Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Welcome Back!

There is a lot of interest in Native plants now.  I say wonderful, more choices for me.  But please don't ask me or the bees to give up my Glory of the Snow.  Seeing them come up and flower in early spring makes me happy!

I let out a squeal of delight when I first spotted this sharp lobed hepatica flower.  Today there are two lovely pale purple flowers!  Around here this native wildflower is blooming now.  Our first drive by Irma's Woods found countless hepaticas in bloom.  It seems that the brightness of the flowers fade as the blossom matures.  Boy, can I relate to that!

The Squirrel Corn that we moved to the new woodland garden last year shows its lacy leaves. The funky flowers will be along soon. This is a spring ephemeral will not be visible above ground very long.  Now is the time to get out there and see them while you can!

These are stinging nettles. This plant is armed and dangerous famous for burning skin, but it is useful.  Red Admiral butterflies are among many that use it as a food source for their caterpillars.  When properly prepared it is a valuable food for humans.  If the color green has a taste, this plant has it.

Here is a Johnny Jump Up coming up from between Helen's Herkimer diamond rocks.  These  stones are native fifty miles to our north.  I like to eat Johnny Jump Up flowers and like their little faces.  Native or non-native I'm glad to see them both again.  The truth is I have to rip some of these plants out as  weeds while leaving some that flower.  Welcome back to another year in the Stone Wall Garden everyone!

Friday, April 20, 2018

Patiently Waiting ?

This is such a lovely picture of cool white snow on purple striped Pickwick crocuses.  It is the kind of picture I would look at in July and wistfully think of Spring.  The flowers are closed against the chill patiently waiting for the warm spring sun  so that they can open. 

This could be a picture of last spring, but it is not.  These same flowers were open and buzzing with activity nearly a week ago.  Seriously, isn't this a bit much to ask  a gardener to tolerate?

The Winter Aconites and Snow Drops  don't have quite as much snow because are beneath the tree in the shade garden.  They are still closed up tight in the cold. 

This picture was taken on April 14, 2018.  It shows the same plants but is taken from a slightly different angle.  You can see a Cardinal Flower seed head in both pictures.

 As I write this it is nearly 10:00 AM and the temperature is still in the twenties.  I could feel nearly as blue as my Dwarf Iris.   I am waiting impatiently!  I should try to learn a little something from my plants! 

The King Alfred Daffodils are waiting patiently in the snow, all ready to cheer me up with their bright yellow fragrant flowers.  The sun will come out, the flowers will open, the bees will return just not today!

Sunday, April 15, 2018

What Is that ?

It was warm yesterday and not raining at the moment so Ed and I decided to walk  down to the road to put the the outgoing mail in the box and raise the flag.  I tend to walk down the right side of the driveway since anyone coming up is usually in the middle or to their right.  I noticed this weird oval of black stuff wondering what it was but kept on walking.  The driveway is more than 0.3 of a mile all downhill to the road.  The last part is fairly steep.  After a brief garden inspection we headed to the house.  Needless to say we were moving a lot slower on the way back up the hill.  It is ever so much cooler to say "Oh wow look at this blob of black stuff! What the heck is it?" than is is to say " Hey Wild Bill wait for me, I'm out of breath!"  Besides I was curious!  It was a lucky thing I had the camera in my coat pocket.  We had never seen a formation like this one and we have been walking up and down this driveway for nearly 25 years.

A closer look revealed that the moving tiny black specks were springtails.  We have often seen them on the snow in footprints or a low spot.  These little bugs literally have a spring like appendage that allows them to jump, but gives them no control over their direction.  It is easier to see them on the leaves but you can also see them on the sticks and the stones.  When you consider the uncountable number of  springtails visible in this photo, click on the image, imagine how many there are in the big oval spot.

When I made the trip back down to the mailbox in the afternoon, things had dried off because the sun was shining and the  tiny black creatures were gone.  One has to wonder just where they all went.  At this time of year we frequently see birds apparently feeding on the stone surface of the driveway.  It now seems that springtails may be on the menu here.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Mostly Dead Perhaps

It is no secret that March weather has been brutal in the Southern Tier of New York State this year.  On the last day of February, the garden ground had softened to the point where weeds could be pulled.  Then four Arctic blasts took control.  We were spared deep snow but bitter cold was commonplace.  The damage to Cardinal Flower plants here is widespread.  The remains of ten plants grown from seed can be seen here.  These evergreen plants were placed near the driveway close to the road.  Plowed and blown snow kept these treasures covered.  When the snow finally melted bitter cold returned.  Most of these plants look almost totally dead.  Green leaves can still be seen on the cluster of three in the lower right corner.  Six weeks of possible freezing nights remain.  These plants will be left as they now are so that we can determine if they are truly dead if left alone.

Location is everything and we have been looking for plants that are still mostly alive and placing them in pots.  These sixty plants can be quickly carried into the nearby basement.  Some of these plants have been promised to others in our attempt to find locations where this native plant might survive.  The remainder will replant our gardens with ten scheduled to replace the plants shown in the first photo.  We have additional plants still showing life in the garden.  They will be covered in place when bitter cold threatens.  Others that appear likely totally dead will be watched to see if it is actually over for them.

This tiny plant shows the extensive root mass of these young plants.  Several grow in close proximity to each other and their roots intertwine forming a complex shallow mat.  Pulling the plants apart requires delicate force to wiggle them free.  Then they are planted above a cone shaped mound of soil to separate the roots and get them heading mostly down.  If prying fingers are kept away from the plant's crown, a living single plant usually is the result.  We generally plant them out after mid May if severe cold is not in the weather pattern.

As stated, many of the clusters of plants chosen for transplants suffered frost damage to part of the group.  We need to understand the unprotected plants chances for survival.  To the naked eye this plants looks quite dead.  The camera reveals that new life may be starting just above the plant's crown.  This plant lost its place in the trays but it will be cared for in the same manner as the others.  We would like to know if its recovery is possible.  Why Cardinal Flower is very rare in the wild in this general area is becoming better understood by us.  Constant cold seems to leave the plants alive while warm spells followed by bitter cold usually results in death.  We will encourage those who accept our gift of transplants to apply our methods for saving plants for the garden each year.  The return of these plants in the wild here remains at best a long shot.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Frosted Flowers Bring April Showers

When I saw distant purple, my favorite, from the living room window this morning, I knew it was time to get out there with the camera.  Last year I didn't get to see my dwarf iris bloom at all.  I was not going to miss their grand opening this year!  As you can see the flowers were a bit frosted.  Truth be told so was I.  I am so ready to spend time in the garden with  Ed, flowers, birds, butterflies and even weeds.  This morning the cold wind was too much for me.

I was not to be denied, however, so after lunch I went out again.  This time I was rewarded with just a glimpse of crocus pollen inside lovely purple striped Pickwick crocuses.  Their opening was rather tentative.  I totally understand.  Why flaunt the good stuff when it is too cold for the pollinators to be out and about?

A little more of the inner beauty of these little purple iris is showing.  Some years these bloom in March.  Some years they bloom magnificently in April.   For these little beauties and for me warm April showers would be such a welcome change from snow.

The purple leaves of my Virginia Bluebells have just broken the surface today.  I love spring ephemerals.  It is the beginning of their time . Don't miss them!

Wednesday, April 4, 2018


When the snow disappeared at the end of February we knew it was too early to begin garden work.  Now April has arrived and that is an entirely different story. My annual Cardinal Flower rescue is underway!  The number of spent flower stalks in this cluster of Cardinal Flowers indicate that three or four years have passed since one plant grew here.  That single plant may have been followed the next year by six new plants.  Six plants in a rather small space will grow satisfactorily and their flowers will be impressive.  The present clump might contain up to thirty-six plants that are way overcrowded.  Each plant will have set down a generous tangled mass of white roots.  Multiply a single root mass by the number of plants here to get some idea of the nature of the mess just under the surface.  One their own in a wild location, these plants might be well on their way to choking each other out.  That raises the question of how this native plant survives on its own.

A similar clump, that had been exposed to more sunlight, was removed using a four tined spade.  A real tool was required as the clump of soil held by the roots was sizable.  Once inside at the potting bench the task of separating individual plants began.  One must work from under the plants trying to loosen the root mass.  The force required would crush the crowns killing the plants if one worked from the top.  Patient persistence resulted in eighteen plants.  Many roots were broken in the process but most plants held on to a large root mass.  A cone shaped mound was formed in each pot.  Spreading the roots across this sloped soil will help the plants survive.  The plywood base with handles will make it easy to move these plants into the basement when cold temperatures threaten.  Three more trays are ready so we will soon have sixty Cardinal Plants ready to plant out when the weather has stabilized.  Other people have expressed an interest in locating some of these plants on their land.  We would like to have some of these plants survive in natural surroundings but continue to do the work needed to have them here in our gardens.

This tray of lettuce was started inside under lights.  Artificial light results in leggy plants.  Today was their first day outside.  Cloud filtered sunlight and a little wind will help these plants grow strong short stems.  When these plants are larger, they will be transplanted with only one to a pot.  As usual, I have more lettuce than needed.  These plants will never make it into the garden.  They will be harvested and eaten from trays placed on top of the stone wall.  Hard frost will send them into the basement for the night.  This may seem like a lot of trouble for some early fresh eat it just after picking it greens but we find the taste worth the trouble.  Then there is the experience of tending plants while snow remains on the ground.  This year's garden is well underway.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Spring Run

Finally enough snow has cleared the lane to make a walk across it possible.  Snow still covered the ground here when the series of four northeasters passed close by us.  Snow covering the Cardinal Flowers protected them from damage when the weather turned bitterly cold.  This is the first time that these have been fully exposed this year.  Ice still partially covered them at the end of February before new snow buried them again.

When this area was found last spring, damp soil was apparent but running water was absent.  Piled stones suggested that in the past the farmer's children has created a dam to form a pool.  At that time I had yet to see running water here.  Today the flow had enough strength to make ripples on the surface as it tumbled over a crack in the dam.

Running water has opened up a fair sized channel as it drains into a small automobile sized depression.  No water runs out of that pool.  It all disappears into the deep gravel deposit that underlays the meadow.

This is the present condition of the daughter plants that formed around the base of each flowering stem.  Under ideal conditions, six sister plants will surround the remains of the stalk.  Generous growth creates a bit of a jumble so I cannot be certain of just how many plants are here.  They will be left as they are since we are looking for wild plants here.  Each plant will send up a single flowering stalk so we can count the number of plants here then.  No actions will be taken to cover these plants when hard frost threatens since we need to know if native growth is possible in this location.  If these plants are ended, we will still have a chance at plants from seed.  Their flowers will be one year away but at least they will have a chance.  Does my excitement show?

Friday, March 30, 2018

Cardinal Flower Exposed

For the second time this month snow is disappearing from the garden.  On the first day of March the ground had sufficiently cleared and softened allowing weeds to be pulled.  Then winter firmly took hold once again and damage resulted.  It did not freeze here last night and overnight rain melted much of the snow.  We will soon have an opportunity to rescue some Cardinal plants.

These Cardinal Flower plants are just inside of the stone square.  Some of these were replanted last spring while others survived the change of seasons.  The largest clump will be removed and divided.  A dozen new plants may result.  Another sizable clump will also be lifted.  As May approaches, this area will be replanted with the plants soon to be placed in pots.  Cardinal Flower will continue to hold this stone corner just behind a Pinxter bush.

What remains of a large cluster of from seed survivors were slated for early removal this year.  They were poorly placed but would have provided us with perhaps two dozen young potted plants.  Then the hungry deer visited.  A cage now covers these plants but the question of favorable weather limits the likelihood of recovery.  We will pot up as many as are likely to survive.

Location is always a huge factor in success be it business or gardening.  These Cardinal Flower plants were close to the house.  Sheltered from north wind and basking in reflected sunlight, these plants got off to an early start.  Then harsh frigid winter weather returned.  These plants will be covered in place when necessary and we will watch to see if they recover.  Much of the plants have been transformed to mush but some green can still be seen.  We will watch and learn since they are directly in front of the house.

These Cardinal Flower plants grew next to Siberian Iris down by the road.  Earlier this year pictures showing standing water covering this area were posted.  We have read that the iris leaves should be removed each fall.  That author lives in the south and we have found it wise to remove the spent leaves early each spring.  This approach provides insulation for the iris crown.  Two Cardinal Flowers also benefited from some covering protection.  I peeked under the brown and found the Cardinal Flowers to be in excellent condition.  The mess will soon be cleared and these plants will be covered in place using five gallon buckets when hard frost is forecast.

These five from seed plant clusters hold a great deal of promise for the coming year.  Planted next to the driveway, they spent the winter under a tremendous snow cover.  Now that we know that deer eat Cardinal Flowers, these are under a protective cage.  We need to buy new buckets since these will also be covered in place.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Winter is Behind Me and Spring Ahead

It rained during the night.  We had no sleet, no freezing, no snow.  When I looked out the living room window I could see that I could reach the shade garden and more without wading in the icy remains of the snow.  I still needed my purple hat, my big coat and my pink boots, but outside I went with the camera.  I was not disappointed!

It is no surprise that  Snowdrops are the first flower buds to be seen in the shade garden.  They don't wait for the icy snow to leave, they push their way right through it.  I was elated to see them.  Even the green of the dandelion was nice to see.  I will deal with it later.

Here is a classic photo, Raindrops On Snowdrops.  It is my first  garden flower portrait of many to come in 2018.

I'm calling this one Daffodils with Giant Bunny Berry.  I'm guessing the huge rabbit pellet was on top of the snow and accidentally landed on my plant when the snow melted. It is very unusual to find just one rabbit pellet or one rabbit for that matter!

Iris and alliums are looking so good!  The iris rhizomes look fantastic.  They are either Joann's yellow iris or Mom's purple and white iris.  The dark green alliums are purple.  Perhaps later they will bloom together.  That would make me happy!

Behold the Bluets.  I'm so happy to see them again!   Those tiny pale blue flowers are a special favorite of mine.  It felt so good to be out there.  I caught a brief glimpse of a pair of cardinals and a bluebird.  The twittering of the birds seemed happy too.  Even the very slight wisp of the aroma of cow manure from the big farm down the road seemed welcome.  Spring in upstate New York is an exciting event!

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Deer Scat

This March has been difficult to endure both for us, the plants and the wildlife.  A recent attempt to walk the lane to the back fields ended in failure.  Deep wet heavy snow limited the distance that I could safely walk.  Two days later there had been more melting with further compaction so I tried again.  This time the lane was walked to an opening into the fields.  Tiring from the struggle to cross the ever present snow, a shorter path to the high meadow was taken.  This ground was exposed to the full fury of the many recent storms and in places my walking stick penetrated nearly twenty-four inches of heavy wet compacted snow before finding ground.  Fortunately, my boots only dropped a couple of inches as I crossed the snow drifts.

Today we watched these five deer for more than one hour from the comfort of living room chairs.  After a long winter, their droppings from frequent previous visits nearly cover all of the exposed grass.  Today after they carefully found edible grass, they dropped to the ground and rested giving the appearance of chewing their cuds.  Finally, I tiptoed outside to try for a photo.  The herd gave me only one chance.  The leftmost deer reacted to my presence first.  Lifting her tail, she ran for cover.  It is possible that she is the mother of the other four.  As you look from left to right, Mom leads the escape while the older set of twins start to follow her.  The younger twins are slower to react.  One of them is looking right at me trying to gauge the degree of threat I present.  For now all are gone but they will certainly return.  They also call this place home.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Fresh Strawberries In 90 Days

In his essay titled Pepacton : A Summer Voyage, John Burroughs described his June float down a section of the East Branch of the Delaware River.  Since many of my younger days were spent in a boat drifting with the current on the Susquehanna or Unadilla Rivers, it seemed that he and I enjoyed a common experience.  Many times I read his words and connected them to my adventures. Two of his observations are easily recalled from memory.  One involves his boat silently floating toward two young women that were wading in the shallows unaware of his approach.  They needed to raise their skirts above the level of the water.  Burroughs' words described his delight with what he saw. 

He also described the aroma of ripe wild strawberries that drifted from the fields across the river.  He went ashore and filled his pail with tasty berries.  Having happened upon wild strawberries many times in my youth, the memory of the taste of a wild strawberry is easily recalled.  No king has ever tasted anything better than a wild strawberry warmed by the sunlight.

A recent trip to the grocery store included a display of fresh Florida strawberries.  They were perfectly shaped huge dark red berries.  No blemish could be found.  I was tempted to buy a container but did not when I recalled that these berries bred for shipment are nearly tasteless.  The berries that we grow continue to ripen after they are picked and must be quickly eaten or processed.  Their outstanding feature is flavor.

The fruit in the photo came from our freezer.  We both grow our own berries and visit a pick your own business.  In addition to eating freshly picked berries, we make freezer jam and freeze some sliced fruit.  Frozen fresh berries are a treat and we usually eat them only on special occasions.  Since this season's crop is close at hand, we now must eat this treasure on ordinary days.  We must empty the freezer ahead of the arrival of the new harvest.

The freezer jam will likely last until the new is made.  We recognize the truly special start to each new day that begins with our own strawberry jam spread on toast.  When we were younger much of our garden harvest went into the freezer.  We can no longer do all that was accomplished years ago but the frozen strawberries and jam remain.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Outside In Bright Sunlight

In the past I felt that February was the worst month of winter.  Cold and snow was usually with us for what seemed like an eternity and something else was needed.  This March has now been labeled as the worst month of this winter.  Early warm air drew the frost up out of the driveway.  Soft muddy gravel grabs the plow tip removing huge quantities of gravel along with the snow.  I cleared snow once under those conditions and the man with the big plow was called in once.  We both did damage to the driveway.  Recently the only choice seemed to be to leave the snow in place.  Repeatedly driving on snow firmly packs it leaving a slick but passable surface.  After my recent fall, walking down hill on slippery snow or ice is simply not going to happen.  The truck has been used twice a day on mail runs.  Since short trips are hard on a vehicle, each trip included a drive about of nearly ten miles.

These Mammoth Pink Chrysanthemums are just now peeking out from the new snow cover.  The stones used to control the drop in elevation are the first things to appear as the snow shrinks.  They capture warmth from the sunlight that strikes them and the nearby snow melts revealing plants and ground.  Located close to the south side of the house, reflected sunlight adds to the daily warmth.  Chrysanthemums frequently do not survive the winter here.  We were thrilled to see the large number of green plants that will require division later.  This variety is a treasure and it has been with us for several years.  Some of the divisions will remain in this spot while others will be placed in new locations seeking other placements that the plant can survive in.

The warmth of the strengthening sunlight has cleared half of the stone wall down by the road of its snow cover.  Our driveway is also beginning to show itself.  The warm gravel and some new sunlight are rapidly clearing the mess.  When the moisture has drained away the surface will begin to firm up.  We are looking forward to being able to cross the length of the lane without feeling the sliding tires or the sinking boots.

This is another shot of the planting area next to the house.  The broken stone path gives us a solid place to walk and drains away the water that falls from the roof.  Since there is no safe place to walk here, pictures were taken from an open living room window.

Watching how the snow melts on this section of sloped lane has proved interesting.  Initially, the packed snow at the top of the hill became saturated with melt water.  The change in color from white to brown signaled the advance of the water.  Each recent evening has featured temperatures that were well below freezing.  Having recently fallen here, I will not walk on this section until the snow and ice are gone.  My snow pusher is sliding the softened ice toward the ditch.  Clear skies and likely above freezing temperatures are expected tomorrow so this mess may clear.  The early birds spend a great deal of time pecking at the exposed gravel.  Perhaps active springtails are providing an early meal.

Blue Sky, Bluebirds And Shrinking Snow

There was a magnificent view of blue sky and bright white gleaming snow out of the living room window this morning.  I was delighted to see a sunny day, but I could also see that it was frigid and frozen by the way the light gleamed off the icy crust on the snow. 

 We had just finished breakfast when I spotted a bluebird atop one of the bluebird houses.  He saw me when I went to the window for a closer look and flew to the Norwegian spruce behind the house.  I was not to be denied and got my chance to watch him with the binoculars from the bedroom window.   I got  a close look at him.  The feathers on his bright blue head and back, his red chest and his white tummy were all puffed up against the cold.  His color was brilliant in the bright sunlight and I was thrilled to see him.  In the afternoon, when the sun had a chance to warm things up, I ventured outside with the camera.  I found that I couldn't get a close look at much outside.  I could see that the snow had melted over the septic tank and a little of the stone wall that borders my kitchen garden .

I walked down the driveway being careful to stay on areas where the gravel was showing.  The buds on the oak tree that grows along the drive are closed up tight and will be for some time.  Oaks don't like to have their leaves frosted.

I saw more bluebirds on my walk which made me very happy.  I also saw a large woodpecker and several beautiful red cardinals.  However I had no chance to get a picture of them.  I had lots of chances to take pictures of melting snow.  I thought this one was interesting.  I have a great imagination so I think it might look like a bird, perhaps a chicken or a duck or a swan?