The Botanist: Dan Jaffe
Modern gardens should serve more than one purpose—a kind of horticultural multitasking. Dan Jaffe, 28, is the propagator and stock-bed grower at the Garden in the Woods in Framingham, Massachusetts, and he believes that plants selected for landscapes should be multitaskers, too. For instance, he recommends the native spicebush, which is “a shrub with a beautiful form that might be missed at first glance.” Also, he notes, “Lindera benzoin is the host species for the eastern swallowtail, the spicebush swallowtail, and the promethean silk moth.”
This graduate from the University of Maine with a Bachelor of Science in botany favors indigenous plants and likes designs that appear to be part of the surrounding woodland. But he tweaks the scene a bit. Imagine a circular thicket of sumac, but with a bench and patio at its center. As well as being decorative, those shrubs with magnificent autumn color offer fruit for foraging animals.
Jaffe points out that woody plants, trees, shrubs, and even vines present the greatest value to wildlife and have a major effect on any given ecosystem. Examples like bottlebrush buckeye, trumpet honeysuckle, and highbush blueberry offer food and protective cover to many bird and insect species. Some people hear insects and shudder, but without bugs, there wouldn’t be birds. “Educating people on the roles of insects in the natural world is one way to break the practice of spraying first and asking questions later,” Jaffe says.
Jaffe also has plenty of suggestions for outstanding herbaceous perennials, including spring ephemerals. Nearly a dozen Trillium species and other jewels grow in 38 raised stock beds beneath high-limbed trees at the garden. These plants sprout, bloom, and often set seeds before the leaves on the trees have fully unfurled.
Many of these precious plants are not hard to grow. Jaffe recommends easy ephemerals such as Virginia bluebell (Mertensia virginica), azure bluet (Houstonia caerulea), squirrel corn (Dicentra canadensis), Dutchman’s breeches (Dicentra cucullaria), or trout lily (Erythronium americanum). He also suggests planting them with other perennials, so that when the ephemerals go dormant in summer, other plants may fill in, and in that way, more native plants will find their way into gardens.
“I think that everyone can play a role in conservation,” he says, explaining how more people could give lawn over to plantings of native species with a goal for promoting local ecosystems. “I believe in the power of many people making small changes. Humans have the potential to do both great and terrible things to the environment, and I’d like to be one of the humans working towards the great things. I’m attempting to save the world one plant at a time.”