Thursday, August 30, 2012

Moonlight Madness

We think of our garden here as our playground and it is that.  It is also home to a lot of wildlife.  Sometimes things are relatively quiet.  We see deer through the morning mist, watch wild turkeys and their babies, enjoy the visits of the hummingbirds and other birds.  I even got glimpse of two of the coyote pups the other day.  However the last two nights wild things have been going on in the garden in the moonlight.  Plant tags have been pulled out  then dropped somewhere else.  The tooth marks made on this Rebecca Viola tag are an indication of a nice sharp set of teeth.

Pieces of weed barrier fabric have been ripped off, torn up and scattered about.  The cage over the lettuce is all caved in and the shade cover is in tatters. Holes are being dug all over the garden.

When we headed to the back with the garden tractor, we found this long missing item in the path.  For those who don't recognize a urinal, and for those who garden in town, I will explain.  It is Ed's practice to catch his urine and add it to the compost rather than waste it in the tall grass.  He kept this hanging on the top wire on the compost bin in the front garden.   It has been many weeks since its disappearance.  Ed travels the path to the back often, so it was a big surprise to find this thoroughly chewed, half missing, "chew toy" right in the middle of the path.  It had not been there before and was found far from the compost bin, up the hill, down through the meditation spot, and up another hill, more than halfway to the wilderness garden.  Useless to us, we left it there.  It will be interesting to see if it disappears again.

Back by the wilderness garden corn cobs are strewn about.  We don't have any corn planted back there so this corn was carried in from a neighboring field.  With the pond nearby in the back, raccoons are another possible nighttime visitor.

Corn shucks were scattered about.  Grass clippings were tossed around.  Big holes were dug here as well. Our "free range" squash have caught the attention of our wild neighbors.  They too have been chewed on.

Clearly this is not our private playground.  When darkness falls the wild action begins.  Moonlight and midnight in the garden make it a great time to howl!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Seasonal Shift

For us one of the advantages of living here in zone 4 is the distinct difference in the seasons.  Almost without notice summer is drawing to a close and fall is beginning to peek out.  Nights are getting longer.  Wake up time now finds darkness outside where the rising sun used to give us our call.  Finding orange on the pumpkin is a clear sign that we are moving into fall.  Cool nights will help this pumpkin set its sugars.  We are looking forward to a huge harvest as both the pumpkins and the butternut squash have put on a real growth spurt with the now abundant rainfall.

These Clara Curtis chrysanthemums have been with us for years.  Not only have they survived, they have multiplied into several clumps planted throughout the gardens.  I have a childhood connection with a great grandfather and mums.  Many years here have included attempts to winter over chrysanthemums.  Success is usually marginal but for us Clara Curtis is a proven survivor.

This bed is seasonally correct.  The onions that grew here are in braids hanging in the basement.  The multitude of weeds that also grew here are forming compost.  Buckwheat has been thickly sown to crowd out the new weeds.  Autumn Joy sedums are beginning to show some color as are the spring planted day neutral strawberries.  We may be moving toward fall but we are still planting seeds.

This spring the Starburst chrysanthemums looked dead.  Not willing to accept their apparent loss, four tiny green pieces were placed in pots and tended carefully.  All four pots produced plants large enough to be set out in the garden.  The plants are small but they are alive with flowers.  We find these flowers quite pretty and we will try to help the plants through the coming winter with a protective cover of coarse loose mulch.  One season gives way to another and we are already looking two seasons out hoping to find dark green signs of life when the winter snows disappear.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Bee...autiful Garden Pictures, Photos By Ed

My sunflowers that come up from seed every year are currently one of the big attractions in the garden.  Their sunny yellow faces never fail to make me smile and the bees are delighted.

The heliotrope is putting out a second series of flowers.  I love these old fashioned flowers with their sweet vanilla cherry pie fragrance.  With the rain we have had the leaves looks great.  All this will be mine to enjoy until frost.

This bright orange butterfly weed has been gorgeous this year!   It seems to be very happy here and the butterflies find it so attractive.   I wouldn't say it clashes with the blue lobelia and the white phlox in the background, but it sure stands out!

The butterfly bush that grows at the base of Ed's stone wall is putting on a lovely display for a plant that I thought was dead earlier in the season.  Buddleia is always touch and go here.  I'm delighted to watch the butterflies and hummingbird moths enjoy this plant.  I love it's delicate fragrance myself.

After enjoying a perfect garden ripe tomato at lunch, I had to include Ed's photo of this beautiful set of tomatoes.

 To be sure there are some ugly garden pictures that could be taken here.  We have tons of weeds, squash with powdery mildew ... Perhaps I will post them sometime, but today I went with bee...autiful!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Great Summer Garden Air Show

It's almost 6:00PM.  The apple trees cast long shadows.  Streaming sunshine still lights up the garden flowers.   As I stand by the bedroom window, I am dazzled by the high speed  acrobatics of three or four humming birds.  They dart between the cardinal flowers and the phlox.  Sometimes they perch on the highest branch of the smoke bush.  Perhaps the most exciting part is when they chase each other like tiny fighter jets.   Their path traces a giant U as they fly straight up then sharply turn downward.  Another vertical climb marks the other side of the U.  Several kinds of butterflies can be seen from my indoor vantage point.  I watched for quite some time before I was lured outside with the camera.

If you are out in the garden working down at ground level, the butterflies and hummingbirds, might pay you a visit, flitting by your head or buzzing past your ear.   If you walk out into the garden with the camera, they dart away.  I tried to get a shot of the slowest Monarch on the white phlox, but even he was too fast for me.  Thank goodness the flowers have to bloom where they are planted.  They make a nice picture even without their  flighty visitors.

 Now shade has overtaken the garden as the sun sets behind the far hill.  The air show in the garden is over for today.  Tomorrow after the fog lifts and bright sun lights up the garden, the show will begin again.    

Monday, August 20, 2012

When Is Melon Ripe

Trying the impossible seems to be a fundamental part of our overall garden plan.  Tendersweet Orange watermelon seeds were selected, ordered, started in pots, planted out, watered, weeded and watched.  The vines are beginning to show afternoon wilt so we know that their end is near.  The common ripeness indicators for watermelon in our internet search were an overall dull appearance, the melon not the grower, a dead tendril adjacent to the melon and a yellow color where the melon touches the ground.

Inspection revealed a brown tendril next to the stem.  The underside of the melon is yellow not white.  A dull haze covers the surface.  The melon was cut from the vine.

Slicing open the melon revealed several shortcomings.  The flesh of this variety is supposed to be orange not yellow.  That white web like interior should be gone.  Still we placed the melon in the icebox to chill.  The brightest part of a center slice did taste somewhat like watermelon.  Becky gave it a tentative C+.  The bellyache that followed quickly passed.  The rest of this melon is headed for the compost.

Three more melons remain attached to the plant.  They will stay there until their stem begins to shrivel and turn brown.  The blistering hot summer days seem to be behind us.  Recent nights have been comfortably cool.  Squash needs cool temperatures to set its sugars but melon may need warm nights to do the same.  Our window for ripening melon may have closed.  One thing is certain, we will eat no  more yellow melon.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

My Squash Runneth Over

For the first time since the drought ended, we have had some generous regular rain.  I drove the tractor to the back to take a look at Ed's  wilderness garden.  Since there is more clay in the soil in the back, with the help of Ed's watering the vines were doing pretty well.  But since the rains have arrived, the butternut squash, pumpkin and watermelon vines have exploded with growth.

No longer willing to be confined,  the vines climbed right over the top of the four foot fence.  I find this kind of rapid growth amazing.  Ed tried to train the vines to grow around the inside edge of the fence but they would have none of that.

Pumpkins and squash hang from the fence beneath dense vines with huge green  leaves.

You might think the vines would stop there, but they did not. Some went up and over the fence like a green waterfall.  Others simply grew through the fence.  Now pumpkins, squash and melons grow outside the fence.   Who knows what fate will befall these now "free range" fruits.  We try to keep them inside a cage for a reason.  We have wild neighbors back here.  In past years we have found squash bearing coyote teeth marks scattered about in the grass.

This is what our "free range" watermelon looks like right now.  I know I have to wait to pick it when it is ripe.  The seed package told me that much, but how do I know when it is ripe?  Will it still be there when that time comes?  Perhaps the scariest question of all is will it stay warm enough for all this bounty to ripen before we get a frost?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Finally Red Tomatoes

For each of the past two years, we have lost our tomatoes to late blight.  The weather here is a large factor in the problem.  Hot humid air is common here during August.  Thunder storms are frequent and valley fog forms most nights.  These factors combine to keep the plant foliage wet all day and blight thrives in dampness.  This year has been different.  The drought kept things dry.  I was careful to direct the carried water to the base of the plants.  Now we are getting generous amounts of rainfall and a seemingly ever present breeze dries things out.

Italian Goliath is the variety in the top picture.  Goliath seems like a misnomer because the tomatoes do not look like giants.  They are a paste tomato with the flesh concentrated in a wide thick layer just under the skin.  Considering their type, the size is impressive.

We started these plants from seed and we have tried to be diligent about their care.  Grass clippings covered the soil as soon as the plants were placed in the ground.  Avoiding soil splash on the leaves seems to limit wilt.  Suckers were removed as they appeared.  The plants have been kept trained to the stake.  In theory the growth will continue forever but cold nights will shut these tropical plants down.

Ferline is the name of this variety.  They have been bred to have some disease resistance.  Last year they showed no resistance to the wilt but we gave them a second chance.  The tomatoes are tasty.  The plants look healthy.  We plan to plant them again next year.

Good air circulation seems to be a key to growing healthy tomatoes.  We inter planted broccoli to use our space effectively while widely spacing the tomatoes.  That seems to help.  It is BLT season here with lettuce and tomatoes from the garden and Fakin Bacon from the health food store.

Another Native Treasure

Clethra alnifoila has much to recommend its placement in the garden.  The shiny dark green leaves create a positive impression when viewed from a distance or close up.  Drought caused this plant to deny water to some of its leaves as a survival strategy.  They are now dead brown but usually nothing bothers this plant.  Its sweet scent fills the air at great distance from the plant in the presence of a light breeze.  Up close the perfume is pleasant while not overpowering.  A wide variety of pollinating insects work these flowers but there is always an open bunch for close nose placement.

These pink flowers are not naturally occurring but this cultivar retains all of the other characteristics of the wild plant.  Both multiply freely by suckers and new plants are easily moved.  One of our hills is covered with wild blueberry bushes.  We are working young summer sweet plants into the openings.  The blossoms of the blueberries are long past when the clethra flowers.  These two plants work well together.  Three of the pink flowered runners have been moved to the new garden by the road.  The extra moisture retained by the soil there should benefit the new transplants.

The structure of each flower includes 10 protruding stamens.  Each is tipped with brown pollen.  White flowers usually show brown coloration as they mature and fade.  These are brown from day one giving the plant an unwell look.  Once one adjusts and realizes the plant is indeed healthy, the plant is a source of pure pleasure.   In the spring each flowering stalk remains attached to the plant as a dark grey dead stick.  They snap off easily but there are so many of them.  It is easy to remember the past season's pleasure as one removes the remains of all of those flower clusters.  Then there is the promise of a new seasons bloom to look forward to.  Add a pleasant memory of our discovery of this plant and the package is complete.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Native Stunner

"We go out of our way to touch at a spring run in the edge of the woods, and we are lucky to find a single scarlet lobelia lingering there."   These words written by John Burroughs more than a century ago accurately describe our current search for this native treasure in the wild.  Only once have we happened across a wild stand of cardinal flower.  Why this plant that produces seed so freely and forms daughter plants by basal division is so rare in nature is a puzzle.

A flowering plant with a single stalk will form six new plants at its base before winter.  Only the daughter plants return the following season.  A single plant sports a dense tangle of white roots.  The sheer abundance of the root mass of the six daughter plants may be the fatal flaw of this plant.  All six new plants sometimes survive to flower the following year but then each of them try to create six additional new plants.  Thirty-six plants growing in a space the size of a coffee cup simply cannot survive.  Our intervention occurs each spring.  Then we pull apart the tangled root mass and replant single plants.  Some are potted up to allow for basement protection from spring freezes.  Others are left in the garden to face the perils of late freezes or frosts.  The tender green crowns are sometimes changed to gray mush by a frost.

Plantsmen have crossed the native scarlet lobelia with a Mexican cousin.  A purple stemmed tender plant is the result of that intervention.  Mass sales of potted plants was likely their goal.  Last year these variants occurred spontaneously in our garden.  Winter hardiness was our first concern.  The off colored plants made it through winter with no help from us and have flowered.  The contrast of the deep clear red flowers and the light bright green natural foliage creates a more pleasing presentation.  We have trouble discarding viable plants but these may be on their way out.  We want our wild strain to remain pure.

Few flowers can compare with the brilliant clarity of cardinal flower.  As the season moves forward, new flowers appear higher on the stalk.  Spent flowers forming seed capsules are not a visual treat so one must look above them to see the newly opened flowers.  This year's show is nearly over as these blossoms are near the tip if the spike.  The show has been wonderful and it will soon be time to intervene again to help this native treasure find another new season.  

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Wet Lilies, Photos by Amy

Lilies, so beautiful from a distance, take on a whole new look when we take a closer view.  Details missed at from afar make an intriguing photo study.

Tiny bugs,  textured white petals and water droplets catch the eye.

Stargazer lilies have more than fragrance and color. Their petals are covered with little dark pink spikes.

The reproductive parts of the stargazer  are right up front for easy access.

This green day lily is wet enough to be  translucent in  some places.

Way down deep in the throat of the lily, an unknown bug is making a visit.

Near or far, lilies add so much fragrance, color and beauty to the garden.  Just like the gardeners, the lilies are happy to be wet with rain.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Which Twin Has The Toni

Gilbert H. Wild and Son, LLC is a grower and seller of perennial plants.  Our first order from them this spring included 10 daylilies.  We were wildly enthusiastic about their freshly dug, field grown plants.  All settled in here easily and all have flowered.  Then a possible problem appeared.  Growth that strongly resembled daylily foliage began to appear at the base of three of our new plants.  What we thought was desirable new growth revealed itself to be a very nasty weed.  This weed has never presented itself in our garden before this year.  We knew nothing about its habits.

This morning I was dismayed to find more new growth some distance from the daylily.  Determined to remove all of this weed, I began to expose the root.  It was firmly embedded in the crown of the daylily.  Larger tools were used to lever out the entire plant.  What I thought was a four fan daylily turned out to be a two fan daylily and two nasty weeds.

Pictured above is the weed.  Its below ground parts are visually different from similar parts of a daylily.  The white roots are the travelers, spreading outward to form new plants.  Removing all of these roots is a problem.  Despite gentle handling, breaks occur and some of this root was left behind.  Time will tell if a small segment of this root can grow into a complete plant.  For now all of this plant is in the garbage.  We will not compost it.

For comparison, here is a close up of the daylily.  Tan roots and tubers belong to the desired plant.  This specimen has been transplanted twice this year.  We hope for a full recovery without much of a set back.

This is the form of a new weed plant.  That tangle of underground body parts is what survives winter. Our aim is to leave none of this behind.  We want no trace of this plant to appear here next spring.

I am unsure of the direction of our future relationship with Gilbert H. Wild and Son.  They are an American farmer and that is reason enough to support them with future purchases.  Our inquiry about this weed was well beyond their guarantee but they did go the extra mile and identify this pest for us. It would have been extremely helpful if they had included pictures and text about this weed with my order.  With some clear information, I may have been able to remove all traces of this pest before planting.

This weed is a sedge.  Gilbert H. Wild and Son identified it as leafy sedge.  A truly nasty characteristic of this plant is the ability of its tubers to penetrate the underground parts of other plants.  I have oriental lilies planted near this beast.  Bulbs will have to be removed and inspected for piercings.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Everyone Hates Ragweed!

Everyone hates ragweed, Ambrosia artemisiifolia L.   I know I sure do.  I've been trying to eradicate it here for years.  In spite of that, this  ready to bloom plant escaped me.  It was growing right alongside the driveway.  This is what the enemy looks like.

Here is a closer picture of the despicable flowers.  I caught this plant just in the nick of time and composted it before it could do any harm.  It is best for someone who does not have severe allergies to pull this weed.  Gloves are recommended. The plant is famous for causing hay fever, but dermatitis is also a possibility.   If at all possible these weeds should be killed when young.  Back in June of 2008 I posted a baby picture of this pest.  It really is the most pernicious of weeds.  Perhaps it will never be extinct here, but if I see it, it's history!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Butterflies, Caterpillars And Me

Yesterday we finally got some real rain.  This morning the weather was cool and the idea of being anywhere but the garden seemed silly.  When I headed out the door I was greeted by the sight of a white admiral butterfly on the bronze fennel flowers that grow just outside my kitchen door.  He stayed put while I went back inside for the camera.  My day was off to a great start.

I love weeding the garden on a cool day and there are plenty of weeds waiting for me there.  I was working on the area around the Big Bird daylily.  The purslane and wood sorrel were slated for the compost, but first I snapped a picture of this interesting caterpillar.  I tucked the camera back in my pocket and focused on my weeding.  It was only after I finished that I realized that I had stepped on the caterpillar.  Getting caught between my garden clogs and the stone path had turned him into a smear of green slime.  I hoped that this caterpillar would turn out to be some ugly moth or destructive type, but a quick check in my caterpillar book confirmed that it was variegated fritillary.  One of the food plants for this lovely caterpillar is purslane.  We have lots more of it if another caterpillar shows up.  I'll try to watch my step!

There were monarch butterflies flitting around the garden today.  It didn't take Ed too long to get a great shot of a monarch caterpillar on some milkweed.  He's a real eating machine.

I was almost finished making dinner.  All I needed was a little fresh dill.  I had my eye on a plant that had self seeded in the allium bed, but on closer inspection I realized that three black swallowtail caterpillars had beaten me to it.  Unwilling to interrupt their dinner, I found another plant in the bed in front of the house.  There were no caterpillars in evidence here, so they have their dill plant and I got mine.  It's a pleasure to share and dinner was delicious!

Saturday, August 4, 2012

August 2012 Arbutus

Nearly daily visits with the watering can brought the Arbutus through the July drought.  The plant at three o'clock was low growing nearly hidden by the moss.  Its new growth is taller than the moss bringing the plant into full view.  New growth in three different directions is evident on the uppermost plant.  The plant at the bottom of the picture was eaten to the crown this spring.  All of its new growth is directly connected to the crown.  Branching stems may be added next year.

We are trying to understand the life cycle of Arbutus.  It carries leaves through the winter. They fuel both flowering and new growth.  Evergreen trees drop their needles at this time of year but the Arbutus still retains the old leaves.  The shorter darker leaves were on the plant last year.  We are watching to see if and when they are shed.

This picture looks just like the one taken here last month.  Two old leaves are positioned just below the remains of a flower cluster.  Our plants sported several flower clusters but this is the only one that can be found now.  We hope that this is a seed bearing female flower.  The other flowers that have disappeared without a trace may have been male flowers.  Next year we will look to see if the flowers on this plant are visually different from the others.  Learning to distinguish between male and female plants seems rather basic but remains outside of our skill set.

This single new small leaf has been under strong scrutiny for the past month.  If wishing made it so, this would be a new Arbutus plant from seed.  As it is, this is likely a closely watched weed.  The indentations around the edge of the leaf are not found on established Arbutus leaves.  When we first found this leaf a month ago, it was covered with short hairs like new Arbutus leaves.  Additional growth is absent from this plant like slow growing Arbutus.  This little guy is safe from the eager weeder unless it clearly presents itself as another kind of plant.

Last month's pictures showed unusual growth on one plant.  It turned out to be late appearing new leaves.  Next year's flower buds will appear sometime this fall.  We will be looking for them so that we know exactly when and where they form.  Will they appear on old or new growth?