Thursday, May 31, 2012

Stinging Nettles and Caterpillars

This year it was May 4 when I saw the first red admiral on the stinging nettles.  You can read about that here.  Usually the stinging nettles are just beginning to come up later in May than that.  In 2008 on May 18 the nettles were not very big.  This year they were much bigger and it's a good thing.  All of these butterfly eggs are hatching out into hungry caterpillars.  By May 20 the top of the nettle plants had these curled up leaves.  Peeking through the hole you can see a black caterpillar inside.  That's a pretty nifty defense system to wrap yourself in a stinging leaf and eat at it from the inside

Now the caterpillars  are out in the open.  In fact most of the top leaves on the nettle plants are gone.

This Red Admiral caterpillar is still munching on the leaves. I have to wonder if the spines on the caterpillar carry a sting after it has eaten the chemical laden nettle leaves. You can see he's not alone.

I have to thank Ed for taking these great pictures.  I would never have been willing to endure the burning sting of the nettles to get these great shots.

It's good we have a large patch of nettles. There are many caterpillars to feed.

This caterpillar is a ?.  I'm not absolutely sure of the identification because the colors do not exactly match the Question Mark in my field guide, but since nettles is one of the food plants for the Question Mark butterfly, I think it's probably right.

I discovered that stinging nettles plants can be purchased at Richters.  That would be a less painful way to acquire them than wading through the tall grass in moist areas waiting for that burning sensation to let you know your search had ended.  We wait with great anticipation for the new butterflies to come.  One of my biggest garden thrills is to watch butterflies in the garden.  It won't be long now!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

It's Usually Safe to Bloom in May

This is Jane's iris.  Beautiful yesterday it melted in the 90 degree heat and is gone today.

Mom's iris is blooming too.  Funny I don't think I ever noticed the beautiful white edge on the petals before.  Our clump of this iris was sadly overgrown.  Ed separated and moved some prime sections this spring even though the traditional season for dividing iris is after they bloom.  We expected no flowers this year because of the untimely move but here is a perfect blossom.  Clusters of flowers should follow next year.

This iris is new to me this year.  It is a family heirloom of Susan's.  Except for the difference in color it and Mom's iris could be fraternal twins.  Both are old varieties with a clarity of form missing from today's giants.  Is there a society whose goal is the preservation of ancient iris varieties?

Ed's Roaring Jelly Siberian iris is blooming beautifully.  Some time will change the color of these flowers and with the drop in temperature they should look great for days.

Our first flower from Ego is open. The rest are coming on fast.  I hate to see the flowers come and go so quickly.  90 is too hot for me and my beautiful iris blossoms.  I was wishing for a break in the weather.  I got my wish but along with it came thunder storms and a power outage.  Heavy rain and wind are hard on iris too.  Now the weather will  be cooler.  I wonder how low it will go?  So far I've seen a predicted low of 41.  I don't even want to think of the f_ _ _ _  word.

With today's heat I was viewing the garden from the living room window.  Right below me in my bed of alliums just outside of the front door was a full grown woodchuck.  I watched while Ed went out to give chase.  The wood chuck ran onto the patio, through the stone square and over to the shade garden.  An athletic leap placed it up in the shade garden.  Then I learned something I did not know about this garden enemy.  Wood chucks can climb trees.  He went right up the locust tree in the center of the shade garden without missing a beat.  This may have been its first time up a tree as it did not know what to do next.  From there I won't add any details.  Let's just fade to black!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Can It Bee Possible?

I chased this bumblebee from flower to flower trying to take his picture. Each time he just buzzed away leaving me with nothing but an out-of-focus blur.  Finally he  lingered on the Baptisia long enough for me to get a picture.  Thrilled with my success I took a second shot.

When I got a look at this picture I was amazed.  How can it be possible that this fat fuzzy bumblebee can dart around from flower to flower when it has such tiny little wings?  It must take a lot of nectar to get this wide body off the ground.  It's a miracle that he can fly at all, but he can zoom.  He buzzed right off again, but at least this time I got his picture.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Grey Storm Clouds and Rainbows

Yesterday was a mixture of  clouds and sunshine.  When I went out to the garden it was hard to know where to begin. This single lemon lily flower was in an area that needed some serious help. I started there.  The sweet fragrance of this one flower enveloped the area where I worked.

I was so sure that this lavender plant was dead, but when the surrounding weeds were gone and the mushy dead plant material was removed, the plant has new growth.  It look likes it will make a  miraculous come back.

After being away for the morning, Ed joined me in the garden.  Later he was carefully weeding around the snow peas.  Only a few plants came up and we wanted to save those.  The decision was made to leave the pea plants and to plant bush beans in the large gaps.  When Ed walked through the stone square on his way to dumping his bucket of weeds,  he noticed his Salmon Star lily was quivering.  It was when he took a closer look that he saw it.   That *#$% grey rodent was chewing off his beautiful lily plant right before his eyes.  Talk about the gathering storm.  Ed is furious, it's definitely war!

In the evening dark grey clouds gathered.  This was not the most perfect double rainbow I have ever seen, but it stayed for a very long time.  The sky to our west was clear of rain clouds but filled with bright low sun light.  Rain was falling to our east and it gradually worked its way back to us.

I had time to take several rainbow pictures.  This one is my favorite!

 It gave me time to notice the dark above the rainbow and the light below.

At the end of the day it's the beautiful rainbows we will likely remember.  However, at least one grey cloud still hangs over the garden.  Rainbow or not that furry grey critter is in for a stormy time. You can count on that!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Worth a Second Look

Now that all of the flowers are open the pinxter, Rhododendron nudiflorum, deserves a second look.  It is common here to see one of these plants in the front yards of older homes.  That placement in full sun sometimes results in a weak plant that cannot compare with a wild specimen at forest's edge near damp soil.  The inside NW corner of the stone wall provides shade for the base of the plant each afternoon while the upper branches will grow into full sun.  If we provide ample water, the plant should thrive in this location.

In 1771 Peter Kalm described pinxter flowers as having some smell but that it was not very pleasant.  Later writers commonly downplay the scent of this plant.  I have always been enchanted by the subtle spicy fragrance of these blossoms.  For me, arbutus followed by clove currant then pinxter fills each spring with one delicious scent after another.

The fifteen year delay between acquisition of these native plants and first flower was the result of two factors.  I was resistant to taking these plants from the wild.  Three tiny specimens wedged between the roots of a tree were all that I would take.  Larger flowering plants were left undisturbed.  Then the three runts were placed in dry woods.  They needed more moisture and more light.  Flowers followed three years after the move to a better location.  There is no satisfactory explanation for the twelve years of neglect endured by this plant.  Two still await rescue.

The protruding business parts of these flowers are a bit brazen.  The bright pink color does not soften this visual statement.  Add in the sweet spicy smell and a compelling scene is created.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

A Garden Book Review

This book is one of my treasures.  I don't think you can pick this one up at your local bookstore.  If however, you like to collect vintage garden books, this one is a gem!  How to Know the Wild  Flowers was written by Mrs. Wm. Starr Dana in 1897.   It is illustrated by Marion Satterlee.  Mrs. Dana was a friend of John Burroughs.  It's likely that it was this friendship that made it possible for her to get this book published.  As it was, she had it published using her husband's name.  It was Burroughs' idea to write a wildflower book dividing the flowers by color and  then listing them in the order of their bloom time.  The illustrations are black and white drawings that are exact enough to make good identifications of unknown wild flowers.  It is especially useful and interesting to me because the book covers wildflowers  known in 1897.

It was some years back when I discovered this unknown wildflower at the Stone Wall Garden.  I searched for some time to identify it.   I have a number of wildflower books, but it was in Mrs. Dana's book that I found this description.

 Robin's Plantain. Blue Spring Daisy,  Erigeron bellidifolius. Composite family.

"This is one of the earliest members of the Composite family to make its appearance, that great tribe being usually associated with the late summer months.  The flower might easily be taken for a purple aster which had mistaken the season..."

A link to this post and to other reviews of gardening books can be found at Roses and Other Gardening Joys.  There is little time to read  now, but it's nice to have a wish list of  books to be ready for those long winter nights when reading about gardening is great entertainment.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Pinxter Flowers in Only Fifteen Years!

We go way back with pinxters, Rhododendron nudiflorum.  When we first bought the land before Ed was retired, we searched everywhere looking for pinxters.  Alas there were none here.  This is a wild native plant that Ed has always wanted to grow.  It was Pat who took Ed to a place where they flourished, so he could dig some small plants.  He planted them in the back along the edge of the woods.  We watched them for years.  They didn't die, but they didn't grow either.  Perhaps it was too dry or too shady in any case the plants were never happy.  Four years ago we purchased a pinxter bush at  Catskill Native Nursery.  They said the plant they had was closely  related to the native pinxter.  We planted it in this spot inside the stone walls.  Even with winter snow cover it died.   Three years ago Ed went back and dug up one of the plants that was languishing in the dry woods and replaced the dead shrub.  This spring there were buds.  Finally we have flowers!   It's hard to express the excitement we feel looking at these beautiful flowers after all this time.  Think how delighted this plant must be!

I realize that most of the flowers are still buds.  Perhaps in a few days the flowers would be more impressive, but 15 years is long enough to wait.  We have at least four flowers open now!

Feast your eyes on a precious pinxter flower.  If you were here you could experience its subtle fragrance.  I don't know how long the flowers will last, but we will enjoy every minute.  When Ed gets a chance two other bushes will be moved.  After fifteen years, they deserve their chance to bloom too!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Transplanted Arbutus One Year Out

One year ago on this date, the four arbutus, Epigaea repens, pictured here were dug from their home in the wild and moved to Stone Wall Garden.  All four plants are alive but some are doing better than others.  The plant pictured above is in the top center of the group portrait.  Its dark leathery leaves were carried through the winter.  Chewed edges and tan spots speak of the rigors of life in the wild.    The brown remains of the blossoms may be forming seed.  Purple hairy stems show the beginnings of new growth with two new leaves just beginning to form.  This is life as it should be at this time of year.

Two plants along the left edge of the photo suffered an early spring attack.  The pair of dark leaves at the upper left are all that remains of the plant whose crown is at the edge of the moss patch.  Their stem remains attached to the crown and their buds opened into a magnificent cluster of scented flowers.

The grandest plant of the four was eaten down to the crown located in the center of the left most moss patch.  Water and words of encouragement were brought freely after the attack but there was no sign of life here.

The plant on the right is the runt of the group.  Its placement deep in the moss kept it out of view of the hungry woodchuck.

This is the new growth that is just appearing on the plant in the center.  Watching the bare stubs of this damaged plant has led me to conclude that arbutus growth follows a cycle that nothing can alter.  For weeks the remains of this damaged plant showed absolutely no activity.  Then, on the same schedule as the undamaged plants, new growth appeared.  The energy for this growth came from the crown and the roots since no old leaves remained.  We will watch and compare as this plant works to reestablish itself.  We will also look to see when the undamaged plants drop their old leaves.

A wire cage imprisons our collection of arbutus plants providing protection from whatever ate two of the plants.  Nearly every day the cage is removed so that we can monitor growth.  Several young weeds remain in place since their growth resembles arbutus.  We are hoping for new plants from seed.  We have never seen new seed born plants in real life or in picture so we do not know exactly what to look for.  When  new plants reveal themselves clearly as weeds they will be removed.

Questions remain unanswered concerning the details of the life cycle of arbutus.  The plant is evergreen carrying old leaves through the winter into spring.  When these old leaves are shed is not yet known to us.

There are both male and female plants.  We looked for differences in flower structure but found none. We may have only one gender present in our modest planting or we may need to become better at seeing what is in front of us.  If any of our plants develop seed, we will see if it is viable.

I am ready to call the transplants successful.  We went 0 for 40 on the cuttings.  I must give that another go but on a much smaller scale.  That much death is hard to deal with.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mother's Day Flowers, Photos by Amy

Mother's Day has often brought flowers my way.   A newly opened Easter lily greeted me first thing this morning.  I could see right away just looking out the window that this was going to be a beautiful day.

 The shade garden presented me with pink shooting stars.

The white ones are different, but I couldn't chose one over the other.

Clumps of little bluets are a favorite. I could never have too many of those.

This beautiful white trillium has just the barest blush of pink.  If it doesn't get too hot, I should have this one for awhile.

 Wild strawberries are blooming underfoot with berries soon to follow.

 The unopened buds of an autumn olive have such an interesting shape, but the first thing you notice about this shrub is its fragrance.  The scent floats on the wind  and you are surrounded by it before you even see the bush.

Today  the many  butterflies scattered among the flowers were delightful to see.

Meadow sage has been in the garden since the Mother's day that we visited Wildflower Island.  I got a pot of  society garlic  and one of  meadow sage that  day in 2002.  I still have one pot of society garlic, but meadow sage pops up all over the garden.

It's hard to believe that the huge barberry in the back meadow is still blooming. They flower their way to the end of the stem.  Later berries will replace the flowers.

Years ago  little hands picked  violets from the lawn just for me.  How I loved those Mother's Day flowers!

Sometimes dandelions were my Mother's Day flowers.  I loved those too.

Today we cut some of my narcissus to send home with Amy so that she could enjoy them.
I spent the day with my daughter and had a phone call from my son. Mother's Day 2012 was a joy!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Frosted in May

It would be really nice if this were the last frost here for spring 2012.  Days are warm and it seems possible.  It's is still not time to throw caution to the wind!

Friday, May 11, 2012

What Next ?

Today the impact of  Wednesday's lily attack has softened a bit.  Only two kinds of lilies were completely wiped out. "Lovely Girl", a new lily for this year and "Crystal Clear", a lily that was a free gift three years ago had no plants escape that grey furry little monster.  The lilies in pots have all joined the other plants on the wall.  Ed says, "No problem, there's still room for more plants on the wall."  Of course  we left the lemon verbenas inside by the basement window because of a threat of frost again tonight, and  we still have one more plant order that is due to arrive next week.  The weather forecasts are starting to look good.  If no new calamity pops up, we can get some planting done and make more room on the wall.

This morning as I  looked out over the garden, a bright flash of orange made me get the binoculars for a closer look.  In the trees on the far side of the garden was a Baltimore oriole. He looked stunning in his orange and black breeding plumage.  Later  I saw another flash of orange and black in the garden.  It was the first monarch butterfly to be seen this year. It did not linger.  Flowers blooming in the garden are a bit sparse right now.  It seems early as if we are all pushing the season a bit.  Milkweed plants that monarchs need to lay their eggs  are just beginning to break through the surface of the soil.  Still it's a treat to see these new spring arrivals whenever they get here.

This beautiful trillium in the shade garden is starting to fade.  It's lovely white has been replaced with a marbled pink and white.  As it fades it will turn pink.  It must be nice to age so gracefully.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Lily Sod House Emptied

This morning found two red squirrels and two rabbits in the garden.  Confronting a red squirrel is an interesting experience.  Despite my tremendous size advantage, there is always a long moment when the squirrel gives me a chance to turn and run away.  I really expect an attack at any time.  Having logged thirty-four years teaching eighth graders, I am slow to run.  So far it has been the squirrel that turned tail.

Two days ago a nipped lily was spotted in the sod house.  Deer were incorrectly identified as the culprit and the entrance was blocked with wire cages.  Today I spotted many more damaged stems.  The slanted cut on the stem led me to incorrectly identify rabbits as the lily destroyers.  I began to move the potted lilies out of their sod house.

The extent of the damage was quickly discovered.  Long sought after Lovely Girls now had cut stems. When the Pandoras in the corner were pulled, a nest of stems fell into the hole.  A large rodent tried to escape but fell into one of the holes left by a pulled pot.  During the short time that the rodent remained trapped in the hole,  I saw its beautiful gray fur and pointed snout.  This nesting mother-to- be was the stem biter.  Knowing that there is no match for a soon to be mother, I knew that all of the lilies had to be moved.

Many of these lilies will produce no flowers this year.  They may regrow enough leaves to nourish the bulb for next year.  In any event the expectation of lily flowers everywhere this summer has been dashed.  Some stems remain intact so there is still a chance for some flowers.

It is unclear what future use the sod house will see.  I thought that all of the sod regrowth was a neat plus.  New roots would knit the blocks together making the walls stronger.  Covered passageways were also created.  When that rodent pulled itself up out of the pot hole, it disappeared from sight as soon as it got behind the grass curtain.

The basic concept of a massive heat retaining structure to shade the lilies delaying their emergence and  then providing warmth on frosty nights is sound.   This lily house did protect its occupants well on several bitter cold nights.  Perhaps a dry stone wall, well filled with sand, will solve the rodent problem.