Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The End Of August In The Garden

All summer the hollyhock flowers have been climbing toward the sky. They work their way up the stalk, leaving ripening seeds as they go. The hummingbird still visits these flowers, but I think it's safe to say they are the last hollyhock flowers for this year.

I had to get a picture of this Rudebeckia triloba with its perfectly matching bug. I'm not familiar with the bug but I assume he is always yellow and brown. He certainly looks perfect here. Rudebeckia triloba puts on a fabulous display this time of year. It almost makes me forget what a prolific self seeder it is. This spring I was thinking of removing it from the garden completely. I weeded out many plants, but I didn't get them all. Now the way they glow in the evening light makes me rethink my postion. One thing sure I will cut them back this year to try to keep them down to reasonable numbers.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Late August In The Garden

It's now late in August. That is crunch time for some plants that I love, but which really aren't that happy in zone 4. This year the purple angelica is putting on a terrific display. It's making up for the other times when it got nipped in the bud. I'm still waiting for the moonflowers and the tuberose. Trying to grow these plants here is a little like buying a gardening lottery ticket, but I'm still hopeful. This year for the very first time , the tuberose has sent up stems. Can flowers be far behind? Perhaps this is the year that I get to inhale that famous fragrance.

Lots of things in the garden are winding down and going to seed. I thought that this humming bird moth was dead. He let me get so close with the camera . As it turned out he was still alive and flew away, but obviously for him summer is coming to an end. Meanwhile the fresh tomatoes, squash , basil... are ours to enjoy while thay last!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Rainy Day Cheer

We have been getting steady , sometimes heavy rain for a couple of days. The garden loves the water, but it changes our outdoor activity. This morning we watched as a the usual parade wandered by the garden. First the doe and her fawn came by and disappeared up Ed's path to the high meadow. It's been fun to watch that fawn grow bigger and braver. He wandeers away from mom more and more.

The family of turkeys spend a lot of time working the grass around the garden. Still two hens and 3 babies, the little family group seems to have settled in right in this area. It was especially interesting to watch when the doe and fawn returned to the lawn while the turkeys were still there. They didn't seem to be intimidated by each other, but at the same time it seemed like the party had become too crowded. First the deer left our sight and soon the turkeys were gone too.

The sunflower and bee picture is a couple of days old, taken before the rains came. Bees are fair weather pollinators. These two really have those pollen bags packed. Today the weather could go either way. The cloud cover is thick. I don't see the patch of blue sky big enough to make a pair of trousers that my grandmother said was necessary for the weather to clear. Either outcome will be good for the garden and there is plenty for us to do as well.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Night Deposit

We are well aware that we are not alone here at Stone Wall Garden. Having squared off with a surprised skunk and heard the calls of the coyotes, we tend to be inside when darkness falls. Hornets are another matter. Leaving them alone is a good choice if their home is at some distance from the garden or the house. If they are close to garden traffic, using a spray that is also toxic to me seems dumb. Fortunately we have help.

This freshly dug hole is a bit of a puzzle. No disturbed soil was found near the hole. Skunks digging for grubs usually leave a smaller hole and soil scattered around the hole. Some ground dwelling bees or hornets may have lived here. Skunks eat both the bee larvae and any stored honey leaving little behind. Since we mow here we were pleased to find the stinging insects gone.

A peculiar gait is needed to safely traverse our old pastures. When the foot is placed, one must be sure that the footing is solid before full weight is thrown on that step. Holes or the edges of buried stones can throw the unwary to the ground. A downward gaze can help one avoid stepping on snakes or other unfortunate items. This dropping was between the garden and the compost bin, and I was fortunate to see it rather than step in it. Grub hunting has been productive as we have many holes in the lawn and many night deposits.

Cardinal Flower

Lobelia cardinalis is described as a short lived perennial. We have nearly lost it more than once. How a plant that freely seeds, forms daughter plants and layers can be so hard to keep alive is a puzzle. The seeds must be tasty to some critter since the new seedlings are few in number compared to the millions of seeds we allow to drop. Each spring the rosette of daughter plants heave and freeze after frosty nights turn their bright green new leaves into grey mush. This year we have Cardinal flower in eight different places in the garden. Some have actually been pulled as weeds. Winter's lasting snow cover helped save many plants ,but that condition is uncertain.

These four Cardinal flowers were placed in 4" X 4" X 5" pots very early this spring. The rosettes of daughter plants were separated just as soon as the soil could be worked. Basement protection was given to these plants when cold freezing nights threatened. All of these potted plants grew well after being planted out when the weather stabilized. Similar plants set immediately in the garden did not all survive. Freezing and heaving killed many of those transplants.

A coarse mulch of tall phlox stems applied after the ground was frozen protected several other plants. Mulch for Cardinal flowers is tricky. If the mulch is too fine or applied early rot is the result. I did not expect much from the open airy stem mulch but it worked well.

The structure of each flower is as unusual as the color is bright. Three downward pointing lobes and two erect lobes are joined by a fused stamen that is tipped in white. Humming birds own these flowers here. More correctly, one humming bird owns these flowers. Aerial combat follows the approach of a second bird. Occasionally flying below the wall allows the second hummer to feed on the nectar unnoticed by bird one. For us the combination of the color of the flowers and the antics of the birds, keep us on the bench for considerable stretches of time. There is much to recommend this short lived perennial.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Galvanized Gardener

Much of what we plant needs to be protected from the natives that live here tax free. 2" X 4" galvanized wire is the barrier of choice. Smaller areas get a wire cage that easily lifts off when we need to work among the plants. Here an inverted cage provides a marked grid if all of the plants need to be evenly spaced in parallel rows. Mel Bartholomew's square foot system was an obvious influence when we planned our garden.

Tomatoes are finally starting to ripen but our fourth planting of lettuce is past. The hot July and August days quickly pushed it to seed. Many of those plants never supplied a leaf to be eaten. BLT sandwiches without our own lettuce now seems the only choice. These lettuce seedlings were started in the basement where the soil temperature remains a cool 65 degrees. We will watch this planting closely likely taking leaves a little early.

A shade cover will protect the new transplants from the hot sun. If the days stay warm, we will leave the cover in place to give the lettuce a little cool shade. The plants have been watered and covered so now we wait. One final note a baby rabbit can slide thru that wire like it wasn't there. Our protection is only partial.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Just Try To Take My Picture!

When out in the garden with the camera, I am drawn to the cardinal flower and the closed gentian. The deep red and interesting shape of the cardinal flower begs to be photographed. The bizarre cone-shaped flower of the closed gentian has a fascination that no other plant can match.

Of course with the closed gentian there is the tantalizing idea that I might catch a bumblebee pollinating a flower. I was just a bit late with this shot. The bumblebee was up and out before I could snap the picture. I have gotten it right in the past(click here) but not this time. While I was concentrating on the bumblebee, I heard a familiar buzzing . Hovering just to my left over the stone path was a hummingbird. Time seemed to stand still while the bird looked me in the eye. It felt like she was daring me to take her picture. This is unusual behavior. Usually these tiny birds take off like a rocket whenever I get close. Either a female or a juvenile bird, this one seemed to welcome a chase. I took the challenge and spent several minutes almost but not quite getting a picture of the speedy hummingbird. It would let me get close and then increase the distance like a game of keep away.

It was when the tiny bird perched on the cage around the closed gentian that success was mine. It's not the same as getting a picture of a hummingbird flying, but it's a start.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Fly Turkey Fly !

These two turkey hens and their three babies have been hanging around the garden for a couple of weeks. Every morning we see them somewhere, usually just a little too far away from the house to get a picture. This morning they were right outside the kitchen door. I took this picture through the window of the door and the storm door. I suspect they were heading for the newly sifted dirt. They love a good dust bath. Wanting a better picture I stepped out onto the porch.

All but one of the birds took off and flew to the trees at the base of the gravel bank hill. The unflappable hen simply ran all the way to the trees. Later I could hear the birds call to each other. I'm quite sure the family got back together.

Most of the time the turkeys are wary and run for the high grass before a threat gets close. This time I surprised them and they flew. It's quite a thrill being near a turkey when it takes to the air. It takes a lot to get a bird that big into the air. I was especially pleased to see that the babies could fly. Their chances for survival are much greater if they can fly up to a roost in the trees rather than spend the night on the ground.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A Morning Of Garden Fun!

Ed was out in the garden early this morning. He had to be. For several days he has been digging to remove the dirt over the septic tank so that it could be pumped. Leave it to Ed to turn something that "sucks" into garden fun for him. The man loves to dig and to sift dirt. Once the tank was pumped and the truck was gone, Ed's fun began. It was time to bury the tank. First the stones are being sifted out of the dirt before it is returned to the hole.

These stones are trundled down the driveway in the wheelbarrow and used to repair the latest storm damage to the driveway. Ed really has fun working on the driveway trying to get water to go his way!

While snapping pictures, I had some fun myself catching these two monarch butterflies on a wild cucumber vine. They were having their own kind of fun. I specialize in pictures of plants and stones because they don't usually move much. This was a lucky shot. It's interesting to see how this wild cucumber has killed the elderberry bush that supports it. Plants really do kill each other sometimes.

Farther up the hill a ruffled grouse ran across the driveway in front of me. It was too fast for a picture, but fun to see . Not bothering to fly he just ran into the tall grass and disappeared.

The septic tank hole is typical of holes dug here. The top layer is sod followed by a layer of stones with a little bit of fairly good soil. Digging here takes special talent and experience. Ed is a pro. Already he has replaced some of the dirt in the hole. It has been sifted to make digging easier next time, but what do we always do with an area of sifted dirt? We add it to the garden of course. While Ed finishes this project we will have time to ponder. What exactly should be planted over the septic tank? Most people plant grass. We never plant grass. I think some kind of annual would be best. If a great idea fails to come, a cover crop of buckwheat will hold the spot until inspiration strikes. Hmmm... What about petunias? No that's too obvious!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

August 15: Bloom List

Gray Headed Coneflower, Ratibida pinnata

This is a new plant this year and blooming for the first time here . I'm delighted with its color and shape!

Blue vervain, Verbena hastata

This wild plant had made a nice addition to the garden. Tiny blue petals cover the ground beneath the plant like blue snow. I'll have to cut this one back soon or I'll have it everywhere!

Fragrant Gladiolius, Acidanthera bicolor

I've tried these gorgeous fragrant flowers before. Most of the time frost came before the flowers ever got a chance to bloom. This year Ed started the plants in pots. They were part of the in and out gang, then planted outside when the weather warmed. They are delightful and well worth his special treatment.

August 15,2010, Bloom list: Ingeborg's mallow, purple cone flower, morning glory, lemon finger bowl geranium, coral bells, meadow sage, evening scented stock, Gallardia, Johnny jump ups, Nicotiana, Stella D'oro lily, catchfly, Peppermint stick zinnia, "Pretty Belinda" yarrow, snapdragon, heliotrope, pink poppies, sweet peas, "Who Dun It" Dahlia, Aclepsis tuberosa, Art's Pride cone flower, anise hyssop, gloriosa daisy, cosmos, red and pink bee balm, catnip, hollyhock, cinnamon basil, fennel, black eyed Susan, yellow jewelweed, golden glows, trumpet vine, Simplon lily, cardinal flower, white and pink summer sweet, evening primrose, scarlet runner beans, white and pink phlox, Fiona Coggill shasta daisy, balloon flower, A. azurium, "Stardust" crysanthemum, butterfly bush,white and red hibiscus, sweet sultan, tomatoes, lettuce, winter savory, spearmint, peppermint, yard long beans, sparkler allium, blue vervain, plume poppy, brahmi, Russian sage, white coneflower, "Baby Joe" pye-weed, New England aster, white lily, lemon balm, C. superbum, rose of Sharon, lavender delphinium, Angelica gigas, nasturtiums, spiderwort, Dianthus, rose geranium, perennial flax, fragrant gladiolus, "Cherry Brandy" Rudbeckia, Pyrethrum daisy, pennyroyal, white and purple closed gentian, "Clara Curtis" chrysanthemum, grey headed coneflower, meadow sage, everbearing strawberries, feverfew

Flowers still in bud are not listed, at least one open flower is needed to make the list. We hope these lists will help us become more aware of when things bloom, so we might plan the garden better. Flowers that were missing from the list and are back are putting out a second round of blooms. Some of them are kind of a feeble attempt compared to their first effort but I say "Go for it"!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

A Chance To Bloom

Most years my lettuce plants don't get a chance to bloom. This year they have bolted quickly in the heat, and this bed has gone to flower. I think they have the look of a wildflower meadow. Until the space is needed, I will let the lettuce plants bloom. At this point for me,they look more like an ornamental than a vegetable.

I'm a bit excited at the prospect of this plant blooming. This picture was taken yesterday. It really looks like it has potential!

That's a lot of progress in just one day. Things look good for my purple angelica to bloom this year. I'm a sucker for its big purple balls. Last year the plant had only leaves. This spring's frost was unkind, but it looks like we're in for a giant comeback. Late season bloomers can be a disappointment, but when they make it the thrill is fantastic!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Closed Gentian Plays Hard to Get

I love my closed gentian plant. The way the pollinators have to force their way into the flowers is amazing to me. When I purchased this plant, I got two plants in my pot. The white one which is blooming now and purple seen in the background. The purple always blooms later than the white. Its leaves are a slightly darker green.

Up until now I have been unwilling to try to divide these two plants. I have promised myself , however that come spring I will ask Ed to divide these plants. They each deserve a place of their own. If the worst should happen and they don't make it, I will replace them. Watching the bumblebees struggle to get inside those flowers like a lady putting on a too tight girdle, it too big a treat to miss!

Friday, August 6, 2010

If You Could Bloom Just One Day Or Less...

Would you go flamboyant ? This hibiscus puts it out there for everyone to see with its huge red , wide open, blossom. That's a lot of flower for just one day!

Maybe elegance would be nice. The fragile blue blossom atop delicate foliage of this perennial flax is so lovely. Sometimes it coyly drops its petals in less than a day.

Perhaps you might glow with a light from within like "Grandpa Ott" morning glory. This purple blossom with a red star that seems to have a light source all its own is a sure attention getter.

Today these blooms had their one chance for pollination. They made the best of it. Tomorrow other blossoms will take their place. In the garden and in life, when it's your chance to bloom , go for it in the style that suits you best!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Lost Then Found

When we quickly left our village home eleven years ago, any number of issues had to be dealt with. Finding a new home for our plants was among our problems. What to do with the groundnut, Apios americana was a puzzle. It's rampant growth all over our old garden meant that it could not be planted in the new garden. A treasured garden friend had given us the plant so we had to keep it. I scratched a planting hole along the fence line far from the garden. A few tubers were planted and forgotten in the bustle of the move.

For several springs I looked in vain for a sign of the groundnut. Finding nothing they were given up for lost. Today, in search of blackberries, I spotted brownish maroon blossoms mixed in with berries and goldenrod. Not only had the groundnut survived, it was climbing and killing berry canes. Flowers were visible far into the neighbor's land.

Plans are developing to move the groundnut to a brush pile near the pond. Wild growth should result if generous moisture is available. Perhaps the deer will eat some groundnut keeping it in check. Groundnut fragrance is sweetly overpowering but outside I like it. We have eaten the tubers but have no recollection of taste nor the trouble to prepare. For today, we have found a lost plant and fondly remembered an old friend.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Ewww... Rodents In The Garden

It's always a challenge to get the green beans picked. We enjoy eating green beans but neither Ed nor I like picking them. The other thing is that the beans are best picked when dry. Lately mornings have been too wet afternoons too darn hot, and so we put it off. I was worried about the beans being too big. Little did I know that lurking beneath the lovely green canopy of bean leaves, the big beans were being picked. They were being stored and used to form a ceiling for a nest of brown furry rodents.

We don't use chemicals here. I am used to eating basil with insect holes in the leaves, and trimming away the part of strawberries that have been eaten by birds or ants. I just wash whatever I bring in from the garden. I consider myself to be pretty much critter friendly. But the idea of eating beans that have beeen chewed on by a rodent, a country cousin to a rat, a vermin, takes me way outside my comfort zone. I've seen these furry brown creatures with their beady eyes and rat like tail. They cross the garden path in a flash and disappear among the plants. I think my EEEKs can be heard for miles.

After some discussion, Ed pulled the bean plants and discarded any beans with rodent chomps. The rest of the beans were well washed, and processed for the freezer. The bean plants have been pulled. This comfortable rodent abode has been razed.

That's not the end of it of course. Now that green bean season has come to an abrupt end, the cursed furry creatures will be lurking elsewhere in the garden. The hot weather has not been good for the beets. As you can see beets are also on the rodent menu. I know my limits. These beets will be left for the brown vermin. I don't like eating the leftovers of rodents. I will concede and leave the beets hoping it will keep the nasty little critters out of the rest of the garden. I think I'll remove the cage, and give predators a better shot at catching these unwelcome beet eating rodents.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Coupled Flight

On occasion I have seen two butterflies flying as one.  Hard frequent wing beats by the upper butterfly keeps the pair aloft.  Questions concerning the identity of these insects have crossed my mind.  A casual observer may miss salient details.   I could not be certain of any detail beyond orange color.  Today an opportunity for detailed observation presented itself.  I watched as a pair of coupled butterflies flew toward me then turned and flew away.  Positive identification that the pair were indeed Monarchs was made.

The pair landed in the top of a nearby milkweed plant.  A stealthy approach left me seated in the grass near the pair.  The upper butterfly had her wings closed above her body with the nearly invisible male held between her wings.  Abdomen tips seemed to be touching but I an uncertain about which way the male was facing.  Reason would suggest that their heads were also aligned.  Uncomfortable with my presence, the pair flew away.

The transition from perched to flight sent the male falling under the female where he hung motionless like the centerboard on a sailboat.  A rather long flight, in buffeting wind gusts, took the pair up to the top of a red maple tree away from prying eyes.   I did not see them again.

I have read that the actual passing of the seed packet requires several hours and happens on the ground.  Additionally, the male is described as sometimes capturing a female in flight with the coupled pair tumbling to the ground.  Today I saw two lengthy controlled flights of a joined pair.  I saw the perched pair take to the air.  I am having trouble squaring what I saw with what I have read.   Today the necessary hours may well have been passed in the top of a tree.

Becky sat in the grass in the middle of my controlled milkweed patch hoping for a Monarch picture.  I mow this area repeatedly until mid July, then the milkweed is allowed to grow.   It quickly flowers on short stalks and tender young leaves are available for the newly hatched eggs.  This caterpillar was caught feeding on the late unopened flower buds.

For the past two summers we have seen few Monarch butterflies here.  They occurred in numbers only during migration.  We are located near a wide bend in a south flowing river.   The straight line path down river passes directly over us providing excellent views of birds, airplanes and butterflies.  This year Monarchs here are numerous.   Winter in Mexico must have been mild.   For our part we have acres of milkweed.   This year the Monarchs came in numbers.

Monday, August 2, 2010

An Extremely Welcome Weeder

Ed and I love to spend time weeding in the garden. It's just that we seem to be getting older with every gardening season that goes by, and the garden only seems to grow. It was a delight to have a welcome garden visitor weed the woolly thyme on the patio. I have to say thanks so much! Come back anytime.

I wonder how I could get this to catch on? What kind of incentive would be necessary to have willing weeders lined up to do my bidding in the garden? Payment in pink poppy seed probably wouldn't do it. Ed and I will continue working on the weeds. They are easier to find when they are big anyway!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

August 1 : Bloom List

Bacopa monneri, Brahmi

Impatiens pallida, yellow jewelweed

August 1,2010, Bloom list: Ingeborg's mallow, purple cone flower, morning glory, lemon finger bowl geranium,coral bells, meadow sage,evening scented stock, Gallardia,Johnny jump ups,Nicotiana, Stella D'oro lily, rose campion, catchfly, Peppermint stick zinnia, Anchusa, "Pretty Belinda" yarrow, snapdragon, heliotrope, pink poppies, sweet peas, Susan's day lily,"Who Dun It" Dahlia, hens and chicks,(last flower) Aclepsis tuberosa, sea holly, yellow sedum, Aclepsis curveceps, Art's Pride cone flower, anise hyssop, gloriosa daisy, cosmos, red and pink bee balm, catnip, hollyhock, green beans, milkweed, cinnamon basil, "Mardi Gras" Helenium, fennel, black eyed Susan,yellow jewelweed, golgen glows, trumpet vine, white and pink mallow, Simplon lily, cardinal flower, white summer sweet, mullein, evening primrose, scarlet runner beans, dill, white and pink phlox, society garlic, Fiona Coggill shasta daisy, balloon flower A. azurium,stardust crysthemum, butterfly bush, hibiscus,Crocosmia, sweet sultan, tomatoes, lettuce, winter savory, spearmint, peppermint, yard long beans, sparkler allium, lemon verbena, buckwheat, blue vervain, plume poppy, brahmi

Flowers still in bud are not listed, at least one open flower is needed to make the list. We hope these lists will help us become more aware of when things bloom, so we might plan the garden better.