helia native nursery


The Berkshire Eagle

Thom Smith | Nature Watch: Build a pollinators' paradise with native plants

Posted Friday, July 27, 2018 2:09 pm

I became interested in finding a local nursery offering native varieties of milkweed (Asclepias), and other native plants popular with pollinators, after receiving queries from readers about availability of actual plants, and being marginally involved with what I like to refer to as The Kimball Farms Pollinator's Paradise. Apparently, germinating seed is not among the easiest tasks. I have proven that, although I have become a bit more proficient, and will discuss this in the next Naturewatch.


Helia Native Nursery at Sky Meadow Farm, a beautiful 109-acre farm in Alford, or West Stockbridge, depending on whether you are a visitor or the U.S. Postal Service delivering mail, is at 95 East Road between West Stockbridge and Alford. It is offering a "Building Meadows & Seedbanks" workshop from 10:30 a.m. to noon Saturday, Sept. 1. Participants will learn how to build a wildflower meadow, collect seed in the wild and learn how to clean and store seed. The workshop is $20 per person.

You're welcome to visit on any Open Farm Day even if you won't be able to join a workshop. No admission is required if you will simply be shopping for that next addition to your home garden. To see the catalog and learn more about the nursery, go to www.helianativenursery.com. For specific information, call 413-528-1400.

Nursery manager Hannah Goodnow was out working in the fields during a light rain, so I spoke with office manager Nancy Crandall, who sounded like the "glue" of the operation, being involved with many aspects of the nursery. She emphasized that, at present, the nursery does not have a physical store, but works by appointment, the catalog (go to website), and during Open Farm Days.                         


This small nursery specializes in growing native perennials, as well as trees and shrubs, found growing in Western Massachusetts, nearby New York and Southern Vermont communities.

Its mission is to preserve native genotypes through seed banking on the farm and propagating them in their plant nursery. Plants are available for the landscaping community, homeowners and nature enthusiasts. Many of the species propagated are not available in the standard nursery industry.

The nursery land stewardship on the farm focuses on restoring wildflower meadows for pollinators, woodlands and fens for rare fauna. Helia has a long-term forestry plan written with help from the Massachusetts Woodland Institute and Peter Tucker to remove invasive plants and shrubs to create song bird habitat. Removing the invasive species will benefit the wildlife on the farm, as well as reduce the number of ticks in the community at large. A high volume of native plant diversity will create optimal habitat for birds, butterflies, pollinators, amphibians, and dragonflies and boost the resilience of this ecosystem.                    


Q: I am in a slight predicament as I have a bird feeder that attaches to my window. (Think of it similarly engineered as an AC attached to the window.) I've had this for a few months now and just this week noticed that there were mice looking for food on the windowsill (aka bird feeder). How can I deter these mice from here? I've heard peppermint oil helps, but that it is harmful for birds' respiratory systems. I also saw your response on adding cayenne pepper to the bird feed.

— Cindy

A: If a squirrel can climb the vinyl siding of our house to get at a suet feeder outside a second-story window, I see no reason why a mouse would not find a way. My only suggestion, besides cayenne pepper sprinkled on the seed, is to remove the feeder and hang it from a line or pole with a baffle. Both squirrels and mice have a well-developed sense of taste and smell and will be discouraged by the pepper treatment.

Q: It is late in the season, but what are some top garden flowers for hummingbirds especially, but also butterflies?

— Charlie, Canaan, N.Y.

A: Not only annuals, but even more important, I think, are perennials that you should to consider are: Bee balm (Monarda didyma), Canna (Canna sp.), Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis), Columbine (Aquilegia sp.), Coral bells (Heuchera sanguinea), Delphinium (Delphinium elatum), Flame acanthus (Acanthus mollis), Four o'clock (Mirabilis jalapa), Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea), Fuschia (Fuschia hybrida), Hibiscus (Hibiscus sp.), Hollyhock (Althea rosea), Lantana (Lantana sp.), Lupine (Lupinus hybrids), Petunia (Petunia hybrida), Trumpet creeper (Campsis radicans), Trumpet vine (Bignonia tagliabuana).

Q: This summer, we are witnessing something we have never seen before. For many years, Mark has put out hummingbird feeders. This year, the song sparrows have been feeding from it many, many times a day. The sparrows will chase away the hummingbirds! Is this common? I even checked to make sure the feeder was intact. We have a bird bath and a fountain.

— Charmaine, Cheshire

A: I cannot think of any other bird at our sugar-water feeders than an occasional woodpecker, but have seen lists that include many common native species. A few are warblers, yellow-rump and black-and-white house and goldfinches, catbird, black-capped chickadee and titmouse, grackles, mockingbirds, and yes, a variety of sparrows. There are more feathered sugar fanciers, but this should give an idea that hummingbird feeders are not just for hummingbirds anymore.

Thom Smith welcomes readers' questions and comments. Email him at Naturewatch@live.com or write him care of The Berkshire Eagle, 75 S. Church St., Pittsfield, MA 01201