Friday, December 31, 2010

Goodbye to the Garden, 2010

At 7:00 AM it was  a beautiful dawn on the last day of  December, 2010. Clouds , cold, and lake effect snow flurries have been the norm this month. I think just three days got above freezing. Two of them featured rain and lots of it. The other one was today. Of course red sky in the morning... , but Ed didn't want to go sailing. He just wanted to spend some time working outside in relative comfort. As it turned out we both spent some time outside. It was sunny with blue sky for the early part of the day. It must have been pretty close to freezing, because although the snow pack did some melting, it was in the areas touched by the sunlight. By late afternoon the clouds were back and things cooled down in a hurry.

The Stone Wall Garden is such a peaceful setting. One would hardly guess that a garden could be as exciting as a roller coaster. This year we've had the high of   beautiful flowers, delicious meals of fresh produce and herbs, a small article in 'Horticulture' , and the Garden Bloggers' Convention in Buffalo. But we have also had the lows of frosted lilies, rodents in the beets, and tomato blight. It has been an eventful year and  tomorrow we begin again. 2011 brings a new garden journal and a new beginning! Best wishes for a Happy New Gardening Year! I can hardly wait!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Great Garden Gifts

I have to say I was tickled "pink" when I opened this Christmas gift from Helen. Even though the garden is covered with snow and it will be months before I can put this house in the garden, I couldn't have been more delighted. Every time I look
at this brightly colored bird house it will remind me of the dear friend who gave it to me and it will make me smile.

The new pruners were a gift from Ed. Every year, he gives me a new pair with nice sharp blades. One would think that we have scads of pruners lying about, but somehow they seem to disappear, not unlike socks in the dryer. I will put them in my garden cart in anticipation if spring.

The somewhat feminine eye protection was also a gift from Ed. He's not fooling me one bit. I know he figures I will wear these and not borrow his. He may be right. I like these so much. They have good eye coverage and look oh so cool on me!

Of all the gifts I received , Amy gave me the one that excited me most.It still does . She downloaded "Plants and Stones " on a portable disk drive. Now I can read the blog even when I can't get online . Sad to say with my Frontier dial-up service, that is becoming a very frequent occurrence. It's the price we pay for living where we do .

Monday, December 27, 2010

Almost Dead, Sort of Dead, Dead as a Doornail

With all the snow in the outside garden, my attention became focused on those plants that I have in the house. This rosemary plant is in the sort of dead category. The leaves have not yet dropped making a mess all over, but they are crisp and dried . The stems snap when broken. Ed asked me if we can save the leaves to use for cooking. I'm not sure as under normal circumstances healthy leaves are harvested from a live plant, dried and then used for cooking. Perhaps being dead first would make no difference or would it? This is not my only rosemary so the decision has been made . This sort of dead plant is headed to the compost.

That brings us to the patchouli plants. The plant on the left is almost dead. It's leaves and stems give a whole new meaning to the word limp. I could try cutting it back, but I did that with the plant on the right, and it is now in the dead as a doornail category. Keeping plants around that look like this does nothing to improve my winter mood. Time for these plants to make their trip to the compost. As far as next year goes, I will always try to winter over rosemary. I'm not sure about the patchouli. Perhaps I should say enough is enough. But I'm an optimistic gardener so probably I'll try just one more time!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Cold Caterpillar

I suppose not everyone would stop and take a picture of a frozen bilious green caterpillar, but I do that sort of thing. All sorts of questions come to my mind. What kind of caterpillar is this? It appears to be frozen, so is it alive or is it dead? I think I've read that if you are lost in the woods, caterpillars can be eaten, but one would think that applies only to some kinds. If they are frozen they are supposed to have a sweeter taste. Like that matters, I can't imagine being hungry enough to try this yucky looking specimen . With the temperature in the twenties, I quickly moved on down the path leaving this " juicy " morsel for the birds. Perhaps they will find him tasty. Bon appetit!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Very Special Winter Solstice

This year the Winter Solstice included once in a lifetime celestial events. A total  lunar eclipse with a full moon happened here tonight. Add to that the Ursids meteor shower peak and you have an incredible show. The darkness during the eclipse would have made the meteors visible.   All this on the longest night of the year. In times past people would stare in disbelief. We would have done some staring ourselves except for the fact that we had thick cloud cover. The sun couldn't break through, so what chance did the moon or meteors have. Of course a few clouds cannot diminish our excitement over the change in the path of the sun. No longer will it drop down in the southern sky. Starting tomorrow the sun will begin to climb in the sky. Tomorrow daylight will be just a littler longer. How can a cold climate gardener resist the chance to celebrate? Once winter arrives spring follows.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Almost Winter Beauty

What could be more beautiful than the sun reflecting off the snow dusted landscape? The hills, trees, wire fences, and weeds all look lovely with their frosting of white.  Minuscule snowflakes floating in the air sparkle like tiny diamonds. 

We are some distance from the Great Lakes.  Cold dry Artic air draws moisture from the still warm lakes.  That moisture becomes a unique type of fluffy snow.  Areas closer to the lakes have five feet or more of snow on the ground.  People there likely find less beauty in this snow.  For us the ever present snowfall amounts to little accumulation.  Its surface stays clean and sparkly.

The long shadow of the locust tree will not fit in the photograph.  The sun is still dropping lower in the southern sky every day, and our daylight hours are still getting shorter. But in 3 more days, all that will change. Time to begin gathering wood for our bonfire.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Winter Interest

After a one day warm up, and snow melt, we are back to snow and cold weather. There are still lots of things to notice in the garden if one is easily amused like I am. Here a nice set of rodent tracks caught my attention.

I couldn't say if he was grey or brown, but with that long tail he's definitely not one of my favorite garden residents! EEK!

The  temperature is  in the teens and  this was a day for us to travel to the Y for our exercise in the pool. The roads were fine, but the river is already  getting lumpy with ice. Our trip was the usual until we headed for home. When we left the Y , there right next to the wall of pool was a Peregrine Falcon lunching on a grey pigeon. He was so close to the street that we got a fantastic look at this gorgeous bird. Ed turned around and did several drive-bys so I could get a really good look.  His head and beak shape, black cap and moustache, rufus and white chest, and sleek body, added to the fact that he was lunching on a pigeon, made his identification pretty certain. I checked my books when I returned home just to be sure. Part of me wished that I had the camera, but I'm sure if I did I would have just made him fly away and ruined his lunch. It was enough just to get such a close up look at this magnificent bird!

The big redtail hawk that I often see in the garden is bulky when compared to this sleek Peregrine Falcon. It's like the difference between a 747 and a fighter jet. I'm so glad I was fortunate enough to spot the bird. It made an ordinary trip something special to remember.
Just 7 days left!!!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Today Was for the Birds!

It all started early this morning. I was enjoying my first cup of coffee when I spotted a big hawk in that small tree, to the far left, in front of the notch. The sun had not yet risen above the ridge so the light was subdued. I got the binoculars to get a better look. What I saw was the back of large hawk with a brown head, speckled back, and a sharp white edge on its tail. The light  was growing steadily stronger and fortunately for me he decided to turn around . I got a great view of his front. Even more beautiful than the back, the chest of this bird was snowy white, with streaks of brown that looked like a necklace on an Egyptian princess. I was awestruck, and then the bird flew. In the few seconds I had as he streaked  past the window, I could see that this was a magnificent redtail hawk. Later around lunchtime I saw him again sitting in the highest tree atop the gravel bank hill. Sights like that are one of the advantages to the winter loss of leaves on the trees. The last time I saw this bird today he was flying high above the garden and flew over the house toward the pines.  All this was just was just the early show.

With today being the first sunny day in what seems like forever, birds of all kinds visited the feeders in the garden. Usually I can manage pictures of Black-capped Chickadees, and I took some of those, but today I actually caught this Red-breasted Nuthatch. 

This White-breasted Nuthatch was hungry enough to ignore me and give me a chance to get his picture. The noise of the camera startled him and so he left.

It was a sweet surprise to see this picture of the nuthatch in flight. This sort of picture usually eludes me completely.

I watched the birds some more after I came back in the house. Mourning Doves, Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers and Dark-eyed Juncos joined the others.
Two red squirrels caused a bit of commotion this afternoon. It looks like we have a pair, but that's a story for another day.

There's just 10 days left!!!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Plants and Snow

A look out the window reveals what is going on in our garden . Mother Nature has covered the garden with snow. For now, any ideas we might have had  about working in the garden have been put on hold. Perhaps the weather will change, and it will warm up and melt this snow, but then again perhaps not. Around here they say a snow fall like this makes people get in the mood for Christmas shopping. For gardeners like us , it puts us in the mood for catalogs. The seed catalogs have been coming  for a few weeks. It's way too early to start seeds. They can be put off till later, but the first "exotic" plant catalog has arrived, and from one of our  favorite companies. Please note this is not an ad. We have received nothing from this company except excellent service, and the most carefully packed plants that we ever received through the mail.

High Country Gardens "Collector's Edition 2011

With all that snow outside, how is a gardener supposed to resist paging through this catalog of gorgeous plants. Just in case our sales resistance is strong, a free shipping good through 1/2/11 adds an extra little push. Even passing by all the plants that are not hardy in zone 4, a plant order that qualifies for that clever free shipping deal was a cinch. Once the plants have been ordered, we have all winter to leaf through the pages of the catalog admiring the pictures of Western Wood Lilies, Pineleaf Garden Pinks, Hula Dancer, Mexican Hat, Ozark Coneflower, Sunset Hyssop, Sweet Iris, Prarie Fire and Prarie Smoke knowing that in the spring our plants will arrive in a well packed box, ready to be tucked into their own special spot in the garden.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Up Ramp, Down Ramp

When Ed and I retired and moved to the Stone Wall Garden, we tried to plan ahead. The house was built with everything on one floor, with wide doors for easy handicap accessibility. All of that was for later. We have lived here for 11 years and later is creeping up on us a bit. It is because I have been told to avoid stairs when possible that Ed is working on a ramp to the kitchen door. Fantastic progress is being made, and the end of the project is in sight, but the cold weather has slowed things. This morning it was cold enough that a thin layer of snow was easily swept from the ramp.
Just a few more sunny days warm enough  for outdoor construction  and the ramp will be ready for code enforcement inspection.  Perhaps if the code officer is here on a cold wintery day he will not linger.

As I stood and focused to get the picture of the ramp, I saw movement in the shade garden. I turned and walked in the direction of the locust tree. Believe it or not I shot the red squirrel with my camera! It's hard to imagine he let me get so close. Obviously he knows I am totally harmless. He takes off like a bolt of red lightening as soon as Ed opens the basement door. I just hope that he sticks to eating  the suet and bird seed and leaves my bulbs alone.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Cold and Frosty...Warm, Wet, and Wild...Cold and Frosty

I was just two days ago that I took this picture of frost on the foxglove. The garden and its plants have been on a wild ride the last couple of days.  We had wind and rain on Tuesday, but yesterday the day started out with the temperature in the sixties. Much of the day our view of the garden from inside  was obliterated by sheets of rain. You would think nothing would be going on in the garden on such a day, but the red squirrel still made his visit to the bird feeders.  The chickadees didn't let the heavy rain stop them from visiting either. They have to eat to stay alive. Getting drenched doesn't seem to be an issue.

 Later in the day the  I saw  a very wet hawk sitting in the locust tree,  watching the bird feeder, and hoping for  a quick meal. But service was slow, no birds ventured near . As the water soaked bird left to look elsewhere for his dinner, I got a glimpse of his white rump patch. That means it was  a Marsh hawk also known as a Northern Harrier. They are famous for preying on smaller birds. In our garden, it pays to be wary. There's no such thing as a free lunch.

By late afternoon the temperature dropped below freezing and snow began to fall. For a long time it didn't stick, but in the end the plants  returned to a light  coat of  frosty white. We are back to cold!