Sunday, January 30, 2011

January Planting

Our 2008 order from Van Bourgondien included Iris ensata "Freckled Geisha". The next year the robust plant sent up one flower stalk. and the blooms were incredibly beautiful. This past summer several flowering stalks presented themselves and the original flower can be seen at blog post, Japanese Iris . One seed pod was left on the plant to develop mature seed. When the seed pod looked like it was nearing opening day, it was cut off and placed in the basement to finish drying. Some of the seeds were fall planted in a sunken pot in the garden. Others were placed in a plastic bag and placed in the vegetable drawer of the refrigerator.

January 1 is a day for football and resolutions for many. I prefer to plant something. Thirty gallons of my finest potting soil is in a can in the basement. Twelve ensata seeds went into the ground on New Year's Day. Five have sprouted to date. Their new home near the window of our bedroom is a chilly 64 degrees. Sprouts have appeared several days apart and I expect to see more.

Today I planted a second pot exactly as I planted the first. Twelve seeds were sown in two concentric circles. Plastic wrap will remain in place until the first sprout approaches its surface. Extra time in the refrigerator may improve the germination rate. A second variable beyond my control will keep this experiment unscientific. Stronger sunlight will warm the bedroom more in February and that difference could improve germination.

One final note is necessary. My plant is not "Freckled Geisha". No pictures similar to my plant have been found so I do not know if it is even a named variety. In any event I will have new seedlings to increase the planting of this beautiful plant. Division is scheduled for the original plant this spring. From everything that I have heard this will be an adventure.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Dividing the Tuberose

I had been waiting for the tuberose to die back, but it just wasn't happening. Last fall, Ed stuck the whole clump into a huge pot so that the flowers could finish blooming inside away from killing frost. Since the flower stalks died back the tuberose leaves  have been looking worse and worse. In all the years I've had the bulbs, they have never had a rest. I boldly decided to cut the plant back and put it in the dark. When I checked on it, I found  the bulbs were growing in spite of the darkness.

Here was a chance to play in the dirt. Ed divided the tightly crowded bulbs.
Separating  the tightly packed bulbs took some serious effort. In 2008 we purchased five bulbs.  Three of these grew and finally flowered.  Now there are considerably more. It's quite amazing considering this Mexican plant resides in upstate New York.

 This piece has one of the dead flower stalks still attached.  I have read that this bulb is finished and that it will not grow again.  Never fully trusting what we read, one of these has been planted.  It is most likely that it will not grow.

Now there are three pots of tuberose. This one is in the basement. Another is on the landing of the stairway. The third is in a dark closet. None of these places are warm enough to make this plant really happy.

The remaining bulbs that have roots are also in the closet in the dark . Having been put down for a winter's nap. They better rest!  Hopefully, either the stored bulbs or the potted bulbs will provide next year's tuberose.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Return to the Scene of the Crime

Morning coffee and viewing the garden go together for me. I counted four crows in the shade garden tree. The next time I looked only one bird was in the vicinity of the bird feeder. The garden was completely free of other birds except for the little chickadees in the bushes on the far side of the stone square.

How I wished this bird would turn around so I could get a look at his chest. I had no such luck. I managed to snap only 3 pictures and those without opening the window. Whether he felt he was being watched or got tired of waiting for breakfast, the result was the same. He flew across the garden and into the trees. With the light of the sun coming up he was invisible , although I'm almost positive he was still sitting there.

Through the binoculars a white edge is prominent on the bird's striped tail but exact identification in the subdued morning light and at this distance is impossible. Still I suspect a northern harrier. All our evidence is circumstantial anyway. We have remains, motive , opportunity, and MO. Nature makes the rules here so the suspect is still free as a bird!

Friday, January 21, 2011

A Little More Snow

This morning there was a muffled silence in the garden. A fresh new layer of fluffy white had fallen during the night. Ed started his day here at the basement door , shoveling his way out of the house. He worked his way over to the shed to get out his tractor.  The snowy silence was replaced with the sound of  snow removal. The driveway was waiting!  We were lucky, the snow was not so deep that Ed couldn't use his tractor. We were even more lucky that Ed (the neighbor) showed up with his quad to help. I really tried to get a picture of the two friends playing in the snow with their men's toys. But Ed ( the neighbor) was too fast, I was never able to get both of them framed  in a picture at the same time.

It's important to get the snow pushed back while it is light and fluffy. We have much more snow than we did last year. It just doesn't feel like the kind of January thaw that we had last year will happen this year . The idea of being snowbound here with Ed is a wonderfully  romantic notion, but keeping access to the outside world is prudent.

Later in the day , the sun  has come out.  The wind has come up and is blowing the snow off the trees. Plumes of snow drift up the hidden valley along the ridge. Even with the sun shining, snow blows by the window making it look like a white out snowstorm. The wind has its own fun playing with  fluffy snow, moving it where it will.

 Digging out for today had almost been finished, the car is free, but Ed's truck is still  covered with snow. The garden's blanket of snow has gotten  thick. Perhaps there is more to come.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Fresh Kill

Becky called me to the kitchen door to show me the large wet hawk perched in a low tree adjacent to our lane. Its white breast and tail were easily seen as the hawk was facing our door. A closer look revealed wet head feathers and a sinister looking beak. Identification of a perched raptor is a challange, but we were quite certain that a female marsh hawk was in our tree.

My next task was to begin clearing the mess that the weather had left us. Snow fell overnight followed by freezing rain then rain. Subzero temperatures are forecast for tonight so I had a narrow window to plow the driveway. Cleaning the ramp from the basement is the first part of the job. Early on I checked and the hawk was still in the tree. As I cleared more of the ramp I became more visible above ground and a second look found the tree empty.

An hour later I found this stained snow very close to the house. There are no footprints near the kill so both predator and prey came from the sky. A mourning dove was likely the prey judging from the scattered feathers and the size of the print in the snow. The previously perched marsh hawk is the likely predator.

We like to view the natural world as beautiful and peaceful but in reality something is always giving up life to become anothers meal. Our fingerprints are all over this because the doves flock to our seed feeder. Hawk follows doves. I have never seen a circling hawk dive toward food. Today this kill could have happened near me while I was looking groundward shoveling snow.

Monday, January 17, 2011

More Pictures by Amy

Cool Feather

Snow Texture

Plant Shadows

Home Beneath the Butterfly Bush?

Snow Tunnel

Plant Tracks
A cold, crisp, sunny, winter day and a visit from Amy led to these cool garden photographs!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

A Real Cut and Paste Garden Project

The garden is covered in snow, but the big avalanche actually occurred in the house. We love garden catalogs. Almost every trip slogging down to the mailbox through the snow brings new arrivals. This is not a bad thing. It gives  Ed  a chance to contemplate the spring garden and look for new and exciting plants he might want to include this year. It's such an enjoyable pastime leafing through page after page of gorgeous plants . It's fun to start an order and stick it in the pages.The competition for actual orders is fierce. Who will have the most exciting, irresistible plants at the best price? Past performance  in plant quality, packaging, and service must  also be considered. There is the also the allure of the new never before seen catalog bringing the adventure and excitement of the unknown.

It was not the 2011 catalogs that was the scene of the big avalanche, although their numbers are prodigious. It was the catalogs from winters past that had reached the tipping point.  The stack in the photograph is but small representative sample. It was decided that we will cut out the photo and description of the plants we have purchased,  pasting them onto  the original invoice or paper and then encasing them in a 3 hole punched plastic sleeve. So far it's been fun, like a scrap booking project. Ed joined in making a page of his day lily  collection. I find the idea of moving these old catalogs to the recycling exciting. The news is not necessarily good for some of the companies we have dealt with in the past. Invoices with a list of plants that were ordered, many of which are no longer with us, send up a red flag. Because of that some 2011 catalogs  under consideration will be recycled now.  There's no need to repeat past mistakes no matter how gorgeous the plants might seem. Gotta go! Richters' 2010 is waiting!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A Snow Day in the Garden

This morning it was obvious that today was going to be all about snow. The garden is covered. Even the sun is nearly obliterated by the falling snow. I wanted to get a picture before Ed headed out to fill the bird feeders. They were all nearly empty.

I checked out the bedroom window that overlooks the ramp from the basement. I saw a gray junco feeding on the anise hyssop seed heads, but he flew away as soon as I opened the window to take my picture. Darn it!  It looks like Ed has some shoveling to do to get out of the house. Fortunately the  snow is light and fluffy.

While watching the birds at the sunflower feeder, I saw  a gray junco disappear into hole in the snow. I waited, but I never did see the bird reappear. Curious, I watched for several minutes . The red squirrel's head popped out of that  hole.  He disappeared then popped up in another spot. It was comical to watch that little red head pop up and then disappear again. What interesting way to travel about the garden, popping up along the route to see exactly where you are and where you are going. Without actually seeing this , I would never have figured out the reason for all those holes all over the garden.

The red squirrels have made  quite an extensive subway system throughout the garden. There are exit holes at the wall and at all of the bird feeders.   Apparently the little birds make use of it too. If the wind picks up the whole system will be erased. Perhaps it will be a calm night!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Heave Ho

This spot over the septic tank has been blown clear of snow by the wind. Here we have a perfect example of what happens to newly disturbed soil when it is cold and neither mulch or snow cover is there for protection. The surface of the soil is lifted by  ice crystals that form. If a new little plant had been planted here, it would have been raised up nearly two inches exposing tender young roots to night temperatures in the teens or worse.  We gave up putting in new plants in the fall for this very reason. This bed with its bare dirt can heave up and down to its heart's content all winter. We will not plant anything there until spring is here and the soil has settled. My new kicthen garden will have to wait until then.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

My Pet Peppermint Pelargonium

There is nothing quite like a scented geranium for a plant to use as a pet substitute. It has all the advantages. It's soft fuzzy leaves are pretty close to fur. It doesn't purr, but it does release a wonderful scent when it is stroked and as a nice thank you when it is watered. Occasional watering and removal of any less than great looking leaves is all the care required. No litter box or walks outside in the snow are needed. It stays where it is put and never hides under the bed or chews your shoes. This peppermint geranium is a descendant of the one I purchased at Caprilands in 1993.

Snow still falls on the garden outside the window. We are inside surrounded by garden catalogs, but the one we want at the moment has not yet arrived. We order our onion plants from Dixondale Farms. This year their catalogs were lost in the mail. I can get pretty impatient waiting, so I went to their website and downloaded this years' order form. Tomorrow I will call and get that onion order done by phone. Perhaps then the catalog will finally arrive in the mail. We have had such great results growing onions from plants. Braids of onions still hang in the basement for winter use even though the weather here this summer was less then perfect for great onion growth. Our Walla Wallas were a wash out. This year, I think we'll get the Copras, Red Zeppelins, Sterlings and Red Marble Cippolinis.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

A Sparkling Morning Following a Day of Silent Snow

Yesterday's snow came from the west. Without the wind of a lake effect storm, the snow fell quietly. A muffled silence came with that kind of snow. Soft snow covered every hard surface, absorbing noise and producing a white and peaceful stillness that is nothing short of incredible.

Today, with nothing but  blue skies, the morning sun glinted off the tiny snowflakes making the white, snow covered garden sparkle like it had been sprinkled with thousands of tiny  iridescent  diamonds.  I could hardly wait to get outside with my camera to capture the moment. After sweeping aside  the dry fluffy snow to get a place to walk, I took pictures in every direction to no avail. The glinting reflection that my eyes can see is nothing to my digital camera, but  the beauty of the white  trees against the blue sky is apparent.

A close look at the dead stalks of the golden glows and a locust branch, makes me question whether the trees are covered with snow or frost. I purchased A Gardener's Guide to Frost by Philip Harnden hoping to gain some understanding of the subject. I learned a lot, but I still don't completely get it. When the garden is as beautiful as it is today, what else really matters?

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Revealing Snow

The garden has turned cold. Our new snow cover is soft and fluffy. With no wind, it fell lightly on everything revealing the texture underneath like a clingy dress on a supermodel. The snow covering the patio stones is flat. Every red creeping thyme plant can be seen even though covered with white. The grass has an interesting white surface that would look just like lawn were it green. The whole effect is quite beautiful.

It was from the bedroom,  against this backdrop of white that  I saw the fox.  He was just on the edge of the wooded area on the steep bank at the far side of the garden . I watched as he disappeared under a pine tree. Seconds later Ed's sharp eyes found him again.  He was near the top of the slope and again disappeared from sight.  Thinking this would be the perfect opportunity to get a picture of absolutely, no doubt, guaranteed fox footprints, we decided to don our winter gear, and make our own  tracks through the snow. I was sure it would be easy to find fox tracks.  After all I saw where he had been.

Having arrived at the scene we discovered quite a few tracks in the fluffy snow.  Most of them were too indistinct to tell what animal made them.  So here you have an almost absolutely, no doubt, guaranteed fox footprint. He was there, and the most important thing is that we got to see him.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

I Have My Eye on This Evergreen Beauty

Partridgeberry, Mitchella repens, is an interesting ground cover that grows beneath the hemlocks and red maples in our  somewhat open  back woods. Snow or no snow this plant always looks perky and green. It flowers in the spring producing a pair of small, white or pink, scented trumpet flowers. After pollinating the flowers fuse forming a single red, two-eyed berry. The berries are supposed to be a favorite of the ruffled grouse, hence the plants' common name. The red berries are edible,but I find them rather bland. They are more interesting left on the plant.

This plant is small having  been recently planted perhaps via bird droppings.  I hope Ed remembers where this particular plant is because in the spring, I think it is a good candidate to be moved to the shade garden border. If the woodsy hemlock needle mulch and light red maple leaf cover is duplicated, and the plant's roots are carefully preserved, it should do well. It will be a pleasure to see this plant I love where I can get a close look at it. Hiking all the way to the back woods, and getting  down on the ground to get a close look at this plant where it is growing now, is no longer an option for me.

The spring-like day when this picture was taken, was followed by a clear, cold, starry, night. The following day was sunny, but cold. Last night a light layer of snow fell. It's a reminder that this is just the beginning of winter. Both the gardeners and the plants will have to adjust.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Spring Preview

Perhaps it rained overnight. Morning on the second day of 2011 brought winds from the south. A misty morning was followed by beautiful blue skies with  a thin white rippled layer of clouds. Ed couldn't wait to get outside. The beds in front of the house were a good place to begin. The winter sun,  and its reflection off the white house made this soil  more likely to have thawed. Weed removal  becomes a possibility.


Some of the weed's root masses were stuck in the frozen soil others released their roots easily.  Self seeded Nicotiana was the dominant dead plant in this allium bed.  It is a personal favorite, and it filled the bed with scented flowers when the alliums were past.  More complete weeding here will wait for spring.

Chrysanthemums need to be loosely mulched after the ground freezes.  Snowfall preceded frozen ground so the mulching waited for today.  Here Clara Curtis mums show good new growth.  In the three years that they have grown in our garden a single plant has produced multiple clumps.  We would prefer that they continue to prosper here.

Spent growth from this year has been placed over the new growth.  With any luck snow cover will return and carry these plants safely to spring.

The afternoon was spent cutting trees and brush under the electric wires.  For some reason I looked skyward as I was gathering my tools.  Silhouettes of two large birds circling above the pines disappeared from my view.  Moving away from the trees I caught another glimpse of the birds.  Wide flat wings suggested eagles.  When they cleared the trees again I saw white heads.  One bird was visibly larger than the other so I think that I saw a pair of mature bald eagles.  They were flying close to each other their wingtips almost touching.  One would dip under the other and fly on the opposite side.  After several effortless circles the eagles flew up river side by side.  Breeding season will soon be at hand and I would like to believe that I saw a mated pair of bald eagles enjoying a free day before the rigors of raising the next generation fill their days.

A Walk in the Back Woods

A bedrock ridge lies along the southern edge of our place. Here large chunks of lumpy sedimentary rock litter the ground. Year round springs abound, but their water quickly disappears into deep glacial gravel deposits. Hemlock trees are plentiful here, but their allotted time may be cut short. Shallow roots in response to abundant moisture, and flat stone barriers make trees here prone to be wind thrown. The force needed to throw this tree and raise its roots held by rocks is large. Gravity will drop these rocks back to the ground as the roots of the tree rot. Mentally this area has been marked as hazardous, but there in the issue of what I might do with these huge flat stones. Conventional wisdom says to leave them alone.

The same might be said for the remarkable yellow fungus growing on this tree. Despite my best efforts I can't identify this ruffled, brightly colored, soft looking fungus.That doesn't make it any less intriguing.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Growing Under the Snow

Yesterday's sun and warm air overnight left some of the garden plants uncovered. It was only natural that I would get out there and check things out. The perennial flax is having a bad hair day, but the plant looks very healthy and happy at this point. Unfortunately the tricolor sage has a rather gray unhealthy look. It's unlikely to be alive in the spring. It really is too tender to make it here in zone 4, but there's always a small chance.

Ed's 'Autumn Joy" sedum looks fantastic at the base. New shoots are ready and waiting for spring to arrive. Being on ice doesn't seem to bother them a bit.

Here two feverfew plants are doing very well. The snow cover was much to their liking. There are several others looking green and perky as well. This plant is one that dislikes a freeze then thaw winter, but for now it's doing great. It would be best for all the plants if snow cover returns quickly.

I was pleased and surprised to find a flower in the garden on this first day of 2011. I know it's a pretty pathetic looking Johnny jump up , but it is a flower. Just yesterday it was under the snow. It won't be stopped by a thick mat of Dianthus foliage or a patch of granulated ice.

I spent some time this morning watching the red squirrel and three crows from the living room window. For a time the squirrel tolerated the crows presence, but eventually his red headed temper got the best of him. He dropped down from the bird feeder, ran up the locust tree trunk,and  streaked headlong out the branch where the crow perched. The crow didn't flinch.  Unsuccessful at his first attempt, he dropped to the ground and repeated the process. This time the crow flew away, his rowdy friends joining him. But the crows returned. Ed and I moved to the window to get a better look at the next round, but the crows felt our presence and flew away leaving the red squirrel triumphant.

With the patchouli plant in the compost, a perfectly good pot of soil awaited planting. Ed used to plant leeks on New Years' Day, but we don't (BURP) plant those any more. January 1 is a bit early, but Ed planted 12 of his "Iris enstata" seeds instead. They have been chilling in the refrigerator in a plastic bag. Now is a fine time to begin!