Horticulture, on the other hand, which generally refers to the cultivation of fruit, vegetables and ornamental plants, is a genuine, if limited, chthonic activity. Besides the garden, the major horticultural experiment undertaken was the planting of several groups of Peegee hydrangea trees in the 90’s. Hydrangea comes in many varieties but only one of them can become a small tree. Peegees are not a native plant but the seem to be very compatible with local conditions. Although only introduced to this region late in the 19th century, these hydrangeas quickly became a popular domestic ornamental tree and a fixture of cemetery landscaping. The panicles (clusters) of flowers have several remarkable characteristics: they can be enormous, easily reaching the size of a sheep’s head; the flowers bloom for months and gradually change color from light green, to pure white and then shade to pink in September; they dry better than any other flower, maintaining their shape and color for additional months. Unfortunately, a basic error was made in the handling of the hydrangeas. Alarmed by the wholesale chewing off of the buds and branch ends by the deer, we put wire mesh cages around each plant. Although this certainly protected the hydrangeas, it also allowed them to use the cages for support, with the result that they did not develop strong, central stems to support themselves. Now the cages cannot be removed and these trees have embarked on a journey of development whose outcome is unknown. We generally harvest several hundred of the larger panicles each year for drying and sell them to restaurants for display.
A new horticultural project in scheduled to begin this spring: the making of a serviceberry plantation. Serviceberry is a forest tree with lovely gray bark, a graceful curving form and beautiful, small, white flowers that blossom earlier than almost any other visible growth of spring. [The name “serviceberry” is derived from the timing of this blossoming, when the ground has thawed sufficiently to allow the burial of the winter’s dead and the performance of funeral services.] In summer, these flowers become red and purple berries with a distinctive almond flavor. A smaller cultivar of serviceberry, which is also called juneberry and Saskatoon in other regions, has become a popular New York City park tree in recent years. Groups of them can be found on Greenwich Street, the High Line Park, in Battery Park City and along the Hudson River Park bike path. These Allegheny serviceberry trees produce far more and better fruit than the forest serviceberry in FC’s woods. The berries make great pies and jam and, no doubt, ice cream. The plan is to plant 20 or 30 trees of several, smaller serviceberry varieties in a field near the barn and establish (possibly) first (semi-) commercial serviceberry orchard in our part of the world.