Saturday, May 31, 2008

Gatchelville Iris

Now that's a name you won't find in any catalog. My grandmother lived in Gatchelville, PA. It was and is, a small place. When I was a child there was a store, a church, and a few houses. I spent many happy hours there.

These iris grew in my grandmother's garden. Mom loved them, and took a piece of iris root with her whenever she moved. Now they are growing here. My sister has them too. Ownership of Grandmother's house has passed from the family. It is my responsibility to keep this iris going. They are planted in several different places in and around the garden.  I have shared them with many gardening friends.  I can take no chances with this family heirloom.

They are not a big showy iris. They don't flop over when it rains. With their deep purple and snow white, I find them elegant and striking. Their fragrance is sublime!

An elaborate bird song caught my attention while I was working in the garden. I ran to the house to get the binoculars thinking of a mockingbird because the song was so varied. The bird who was sitting in the very top of the locust tree near the garden was a brown thrasher. The bird book had little to say about the song of this bird so I searched for and found my bird song disk. After listening to that, I decided we must have the Caruso of brown thrashers living here. He can sing for me anytime.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Meadow Sage

I was delighted to see the male ruby throated hummingbird on this meadow sage. It's one of my special plants not just because of the hummingbird or its deep blue color, but because it makes me remember a very special trip. Mother's Day 2002 my daughter took the train from NYC to Croton. We met her at the station and she took us to visit Wildflower Island. It is a very special place for a person who loves wildflowers.

The meadow sage in their plant sale was identified as a tender perennial. The original plant is still with us as are many of its daughters. This is one of those plants that pops up here and there in the garden. I can't keep them all, but I do have several in pots waiting for a new home.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Frozen Thyme (Pun Intended)

This is the kind of interesting frost picture I like to take in March. But it's not March it's the end of May and the thermometer read 28 this morning. Now the sun is out and the frost is rapidly disappearing. If I had pulled the covers over my head and stayed in bed I could have avoided seeing it. That wouldn't change things.

So we will assess the damage, replace the plants, and hope that this stalled weather gets back on track. The birds are singing this morning and they must have frozen their tail feathers off last night. I should follow their example. So it's press on regardless!!!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Don't Look! It's Too Horrible!

I feel like I should be reported to PETB. (People for the ethical treatment of basil.) The thermometer went down to 29 last night. Worse yet it's going to do it again tonight. Basil doesn't even like it a little cool. The poor things look pathetic. We never expected when we planted those seeds and set out the plants that it would end like this. In a food processor for a pesto recipe, yes, but not like this.

You don't want to see the tomato plants either. I'll be bringing the plants that are still in pots back into the basement again tonight. Replacements will have to go in the garden when the weather moderates. Let's see this weekend it will be June. June should be safe. Right?

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Plant Eviction

It's after Memorial Day and the catnip plant in this bed has lost its lease. It's beautiful mound of leaves has been cut and are spread out on a sheet to dry in preparation for their next assignment as stuffing in catnip mice. The roots are headed to the compost. Beans and tomatoes are the new tenants for this garden bed.

Oh yes, about that other plant, a hollyhock that will bloom this year. It gets to stay.

Now the beans and tomatoes are tucked in their bed. The straw mulch is on my cherry tomatoes and yellow pear shaped tomatoes. I love to mix them in a salad for the color combination!

Inside the cage are asparagus beans on the end wire and yellow, Italian, and green beans in the center. We'll have to access the plants from one side because of the hollyhock, but I love flowers mixed in with the vegetables.

Ignore the man behind the curtain, I mean on the right of this picture. He's the magician that makes this garden happen.

Monday, May 26, 2008


I took this picture today and it seemed like a perfect Memorial Day post. I know I already posted today, but I decided to do it anyway. The forget-me-nots are self-seeded. Their seeds must have come along with some compost carried here. A stone bench can be seen in the background. It marks the final resting place of my parents. Built into the fieldstone bench are granite markers that bear their names and the traditional dates. The stone bench was built as a seat. This place of remembrance over looks a favorite fishing hole in the nearby river. There is a small patio in front of the bench. It was made with suitable stones lifted from several of Daddy's fishing streams. The wooded location has encouraged moss to grow on all of the stone surfaces. There is less moss on the seat since I visit here often.

Robin's Plantain

Do you know this wild flower? It is also known as Blue-spring daisy. I was stumped when I found this flower in the meadow. I didn't recognize the plant, so I took one flower for identification purposes. It had a tiny piece of root. I stuck it in Ed's latest bed to see if it would survive. That was several years ago, and since then it has become a dense patch.

I never found the flower in any of my recent books. I did find a line drawing and description in Mrs. William Starr Danas', How to Know the Wild Flowers, 1897, and I think the plant is mentioned by John Burroughs.

Although I've never seen the plant anywhere else, I'm told it is common. The patch certainly is growing at an exponential rate. I think we will make a place in the meadow and put it back where the competition from other plants will keep it in check. Well, maybe I'll replant just a little piece where it is. I still think of it as a rare and beautiful wild flower.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Purple Allium

Bulbs planted last fall lend wonderful excitement to the spring garden. It's such fun to watch them come up. There are sometimes a few duds that don't do much. This year's unusual weather has made it difficult, but I was always a B student and by those standards my bulbs are doing quite well.

I'm a big purple fan and I love the color of this new allium. I have others that are similar, but more of a lavender shade. Their fragrance has the faint aroma of grapes. (Ed says grape Nehi.) I think they are pretty special for a cousin to an onion.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Stone Farming

As I drove up the driveway and looked at the lawn, I thought "Are those rabbits?" Thank goodness they were not rabbits because there were so many of them. I realized that what I was looking at were rocks. It had been too wet to work in the garden, and Ed had spent the morning levering rocks out of the lawn with his pry bar. He explained that he was taking out the rocks to make mowing the lawn a smoother ride. " To reduce the Sue Hubbell hay rake effect", he said. "Why did you dig up so many?" I asked. "It was going so well, and I was having fun." he replied. "Besides many of these are good wall stones", he added.

Here is a rock with its corresponding hole. The next step will be to fill in the holes and pick up the stones for use somewhere. Most men go to Lowe's and spend a fortune on building materials for their projects. Ed just digs them up like they were potatoes. The stone's immediate destination is one of the many temporary stone piles. One such pile is visible in the first picture.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Frost Damaged Lily

This is one of my beautiful Stargazer lilies. It was so eagerly pushing up out of the ground on those warm days we had in April, but then the weather turned on us in May. The plant is still alive to be sure, but look at it. Maybe it will still bloom if it doesn't get zapped again. The frost burns are pretty harsh. I have to wonder if it needs to be planted more deeply. This has happened before. It's always a temptation to push the zone a little bit. I like to think of us as zone 5, but Ed says really we are in zone 4.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Caged Wildflower

It seems like such a contradiction to put a cage around a wildflower, but we had no white trilliums growing here. We purchased this one last year from Catskill Native Nursery in Kerhonkson, NY. As you can see it has a flower and a bud. Needless to say we are delighted, and it would be very disappointing to have it nipped off by a passing animal.

The wall behind the trillium is just over 10 years old. It shows what happens to a stone wall in the shade. With the moss growing on the wall, it looks as though it might have been there for many years.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

What's Coming Up Here?

Ed's beds are filled with the most wonderful soil. It is a fabulous environment for plants to self-seed. This is a sample of the bed next to the stone patio.

The fuzzy deep green plants are dill. I just let the plants drop their seeds last fall. I always figure who knows better when to plant seeds than the plant itself. I love dill, butterflies love dill--it's a great plant, but planted a bit too thickly here.

The plant in the upper right is a sunflower. This is not an ordinary sunflower, but more of a sunflower bush. This plant originally came from some budgie seed that I planted years ago. It comes back wherever the birds, especially goldfinches and black capped chickadees, plant the seed. It's a real favorite of mine and of the birds.

The pale green feathery plants are gorgeous double pink poppies. These also come up every year. They are a sign that the soil is warming.

The plant in the upper left is lamb's quarters. It really is a weed, but one with some good qualities. It's quite tasty in salads and is full of vitamins. In fact I saw it for sale in NYC at a very high price. However, it does not travel well and wilts very quickly. That's where the gardener who can cut greens right before serving has the advantage.

All of these plants are too close together and need to be thinned. It's definitely not my favorite thing to do. It would be nice to save them all.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Frosty Morning

Full moon, no clouds, 24 degrees, hard frost, what more can I say?

Monday, May 19, 2008

Little Oak Leaves

It's raining again, and I'm not complaining. We have been on the short end as far as spring rain goes. Every gardener knows water is vital for plant growth. It's finally too wet to work in the garden. The rain is in part responsible for this not-quite-in-focus picture. I don't want to go back out in the rain, and the oak leaves are getting bigger with every passing minute.

Oak trees don't like to have their leaves frosted. When most of the other trees are all leafed out the oak hangs back and waits. These little oak leaves are just barely an inch long, all pink and new. It's one of those natural signs that says, maybe it's finally time to set out those plants. But oak trees and meteorologists don't give any guarantees.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Recognize this Plant?

Not the dandelion of course, but the plant behind it. Like so many plants that are responding to the long awaited rain, the stinging nettles are coming up fast. If you have met nettles you surely remember the experience. This plant burns your skin in a way that is unforgettable. It is the bane of hikers wearing shorts. Learning to recognize this plant can save you a lot of pain.

You might wonder why I have it around. The new spring leaves when cooked are a powerful spring tonic. Nettle broth is the greenest thing I have ever tasted. However, it's my love of butterflies that makes the plant so attractive. Several species use it as the food source for their caterpillars.

I keep this plant that can be so unfriendly around, but I know where it is, and what it looks like. I give it a wide berth. I watch for jewel weed whose juicy stems can immediately neutralize its sting. Yes, this plant is armed and dangerous, but we have a truce.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Pink Norway Spruce Cones

Norway Spruce Cones
We have a stand of these spruce trees. Every spring I marvel at the color of the cones as they develop. I was just a bit late with my photo to get the intense pink color. Things go by so quickly in the spring, it's easy to miss something. They are still a beautiful pink. I'll try to pay closer attention next year. These are gorgeous trees with weeping branches that drape in an unusual way and pink cones. We didn't plant these trees. They were here when we came, but I certainly appreciate them.

On a really hot day in the summer, the trail underneath these trees is one of my favorite places to be. It's so much cooler there. It's shady and quiet with a nice clearing where an old apple tree still stands. There are mysterious holes where I assume some animal has made its home under the shelter of the evergreen canopy. It's a lovely place to hide.

Friday, May 16, 2008

My Favorite Tulips

I bought these tulips at a garden store in Buffalo when my daughter was in college. These tulips and I have been together for some time. I moved them with me when we came here. The first few years were difficult. There were little brown, bulb-eating critters here, and for awhile, I thought the tulips were toast. Perhaps it was the fox family that cleaned the little fur balls out. In any case, my old favorite tulips are back this year. Maybe they are a bit smaller than the original flowers, but I still love them, and they recall happy times.

We are finally getting an all day rain today. The plants look downright perky. This year it has been too long in coming.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Pink Trillium

We were slowly driving by our favorite wildflower spot when I spotted this flower. "Stop! Stop! Go back. Go back!" I guess I shouted, because we had a little seat belt check. Ed backed up and I got out of the car to take this picture. It was the only pink trillium on the hill. All of the others seemed to be white. Anyway, I got the picture.

PS. 5/16 The hill is mixed with pink and white trillium flowers now. I read that the white flowers turn pink with age.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

What Lurks in the Woods?

Remember the scary trees in the Wizard of Oz, or the Whomping Willow in Harry Potter? It's not just the fear of wild creatures that makes the woods spooky, and raises the hair on the back of your neck. It 's the moss, the trees and the moving shadows. It's the quiet or worse the unknown noises. Being lost in the woods at night is a terrifying experience. One you never forget.

A walk in the woods during the day looking for wildflowers is a totally different thing. It was on such a walk that I found this tree. In broad daylight this gnarled tree looks pretty scary! Just imagine what kind of a monster this thing would turn into in the dark. I'm not just sure what it looks like to me, but it definitely has a presence. Perhaps it needs a name.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


I'm sure you've heard of global warming. Well don't count on it! I'm well aware that the safe frost free date here is considered to be June 1. But, I really wasn't expecting a frost this morning, and I certainly wasn't expecting the hydrant in the garden to be frozen, and I really didn't expect there to be ice in the watering cans, or the thermometer to read 25. Like the student who has to stay after school, I need to write on the chalkboard "I live in Upstate New York.", "I live in Upstate New York." . . . and remember it!

Ed has gone out to wash the frost off some of the plants before the sun hits them. It often helps to prevent the plants from damage, but not always. Thank goodness the basil, peppers, tomatoes, etc. were carried into the basement last night.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Fringed Polygala

Fringed Polygala or Gaywings

Flower still in bud, perhaps 1/2" long

Yesterday was a great day for garden fun. In the afternoon, I always try to go for a walk in the woods on Mother's Day to look for this tiny little wildflower. If the weather is terrible, I go as soon as I can during the following week. I hate to miss seeing this beautiful flower. I never saw it before we moved here. This is not a wildflower that you can see from a distance. It's about 4" tall with a flower less than an inch across. This year the flowers have just begun to open. I should get a chance to visit them again. This tiny orchid like flower in my favorite color is a real treat.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Good Morning Garden

I love the way the garden looks in the morning when it's still in the shade of the hill. It's all misty and wet with dew. There's even a rabbit right next to the patio behind the bench. (Shh. E.F is still sleeping.)

The area where the sun has reached looks very different.

We spent yesterday visiting my daughter. It was a Mother's Day and her birthday celebration. We had a very nice trip. Just past the end of the driveway, the fox ran across the road with something brown in his mouth. It's nice to see him in the neighborhood. Whatever that brown thing was, he's welcome to it.

When we stopped at a rest area, I made a small spectacle of myself looking at a halo around the sun. It's like a circular rainbow, and a sight not often seen. I wanted to get a good look, so I was standing there with my arm up and my hand covering the sun. One or two people stopped to join me. Others looked at me like I had just lost my last marble.

We passed by an area that has recently experienced a forest fire. The earth is blackened, but some of the trees are leafing out, and I saw a few Canada May flower leaves pushing up through the black along the edge of the fire area. It will be interesting to see that area come back. Nature is amazing that way.

We had a nice dinner and a wonderful time playing in my daughter's garden. Her garden is in the woods as opposed to our garden in the middle of a field. She is just getting started. I hope she finds it fun.

We saw a bald eagle on the trip home, you've gotta love that. Ed brought in some of the plants for the night. It was a little chilly for some of them to stay out. That was the extent of our contact with our garden yesterday. It looks like it had a fine day without us.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Trailing Arbutus

Trailing arbutus with three flowers ( Yes, one is hiding)

I still remember the first time we found the trailing arbutus that grows here. It was before we lived here, before the house, before the trailer. This was our place to get away then. We came here, and walked the deer paths to explore our 30 acres in the country.

It was probably May. We were walking a path along the side of a hill. An aroma from my childhood wafted by. I knew it was trailing arbutus. When I found it, I immediately fell to the ground to stick my nose into those tiny flowers. I scared Ed half to death because he thought I fell. (I’ve been known to do that.)

Every year we look for it. Our conditions are not ideal for the plant so we don’t have much of it growing here. It’s always a thrill to find it, and I still drop to the ground to stick my nose in the tiny flowers. I go down more slowly, and take longer to get up, but the thrill is still the same.

The plants are usually found on north or east facing hillsides under deciduous trees, where the leaves blow off during the winter. Depending on where you live, it might not be too late to look for it. It remains for me, a plant with a drop-to- the-ground enchanting fragrance.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Lawn Chrysanthemums

I just came in from cutting the flowers off the lawn chrysanthemums. When the grass gets to a certain length they have to go. Yes, I know they probably look exactly like dandelions to you, and so they are.

Most of the world is divided into two camps on the issue of lawn chrysanthemums.

There are those who like them. Children frequently bring mom a beautiful yellow bouquet with a big smile on their face. They love to blow on the seed heads to watch the seeds fly. Adults gather the flowers to make wine and eat the leaves for spring greens. Others get their cameras to take photos of honey bees on the bright yellow flowers. Honey bees rely on these bright spring flowers for nectar and pollen. I'm on the bee's side, they are having a hard time surviving as it is, but I admit I dig them out of the garden, and as I said the lawn gets mowed.

There are those who hate them, and will go to any length to get rid of them. They want green lawns and will use chemical weapons . Those airborne seeds are looked upon like they were enemy aircraft on the attack.

So it's the Hatfield's and the McCoys. I guess the two groups will have to agree to disagree.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

A Great Day

What a wonderful day I had. I spent the day with two of my best gardening friends, visited 3 nurseries, toured two gardens, and found 3 lemon verbena plants. What could possibly top that?

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

In Search of Lemon Verbena

I love lemon verbena. It is a wonderful plant with leaves that have a fabulous lemon aroma and flavor. Chopped in a fruit salad it turns the ordinary into the gourmet. It makes a delicious herbal tea. Brushing against it in the garden releases a fragrance like lemon lollipops. It's a plant I love and need, if one can need a plant. That's the good part.

All this does not come easily. The plant is sometimes called tender, sometimes called half-hardy and by some nurseries who hate to disappoint their customers called annual. It is a perennial but a fussy one. Around here it has to come in the house in a pot. It usually drops its leaves. Sometimes they come back, sometimes they don't. This year you can see for yourself, the thing is as dead as the Wicked Witch of the West.

So I'm going plant shopping with two gardening friends. I have my list of plants I "need", plants I want, and of course there are plants out there that beg to go home with you as surely as a puppy in the pound. The three of us go in one car. At least that limits the available space. We do this every year and I usually ride home with plants on my lap. Wish me luck!

Monday, May 5, 2008

Time for More Plants

We had some errands to do, and with gas prices being what they are, we made a circle and stopped at some nurseries to look at their plants. It's early of course, but we were driving right by, weren't we?

We walked around the first place and looked. My sales resistance was good. I just picked up some lavender plants since my are all either dead or doing Camille.

The man at the second place had promised me lemon verbenas plants when I stopped there last year late in the buying season. "I had them", he said. "I'll have them next year. Don't come so late in the season." We looked around, asked where the herbs were, but alas no lemon verbena. This time we left empty handed.

The last stop of the day was in Franklin, NY. This nursery has been a favorite of mine for years. The stand is up by the road and the green houses are down the hill. The stand looked lovely with pansies, primroses and other cool loving plants.

"Can we look in the greenhouses?" we asked. "Of course", she replied. "Can we buy the plants now?" we asked. "If you take care of them you can, you know it's too soon to leave them outside!" We assured we would carry our plants in and out until the weather was better, and down the hill we went. She cares because they grow plants here, they don't just unload them off of a truck, and she wants them to live.

These greenhouses are special. The plants are healthy, well cared for and gorgeous. We came home with the plants in the picture: parsley, curled and Italian, tricolor sage, golden sage, a single sweet 100s tomato plant, and red and green basil.

I stopped to look in the pansy greenhouse. The sun was shining and the fan was blowing across the pansies. The fragrance was every bit as wonderful as the colorful display of those happy faces. I took a deep breath, and then turned and left. Here, pansies are rabbit and deer candy. The animals seem to find them irresistible. We promised to take care of her plants, so I couldn't expose them to certain and untimely death.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

His Wall and Her Wall

His wall is in the foreground, hers in the back.

Her wall is in the foreground, his in the back.

I was asked by a friend if I ever built a stone wall. I did build one with help from Ed. He's a great teacher. He did the end and the corner, and I filled in the middle. I tried to follow the rules. Build the wall with two faces tied together. Always place one stone over two to prevent vertical breaks in the wall. Always keep the stones level or at least leaning toward the center of the wall.

I'm pleased with my wall. Building it was fun, but you can see the difference between his and mine. My wall has several diagonal lines. I was totally unaware of them when I was doing it. Ed's walls all have crisp horizontal lines even though the stone he is working with is variable. As you can see, the walls all fit together nicely anyway. Maybe you can tell something about a person from their stone walls. I'll let you speculate on that.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Not All Weeds Are Ugly

These Johnny Jump Ups are self planted. Their invasive numbers that claim a large part of the planting beds could earn them the classification weed. Some of these blossoms find their way into our salads. The early color fills a void. Their aroma is pleasant. Their sheer numbers dictate that most find their way to the compost bucket. That task is never easy. These weeds are frequently for sale at the nurseries. I wonder if the nurseries buy seed or just have a patch of Johnny Jump Ups growing out behind the last greenhouse.

The reflection in the basement window is for real. No Photoshop here.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Blueberry Buds

Today was a gorgeous spring day for working in the garden. The aroma of clove currants wafted by now and then to enhance the experience. Ed made great progress on the new bed, and I was going to do a "What a difference a day makes." post. It would have been great too. The weeds are gone, and without Photoshop. The new soil is in place in its bed. Before I could take the picture, the rains came. That is in no way a complaint, because we are definitely behind on our rain this spring.

It does mean that today's picture was taken yesterday. The blueberry flower buds were closed up tight. Rain and a little warmer weather is just what they need to open up. We have high bush blueberries growing wild here, and pick as many as we can to put in the freezer. The birds and critters get the rest. Last year was a crop failure so we are hoping for a good blueberry harvest this year. I'm sure the animals feel the same.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Garden Progress

Yesterday while I was sitting and knitting, I glanced out of the window in time to see a bald eagle fly just over the notch. He was heading north toward the river and was flying unusually low. I got a fantastic look as he went by. No matter how often I see an eagle, I am thrilled by it.

It was really cold overnight. When I first awoke this morning and looked out the window, I was amazed. The white layer of frost on the grass, and the trees turning golden in the morning light reminded me of a morning in October. But it is May, and the day warmed nicely.

Ed made progress today on the replacing of gravel and subsoil with his special soil mixture in the bed next to the curved stone wall. As you can see from the picture, still more soil needs to be added. The plants in the picture are day lilies, catnip, and hens and chicks. Oh, and those plants in the stones, next to the wall, are weeds. (Dandelions to be exact.) We do have weeds, lots of them in fact, but I don't always show them in the picture. They won't be there long.