Wednesday, December 31, 2008

What a Year This Has Been!

When we awoke on this the last day of the garden for 2008, a beautiful white world greeted us. I was wondering what kind of picture to choose for this final post, but as often happens the choice became obvious. Once out of bed I used the binoculars to see who the solitary bird in the tree with the bird feeders might be. It was a Northern harrier sitting there waiting for his entree du jour. I always like to think of these hawks as eating mice and snakes, but on a day like today I'm sure it's a bird he's after. Perhaps the service was slow, because he's gone now and the mourning doves and other birds have returned to the feeder.

Looking back it has been quite a year. We’ve had our challenges, early frosts, late frosts, hail, insect bites, deer, rabbits, and hordes of Baltimore Orioles, but we have also had wonderful days spent outside in the garden enjoying beautiful flowers, delightful fragrances, and intriguing wildlife. We have feasted on incredible fresh vegetables, herbs and fruits. Onions and garlic are still hanging in braids in the basement and the freezer still holds riches from this year's garden.

We treasure our time spent together in the garden in 2008! It's been a very special year!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Rabbits? I Didn't See Any Rabbits.

I questioned my little garden friend about the grazing that has been going on in this garden bed. He maintained a stony silence, but with all the clues left behind it doesn't take a detective to see that the rabbits are eating here regularly. I'm not at all surprised at the parsley, but the slanted trimming on the Russian sage was unexpected. Thank goodness I have cages around my coral bells.

Rabbits BEWARE! I have acquaintances who know how to take care of unwanted visitors. Obviously sometimes the guilty are caught. So thanks to the owl, or the hawk, or the fox. Come back and visit anytime!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

We're Havin' a Heatwave...

It's a balmy 54 degrees outside. The wind is from the south and the clouds are galloping across the sky. Ed headed outside with a gleam in his eye. Interestingly enough, he chose to weed around the lavender in the bed in front of the house. The ground in that bed is not frozen. What can I tell you? This time of year a gardener misses weeding. The plants left behind are catnip. In the spring they will be moved to a location where they will not crowd out their neighbor.

Next came a trim for the chrysanthemums. The new growth at the base looks encouraging. The variety is Clara Curtis. In his youth, Ed was able to grow his great grandfather's chrysanthemums near Ithaca, one full zone warmer. Here all we have been able to winter over are the empty pots. Perhaps this variety will prove hardy here. The cut off stems are placed on top of the low green leaves for a little protective mulch.

I walked the paths and checked things out. One of the things I love about Ed's stone paths is that you can get a close look at the garden no matter how wet the beds may be. My little gentian needed a friendly foot to push it back down. Frost heave of plants is one of the downsides of the freeze-thaw cycle. It's time to entice Ed in for lunch. After that I know he'll be back outside until the rain starts or darkness falls, whichever comes first.

Friday, December 26, 2008

A Perfect White Christmas

The perfect white Christmas was ours this year. We had enough snow to keep the garden covered, but the rain cleared the paths, driveway, and roads to make the gathering of the family a joy. It was wonderful to be together. Great food, and gifts from those you love just add to the delightful day!

Garden related gifts add to the promise of spring. A new compost bucket graces my kitchen counter. I love it already. A new garden marker for writing plant names on stones will soon find a place in my garden cart. It’s time I cleaned it out to get ready for spring anyway. Bonnie gave me a ceramic tile that reads, "Leave a path in the garden so the angels can walk through.“ In the spring it will hang along a path in the garden.

Santa was kind enough to leave Ed some new rubberized garden gloves and a new pair of safety glasses. The safety glasses are great! I know that because somehow the first pair ended up in my garden cart! Now Ed has his.

Amy gave Ed a wonderful new stone book. This is a considerable feat since he has quite a collection. It is a gorgeous book by Dan Snow called "In The Company Of Stone: The Art of the Stone Wall." What a inspirational book it is! Now ’tis the season for garden books, seed catalogs and big plans for next spring. It’s one of the great things about having a garden here in upstate New York. While the plants are resting we have time to do a little garden dreaming and planning.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Winter Solstice

The garden is perfectly dressed in white for a winter solstice celebration. Starting today instead of less and less sunlight we begin to get more and more. It's just like reaching the top of a mountain. We have some distance to travel to reach spring, but now it's a downhill run all the way. Every day will be a little longer and the sun a little higher in the sky. Time to start getting serious about plans for next years garden.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Forgotten Details

The idea to chip out part of the broken stone seemed plausible. I had forgotten the full nature of these mud stones. They commonly have a core of silvery gray material that is filled with fossils and is incredibly hard. When these mud stones are out in the open this core is impervious to sledge hammer blows. What made me think that I could chip away at it when it was part of the wall? The silvery gray color is hidden under frozen reddish brown mud.

Five new stones have secured the right end of the fault. A shim can be worked under the second stone of the patch. The repair should hold the wall in place. When the supply of wall stones is not frozen under ice and snow we may be able to find stones that will do a better looking job of filling the hole. For now the wall is ready for winter.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Depth of the Problem

There's a lot of wall resting on our "weakest link". I removed the pieces of stone that I could get out with my fingers. There are more broken pieces, but they are frozen in place at the moment. The thought of removing all the stones in the wall above the bad one is not a happy one. The attempt to chisel out the offending mud stone is looking like the best alternative.

It is fortunate the such a nice long stone with considerable weight on the right end rests on our crumbling stone. It makes partial removal seem possible. It's just a matter of time before Ed gathers his hammer and chisels and gives it a try

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Weakest Link

To date all of the stone walls that we have built are still standing. Here the certain future failure is rooted in a poor choice of stone. We call stones like this mud stones. They remain soft after they are removed from the ground. This stone will continue to disintegrate in the near future. The novice builder placed it near the bottom of the wall. Replacing this stone will be a major task.

Looking at this photo has spawned an idea. Perhaps the crumbling area of stone could be chiseled out and replaced with the rest of the wall remaining in place. If only half the stone was removed at a time, the stone above should support the wall. Winter would be a good time to try that. The frozen planting bed in front of the wall could be safely walked on with no damage to the plants.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Long Shadows

Now that the plants are blanketed with white, it's the stone walls that take the spotlight in the garden. The top of the stone wall is a great place to monitor the snow depth, and the melt-freeze process. The mourning doves love to sit on the top of this wall in between snacks at the bird feeder. Six on the wall at once is the current record.

The shadows are very long! The shadow of this wall completely covers the opening between the walls. We are still watching the sun move to its lowest point in the sky. Just one more week and the shadows will begin to shorten and the daylight hours will lengthen. You have to start to think about spring then. It's all down hill from there!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Ed's Icy Walk

The storm was two days ago but the ice still coats the trees. Air temperature in the low twenties and broken clouds are leaving the ice just as it formed. The greatest sparkle is seen when looking in the direction of the sun. The eye sees it but not the camera.

The weatherman calls this accumulation nuisance ice. We have all of the beauty but none of the damage. Sadness is just below the surface knowing that so many are without electricity, heat and water for the next several days.

These blackberry briars are just over the fence line. This wild mess is not my responsibility. They will look this good again when covered with blossoms next year.

This far corner of our homestead would make a suitable holiday scene if the bush in the center was replaced with a stone cabin. It is good for an old man to walk his land, to have dreams, and to plant trees.

Today after lunch we were lucky enough to see a Great Blue Heron fly directly over the garden from east to west. He was flying very low, low enough to be seen easily from the living room window. What a surprise! I thought they had all flown south.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Somtimes Thin Ice Is a Great Thing!

This snow storm has made it so beautiful here. Around 3:00AM the full moon on the white snow lit up the night,making it brighter out than on a cloudy day. I spent some considerable time looking out the windows before I returned to bed. Today the beauty continues. The morning sun playing on the ice made for a shimmering display.

We were lucky enough to get a thin coat of ice on the trees. Just another half an inch spells the trouble that so many people in the northeast are enduring. Thankful for our good fortune, we enjoy the beauty while we can.

As the sun goes higher in the sky the picture changes. The ice is still beautiful, but different. The sun is strong and bright. I imagine the ice on the trees will be gone by the time things refreeze tonight. Beauty can be fleeting. Catch it while you can!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Same Picture, Different Day

For now the garden has its snow cover again. We were very lucky. The trees got a light coat of ice before the snow, but not enough to cause trouble. Some people had a lot of ice and loss of power with this storm. I've been around for ice storms when you could hear the sickening sound of breaking trees. I feel for the people in places where that occurred. Having the power go out is the pits even if you have a generator.

From the look of the weather forecast the plants will have to edure the freeze thaw cycle for at least another week. Perhaps the winter solstice will bring a change, perhaps not. Right now, today, it's a beautiful snowy view out every window.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Someone Took the Covers

Just when I thought the plants were all tucked in their beds with a nice little cover of snow to help protect them from the cold, a warmer air mass and rain changed all that. Sometimes December days here are much like spring. The temperature is up in the forties. The ice in the river is melting or heading downstream. The snow on the countryside is nearly gone. The streams and river are rising and running fast.

Of course the cold will be back and so will the snow. I'm very sure of that. When, who knows? When you live, or are planted in upstate New York, you have to expect surprises. It goes with the territory.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Why Did the Rodents Cross the Path?

If we had more snow, these pathways would be tunnels, and I wouldn’t know the rodents were there. Last year, when the foxes were around, the voles, moles, and field mice were all but gone. I hope that the fact that they have built a divided highway to get across the stone path does not indicate a big increase in traffic. It‘s not just that I have an irrational aversion to little furry creatures scurrying around. I do, but it’s also that they also love to eat bulbs and plant roots.

Perhaps I’ll put up a sign.

RODENT PREDATORS WANTED: beautiful garden setting, friendly humans, and all the little brown furry critters you can eat. Experience a plus, but not necessary!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Amy's Varigated Jade

The weather has turned cold. While working outside, Ed's water bottle developed a skin of ice before he had time to drink it. He was playing at the gravel bank while he could still break through the gravel's frozen crust. I took a short walk outside. Everywhere you walked it felt like concrete under foot. Brrr! It was back inside for me. Time for a houseplant picture!

Amy's varigated jade was a college graduation present. The jade was left in my care. At that time I was a notorious killer of house plants, and I very nearly killed this one. Actually I thought it was gone, but I found a leaf on the windowsill. Ed potted it and the plant you see has grown back from that tiny piece.

With its lovely green , white and sometimes pink tinged leaves, a varigated jade is a beautiful plant. This one could be more beautiful, but I can't bear to do anything but remove unhealty looking leaves. I guess I could use some sage jade pruning advice!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Fascinating Stones

The four stone walls that define the center square of our garden were our first project here. Both top edges needed to be straight. That left a wandering canyon in the center of each top surface. When we find an interesting stone it is placed in these center voids. We were the first humans to see the sharply defined fossils in the newly split stone. These fossils weather quickly but they will last for our blink of existence here. The long dark line across the brown stone looks like a tree branch. I do not understand how wood could from a fossil here. Can any reader help us with an explanation?

Thursday, December 4, 2008


This section of new stone wall is to define a raised shade garden under the locust tree. Careful planning determined the height of the wall on the sloping lawn. A place for us to sit was the plan. The locust tree is the only tree in the former pasture that now is our lawn. Where else could we hang the bird feeders? The tree provides cover for the birds in the summer. Its perches function year round. For our seat perhaps portable cushions will secure a clean location. We will not want to sit here for long periods of time. When we approach the birds fly away. In time they return.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Blue Sky Day

It was a beautiful blue sky day today. Much of the snow has melted, but the temperature is dropping. Walking around in the garden was quite the chilly experience. It's hard to think of this part of December as autumn. The sun's rays make a long shadow behind the bench. It will get longer still for three more weeks until the winter solstice when the sun begins to move higher in the sky again. In the meantime it just gets dark a little earlier each day. There seems to be no time for outside work after lunch. The birds are busy at the suet feeder. I think they know it will be cold tonight.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

If You Build It, They Will Come.

The temporary stone pile is pictured here. From a distance it looks like a stone wall. Up close its many holes can be seen. These stones were placed with no consideration of a tight fit. We needed a tidy storage pile for the raw materials for a proper wall. This carelessness illustrates one unexpected outcome of building stone walls. Many creatures find a home in stone walls. Some of them eat garden plants. Some of them sting. The slithery ones cause the lady of the garden to shriek loudly. These are all good reasons to build the wall with no spaces between the stones.

The fossil rock supporting the wasps' nest may never find a home in a wall. These rocks are visually interesting but they tend to crumble. If they are placed near the top of the wall, they can be replaced with little effort. Time will tell if this rock remains in the temporary pile or if it finds a home in a wall.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Holiday Thyme

Yesterday the weather outside was frightful! Freezing rain, slush on the highways and automobiles in the ditch were the features of the day. It warmed up and rained over night. When the sun came out this morning so did the camera. I wandered around the garden. The snow has melted in many places. Many of the plants no longer look their best. Some are being chewed on by mice, rabbits and deer. Not being in the mood for that kind of picture, I kept looking. Then I came around to the patio where the red creeping thyme is planted in the cracks between the stones. WOW! It looks terrific! The green leaves of summer have turned a gorgeous holiday red.