Sunday, August 31, 2008

Hollyhock Saga Continues

This post is special. Rarely will this gardener place herself in front of the camera. We needed an object to show the scale of this still growing hollyhock. She bought that line. Here we have Becky and the amazing hollyhock.

The bad news for this plant is the new growth beginning at its base. If we timely remove the old plant, a new one will grow in its place next year. One of these days the giant will be felled. With any luck we will get to relive the experience of this plant next season.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Sunflower Story

No Latin name will be given for this plant. I got my first one when I planted some parakeet seed in my old garden. I suppose it might not be real sunflower, but it is a sunflower to me. This time of year these plants are the shining stars of the garden.

I had to get out my books to do this post. Botany was not my thing in school in fact I was quite a late bloomer when it comes to plants. Mrs. Wm. Starr Dana's book helped me out.

This is a composite flower. That means it has ray flowers and disk flowers. Many flowers are built this way. The ray flowers in the sunflower's case are the bright yellow petals around the center . The disk flowers are the tiny little tubular flowers in the center. The two work together to get the attention of the birds and the bees. The ray flowers catch the eye. The disc flowers deliver the pollen and the nectar.

Here we have a just opening sunflower. The petals (ray flowers) are not quite unfurled. The disk flowers are in a ring around the outside edge of the center. When open they are also yellow.I used to wonder why the hummingbirds were interested in sunflowers. It's the tiny little tubular flowers that they visit.

As the sunflower ages the open disk flowers spiral in from the outside edge . How could this bee have filled her leg baskets with that much pollen from these tiny little tubular flowers?

Here's a closer look. If you count the tiny little disk flowers in this picture, it will give you some idea how numerous they are.

Here the spiral of disk flowers is nearly complete. It's one seed for each disk flower, so the seeds form a spiral too. The goldfinches, black capped chickadees and other birds will be interested in those, and will plant next year's crop with the seeds they drop.

Friday, August 29, 2008

I'm Innocent !

Look! The morning glory is alive, and beautiful too. I'm so relieved. When I posted "The Magic of Lavender"I thought the plant was a goner, weeded out by my own hand. The guilt was terrible. Now my conscience is clear.

The yellow and black flowers came from Janet. They are Rudbeckia triloba. This plant is covered with blooms and is quite striking. It self seeds with abandon. This year the heat and humidity combined with the fact that I failed to thin the plants properly has resulted in the powdery mildew that can be seen on the leaves. Next year, I'll have to give this plant more room to grow!

Today we are getting some much needed rain. We both watched a mother turkey and her eleven small babies wander into the mowed grass. The babies are so small that their little heads just show above the grass some of the time. Mom hunkered down right there in the middle of the lawn and the babies scurried under her one by one to get out of the rain. Mom determined that breakfast was over and it was time for the brood to dry off and warm up. I wondered if she had room for them all, but the last one seemed to have no trouble finding a spot under good old Mom. Motherhood, there's nothing else like it!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Hens and Chicks Saga Continues

I've been fascinated watching this plant. The flower stalk is dry now. I inspected remains of one flower, and found that it contained small black seeds about the size of poppy seeds. Curiosity demands that I put the flower stalk somewhere so that the seeds might grow. It hardly seems necessary as far as chick production goes. The number of rosettes has increased dramatically without even considering the seeds. "Hens and chicks" typed in the search box at the top of this page will show you the whole saga, from February to August. There were just 13 rosettes to start with. The large one in the center is now gone. But click on the picture to enlarge and count how many there are now. How amazing!!!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Breaking and Entering

Closed Gentian is an incredibly interesting plant. In the world of flowers where getting pollinated is the name of the game, this one plays hard to get. I have stood and watched a bumblebee use his front legs to force his way into these tight blossoms. It's a mighty struggle with the bumblebee pushing the petals aside with his feet so he can squeeze in to get the pollen inside. The bee remains inside for some time with much wriggling and buzzing and then with some difficulty, he backs out. One can only imagine what seduction technique the closed gentian has that makes the bumblebee willing to work so hard to get in there.

The white variety blooms a bit sooner. At least one bumblebee has visited some of these blossoms. You can see what the blossoms look like after the bumblebee has forced his way in, and then backed out. I'm nearly as fascinated with the closed gentian as the bumblebees are.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Potato Vine Is Dead!

Wow! That sounds bad! In fact I've been waiting rather impatiently for the end to come. While the vines are green the potatoes are still growing. Sometimes for a special occasion, we steal some small potatoes early, but a patient, adult-minded person will wait.

Digging potatoes is like digging for treasure. Here in Ed's gorgeous sifted dirt, it's really fun. The digging is easy, and there are no stones to make you think you've got one when you don't. Just one Red Gold plant shows in the picture. You can see planting one potato gives quite a return. There are more potatoes hiding out of the camera' view. Some are already in the bucket harvested to expose the ones in the picture.

We don't have proper storage to save potatoes for seed. The good thing about that is, we get to eat them all, from the tiny little ones right up to the big ones. Washing and perhaps a little brushing and they are ready to cook. We have no worries about eating the skins since no chemicals have been used on these potatoes.

Whatever else we have for dinner, the potatoes will be a special treat. Freshly dug potatoes have a unique texture and taste. These red beauties with their slightly yellow flesh were spectacular!

Last night was beautifully clear and starry. We have big sky here when the valley fog has not yet closed in. While I was stargazing out the living room window , I heard something from outside. I quietly opened the window so I could hear. The coyote serenade was quite something. Coyotes called to each other from some distance and the songs went on for several minutes. When it got quiet I closed the window. The show was over, but I was glad I didn't sleep through it.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Only Hummingbirds Need Apply

"Pollinator wanted, must have extremely long tongue." These Nicotiana sylvestris flowers are meant for hummingbirds. The slender flowers have long tubes that make pollination difficult for anyone else. Like my other Nicotiana the fragrance of these flowers is enticing.

This is not a meek little plant. The leaves near the ground on this plant are over 21 inches long and at least12 inches wide. ( I measured!) This one needs some space! I bought the original plant some years ago and now volunteers comes up from seed somewhere in the garden every year. It's great fun to watch the hummers feed from these skinny hanging trumpets.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

A Rose by Another Name

The first flower has appeared on the Rose of Sharon. To me the blossom looks like a cross between a hibiscus and a hollyhock. Susan gave me several of these bushes. The deer find them irresistible , so this one planted right by the house is doing the best. Most of the others are hanging on, but it' s hard to thrive when your leaves get chomped off all the time.

This plant qualifies as a late bloomer. It's mid August and the flowers are just starting. There are still a few more plants waiting for their turn to shine. I love walking in the garden to look for the next new blossom. It will be this way till frost. (Oooooh did I say frost?) Well this isn't Oz, or Florida, or even Pennsylvania. It's Upstate New York and I love it here!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Bodacious Braids

Here we have one of my Copra onion braids. It contains about a dozen onions. Copras are big, round, hard, dense and heavy so a short braid is best. I still have more of these to braid.

Here are the red onions and potato onions hanging in the basement. I get a real kick out of seeing them hanging there. It will be a joy to use them this winter!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Copra Onion Harvest

It's time , if not a little past time, to get the Copra onions harvested and braided for storage. This year we planted 16 rows of onion plants. The plants were 6" apart in rows 8" apart. If you do the math that is 128 onions, but we had one double so it is 129. These onions did really well this year. Their size is great. Most are about the size of a baseball, but the largest one weighs in at over 3/4 of a pound. They look good. I only hope there are no bad rings from all the moisture we have had this summer.

Now that's what I call an onion! The big problem has been finding a dry day to harvest them. In the end we had to place them on screens in the basement with the dehumidefier to dry. I'm now in the process of cleaning them and making braids. I find they store the very best when braided. I do this with garden twine doubled and weave the stems in and out so that the string can support the weight of the onions. I'm afraid some of these may fall and go bump in the night because their stems are already brown. If that happens, the onions that fall will be used first.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Morning Garden View

The morning view out the bedroom window these days is delightful. A cup of coffee and a pair of binoculars make watching the birds my morning garden treat. Many birds spend their morning hours in the garden looking for breakfast. The goldfinches are keeping tabs on the sunflower's seed production. There are still currants to be had, and the birds are welcome to all the bugs they can find. I can even accept the fact that they eat some of my coveted earthworms.

Of course this photograph shows no birds. These are country birds and when the window opens they head for the trees or some other convenient cover. But they were here, really they were!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Hummingbird Antipasto

One of the most pleasant things to do in the garden is to sit on the bench and watch the hummingbirds. Ed and I were doing just that, watching a hummingbird go from the bee balm to the phlox, to the cardinal flower and the Nicotiana, but I was surprised to see the bird go to the flowers of this plant.

This is society garlic. It has beautiful striped leaves and lovely lavender flowers. It is in a pot because it has to be brought in the house in the fall. Purchased on a special day with my daughter Amy, I love it. However the plant is like a beautiful lady with a horrible case of halitosis. Whenever you water this plant, it expresses its delight by releasing an intense garlic aroma. It is for this reason that I was surprised to see the hummingbird sipping nectar from these lavender flowers. Maybe the nectar is sweet like the others or maybe a hummingbird likes a little garlic now and then.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Special Butterfly Bush

I know this is not an impressive butterfly bush. It is small. The flowers are a little sparse. It is special though, because it came up from seed. That means in its short life so far, it has never been pot bound. It is blooming its first year and its roots are free to expand at will. I have always had my very best luck wintering over a butterfly bush that came up from seed. This year I have two. Can you believe my luck?

Mother Buddleja is in the background. This plant winters over, but grows very low to the ground. We will see who does better next year. I'm betting on the new young plants.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Glad and Garden

This yellow gladiola is beautiful! I wish I could say they all are that way. This year some of the flowers look horrible. I need to go around and snip them off. I hope it was bugs or the Orioles or the weather that caused the damage. With luck the bulbs are fine, and the leaves will feed the plants till frost.

I suppose according to the " Truth in Gardening Blogs Act" ( Nonexistent of course) I should show you the ugly, pathetic looking specimens. Sorry, No can do. They are just too horrible. I prefer to focus on the beautiful ones.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Swallowtail on Fennel

This black swallowtail caterpillar is on the fennel. I know the photo is more caterpillar than fennel, but I'm always so pleased when I get a moving target in focus. Both my bronze fennel and regular fennel seeded down next to the kitchen porch. It makes it easy to keep track of the caterpillar's progress. So far I have counted three there.

The light green plant is the kind of fennel with a bulb at the base that is sold in the store as anise. Fennel's flavor is similar to anise, but unique. The darker color plant is bronze fennel. I like its color and feathery foliage. It often comes back from the base and looks great anywhere in the garden.

Like the caterpillar, I think fennel is tasty. The flowers are a surprising burst of flavor in a salad. I use fennel bulbs in soup and in a salad with red and green basil. I think fennel is a must for any herb or butterfly garden. I know this caterpillar would agree!

It been beautiful day in the garden so far today. The onions were brought in to dry for braiding. The mildewed lavender bee balm was cut to the ground. The sun on the soil, and air circulation will do wonders there. Ed using his pry bar, leverage and a few strong words dug out two humongous clumps of Stella D'Oro day lilies. The cavernous hole left by them will be filled in, and the lavender bee balm will be divided and planted there. This afternoon, I plan to cut some black stem peppermint for drying. Fun! Fun! Fun!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Touch of the Tropics

This hibiscus is on its second year here. It's planted on the south side of the stone wall to give it a better chance at survival. The big flowers are glorious, and the plant blooms for quite awhile. The individual flowers usually last a day, sometimes less. Let's face it staying that gorgeous long term would be tough!

Can you see the mental picture of this flower behind one ear, a flowered bikini and a Hawaiian beach? I sure can. Yes, some images need more help from photo shop than others. Still it's pretty neat for upstate New York!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Time for Tea

In the morning, I'm a coffee drinker, but Ed drinks herbal tea from the garden. It is my habit to make the tea during the day. I put it in the refrigerator to be microwaved the next morning. During gardening season, when I forget, it means an early 6AM trip to the garden.

Yesterday morning I took the camera with me. Black stem peppermint is what you see here. It was dark enough to require a flash for the picture. It was also dark enough to make me talk out loud to myself in case the skunks or other critters were lurking about. If I forget again, it will be dried tea instead of fresh. I guess I'd better get this peppermint cut and dried!

A huge flock of starlings is here today. I hope they move on soon! They are way too reminiscent of the movie The Birds !

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Sunflower Days

The sunflowers are really beginning to bloom. Soon their happy yellow flowers will be all over the garden. They make me smile. The hummingbirds and butterflies like them now, but later other birds will be looking for those yummy sunflower seeds. The goldfinches are already hanging around the garden. Looking like escaped canaries, their bright black and gold feathers, and dipsy doodle flying add a lot to the garden.

The sunflowers will bloom till frost, and after that become food for the birds. Being messy eaters, the birds will plant the seed for next year with the seed they drop to the ground. It means I don't have to plant them. I just have to decide which ones get to stay in the spring.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Tea From Flowers?

This is anise hyssop, a delightful plant. The leaves and flowers have a wonderful smell. Tea from the flowers is delicious. Just make sure you rinse well to remove any small bugs! I don't make jelly, but I suspect the tea would make a very nice lavender tinted jelly. If you closed your eyes you could identify this plant from the aroma it releases when touched.

Anise hyssop grows well, blooms for a long time, and the little chickadees and finches love the seeds.For drying removal of the flowers while they still retain their lavender color is necessary. Here they self seed with abandon, and join the legion of perfectly good plants to be weeded out in the spring.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Vivid, Red, Hummingbird Happiness

Looking for the quintessential red flower for hummingbirds? When referring to Lobelia cardinalis, Mrs. William Starr Dana (1897) said, "We have no flower which can vie with this in vivid coloring." This is a New World wildflower. The Europeans got it from us. My first cardinal flowers came from Sandy Mush Herb Nursery. The variety with green leaves is the most likely to winter over. Around here, this plant is given all the space it wants. With Ed's beautifully prepared beds, the plant self seeds sometimes. We watch carefully for it when we weed.

Cardinal flower has long been Ed's favorite. The flowers seem to him like a source of light. Success with this plant has been elusive. Every spring many of the bright green crowns are frozen out. This spring he tried dividing some crowns. Each crown contained several crowded plants that had forced themselves up out of the ground. The plants from these spring divisions are the best yet. Taller and bearing more flowers, they have made an impressive display!

Last weekend Amy and Ed hiked at Minnewaska to see the new growth in an area recently burned. The recovery from the forest fire is truly amazing. In places it is hard to see if the fire actually reached the carriage road. One such area sported many cardinal flowers. The cardinal flowers had attracted numerous black swallowtail butterflies. The combination of the red flowers and the black butterflies made quite a show!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Goldenrod and Asters

We have at least five kinds of goldenrod growing wild, and this is the first to bloom. The meadows around us will be yellow till frost.

We planted annual asters this year. I'm very happy with them. The flowers are every bit a lovely as chrysanthemums, and you don't have to think about trying to winter them over. The wild New England asters in the meadow are just beginning to show color. Both the goldenrod and the asters are a reminder to stop procrastinating and get busy with the garden harvest. It's time to finish off the garden for this year and clear things away for the next season. There's still some time left, but the first warning has been given.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Weed Chamouflage

Here's a weed I can't identify. It's growing in the watermelons and no wonder! Look at the leaf shape. The flowers are yellow just like the watermelon blossoms. It has been doing," Don't pull me I'm a watermelon. " and getting away with it. I'm onto it now. It's growth habit is wrong. It's still has flowers when the watermelon plants don't, and those spiny little things are a dead giveaway. My suspicions are that we planted this weed when we planted the watermelon.

It always amazes me when a weed changes its growth habit and hides among my garden specimens. Frequently weeds get to flower before they are discovered. I'm sure that is their plan since reproduction is the ultimate goal of every plant.

Of course as soon as the impostor is discovered, out it comes. This bogus watermelon plant is now in the compost where it belongs.

It's cool cloudy and rainy, typical weather for the time of the Perseid meteor shower. Peak is Tuesday, but we will watch for falling stars for the next few nights if we get any holes in the clouds. It's a family tradition!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Hummingbirds Love Red

Hummingbirds love red flowers, and so it follows that I love red flowers too. I also love bulbs and this Crocosmia grows from a bulb. Having misplaced the tag , I looked this one up in my bulb book. I'm not sure if the is "Lucifer" cultivar, but it should be. I gave in to temptation here. In the catalogs this plant is usually marked zones 5-7. In my bulb book that generally tells the real truth, it is listed as zone 7. Here zone 4 is safe. Zone 5 is pushing it. After that it's take it inside or call it an annual.

Planted on the south side of the stone wall this plant has been holding its own for several years and the blossoms are lovely. But even with the southern exposure , the stone wall, and global warming , zone 7 is a real stretch. Remembering to mulch this plant in the fall is necessary. Expecting it to thrive is foolhardy.

All that being said, it's red, it's blooming, the hummingbirds are happy, and so am I.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Tomatoes of Our Very Own

Finally the tomato harvest has begun. Sweet 100's are small , but so delicious. We should have these from now until frost.

These little yellow pear tomatoes are a favorite of mine. Some years I can't find them. This year I did. I cut them lengthwise and mix them with halved cherry tomatoes. I like the different shapes and colors. I add garlic, olive oil, fresh basil, pepper, a little salt and wine vinegar and chill slightly. Served over fresh garden lettuce it's a dish ready for a party . Best of all it's really delicious

The tricky part is to keep from eating those sweet little tomatoes before I get them out of the garden.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Our Garden Skyscraper

New York City has the Empire State Building, the stone wall garden has this hollyhock. It is without a doubt the tallest thing in the garden. It even passed the smoke bush. Of course it's not taller than the house. That would be stretching it. To gain a little perspective, the metal post next to the hollyhock is six feet tall. OK, take off about six inches for the part driven into the ground.

The cause of this rampant growth is a mystery. The hollyhock is self planted on the line that separates the stone path and the planting bed. Half of the root mass is in the eight inch deep stone path. The other half is in the enriched planting bed. Has the plant been able to balance the great drainage with the rich nutrient load? Will we plant the seeds in like locations throughout the garden?

This is a tourist's eye view of the hollyhock. I stood at the base of the plant and turned my camera skyward, just like a tourist on the sidewalk would do at the base of the Empire State Building. So how tall is it really? One estimate is more than ten feet. I guess it's tall enough to make me collect seed from it to plant in the garden.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Treasure In the Gunks

Many of our plants have an unusual route to our garden. Clethra is one such plant. Ed and daughter Amy have hiked extensively in the Catskills and the Shawangunk Mountains. An August hike in the Gunks took them through a cloud of sweet fragrance. Most wildflowers are well past by August so the source of the sweet smell had to be found. Walking into the breeze led them to dark green bushes covered with white flowers.

Our garden specimens came from Phyllis' garden. Clethera reproduces freely by underground runners. We have had more success with these daughter plants. Rabbits find them tasty, so protection is required while the plants are small.

The period of bloom makes this plant special. Its connection to a past pleasant day makes it a treasure here!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Phlox, Everyone's Favorite

This white phlox has been blooming for some time. I've been taking pictures and deleting them because the white is a challenge for my camera and for me. I decided on this photo because the Oriole damaged dizzy lilies look so good in front of the phlox. Wow, sometimes a planned companion planting actually works out!

Tall phlox, white or colored is a great perennial plant. It has a wonderful fragrance, the butterflies, hummingbirds and hummingbird moths all love the plant and so do I. It blooms for a very long time, and grows to a large clump that can be divided. You will love it!

However, I have to say that "everyone"includes Bambi and his friends. We place a cage around the phlox to protect it from the deer in the spring. It is still there even though you can't see it. On the list of favorite foods for deer, Phlox is listed under deer candy.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Monarch Competition?

This furry little critter was found on the milkweed. As far as we are concerned, our milkweed is for the monarch caterpillars. Before I stomp on this thing, though, it would be good to know if it is a friend or foe.

Fortunately, Caterpillars of Eastern North America by David L. Wagner is the newest addition to my library. On page 474, he writes, ". . . in my experience, the two insects commonly affect different sorts of plants. I associate Monarchs with young, vigorously growing shoots, while Milkweed Tussock Moths are content to eat older foliage, sometimes that which has already started to yellow." OK, this furry little critter gets to live. I'll even put him back on a nice old yellow milkweed plant. We have plenty of them.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Greetings from Upstate New York!

Yes indeed, you are looking at a watermelon, and this is not a picture post card from Georgia. It's a Charlston Grey right here in upstate New York. According to the Shumway seed catalog, these melons grow to a whopping 24 inches long, 30 to 35 pounds. The truth is we are getting pretty excited about this baby!

Some gardeners plant the things they know will do well. We do that, but we are a pair of gardeners with a touch of Chuck Yeager in us. Every year with something, we have to push that envelope. This year it's a big fat watermelon with real seeds, not a seedless melon with those little white things that they say you can eat. (Who wants to?)

We have time to wait and watch. It's just the beginning of August and anything could happen, but right now there it is, a real, almost foot long, watermelon.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Touch- Me- Nots

This plant is jewel weed. I have mentioned it before as an antidote to the burning of stinging nettles. It really works, and the relief is immediate. I have a friend whose husband works in the woods all year. She cans jewel weed to use on the poison ivy that he gets so easily most winters.

Jewel weed has juicy stems and either yellow or orange flowers. This picture shows a yellow flower, some buds, and the best part, a seed pod. This plant was growing on the compost pile. Japanese beetles love the plant so I was lucky to find an undamaged one to photograph.

The seed pods are the reason for the touch- me- not name. When the seeds are ripe the pods get fat. They are spring loaded and explode when touched. It's an ingenious method for spreading seed. Children, and adults who still have that child within, find popping the seed capsules irresistible fun. After years of this behavior from me and my children, I can always count on finding jewel weed somewhere in the garden.

This seed pod is still slender, but I'll be watching, and when it's ready , touch it I will!

Friday, August 1, 2008

Borer Wars: News From the Front

Yellow and wilted squash leaves are a sure sign of trouble. A sneak attack is underway.

The undeniable proof that infiltration has begun are the holes at the base of the stem.

War is ugly, and in this case so is the enemy! Our recourse now is to do our best to isolate the enemy. The vines will have to be burned. As it happens the bee inspector was here and told us that since the bees are gone and the hives are ant- infested, they must be burned too. The ants, and borer larvae would die together.

It was quite a bonfire. A pall of smoke hung heavy over the garden. The funny thing was, it smelled like thousands of birthday candles.