Thursday, July 27, 2017

In Search Of Wintergreen


Our source of arbutus plants sent word to us today announcing the blooming of her wintergreen.  Despite the recurring showers, we set off to the back woods to check on the status of our plants.  We found new plant growth proudly displaying its smaller reddish leaves but no flowers.  Where the mature leaves depart from the stem, red areas can easily be seen.  The tiny white bump there may be the start of the flowering stem.  We will watch to see if flowers soon appear there.  This is an incredibly busy time of year in the garden and we have frequently failed to take the time to look for wintergreen flowers.


This piece of wintergreen was an unexpected gift to us when we were uprooting arbutus.  Its need for acidic soil matches arbutus so we planted the wintergreen near out transplanted arbutus.  When moved each leaf junction consisted of just three leaves.  As our gaze moves along the stem from right to left, new growth is seen.  We expected nothing from the transplant since our past efforts always ended in failure.  This time the new growth looks promising.  This plant will get a wire cage to protect it from foragers as winter approaches.  We have seen arbutus and wintergreen growing side by side in the wild and would be thrilled if that can happen here.


The Canada mayflower has, as its name suggests, already flowered.  This native must be classed as invasive here.  Where these woods drop downhill to meet the road, Canada mayflower has nearly totally displaced all other native plants.  We have watched as it closed in on our rather sizable wintergreen plants but could do nothing to halt its advance.  For now both plants grow under the black birch trees but the wintergreen will soon be only a memory.  The photo shows that many of the seed bearing berries have already been eaten possibly by turkeys and grouse.  Those seeds have been scattered and more new mayflower plants will grow.

Wintergreen has long been a part of my life.  As a child those dark chocolate covered pink colored wintergreen cream patties were a favorite after school treat.  I remember reading of early pioneer women breaking out the wintergreen wine at a quilting bee.  Imagine the size of a wintergreen patch that would have been needed to gather enough leaves to make wine.  Try to imagine the taste of wintergreen wine.  I eat the berries while walking about during mild winter spells and that always makes me wonder about the wine.


These Indian pipes were an unexpected sight today.  They grow just across the lane just uphill from the wintergreen and Canada mayflower.  The purity of the color suggests that these are newly emerged.  They were an unexpected gift on this day with no wintergreen flowers.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

A Promise Kept


Some of our plants are here for only a short period of time.  Many of the missing are gone as a result of their inability to deal with the harshness of  our natural conditions.  Late hard frosts create huge problems for many plants.  Our deep gravely soil and frequent lack of rainfall takes those that cannot handle periods of little moisture.  Other plants persist here no matter what.

Cardinal flower has been with us for ages because we fuss over it. This is a plant that grew on this continent before the arrival of the European explorers.  Since it is a native plant, we feel obligated to not only keep it alive but try to place it so that natural growth will insure its survival.  So far we have only managed to keep it alive in the garden and that fact is a puzzle.

This plant naturally occurs near water. Most sources tell us it will grow in a garden placement but will not reproduce from seed in a rather dry location.  We have placed it near our pond but the grasses that grow there simply overpowered it.  Last fall seed was sprinkled liberally around our strongest spring run but no Cardinal flower plants have appeared there yet.  We still hold hope for those seeds since sometimes with native perennials  a number of winters are necessary for seeds to germinate.

For the moment we are thrilled just to see the intense red coloration that even the buds display.  Soon the flowers will open and hummingbirds will be drawn by the color to feed there.  We see this as the best red to appear in our gardens.  Its presence does signal the slow roll of the seasons away from summer but these flowers will remain in bloom for several weeks.  Many great days of life in the garden are ahead of us.  The appearance of these flowers signal us not to waste a single day.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Daylily Album, Part Two

                                          Lime Frost

                                          Doc Reaver

                                                    Ruffled Parchment

                                          Strawberry Fields Forever

                                          Sunday Gloves

                                         Blackberry Candy

                                          Nanuo

                                                    Cathrine Woodbury

                                          Free Green

                                          Amish Quilt Patch

                                          Fragrant Pastel Cheers

                                          Huckleberry

                                          Shipped In Error

Just a couple of comments concerning these names.  We recorded on stones the name that seller claimed was the correct varietal name.  There are numerous chances for error both before we received the plants and after they arrived here.  If anyone believes that we have misnamed any of these flowers, we would welcome their input.  Free green is not really a recognized name but a description of how that plant arrived here  It was included in a mail order as a free gift.  I cannot believe how a plant that robust, scented, ruffled and nearly white can be given away nameless for free.  Overall, it is one of our best plants.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Still In Search Of Monarch Caterpillars


Boy we have been having some serious rain.  It has been 5 days since I went In Search of Monarch Caterpillars.   This time I knew I had a great chance if I looked at the milkweed growing in the path next to the  green beans.  The first thing I noticed were large pieces of frass.  Who knew caterpillar poop could look so interesting.   It is definitely green, segmented and pretty darn big.  That caterpillar should be around here somewhere.


Farther up the plant the caterpillar was easy to spot.  It's hard to hide under a leaf when you have eaten most of it.  From the look of the frass in this picture this caterpillar isn't stopping eating for anything!


Soon I will be looking for a chrysalis instead of a caterpillar.


We are definitely seeing more Monarchs flitting around the flowers this year.  Another way to find Monarch caterpillars would be to follow this gorgeous female and see where she lays her eggs.  You have to be quick.  She is in beautiful shape and can move very fast.  Lucky for me and my camera, she was focused on sipping nectar from the coneflower and didn't notice me!

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Big Bird Is Under Attack


This is not about violence on children's television.  It is about what went on in our garden last evening or early this morning.  We have many daylilies growing next to our stone chip paths.  Last year some deer damage occurred but that was the first time that the daylilies had any trouble there.  Being able to walk right next to these beautiful scented flowers is a high point in our gardening year.  In the past human urine sprinkled on the ground appeared to keep the deer away.  Last evening the path next to the Big Bird plants was treated.  No rain fell but the deer were not deterred.  Several stalks bearing nearly open buds were nipped off and eaten.


Two years ago divisions were taken from the chewed upon plant and placed in the garden near the road.  For some reason the deer have so far left these plants alone.  Despite our loss near the house we can still enjoy the sight and scent of these plants if we simply walk to the road.  Our loss was not total but it was still disappointing.

We have placed unused wire cages to block the deer from walking near the remains of the original plant.  That obstruction also closes off our usual path from the garden.  The cages can be set aside while we work in the garden but that is a nuisance.  Long term we will have to reset our daylilies so that they can be protected by circular cages.  Open ground will be needed to protect the other plants from damage inflicted by the wire cages.  Extra bark mulch will have to be placed to cover bare unused soil.  For now we will simply check to see if our newly placed obstacles have provided protection.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Daylily Album, Part One

                                          Destined To See

                                          Spiritual Corridor

                                          Frosted Vintage Ruffles

                                          Aurora Raspberry

                                          Wild Mustang

                                          Gentle Ed

                                          Molokai

                                          Ivory Edges

                                          Elegant Candy

                                          Wineberry Candy

                                          Becky Lynn

                                          Prairie Blue Eyes

                                          Indian Giver

                                          Chicago Arnie's Choice

We continue to search for flowers that combine beauty, scent and hardiness for our sometimes harsh location.  Daylilies will get by with nearly total neglect or they will accept nearly daily fussing over. They will usually recover when late hard frost turns their new leaves to slime.  Their chief shortcoming is the mushy mess that follows blossoms that last for only a single day.  This trait can be made positive if one takes a mid morning walk about intending to remove yesterday's flowers while reveling in the purity of freshly opened blooms.  Most of our varieties are scented since that is one bodily function that still operates here.  The fragrances range from subtle to overpowering.  One soon learns which varieties are best enjoyed from a distance.  Walking around with yellow pollen stains around the nose is a common experience for us.  An understanding of just how powerful the allure of these plants is can be found with knowing that the varieties shown here represent just over one third of our collection.  All of these plants were purchased as mail order midgets and now we are faced with finding enough planting space for all of these much larger plants and the divisions that can now be taken.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Garlic Harvest 2017


Garlic harvest came early this year in response to the seemingly endless pattern of severe thunderstorms.  We usually harvest starting in the third week of July. Some brown leaves are nearly always in evidence before we begin to harvest.  All of the green in the above photo is most unusual.

We watch others that are successful and try to copy what works.  Our twice weekly trips to Norwich pass by a place where garlic grows within sight of the road.  This individual has grown garlic on the same ground for many years.  His crop always looks good despite the dangers of not rotating his garlic to new ground.  He also harvests his crop a week or two ahead of me.  So this year I followed his example and harvested my garlic early.  The early harvest sacrifices late growth for a cleaner crop.


Despite the early harvest we encountered some problems.  Bluish gray mold does not appear at the soil line of healthy plants.  These will go directly to the trash.  There are several possible causes of this trouble.  Our frequent heavy rains have kept everything wet.  I have read that it is impossible to grow decent garlic in upstate New York because of our typical pattern of July storms.  Just when the garlic should begin the process of drying down the rains come.

 Another possible cause of the trouble may be my planting pattern.  My beds are five feet wide by eighteen feet long.  Ten cloves are planted across the width of the bed.  This intensive planting pattern may limit air circulation in the middle of the bed.  Most of the moldy plants were located near the center.

The use of ground leaf mulch on garlic is not a common practice.  We try to apply the mulch in a thin uniform layer to discourage weed growth and prevent the soil from drying out.  The garlic remained nearly weed free and the excessive rainfall kept the soil moist.


This is our best harvest.  Helen gave us this seed and it has always performed great for us.  It was planted at the end of the bed surrounded on three sides by broken stone paths.  Fall winds did clear some of the leaf mulch from this planting.  Only three cloves of the fifty planted failed to produce usable plants.

As these bulbs cure their pure white color will become streaked with purple.  The dried stalks will be cut shorter and the plants will hang vertically for several weeks.  In mid October the cycle begins again with the selection of planting stock.  At this time we are still eating from last year's harvest.  The condition of those bulbs is excellent and one has to wonder what would happen if one year old cloves were planted.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

In Search Of Monarch Caterpillars


First you need to find milkweed!  Here where we have acres of common milkweed I can find it by following my nose.  The sweet fragrance floats on the air.  It might be possible to track one of the Monarch butterflies that are flying around, but they fly by pretty fast and Mrs. Monarch would rather deposit her eggs in a private unobserved location!


Once you know what milkweed looks like, look for a nice green tender looking plant that has been chewed on the edges.  The black stuff on the leaf is another great clue.  It is frass.  That is just another way of saying caterpillar poop.  Since it is black it is not fresh.  More searching is necessary.


Caterpillars are not as speedy as butterflies though so a closer look at this plant is needed.  There was a caterpillar here before, maybe he hasn't gone far!  I spotted a leaf lower on the plant with what looked like fresh chewing.  I don't see anything on the chewed leaf.  Often the caterpillars are found on the underside of the leaves.  That is where the eggs usually are.  What I need now is a closer look!  Let's set the camera on macro!


Eureka!!!  This is not a big fat Monarch caterpillar, but a tiny instar.  It is actually smaller than it appears in the picture.  In fact I have never found a Monarch in such an early stage of development.  This is exciting!  Notice the frass on this leaf is not black, but green and watery.  Now that is what I call a fresh clue!  If you go back to the previous picture you might be able to notice the caterpillar.  It was tiny, but right there in plain sight all the time.


This is the earliest I have found a Monarch caterpillar here.  Ed follows a careful mowing program so that the milkweed flourishes and so that fresh green plants are available for the Monarchs to use right up until frost in the fall.  Once the first caterpillar has been spotted, no matter how small, the mowing stops!  I will be checking on this caterpillar and searching for more.  Now that you know what to look for, find some milkweed near you and take a closer look.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Glorious Gloriosas


Several decades ago when we first ventured into the world of gardening, a few women of years took us under their wings and helped with our efforts.   They left the weeding to me but were generous with their gifts of plants and information.  Elle was one such person and she was the source of our first Gloriosa Daisy.  She is gone now but her gift of flowers lives on in our gardens.  Her gift came with the information that the natural color of the rays was plain yellow.  When the color became mostly plain yellow she advised us to simply buy new seeds.  So far we have not needed to do that.  One year I mail ordered a plant that was solid red.  Its influence can still be seen in our flowers of today.  I think that she would take pleasure in seeing what has happened to her original gift of plants.  She appears in my memory every time that I walk among her flowers.


If one assigns the term flower to the part of a plant that actually produces seed, then the tiny yellow specks around the edge of the cone are the actual flowers.  Pollination by insect is happening in this picture.  Soon the entire central cone will begin filling with developing seeds.  The red and yellow rays are attractive but their only function is to draw in the pollinators.


This natural mutation resembles a zinnia with its several layers of color.  If time were more abundant, we would save the seed from this plant.  It would be interesting to see the plants that grew from the seed that will form here.


This photo shows both a plain yellow flower and a dark bi-color specimen.  The variation that appears with no effort on our part is impressive.  We will likely remove the spent solidly colored flowers before they produce seed.  One year we found plants with pairs of small brown rectangles arranged in three layers at the base of the yellow rays.  Of all of the color variations that have put in an appearance here, those were my favorite.  If seed is ever offered for sale with the promise of that arrangement of color, I will buy and plant.