Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The End Of March

It was overcast and cool today. The crocuses and snow drops stayed closed and wet all day. Yesterday's all day rain seems to have caused many plants to come to life. Everywhere in the garden the perennials are beginning to show their spring growth. A careful look reveals new growth on the round lobed hepatica. I thought that the Dutchman's britches were gone. Something had dug them up last summer. Squirrels crossed my mind, but today I learned that Ed had accidentally unearthed them. Only when their new growth appeared did he come clean. All this new growth lends so much excitement to spring clean up and weeding.

Tomorrow is April 1, and if we're very lucky we'll have plenty of time for fooling around in the garden. We may even find the temporally lost Siberian squill since we can't remember exactly where we planted them.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

March Rain

Clearly the garden is enjoying this all day rain. Green shoots are coming up fast. The gardener is not quite as thrilled. I took these pictures through a very wet window pane. I chose not to suit up and rescue the watering can from the picture. Obviously it is not needed in the garden today.

My Alliums in the bed in front of the house are growing every day. I'm so pleased to see them, and I got a really special surprise. Last fall when I was cleaning up, one of my two A. gigantium plants, one of them smelled rotten. I was expecting to see nothing on that side of the bed. Instead of that, several small rosettes have come up. While it's true I'm not expecting anything gigantic, a couple of small plants are very welcome, whether they bloom or not. Sometimes when you think a plant is dead and gone, you get a happy surprise. On the other hand , sometimes when you think a plant is dead and gone, it is indeed dead and gone.

Friday, March 26, 2010

S-s-s-snake and S-s-s-snow

We're back to cold, at least for today. It's funny that we should see our very first snake of the season on a cold day. He was on top of the wall, trying to get some sun, but was so stiff and slow that Ed was able to come in the house, get the camera, then go back outside and still get several pictures of the snake.

Snow covered the garden this morning except for the stone paths. Stored heat in the stones prevented the snow from sticking there, but the top of the stone wall, being up in the air, had a thin layer of snow. With the sun out the snow is melting slowly, but only where the heat of the sun can reach it. There is ice to scrape off the steps. Sorry Mr. Snake, it's March and there's still a lot of stiff and slow left in this spring for both of us.

Thursday, March 25, 2010


New York State's Orange County still has considerable farming activity despite the high demand for homes within commuting distance of New York City. Dairy farms have been replaced with more than million dollar homes but onions are still commercially grown there. An ancient lake covered much of what is now Orange County and the black muck soil of the former lake bed grows prodigious crops of onions. We have a small pond that is filling with muck. Perhaps this muck will grow great onions here.

Six pails were filled with the muck. Some how boys of all ages are drawn to water in the spring. Without getting my shoes wet or soiled, the pond muck was moved to the garden. In the past muck has been added to the compost piles. This was less than fully successful as muck bricks baked in the sun.

Three days of working the muck with a stone fork have produced this black crumble. Rain is helping to mix the muck and the soil. Daily attention may eventually produce a fine soil mix. We will have side by side trials of onions grown in the standard garden soil and onions grown in the muck mix. We will report success or failure.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Early Spring Blooms

It was snowing this morning, and really kind of chilly all day, but this afternoon when the sky cleared and the sun came out, we had flowers. These Pickwick crocuses are a perfect example of why an impatient gardener like myself plants bulbs in the fall. They take my breath away! They also get the attention of the honey bees. The rabbits trimmed these before the cage was in place, but only the leaves got trimmed. The flowers are perfect. We must be more diligent about noting the location of these early bulbs so that they can be caged.

The snow drops in this bed have been joined by this deep blue Dutch iris. I adore these little iris that bloom so early. Actually these blooms will last longer if the weather stays cool. They can take snow better than heat.

This clump of Dutch iris has grown from one to six in the years it has been in this spot. These flowers have a cage too. I removed it to take the picture. Without cages all of these flowers would become bunny brunch.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Bluebird House Hunting

Yesterday we got our first rain for the month of March. It's been awhile since I have smelled the rain, or is it the worms? I have to be honest after so many beautiful sunny days working in the garden, I was ready for some rain. The robins were happy. They were all over the garden looking for worms. The plants look happy too. The plant growing in my new pet stone seems to have loved the rain. I didn't think it could be a wall stone, but Ed made a nice place for it in the top of the shade garden wall. I also got my first bug bite of the season that gave me enough of a reaction to send me looking for the Benedril.

The bulbs are responding to the rain. This giant glory of the snow was hardly visible two days ago, and it will bloom soon if the weather holds. The bluebird houses that can be seen out the kitchen window had their first bluebird visitors this morning. He perched on the box on the left, and she perched on the box on the right. I hope they get it all worked out before the tree swallows arrive. Their appearance is just 4 days earlier than last year. There were other spring sightings while we were out this morning. We saw a blue heron, the river is high and running brown,and we had to drive 5 miles an hour behind not one, but two manure spreaders. Starlings, cowbirds, tricolor blackbirds have all made their first visit here. The garden is coming alive!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Ed's Toyota Moment

Ed has been working on his ramp and things have been going beautifully. The wall had reached what seemed to be the perfect height. Everything was straight and true, the way Ed likes his stone walls. The time had come to check the height with the Ranger since the purpose of this ramp is to make it easy to drive the John Deere, or push a wheelbarrow load of stone, into the bed of the truck. It looks great doesn't it?

The height was in fact perfect, the fit tight. What an incredible feat of engineering. What could possibly be Ed's secret?

I was standing on the porch watching Ed carefully line up his truck, and back slowly toward the ramp. I admit I didn't know what was happening when I heard the squeal of spinning tires, and clouds black smoke appeared. After all the truck wasn't moving at all as far as I could see. I didn't know Ed was having a Toyota moment. He thought he had placed his foot on the brake to stop when it was on the accelerator instead. Not wishing to damage his wall he pushed harder on the pedal. The effect of this was to push on his wall with all the force the Ranger could muster. The tires spun marks in the dirt.

Now Ed's beautifully vertical wall has an indentation in it. Of course it matched the trailer hitch on his truck perfectly. I can't actually tell which upset Ed more, his Toyota moment, or the fact that some of his wall moved.

Some say we get wise as we age. Sometimes I think we just get very lucky. This was definitely one of those lucky times.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Happy Snowdrops

Today was another gorgeous day to be out in the garden. Ed spent almost the entire day outside, working on his ramp, weeding and adding soil to the shade garden. I headed out at around 11:00. With so much to do, it's hard to know where to start. It's a given that these beautiful days will end soon, and we will be back to cold, even snow. March has been kind to us so far, but it not likely to last. Where does one begin? With so much to do it really doesn't matter, so I just started. I did some weeding, picked up debris and cut off some spent flower stalks. The reality is that with a garden this size, and just the two of us to tend it, we just have to work at whatever seems right.

Late this afternoon Ed and I walked over to the memorial stone bench that Ed built for my parents. It's some distance from the house, and much of the path is shaded by the hill. The ground beneath our feet was still frozen hard. But the path turns and when we made our way to the bench, we were rewarded with the sight of this big clump of blooming snow drops. The plants are obviously happy where they are planted. They have had nearly an undisturbed decade to establish themselves. The snowdrops in the garden are just beginning to open.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Wall Stone Gathering, My Way

Whenever Ed is working on a stone project, he always needs more wall stones. Stones are our most prolific crop here. This time he decided to get his stones from the fence line along the very back edge of the property. This required a rather exciting drive up the steep part of the lane. Completely shaded, the lane was still frozen, but almost free of snow. With 4 wheel drive we made it with no problem, my white knuckles notwithstanding. Ed began loading wall stones into the back of the truck.

I had the camera so I wandered around a bit to see what I could find. The buds on the red maple trees are getting fat. A little more warm weather and they will be open.

I spied this fungus growing on a dead hemlock just a little distance into the woods. I carefully made my way close enough to get a picture. I have no idea what kind it is, but I was certainly intrigued by its dark red color and shiny appearance. It is my habit to leave mushrooms and other fungi alone so I didn't touch it. I don't know if it is hard or soft.

As is frequently the case when on a stone gathering expedition, I found a stone that I just had to take back to the garden. In no way is this one a wall stone, but I was simply fascinated with the plant growing out of this rock. I'll find a place to put this stone where it can be seen. What's one more pet rock. They are so easy to take care of!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A Perfect Day

The first order of business for expanding the garden is to have a way to get rid of the unwanted stone. A John Deere lawn tractor and trailer had been the tools of choice. When its transmission failed, the John Deere repairman told me that the trailer was really intended to haul only lawn clippings. I failed to ask if the lawn clippings had to be dried before the lawn tractor could handle them. It was apparent to me that I needed a better tool to move the waste stone. The stone is being used to fill the erosion ruts in the farm lane a great distance from the garden. Me pushing the wheelbarrow that distance was never possible. Ford Ranger to the rescue. It will move the stone but I needed an easy way to load the stone into the truck. The stone ramp is nearly high enough after one day's work. A few more stones and some fill and I will be able to push a wheelbarrow load of stone into the truck bed. John Deere can rest in the shed.

Today was a perfect day. Overnight frost left the ground crusty and the grass white. Crystal clear skies and the strengthening sun had the temperature in the 60's by 10am. The air was filled with the sounds of geese but I could not see them. Many times my work was halted by a futile attempt to find the honking geese. Becky quickly found the huge groups of geese. They were flying very high. It is hard to believe that their calls carried all the way to the ground. The geese were a morning event. We worked outside all afternoon but heard no geese after lunch.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Seeds To Soil

I may be rushing the season but today I planted seeds. Peppermint stick zinnias and China asters were among the seeds chosen. Flowers have always been an after thought here, but this year we will try to start some of our own flowers from seed. Annual asters are our choice to fill in the early bulb beds. Our favorite asters are available at a local nursery but only in large potted groups. We need single plants. The nursery man showed little interest in raising single plants so we will try to do it ourselves. As in all things timing is everything. If we started too early, we will transplant twice, and spend a month moving the plants outside on good days. If we started too late we will wait for flowers.

A dahlia spent the winter in a galvanized covered can in the basement. Two sections were carefully removed from the large root mass and planted in the pots in the foreground. This is a new experience for us. We will report our success or lack thereof. Light for the dahlias will have to come from the window. At worst we may have made more compost.

Becky snapped the picture while I was working a section of 2" by 4" welded wire. More cages are needed to protect the emerging spring bulbs. Rabbit damage has already occurred. The two cages built today are in place protecting the tender green tips of dwarf iris and crocus. More cages are needed. A record of what was planted where would be helpful. The cages could have been placed when the bulbs were planted. Now the only choice is to look for the tips then place a cage, hopefully ahead of the rabbit. We will likely never learn to follow the easy path.

Nipped Off !

I was going to wait to change the header until we had a nice sunny day. Not knowing when that will be, I decided it was better to make the snow disappear. All around the garden spring bulbs are just peeking out of the dirt. Some already had cages over them last fall. Now we are trying to get cages around the ones we missed. Unfortunately rabbits are quick. It's maddening to see so much promise nipped, not in the bud, but even before that.

The cheeky little buggers even leave their calling card. There's nothing like early spring gardening to get your blood flowing, and in this case raise your blood pressure a bit as well.

Yesterday's attempt to save the dog tooth violet bulbs was less than completely successful. The cage is in place but there is new digging inside of the cage. Perhaps we owe the skunk an apology for falsely accusing it of pirating our new bulbs. The pesky red squirrel moves to the top of the suspect list. Our red squirrel is the most wary of creatures. It is on its way before I can fully open the basement door. How to stop it is a total mystery to me. Our only hope lies with the fox or maybe a circling hawk.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Stone Wall Garden 2010, A Beginning

Although the day was overcast, it was simply impossible not to venture out into the garden. Many places are still covered in snow, but the garden is beginning to emerge from it's covering of white. With geese flying North overhead and the sound of birds all around, we walked the garden paths checking up on the garden. Ed put cages over emerging bulbs hoping to foil the rabbits and deer.He refilled a hole in the shade garden bed dug by some critter. We suspect a skunk. He put a cage over the area, and we can only hope that some of the dog tooth violets are still there. Time will tell about that. The bluebird boxes needed some mending so Ed took care of that. One box is missing. Perhaps it will be found somewhere under a patch of snow.

I must admit I spent most of my time just looking around. Most of the beds are wet and the ground is still frozen. I did cut off some dead plant stalks, and pulled a couple of weeds in the bed directly in front of the house.The ground there has thawed. One was a mullein and the other garlic mustard.It's too bad we don't care for garlic mustard. It grows very well here. It's a very small start , but the weeding has begun. I picked stones out of the grass and put them back in the path where they belong.Every winter some stones are displaced by snow shoveling.

Ed stayed out longer than I did. He spent some time working with his compost. He takes his piles of "black gold" very seriously. The gardening season for 2010 has officially begun. Ed is sifting compost. He's back in the garden and couldn't be happier!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Sure Signs of Spring

The snow is melting in front of the house. The combination of the strong sunlight of a Southern exposure, and reflection off the white house has almost completely cleared the bed of snow. Sure enough the tips of daffodils are poking up through the dirt.

Beautiful little rose campion plants are there just waiting to be moved to a spot where they have room for their beautiful silver foliage and magenta flowers. It's too soon to move them , but is sure nice to see them.

Our seeds are already here. Ed is getting ready to start plants inside under lights. But today my first plant arrived. It's a gorgeous sunny day,but it was pretty chilly when I left the house this morning. This afternoon it was much warmer when I returned. It's a good thing too because on the porch was a Logee's box waiting for me. It was kind of a tall box for such a cute little plant, but the plant was well packed, and it looks great.I'm so glad it's here so I don't have to worry about it getting chilled. Ed is putting it in a larger pot, and it will join the indoor plants. It will be a while before I pick leaves to cook with, but I have high hopes for my new baby.

This morning I got a glimpse of two coyotes walking together along the ridge. The critters are pairing up. Maybe spring isn't here just yet, but it's coming. I can feel it!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Spring Tonic

Today is filled with hope of the season to come. New ice formed overnight when the temperature dropped well below freezing but by 10am I was comfortable outside in shirt sleeves. These plants have spent the winter in a basement window. Today they had an hour in the sun. Their basement quarters were cleaned of dead leaves and white fly residue. Their windows are open and they are back in the basement experiencing screen filtered sunlight and fresh air. If the benefit to the plants approaches the lift I experienced from the warm sunlight and fresh air, then they are well on their way to surviving until they can be planted outside.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

A Walk In The Snow

Today was a beautiful sunny day. It was perfect for a walk in the snow. Ed and Amy hiked to the back. Amy took the camera. I watched from the window as they disappeared over the ridge. When they returned they had pictures to share. It's amazing to see the effect the plants have on the texture of the slowly melting snow.The freeze thaw cycle leaves glinting crystals of ice and all kinds of interesting holes.

Deer have been digging in the back meadow to get down to the grass. Nine deer were spotted running off with their white tails in the air. The brown grass doesn't look very appetizing, but they are hungry. The scat they leave behind is dry and very similar to rabbit's.

Interesting shapes are left where the deer have been digging in the snow.

This intriguing hole in the snow with its sharp edges at the icy surface is my favorite picture. It was a lovely March day for a father and daughter to spend some time together enjoying the fresh air and sunshine. Soon when the snow is gone and the footing is more secure, I will go along.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Lemon Verbena, The Annual

Lemon verbena, Aloysia triphylla, is actually a tender perennial in zones 8 to 10. However some great herb nurseries sell it as an annual. In zone 4 where I live, I should go with that. Wintering over this plant indoors is tricky, but some years I get away with it. This may not be one of those years. When over wintering is sucessful I get to have large, luscious, fragrant, flowering lemon verbena plants in the garden. I have all the leaves I could want to use in cooking, or for tea. Why just weeding around these plants is a delightful experience. I really fail to understand why everyone in warmer zones doesn't have one of these magnificent plants in their garden. The plant you see here has been taken out to the compost. As far as I can tell it is dead. It would be great if that were the only problem. A new plant can easily fix that.

The two other lemon verbenas are not yet dead. They cling to life, but as you can see this lady bug is not going hungry. Lemon verbenas attract white flies like no yellow sticky trap ever could. If I were smart, I would probably compost these plants too. Instead of that I'll try putting the plants outside during the day when it's above freezing, meanwhile the area they inhabit will have to be thoroughly cleaned. Will I learn from this, and grow lemon verbena as a annual from now on? No,I'm more stubborn than that and for me the rewards outweigh the risks.

Finding lemon verbena plants locally has become a problem. Several visitors to our garden now plant it themselves. The one nursery that does stock this plant is frequently sold out. Last year we mail ordered our lemon verbenas from Richters. All of their plants were excellent and we have reordered from them again this year.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Spring's Not Going To Happen

Springs not going to happen, not for my rosemary plants anyway. They were looking unwell and got moved downstairs because of it. This winter the plants in the basement had it tougher than usual, not because of the weather, but because of my knee, my access to the basement has been limited. Infrequent watering became nearly total neglect.

Both of these plants look dead. Looks do not deceive. Twigs snap right off. If the plant was still alive they should bend. No decision is required for these plants, tomorrow the rosemarys will be taken out to the compost. Their replacements have already been ordered. Nice new healthy plants instead of dead ones is definitely the way to go.