Serendipity Gardens |

A Winter Reflection: Home in Serendipity Gardens

January 11, 2016 by Jo Ellen Roe
Swing in fall (1)

This swing is one of our favorite places to sit in summer — and occasionally in winter, too.

It’s snowing today and quite windy, too, so it feels like winter. But this past weekend, the weather was warm enough — and dry enough — to sit outside in the garden. It usually isn’t warm enough to do that in January, but this year is different, compliments of El Nino.

I sat in the swing beneath the maple tree, where in summer a great canopy of shade cools the air below. On this particular rare bright day in a sea of cloudy days, however, only a tracery of branches studded with nascent buds reached to the blue above.

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I Took a Mooc!

October 27, 2015 by Jo Ellen Roe
Red oak

My little oak tree is no forest, but it also will provide ecosystem services such as wildlife preservation and carbon sequestration.

This will be a very brief blog post about my MOOC experience. A MOOC is a massive online course. Many universities offer them, and generally, they are free. I took my class through Coursera.


I just completed my first MOOC from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. The course I took was Forest and Humans, taught by Dr. Catherine Woodward. I found the course to be very interesting and the professor excellent. The videos were high quality and easy to listen to, though they did sometimes include details which I had to watch 2-3 times to get. One feature I enjoyed was the interviews with various practitioners in the forestry field. I was quite shocked to learn the extent of illegal logging — and that it is related to illegal drugs and human trafficking.

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Planting a Native Plant Garden

October 7, 2015 by Jo Ellen Roe
New Native Garden (2)

My new native garden looks a bit bare at present, but it includes 19 bee-and-butterfly-pleasing plants.

Today, I helped create my first totally native plant garden. I and the person who helps me in the garden planted 17 new natives to accompany the two that were already there. (This same bed formerly held overgrown day lilies that I had grown thoroughly tired of. Therefore, the crescent-shaped bed itself was already made.)

In its new iteration, the bed is in its infancy and is therefore not beautiful. But I am confident that it will be in a year or two.

Design Considerations

As we designed the garden, we aimed to complement the two existing plants, a button bush and a thimble weed, both planted last year, both doing well. We put the tallest plants — wild monarda, or bee balm (3), and penstemon (2) — in the middle. Around the edges, we planted Virginia Mountain mint (3), prairie dropseed grass (3), nodding wild onion (2), coreopsis (2), and golden alexander (1). At the end of the garden, where it extends out further, we planted an aster. We purchased all these plants (plus a few more) last weekend at the annual Native Plant Sale at Matthaei Botanical Gardens. We bought the original two there at last year’s sale.

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Seven Reasons to Plant an Oak Tree

September 28, 2015 by Jo Ellen Roe
Red oak

My baby oak tree, in the fall.

The Value of Planting a Tree

When my grandparents married and moved into the home they lived in when I knew them, they planted an oak tree. Many years later, I played under the majestic spreading branches of that very tree, which shaded a good portion of their back yard and sported a swing that I loved. I suspect that this childhood experience was the beginning of my love of trees.

My own oak tree, planted from an Arbor Foundation seedling about four years ago, is growing well. It’s a red oak, and true to its name, the leaves are a beautiful rusty red in the fall. Although it will be years before it’s tall enough stand beneath or attach a swing to, I am enjoying watching it grow.

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5 Citizen Science Projects for Kids and Grownups

September 21, 2015 by Jo Ellen Roe
Monarch Mirror Image

This image of a tagged monarch butterfly was taken from the web and made into a mirror image.

The monarchs have started their long journey south, to their winter homes in Mexico.

Many birds have already begun their southward flights, too — an annual event many of us notice when our backyards become noticeably quieter.

By becoming citizen scientists, observers of these migrations and other phenomena of nature can help scientists learn what is happening to butterflies, birds and many other creatures.

What is Citizen Science?

According to the Scientific American, Citizen Science is a way non-specialists can join teams of scientists in research. adds, “Science is our most reliable system of gaining new knowledge, and citizen science is the public involvement in inquiry and discovery of new scientific knowledge. A citizen science project can involve one person or millions of people collaborating towards a common goal. Typically, public involvement is in data collection, analysis, or reporting.”

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