Notes from Garden and Afield Week of June 18-24, 2017

Article and photos by Joe Sapia

Note: The yard references are to my house in the section of Monroe between Helmetta and Jamesburg in South Middlesex County. My yard is in a Pine Barrens outlier on the Inner Coastal Plain, the soil is loamy, and my neighborhood is on the boundary of Gardening Zones 6b (cooler) and 7a (warmer). Afield references are to the Pine Barrens around Helmetta, unless otherwise noted. Notes and photographs are for the period covered, unless otherwise noted.

Daylilies flower in front of the former Avon Inn in Helmetta.

FLOWERING OF HELMETTA’S AVON INN: The former Avon Inn in Helmetta comes to flowering life this time of year. Now a private residence, it dates back as a circa late 1800s-early 1900s inn positioned near a railroad station. (Think of the hotel on the 1963-1970 television sitcom “Petticoat Junction.”) The Avon Inn sits at on the corner of Railroad Avenue and Brookside Place (or across from the Helmetta Post Office). It is part of the George W. Helme Snuff Mill District, named to the state and federal Registers of Historic Places in 1980.

Another view of the former Avon Inn.

“OUTHOUSE LILIES”: Wild daylilies are blooming along roadsides. As their Greek scientific name “Hemerocallis fulva” suggests, “Day beauty” and “tawny” in color. Beautiful? Yes. A weed? Yes. They threaten native plants and are hard to control. It is an Asian species now naturalized locally. It was introduced to the United States as an ornamental, according to the National Park Service. In the days of outhouses, people planted daylilies around them. (Today’s ornamental daylilies began blooming earlier.)

Wild daylilies growing on North Main Street in Cranbury, Middlesex County.

FRAGRANT WATER LILIES ON HELMETTA POND: At this time of year, a floral display explodes on Helmetta Pond. Fragrant water lilies, “Nymphaea odorata,” simply dot the Pond. The flower, which blooms from about June to September, is beautiful. It has a multitude of white (or pinkish) petals and a sunflower-looking yellow stigmatic bowl. The blossom has a fresh and flowery scent. Also in bloom at the Pond is pickerel weed, “”Pontederia cordata.”

White-colored fragrant water lilies and purple-colored pickerel weed at Helmetta Pond.

A close-up of a fragrant water lily at Helmetta Pond.

AMPHIBIANS AND REPTILES: I helped a painted turtle, “Chrysemys picta picta,” as it was crossing a road at the Helmetta Pond swamp. I moved the painter in the direction it was traveling. When I got home after moving the turtle, I did yardwork and came across Fowler’s toads, “Anaxyrus fowleri.”

I netted this Fowler’s toad in my yard to study him for a few seconds.

A painted turtle crossing a road at the Helmetta Pond wetlands. As I was shooting the photograph to give perspective on traffic, the car pulled over. The driver was neighbor and Garden and Afield reader Tom DeRose.

Flower display at Catherine Lombardi restaurant in New Brunswick, Middlesex County.

FLOWERING NEW BRUNSWICK: I work part-time at the Jules and Jane Plangere Writing Center on the College Avenue campus of Rutgers University in New Brunswick, Middlesex County. Because I park my Jeep at the other side of the downtown near the Douglass campus, I often walk cross-town to and from Plangere. This time of year, I pass flowers beautifully on display at the Catherine Lombardi restaurant at the corner of Livingston Avenue and George Street.

Flower display at Catherine Lombardi restaurant.

GOLDFINCH IN PEPPY’S GARDEN: Gardener Priscilla “Peppy” Bath of Hamilton, Mercer County, reported, “Saw something interesting the other day. I have columbine plants in the yard that seed themselves so they are easy to grow. I cut some of the high stems with seed when I get around to it. I saw a goldfinch (“Spinus tristis”) holding on to the main stem and eating the seeds. I did not think the stem would be strong enough but guess the bird does not weigh much. Nice. Glad I did not cut all the seeds from all the plants.”

IN THE GARDEN: A shout out to Lake Valley Seed’s “Salad Bowl Heirloom Lettuce.” I planted it April 8 and have been harvesting it in earnest – and getting rave reviews from people I have given it to. I, too, offer a positive review. On the down side, my snap peas bombed and my kaleidoscope carrots are growing slowly; Both were planted April 8. In summary, I continue to water, weed, and watch, along with harvesting the lettuce.

IN THE PINE BARRENS AROUND HELMETTA: Striped wintergreen, “Chimaphila maculate,” is in bud. Also, this is the time of year, the woods are lush and humid with pine flies, genus “Chrysops,” buzzing around a person in numbers. Because of the harsh conditions in the woods this time of year, I would shut down my woods walking – and that was probably why I recall seeing striped wintergreen in full bloom perhaps only once in my life. But, in recent years, I have taken a new approach – or, actually, an old approach dating back to childhood – and that is tough it out and enjoy the summer woods, along with the woods during the other three seasons.

Striped wintergreen in bud in the Jamesburg Park section of East Brunswick, Middlesex County.

RAINBOW AND SUNSET: The night of Monday, June 19, provided a beautiful sky at sunset – in the sunset itself and with a rainbow. I watched it all from my yard.

Looking east, the June 19 rainbow over the Manalapan Brook floodplain.

The June 19 sunset.

SUNRISE/SUNSET: For June 25, Sunday, to July 1, Saturday, the sun will rise at about 5:25 a.m. and set about 8:30 p.m.

WEATHER: The National Weather Service forecasting station for the area is at

THE DESTRUCTION OF THE MIDLANDS: As much as environmental conditions have improved in many ways in my lifetime, something we have not kept up with is preservation of open space. When I see the destruction of open space, especially when heavy machinery mows down the woods in only hours, I feel sad. I drove by a site the other day in South Brunswick, Middlesex County, where the woods was being torn down.

The corner of Route 130 and Fresh Ponds Road was woods only a few days ago.

Joe Sapia, 60, is a lifelong Monroe resident. He is a Pine Barrens naturalist and an organic vegetable-fruit gardener. He gardens the same backyard plot as did his Italian-American father, Joe Sr., and his Polish-immigrant, maternal grandmother, Annie Poznanski Onda. Both are inspirations for his food gardening. Joe is active with the Rutgers University Master Gardeners/Middlesex County program.
He draws inspiration on the Pine Barrens around Helmetta from his mother, Sophie Onda Sapia, who lived her whole life in these Pines, and his Grandma Annie. Joe’s work also is at @JosephSapia on, along with on the Jersey Midlands page.

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