ocean). If you have a question as to whether your area is within the watershed, email LHubbard@MaritimeExplorium.org for details.

The property must then be planted with appropriate plants — a list will be provided at the workshop you attend. You are then asked share a before and after photo of the 100 square feet you have transformed.

This project is funded by a grant from the Long Island Sound Future Fund from the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. To register, go to www.eventbrite.com/e/my-yard-our-sound-nature-friendly-landscaping-workshops-tickets-31275703471.

For more details on native plants, visit The Long Island Native Plant Initiative website at www.linpi.org, which holds an annual sale of native plants.

Ellen Barcel is a freelance writer and master gardener. To reach Cornell Cooperative Extension and its Master Gardener program, call 631-727-7850.

Monarch butterfly caterpillar

By Ellen Barcel

Often when I’ve gone out to pick some parsley, I’ve found some parsley caterpillars on the stems. The question always becomes: When finding a caterpillar, to remove or not to remove it from the plant? As a kid, I liked playing with the little brown fuzzy ones. As a kid, I also remember my father removing tomato hornworms. So, the question is: Which, to gardeners are beneficial and which should we remove?

The two caterpillars that look the closest to me are the monarch butterfly caterpillar and the parsley caterpillar. Both feed on local plants and both turn into beautiful butterflies, a definite plus in my garden. The monarch obviously becomes the beautiful black and orange butterfly. Plant lots of butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) for its food, a native plant with beautiful orange flowers. Cultivars include white, purple and bicolor flowers in addition to the native orange.

The parsley caterpillar turns into the beautiful blue and black eastern swallowtail. Since I grow a large pot of parsley each year, I’m more than willing to share a bit with this caterpillar. But, it can be a nuisance to professional parsley farmers.

Wooly bear caterpillar

The black and brown wooly bear caterpillars (Pyrrharctia isabella) are funny. Picked up they roll up it a ball. It emerges from of its egg in the fall, freezes over winter and turns into a light brown and black-spotted tiger moth in spring. It feeds on a whole variety of foliage. According to old lore, it’s a predictor of a harsh winter if the brown strip (not all have a pronounced strip) is wide, mild if it is narrow. I’ve read that there are even wooly bear festivals with weather prognostication (move over Holtsville Hal), crafts and races.

Tomato hornworms are green with small black and white spots. Their heads are larger and they are attracted to tomatoes — a plant that they can devastate. They also like related plants like peppers, potatoes and eggplants, which are members of the nightshade family, Solanaceae.

Tomato hornworm caterpillar

The tomato hornworm moth emerges in late spring, just in time for the nice tender shoots of its host plants. Handpicking is the easiest way to get rid of them for the home gardener. When my father removed one, it was covered in white eggs — wasp eggs. He didn’t realize that the wasps would become a natural control to this pest (as it was its dinner) and quickly removed the hornworm with its eggs. For those into companion plantings, it is said that dill, basil or marigolds can be planted among your tomatoes to control these hornworms.

Outside of the gypsy moth caterpillars (a real pest), you mainly see caterpillars alone or in groups of just a few. Make sure you identify each one before removing it from your plants.

Ellen Barcel is a freelance writer and master gardener. To reach Cornell Cooperative Extension and its Master Gardener program, call 631-727-7850.

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