Monday, April 30, 2012

Last Frosty Morning, Cool Afternoon

This morning was 21 degrees and with frost to boot.  It's been very hard to think kindly of the month of April this year.  It has been too cold and too dry.  Finally this afternoon we got a chance to work in the garden in comfort.  With the danger of freezing temperatures gone, Ed was able to leave some of the plants out on the wall instead of taking them back inside.   Better than that, we actually felt comfortable planting some plants in the garden.  A pretty blue primrose and 3 merry bells, Uvularia grandifolia were added to the shade garden.

In a bold move Ed removed the Russian Sage from the center bed of the stone square and replaced it with Foxtail Lilies, Eremurus.  If they do well they should be striking.  Time will tell.  Ed drove off to the back with his new tractor and used the new mower for the first time.  He sure was smiling when he waved  at me from the ridge on his return.  Peas that were planted weeks ago have finally broken through the surface.

We are both tired and perhaps a bit sore tonight, but this afternoon in the garden was fabulous.  We will sleep well tonight.  If we get the rain overnight that was promised, today will have gone from miserable to perfect.  How cool is that?

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Frozen But Not Frosted

At 5 am this morning the air temperature was 24F.  Inside of the sod house at ground level the temperature was 30F.  No frost was seen anywhere but bare ground was frozen to a depth of 1/4 of an inch.  Quite surprisingly unprotected plants appeared largely undamaged.  It appears that frost is far more damaging than a freeze.  We are trying to understand the science behind frost but it may be that heat given off when water vapor goes directly from a gas to a solid may actually burn the plant leaves.

These orange spotted lilies were placed in pots  four weeks ago.  Protection from the cold has been provided by moving the pots into the basement on cold nights.  The clumps of lilies in the second picture are where we dug the potted plants.  A plastic tub covers these lilies on cold nights.  Despite the shock of being potted, the warm nights in the basement have prompted faster growth.  Aside from the time and effort to move the pots in a night and out in the morning, potting the lilies seems like a workable way to protect them from the cold.

 The sod house is working better now that we have a more secure way to tie down the tarp.  Rope lashes the ends of the tarp to steel posts that lie on the ground.  Water filled juice bottles still weigh down the tarp at both the front and back.  Four holes show the former location of favored lilies that were pulled from the ground and placed in the basement overnight.  It seems that we over protected as all of the lilies in the sod house are fine.

These are some of the plants that spend their days basking on the stone wall and their nights in the basement.  Some of these plants are newly purchased while others were dug from the garden.  Cardinal flower, Lobelia cardinalis, is dug from the garden each spring.  The plant is native to New York State but I have never seen it growing wild around here.  I have seen it growing in the Delaware River valley to our south.  Frost frequently kills plants left in the garden so some are potted up and spend nights inside.

Shade cast by the house limits these really new arrivals from sunburn.  We will increase their time in the sun slowly until the are ready to be planted out.  One more month stands between us and the usually frost free date of June first.  We look forward to warmer nights when the plants can be left outside over night.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Frigid, Freezing, Garden Frustration

Record low temperatures are forecast for tonight followed by two more days of frigid cold.  We have taken what precautions we could but the bulk of our garden will have to take the cold's full impact. There has been no blueberry harvest here in two years.  A June hard freeze took the berries in 2010 and the June drought took them last year.  These blossoms will be brown tomorrow.  Hannaford Food Markets sell frozen Maine wild blueberries so our habit of eating this fruit on our cereal continues, but it's not the same.

Earlier frosts have burned the leaf tips of these Blue bead lilies, Clintonia.  It is doubtful that the adjacent poke weed stalk will generate enough heat to protect its neighbors tonight.  Notice the wild cherry blossoms that litter the ground.  Whether or not they set fruit is unknown.  Our resident chipmunks rely on cherry seeds as a large part of their diet.  These adorable rascals also feed on our plants so a winter die off by them would have an up side for us.

This shooting star, Dodecatheon has put up a noble fight with the cold.  Several times we have found its frosted leaves pale and shriveled but for now it looks great.  Farmers consider this a nuisance plant as its leaves sour the cows milk if eaten.  Having no cows, we cultivate this beautiful weed.

Thirty pots of lilies remain outside in the tarp covered sod house.  A three gallon pot filled with wet soil requires considerable effort by me to move it into the basement.  Four pots were carried in and we will begin again with these if the rest succumb to the cold.  In the interest of science we will record the temperature inside of the tarp protected area tomorrow morning. We will also take note of who, if anyone survives.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Choose Your Own Post

It might be a little while before I can post.  Ed and I are fine.  My computer appears to be dead.  Since you stopped by,  maybe you could use the search box in the upper left hand corner and find a post about something you like . Just type in a word and hit search.  You could try spiders, snakes , skunks  or stone walls.   Butterflies, hummingbirds and hummingbird moths  are nice or pick a plant or a flower.  I'll be back when I can!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Finally Some April Rain

Severe weather was forecast for last night.  Heavy rain could fall to our east and significant snow to our west.  The tarp was put on the lily sod house as a precaution that, as it turned out, was unnecessary.    Since Ed waited until the rain actually started to haul out the tarp, he worked alone to cover the lilies.  A concern was expressed that the water filled juice bottles holding down the tarp might wind up on top of the precious lilies.  That is exactly what happened.

It seems that enough water was trapped in a low area of the tarp to pull the tarp and its weights down onto the lilies.  New Pandora bulbs were just beginning to show above ground growth when the sky fell upon them.  Pot rims provided sufficient support for the tarp and no damage was actually done to the new growth.  Once again dumb luck trumps skill.  Ed is not  a slow learner so a new tarp holding system is in the works.

This area of the shade garden looks rather impressive.  Transplanted bluets have made themselves at home here and several newly seeded clumps are growing strongly.  Many sprinkler cans full of water were carried here to help these plants through our April drought.  Elsewhere the garden went dust dry but the shade garden was kept moist.

This fringed polygala was an early concern.  Normally its evergreen rose colored leaves survive winter.  Following this year's snow less winter,  no trace of this plant could be found.  All of its leaves were gone.  Thin dark purple stems wound among the leaf litter and I watered what appeared to be dead sticks.  Daily inspections of this treasured plant found little change.  Finally some vertical shoots appeared.  It looks like this transplanted native is a go for its third year in its new home.  Natural rainfall should move it along nicely.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Early Meadow Rue Gender Confusion

Yesterday on our wildflower drive, Ed took this picture of Thalictrum dioicum, early meadow rue.  The plant is so delicate and airy we almost missed it.

This picture is of a another  plant and the difference in color and appearance was intriguing.

Both plants have beautiful lacy foliage reminiscent of a maidenhair fern.  Last night I got out my wildflower books.  The name dioicum tells you that early meadow rue has male plants and female plants.  The male and female flowers are different.  The flowers bloom early like a spring ephemeral, but the beautiful plant remains through the summer.  It sounds perfect for the shade garden.
 I wanted to see more information about this plant so I gave Google images a try.  I searched for "early meadow rue female flowers".  What a mess that is!  After what seemed like searching for a needle in a haystack, I found these links with images and  information: blue jay barrens, and wiseacre gardens . Now I'm pretty sure I have seen both male and female flowers, but I still don't know  which is which. What it comes down to is that next spring I will be searching my native plant sources for early meadow rue.  I just need to get a boy and a girl.  The gender confusion will work itself out.  I will love both plants either way!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Wildflower Drive, Photos by Ed

This morning started with the delightful sight of the tree swallows chasing the red squirrel from the garden.  They will swoop on anything and with their flying skill they get your attention.  It was fun to watch them chase him to the woods.  Both Ed and I spent the morning in the garden.  There is too much to do, but with the scent of clove currant in the air just being in the garden  was a pleasure.  For a relaxing break after lunch, we decided to drive by our favorite wildflower spot.  It's a great place to see a lot of wildflowers in a short time  without getting out of the car.  The unpaved road runs along the bottom of the posted and wildflower covered hill.  I had the fabulous view and Ed hopped out of the truck to take pictures from the ditch.  This lovely yellow plant is marsh marigold.  We have long thought about getting this plant to put back by the pond.  We did that with yellow flag and it really took hold.  I wonder if this one is a good choice?

Usually the wildflower hill is covered with white trilliums. There seem to be fewer flowers and their stems are shorter than in past years.  Even though the area is still much wetter than home, I think the lack of rain is having an impact.

We do have red trilliums in the woods at home.  Here the advantage of being at the base of the hill makes taking photographs easier.

I wonder if we have missed the trout lilies at home.  Here they seem to have finished blooming.  This plant has lost most of its petals leaving a swelling seed capsule.  This hill does get more direct sun so we might still have a chance.

Partridge berry grows at home too.  Here Ed got a great picture of the two navels on the red berry.  They are formed by two paired white  flowers.  These berries are from last year. Partridge berry  flowers bloom later in June or July.

This seed head belongs to a colts foot plant.  The yellow flowers are beginning to go and the leaves are starting to appear.  There was just one seed head still intact. The wind scatters the seed like dandelions.

Ed got a great picture of this flower.  A search of four of our wild flower books has yet to reveal the name of this plant.

We saw several clumps of these beautiful violets.

The foam flower is just starting to bloom.

These yellow violets are another plant that we would love to own.  I bought some yellow violets at a native plant place and they are nice, but they are not the same as these.

Red elderberry grows at home too.  This is a small plant.  It can grow into a fairly large shrub.

Break over, we headed home and back to work.  Ed had things he wanted to finish before the rain.  Our garden has become dusty and dry.  It is raining now and we are grateful .

Thursday, April 19, 2012

In My Defense

Using pond muck as a growing medium is not an original idea.  John Burroughs drained a swampy area near his cabin in the woods, Slabsides, to grow celery.  A personal visit to this historic site allowed me to see both the cabin and the celery patch.

Orange County, New York may still be the largest onion growing area in the country despite its nearness to New York City.  The basin of a shallow glacial lake filled with organic debris that became deep black soil.  A personal visit to this area provided me with a close look at this soil born of muck.

I have a woodland pond and it is filled with muck.  Moving some of this muck to the garden bed scheduled to grow this year's onions seemed like a good idea.

Once before I tried to add muck to the garden soil.  Wet muck baked to hard bricks as it dried in the sun.  Repeated cultivating with the stone fork only partially mixed soil and muck.  This year I thought a slurry of pond mud might mix with the soil.  The outcome is not clear but it looks like a big mess.  The onion plants are due here any day but now this area is not ready for planting.  I cannot imagine that the stone fork will improve the situation but it is ready for action tomorrow.

There is no defense for potting up this Easter Lily.  I found it growing in the bed that I was clearing for onions.  It was missed when the lilies were potted up last fall.  With four pots of Easter Lilies growing and flowering in the bedroom and four more pots in the sod house another plant is extreme excess.  Still the bulb was as large as a golf ball and I simply could not throw it away.  What to do with excess plants may well be our greatest problem with growing perennials.  I have no idea where I am going to plant out nine pots of Easter Lilies.  Perhaps they would like a shot at growing in my muck mess.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Disaster Averted

Yesterday was a weather pleasant day.  Clear skies and warm afternoon air made overnight frost seem unlikely.  A steady wind from the north was an easily overlooked clue that frost was waiting in the wings.  Fortunately our local weather forecaster posted a frost advisory and we put our modified lily sod house with its new tarp cover to the test.  Partially water filled plastic juice bottles provided weight to hold the tarp in place.  A wake up temperature of 30 F placed a skin of ice inside of the bottles.  Icicles grew down from the water surface looking like cave stalactites.  Temperature inside the tarp, measured at ground level, was 37 F.  Newly emerging lily tips were spared a freeze.

These purchased trout lily, Erythronium, leaves were painted by frost.  The more narrow brown mottled leaves of our native trout lilies were unmarked.  Positioned nearer the ground they escaped frost markings.  Just how the frost swirls around is poorly understood here.  In the upper photo the grass at the base of the slope remains green showing no trace of frost.  In the calm night air the cold seems to pour downhill striking some areas while skipping over other spots.

Frozen Quaker Ladies, Houstonie bleue, flowers present a striking image.  When the sunlight melts the frost these flowers will look bright and fresh unfazed by being frozen.

Becky and I removed the tarp.  It did a great job.  We carefully folded the 16 by 24 foot tarp and put it away in the shed.  We are going to get a lot of practice in tarp handling.  Frost warnings have been issued again tonight. I guess by the time we get really terrific at doing this  we won't need to do it anymore!

The "Tombstone"

I spent the morning working on a bed in front of the house.  Ed took the garden tractor and was working elsewhere.  It's my job to weed along bed  edges and to try to locate the desired plants among the weeds. This is a New England aster.  Right in the crown of the plant is a huge chickweed, some black eyed Susans and countless other weeds.  This plant needs to be dug out.  Ed and his pry bar are the perfect tools for this job, but they were not right at hand.

Here at the Stone wall Garden we use stones a lot.  I regularly use them as plant markers.  So a new stone marker, aka "The Tombstone", was born.  Now Ed knows when he sees a stone like this in the crown of  a plant that the handwriting is on the stone and it means rip that sucker out.  It needs to go!  With lots of other New England asters available, the time necessary to rid this plant of all of the intruders is better spent on something else.

When the plant is resting in peace in the compost, Ed will replace "The Tombstone" in my garden cart.  There it will be waiting ready for me to mark another candidate for removal and placement in it's final resting place, the compost.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Inclination Impact

Arbutus grows here in two different places.  About fifty yards separates the two plantings but the lay of the land made a twenty-four day difference in the appearance of the first open flowers.  The plant with the earlier flowers grows at the base of a west facing slope.  This time of year it receives direct sunlight all afternoon.  Early abundant warmth initiated the first open flower more than three weeks ago.  Subsequent hard freezes had no impact on the open flowers so there was no apparent down side to the early flowers.  We do not know if its pollinators were active early.

This naturally occurring arbutus plant grows at the base of the same hill but here the slope is to the north.  Its placement in a depression in the ground prevents this plant from receiving any direct sunlight this time of year.  As the sun climbs higher in the sky this plant will receive direct summer sunlight but now it grows in constant shade.  The difference in bloom time will allow us to enjoy the scent of arbutus flowers over a period of seven weeks.

With the lilies I have made a deliberate attempt to delay the start of active growth.  Lacking a convenient    north slope, artificial shade helps keep the plants dormant.  Three rows of potted lilies wintered here and one row is still in the shade.  Sunnier placement of the front row is causing those plants to begin growing earlier than the back row, but they are all way behind the plants in the garden.  Here the goal is less time exposed to late freezes and frosts.

These lilies are growing out in the garden in full sun with a southern exposure.  They have been up for nearly three weeks.  Cold nights have found them under plastic buckets  to avoid death by freezing.  Many of the younger green plants still show frost burned leaf tips.  Their early start may make it impossible to cover them later when they will have grown taller than the covering containers.

To hedge my bets I placed two clumps of these lilies in three gallon plastic pots.  The potted lilies have spent  cold nights safely in the basement.  Our usually reliable frost free date is June first so these potted lilies may have flowers open before they can be safely returned to the garden.

Planting the arbutus in more sun helped to increase the bloom time we enjoy, and planting the lilies in the shade helped to keep them from emerging too soon. A change in inclination has a definite impact. 

Sunday, April 15, 2012

April Garden Photos by Amy

Sometimes in April you get a wonderful surprise in the garden.   In 2010 we planted 24  Fritillaria Meleagris bulbs.  Nothing ever came up and we thought they were gone. Sometimes bulbs rot, sometimes they get too dry, sometimes they get eaten.  I had given up on them since nothing ever came up last year.  When this single lovely flower  appeared in the shade garden, it was a delightful surprise.

The pattern of the flower is so pretty it will be hard not to order more of these in the fall.  Perhaps I will order  more of these  bulbs  and plant them in a pocket of sand like the catalog suggested.

This top stone on one of Ed's walls is covered with interesting growth.  Moss and lichens have really taken hold.  It looks like this may be flowering season for this moss.  So much needs to be learned but where to start.

April has been dry and cold.  Rain finally fell last night.  Dust dry soil is not a good place to put seed.  Perhaps peas, spinach and lettuce will be planted tomorrow.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Graupel and the Pear Trees

 Somehow when it's winter and plants are being ordered for spring,  a gardener pictures a pleasant spring day.  One that is cool enough to dig without getting too hot, but sunny and comfortable. The pear trees, blueberries and strawberries that Ed ordered arrived late on Monday and it was cold.  The door on the UPS truck was closed, and instead of those nice brown shorts the driver was wearing  long pants and an extra brown  vest.

The package was placed in the basement. Tuesday Ed began to dig. In some places you can dig a hole  plant a tree and replace the dirt.  Here it doesn't work that way. This rock was in the pear tree's chosen hole. It was standing in a vertical position. Usually Ed would love to find a good wall stone, but sometimes he's not in the mood.

He was almost finished digging the first hole when he discovered this stone. It did not come out easily. Since the hole contained quite a few stones, added dirt was necessary before the trees could be planted. Ed was busy with his wheelbarrow and tractor for  much of the day.

Wednesday  was not a nice spring day. Ed went out anyway. I had things to do inside. There was an occasional ray of sunshine, but there were also rain showers. When the little white balls of graupel began to fall I got the camera. I don't know if Ed has been graupeled on before. It was a new kind of precipitation for me.  I looked it up in Peterson First Guides:Clouds and Weather. Graupel is soft hail. It often flattens into a splat when it hits the ground.  Formed high in the clouds,  the particles are often electrified. Here they seem to be melting fast.

 Ed worked diligently despite the weather while I  snapped his picture from a distance from the comfort of my heated living room.  I hope the steaming  chili we had for dinner made up for it.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Winter Special at Mohonk House; Day Two

We awoke the second day to a beautiful blue sky and blue water day, but a step out onto the balcony revealed that the air was crisp and cold. We were dressed and ready and had a few minutes before our breakfast at eight. Just outside one of the entrances to the hotel was a stone fountain. It was so peaceful to sit on a bench in the sun, listening to the sound of the water and watching the sunlight dance on the water.

Soon it was time to head to the dining room for the breakfast buffet. Once again we were seated by the windows. The waiter served coffee or tea and juice. After that it was up to us to choose from the breakfast buffet. This breakfast buffet had made to order omelets, pancakes, waffles, French toast, quiche, bacon, sausage, danish pastries, fantastic fresh fruit, yogurt, granola, ... I can't remember it all. I'm not entirely sure I want to remember what I ate. It was all wonderful.

Now it was warmer outside so we did some exploring along the paths that surround the hotel. Here on the rock ledges the soil is non existent or very thin. Soil had to be brought in to create the gardens along the paths. These beds, in fact all of the gardens, are very well maintained. I have to wonder how many people it takes to do it.

Even so early in the year it is a lovely walk. When we arrived at the entrance to the Spa, I went inside while Amy walked down to get a look at the now deserted lake swimming area. It must be nice in the summer!

The pool and our Aqua Chi class were fantastic. The space was warm and inviting with great light and soothing music. We were both peacefully relaxed after that. High above the pool were hanging plants, perhaps reindeer ferns.but I could not be sure. After we showered and changed it was time to head out to explore the gardens.

These cold frames outside the garden shop caught my eye right away. The plants on the shelf are at ground level, but the floor of the cold frame is down perhaps another three feet. Being sunk in the ground like that greatly improves the efficiency of a cold frame. This is not a new idea. Most historic gardens have them.

I thought this one was especially nice.

The greenhouses were filled with plants. I was told that planting out in the garden would begin in earnest in about two weeks.

Hardscape in this garden is mostly rustic cedar. This long covered walkway is not unlike the long hallways inside the hotel.

A nice drift of daffodils adds some spring color. This large tree has been carefully trimmed. The branches hang down to the ground and a tunnel has been made so you can drive under the tree on you way to the hotel. The mountains in the background make a magnificent borrowed view.

Amy climbed the hill to get this long view of the garden with the hotel in the background.

Here is a little closer look. The forsythia has been carefully trimmed and the beds are prepared waiting to be planted.

This rustic fencing is so interesting looking from a distance, but an up close view shows that netting is fastened to the fence. It's a great way to keep animals out of the garden. The deer can see that the fence is there and the netting would help with smaller critters.

After our time in the garden, we stopped by the Carriage House Lounge for lunch. We had a nice lunch and decided to share a piece of Key lime pie. We had just started to divide the pie with a knife when I remembered that I had the camera. This is a representative sample of what the food looks like here. The pie was delightful. After lunch we sat on the veranda watching the boats on the lake. The wind was blowing hard enough to create waves that sparkled in the sunlight.

Amy wanted to finish her walk around the exterior of the hotel. When we came to a gate and a sign that said "Caution Rough Trail", I gave the camera to Amy and took my chance to relax here.

This is a picture that Amy took from the trail. It shows the rocks and crevices complete with a few wildflowers. We sat for awhile trying to decide if we were ready to leave the mountain. We decided since it was now time for tea and cookies for the new arrivals, it was also time for us to go.

I handed the valet my ticket. Very quickly my car arrived, our bags were loaded and we were off. We stopped at the Guest self parking lot to get Amy's car and set off down the winding road back to the real world.

In addition to the memory of the wonderful relaxed feeling one gets from spending tome in such a place with someone special, I did bring home a Viola etain and a Mabel Grey scented geranium. They will be planted in the garden and be fragrant reminders of our winter special at Mohonk House.

As is always the case with Plants and Stones, no compensation has been solicited or received from the Mohonk House. Anyone can enjoy their winter special but not right away!