Monday, November 29, 2010

Stopped Cold?

Ed has been working feverishly to finish the new stair less entry to the house, but the cold weather has been closing in a little more with each passing day.  Fortunately the digging part of the project is finished. Now the ground stays frozen hard except for places where the ground slopes to the south. Just a few more sunny days should give him the chance to finish this job.


But it looks like this walkway will be waiting for a spring thaw before it gets any longer. It is, after all, the end of November. We have been lucky to get this far.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Beautiful Bluets

Now that typical November weather has arrived at the Stonewall Garden, finding a flower in bloom is an exciting event. The bluets have been blooming ever since they were transplanted here in the beginning of May. Most of the flowers have been blue with yellow centers, but some have been white with a yellow center like this one. Anything that will flower here for seven months deserves some attention. It caused me to surround myself with wildflower books to read more about these tiny gems.

In my treasured 1897 copy of How to know the Wildflowers, by Mrs. William Starr
Dana, I learned that bluets are dimorphous. Some flowers have long pistols and short stamens and some have long stamens and short pistols. Both kinds are needed for pollination to occur. Ed remembered this, so when he saw blue flowers and white flowers, he made sure to bring home some of each.

In Growing and Propagating Wildflowers,  by William Cullina, I discovered that the color variation could mean that both Houstonia caerulea and Houstonia longifolia might be planted here in my shade garden.


Whichever they are, these little mounds of green leaves seem to be doing very well. I will look forward to their cheery little flowers early in May. Perhaps they will bloom all summer again next year. I just hope they  become well established here.

In the past I've tried buying bluets without  success. These plants from a friend definitely seem to be the answer. We will know more in the spring.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Thanksgiving Can Be For The Birds!

Ed and I stood in the store and had quite the lengthy discussion this year about whether or not we would feed the birds. I don't think it was the cost of the seed that was the issue, although that is something to consider. Birds can be very messy eaters leaving seed on the ground that draws critters.  When a gardener puts out feed for the birds, they also feed red squirrels and  gray ones. The little brown furry rodents that scurry around and make me squeal get their share as well. Bird feeders also attract  predators like  hawks, and the fox. But I think it was the missing purple dogtooth violet bulbs that was the big issue. In the end we came home from the store with mixed seed, sunflower seed and suet cakes. The sunflower seed feeder, a present from Amy, is placed in a garden bed so that it can be easily seen from the living room window.

Ed searched the basement  for some time for the suet feeder. Finally he discovered it hanging in plain sight out in the locust tree in the middle of the shade garden. It had been there all summer. Nuthatches, chickadees and woodpeckers are drawn to the suet. Woodpeckers also spend time drilling holes in the tree, making us wonder if that is a problem.  We decided that the enjoyment of watching the birds in the winter garden outweighs any possible damage they might do to the tree. Now we just have to wait for the birds to discover the free eats. So far I've seen one nuthatch and a bluejay. Yesterday there was also a hawk sitting in a tree intently watching for new bird arrivals. Happy Thanksgiving to all my garden friends. They won this one.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Our First Snow Day

Up until now we have had frosty mornings with cold clear nights. Today snow flakes were falling, and the ground was cold enough for the snow to stick. Later in the day things warmed up enough for the snow to be gone, but the time between  when the ground thaws in the late morning and when early darkness brings the return of the cold is getting very short indeed. Ed continues digging while he can, but his window of opportunity is closing fast. It's past the middle of November. We have been so  lucky, but still hope for just a little more time.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

November In The Garden

In November, when you have outside work you want to do, the first morning light reveals how your day will progress. If the night has been clear and cold you are greeted with a beautiful, but frosty morning.  It means that after the sun comes up things will warm enough to work outside in the middle of the day. If you go out too early the ground will be frozen. Digging will require breaking through the dirt's frozen crust . Later on, the sun will warm whatever it touches. For a few hours if you are dressed properly, it's great to be out there.
Last night was warmer and with hard rain during the night the garden has a very different look. Today looks like it might be a great day to work outside if the rain has finished, but everything is wet.

Now is the time to harvest the kale. The cold nights actually improve the flavor of these ruffled green leaves. My favorite Portuguese kale soup hits the spot in this weather. You just have to wait until the leaves are completely thawed before you pick them.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Gone To Seed

Blue sky days this time of year mean cold nights, even into the teens, but for a short time in the middle of the day, it is gorgeous in the garden. Most of the pink poppy seeds are gone. Even the few seed  heads that remain are probably empty.

The meadow is filled with fuzzy goldenrod seed heads. From a distance they look a dull brown, a perfect hiding place for the deer. Close up, against the blue sky, I find them quite beautiful.

The bed of Gloriosa Daisies is loaded with seed heads.

This red sumac will be an attraction for the birds all winter .

In the late evenng , seeds dance in the sunlight. It's is an amazing sight. If only my camera would capture the golden color of the light, and the way the light glints off the seeds that float before my eyes.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

24 Cubic Yards In 24 Hours

Passable driveway has replaced the mounds of gravel that were dumped here yesterday. Wheelbarrow and shovel were used to move the side of the pile so that the tractor could pick away at the edge. It soon became apparent that more gravel was in the pile than could be spread here. That gravel was needed up hill and the tool that could move it was again the wheelbarrow. As the picture shows both machines are still working.

Our car had spent the night at the base of the hill since the driveway was blocked. We expected that it might be stranded there for several days. Here is its return the very next day.

Don, the man wearing the cap, is the proud owner of the tractor. He was not certain that his machine would be able to handle the size of our job. By pushing small amounts of gravel at a time, the task was completed without once getting the tractor stuck. Ed was the shovel man on this day. By lifting small amounts of gravel at a time, the task was completed without once getting chest pain.

Slow and steady wins the race. The improbable is possible. Both workers will go to bed tonight tired, but happy, having acomplished so much on this gorgeous fall day.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Gravel Happens!

All Ed wanted to do was put a ramp on the kitchen entrance to the house.  Then while digging, he discovered that the line from the house to the septic tank had been broken ever since it was installed. That added to an already large undertaking. He has been digging, removing stones, and refilling holes for some time now. As a result of this work, he had stones that would not be used to cover the sewer line. He used them to make a place to park his red truck. He decided to have some fine gravel delivered to cover his truck pad, and to use to fill the remaining hole over the septic pipe.  The young trucker, filling in for our usual highly skilled teamster, seemed not up to the task. I watched as he backed over the pile of gravel with one set of wheels spinning.  A smooth rolling dump became a truck trapping heap. Finally the  rear wheels met the grass and the truck spun free. Ed should have called the job finished with one load.

But for some time Ed has wanted to spread gravel in the driveway, especially under the huge cherry tree. This smaller truck seemed like a perfect opportunity to do that,  so more gravel was ordered.  Fortunately  Ed thought to park the car at he bottom of the hill near the road so that I can get out tomorrow.

After just one afternoon, 24 yards of gravel are piled in the driveway waiting to be spread by hand. It's interesting that days and sometimes weeks go by and no one comes up our drive. As soon as it was blocked with gravel, the propane delivery truck turned into the driveway. He'll be back next week. A friend called asking if today was convenient to return a borrowed tool. I explained our situation and tomorrow he and his tractor will join Ed moving gravel. With any kind of luck I'll be able to drive up the hill to the house when I get home. It really was a cute little red dump truck and gravel happens.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Pretty Cold Garden Pictures

The all male asparagus that we purchased a decade ago from Miller nurseries  looks so beautiful. It's such a nice shade of gold with lots of red berries. Of course the berries are female fruits. Just like the Chinese discovered, the all male thing doesn't work out.

My tricolor sage is still looking beautiful. The cold we have been experiencing has not yet had its effect on all of the plants. Many of the annuals are now dead. Some perenniels are beginning to get that blackened dead look. The big difference being that the perenniels may be back next year.

I saw my friend Susan today. She said, "I'm so thrilled with the "King Of Prussia" chrysanthemums you gave me." I can only imagine the look on my face as I searched my brain for the plant she was talking about. "What do they look like ?" I asked. "They are a beautiful, pink, and blooming now." she replied. " Finally I got it. "Those are 'Emperor of China' chrysanthemums". When we finished laughing Susan said, " Well, I knew they came from royalty. Where did I get the name 'King Of Prussia.' " We agreed it was obvious, that's a town in Pennsylvania. I've got to wonder why I didn't give her a proper label with the plant. It's not like I don't have plenty of stones to write on. I plan to do better. Of course including the Latin name would be nice, but change comes in small steps.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Not Even Half Dead

Now that it is  November just one lemon verbena lives on the  south facing windowsill in the basement. Part of the plant is doing its dead stick thing, but so far most of the plant has green leaves.  Perhaps a fruit salad with lemon verbena leaves chopped in it is a possibility for Thanksgiving this year.

When the Richters' catalog arrives, 3 lemon verbenas will start off the order. If this plant makes it till warm weather , it will get a chance to spend one summer as a fragrant bush in the garden. Every winter I wonder why I deal with all this drama. Who knows maybe this is the year I will consider lemon verbena an annual.

My Horticulture magazine just came . I sat down to read it cover to cover like I usually do, and was surprised to discover that the article about lemon verbena we had submitted in July was actually in the magazine. We had given up any idea of having anything published because we included the necessary photograph using our 3.2MP camera not realizing how inadequate it was. Once we discovered the truth , we forgot all about our submission. They used Celeste Clockhard's great photograph. I have to say there's nothing quite like seeing something you have written printed in a real magazine. It is quite a thrill. 

But does make me realize how much I love my blog.
The unbridled freedom to write without limitations or deadlines, coupled with the ability to  correct mistakes even years later is wonderful. That being said, if you get a chance to look at the Dec/Jan Horticulture please don't miss our little article printed on page 70. It's a first for us!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

In Search Of Hardy Chrysanthemums

This "Emperor of China" chrysanthemum is quite remarkable. Even with nights in the twenties, heavy morning frosts and no covering at night, it continues to produce its pretty pink blooms. It seems that a hard frost is necessary before these flowers will open. Each fall we impatiently watch, hoping that these flowers will have their chance to bloom while the buds remain tightly closed. Each year, with the rest of the garden mostly brown, the "Emperor of China" chrysanthemum produces its dazzling display after the frost.

A closer look at the mostly brown garden reveals that all is not dead. These "Clara Curtis" chrysanthemums have started next year's growth. The dried stalks from this year will be cut and placed over the new growth after the ground has frozen hard. We can never decide when to cut the dead stalks. Sometimes they are cut early and set close aside to use as winter mulch. Other times they are left in place to be cut later.

Having long ago given up on the root bound cupcake mums that never winter over for us here, we search for hardy mums and plant them in the spring. Next year we hope to have these two, as well as "Mammoth pink" and "Mary Stoker" return . In the meantime the hardy mum search continues .