Thursday, November 29, 2012

Impatiently Waiting For Spring

This may have been the first stone wall built on the pioneer farm here.  Grading uphill from the river bottom land, stones were abundant in this early field.  Along the field's edge, the order of the stones ranges from still solid wall to fallen down heaps.  The wall in the background represents two early springs efforts to put things right.  Low late winter sun softens this ground first as spring begins to take hold.  While the gardens remain frozen hard, this area will yield to determined hands and tools.  Newly restored wall will result from the first real outside work of 2013.  The stone cairn that holds the string defining wall's edge will have to be moved as the wall is overtaking it.

This from seed baby arbutus plant is expected see its first spring.  Three hairy leaves with more growth in the center  should carry it through the winter.  We visit here almost daily offering kind words of encouragement to this little guy.

What may be mother arbutus sports two bud clusters peeking out from the cover of overhanging leaves.  Can the scent of a flower actually be remembered or are we just stretching our imaginations looking forward to the first flowers of spring?

The sod house is anything but a work of art.  Primitive but functional, it already shows the effect of shade.  The sod mound prevents warmth of direct sunlight from reaching the ground where snow remains.  Frost hardened, winter is well under way here in this small spot of ground.  Pots of Oriental lilies are winter ready.  The next big challenge here will come from marauding rodents intent on chewing tender green new growth.  Traps, repellent and the will to move all of those pots stand ready to do battle.  For the moment, the wire cages keep the deer from walking here as we impatiently wait for spring.  Of course winter is the next season to arrive here, but if the arbutus is ready so are we!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Sharp Frost

Transition time between two seasons can create scenes of wonder.  This morning we woke up to see air that looked like it was filled with frozen fog.  Conflicted between a desire for something hot to drink and wanting to be outside amid the splendor of the moment, I chose the hot drink.

The sun was just beginning to burn through the frost when I finally ventured out.  Air temperature then was at 30 degrees F.  Frost was not heavy on the ground still warm from yesterday's bright sunshine.  Blueberry leaves exposed to the currents of frosty air display both pebbly frosted surfaces and sharp spikes of frost formed on  leaf edges.

This weed of unknown variety is located in a spot where the air currents are strong.  Located at the base of the gravel bank hill, the stream of cold air must have poured around its edge.  Grass and leaf litter beneath it are nearly frost free while the weed has a generous coating of frost.

A blueberry branch has a heavy coating of frost spikes.  They look menacingly sharp and remained untouched.

A splinter on the split rail fence is heavily coated with frost while the surface of the rail is largely frost free.

Frost coats many surfaces exposed to the air.  Some frost is on the grass but the soil in the planting beds is frost free.  No frost on the massive stone wall is common when the preceding day was warm.

Someone smarter than I am might offer an explanation of the generous crystal growth on one side of the post in contrast to rather small deposits on the opposite side.  Moving air accounts for the difference but I have no idea which way the air flowed.  Clear skies are now visible overhead and all of this crystalline wonder is melting. Soon it will be completely gone.  The water will have evaporated and only these sharp frost pictures will remain.

Friday, November 16, 2012

How Did They Get Here?

The land that we occupy is quite a mystery to even a casual observer.  Five meadows ranging in size from two to five acres are each on a different level.  Each is relatively flat but all are separated by changes in elevation.  All are the product of the receding glacier.  Different soil types are found in the various meadows.  Some are rich with clay while others are sandy gravel.  We cannot begin to understand exactly how our land came to be.  It must represent more than a single event in the melting of the glacier.

Water sorted deposits fill our valley.  Operating gravel banks abound.  Last fall we had our road improved with several truck loads of gravel from an operation a few miles upstream from us.  On my daily trips up and down the lane with the mail, different appearing stones would catch my eye.  Some found my pocket and wound up on the wall near the basement entrance.  Geology books suggest that our soil may have come from as far away as the Adirondack Mountains.  I would really like to know the identity of these stones to aid in understanding just how they came to be here.  

Fossils clearly identify a sandstone of some type.  Chunks cemented together in a single stone are conglomerate similar to the deposits that form the Catskill escarpment.  More dense stones show pits that could have been formed by gas bubbles under tremendous heat and pressure.  Perhaps I should rent a geologist to walk this land and describe just how it came to be.  He might even be able to identify the names of the pebbles atop my wall.  All those different  colors and textures are so intriguing to look at especially if you have a thing for stones and I do.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Fleeting First November Snow

We expected rain overnight.  Waking to the morning light reflecting off the snow was  a bit of a surprise.

Very quickly the early morning's grey skies were replaced with blue skies and sunshine.   

The view to the west was lovely and the promise of a sunny day encouraged us to leave the snow on the ramp to the kitchen door instead of clearing it.  I carefully made my  way down the ramp to the car.  When we returned home at lunchtime every trace of snow was gone.  It looked pretty, but I can't say I'm sorry it melted. I love snow for Christmas, but let's not rush it!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

A Beautiful Day For AWalk, Photos by Amy

It was a beautiful day for a walk around.  The lately unfamiliar warmth of sunshine felt delightful.  Most of the garden and surrounding meadows have changed from greens to  beige or brown.  Amy did manage to find a bit of color in this heart shaped sedum leaf.  Most of the plant has gone brown, but a few leaves down in the crack of the stone wall are still colorful.

The windy weather has blown most of the oak leaves to the ground. They make an interesting picture with the fairy cups growing on the rocks.

Unable to choose between the photographs I included both of them. I find these lichen formations so charming. I think they are worth a second look.

For some reason shed snake skins remain stuck to the stone wall that forms the entrance to our basement. Shed during the summer, they still hold their spot.  They are a wonderful but creepy study of texture against the stones.

There are several places on the wall that are decorated with these snake skins. Usually they don't stick there for so long. If you can forget what they are the designs they form are quite beautiful.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Hardy Chrysanthemums

These Helen Mae chrysanthemums give a new dimension to the term hardy.  They were just beginning to open flowers when the first hard frost hit.  We trimmed off the blackened flowers but left the tight buds in place.  A pale pink oasis now remains in the garden.  Some new growth at the base of the plant suggests that this beauty plans to return next spring.

Another new arrival  here is Cambodian Queen.  Similar in habit to Emperor of China, a move to a larger open area will be necessary come spring.  Their underground shoots are real travelers.

Abundant new growth is spreading outward from the Daisy White mum.  This is what we wanted to see.  If these young plants survive, we could have more  mums than we have places to plant them.  Bluestone Perennials was our mail order source for the mums last spring.  Their young mums are not cheap but if they winter over for us they are worth the cost.  They certainly have a better chance than the pot bound plants sold most places.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Loose Ends

Native wild flowers often present contradictions to anyone that tries to bring them into the garden.  Cardinal Flower continues to puzzle us.  It reproduces by both seed and daughter plants at the crown.  Six young plants and uncountable numbers of seeds are produced every year by a single plant.  One would expect weed like numbers from this treasure.  That is not the case here.  Late spring freeze and thaw cycles are terribly hard on the daughter plants.  New plants from seed have eluded our identification.  This fall we planned to resolve the latter matter.

One of those black plastic nursery trays was placed over freshly weeded garden soil.  Commercial potting soil filled the tray and spilled over the edges.  Seed that had been gathered on one of those rare dry fall days was sprinkled on top of the sterile potting soil.  In nature the wind shakes the plant stems scattering the ripe seeds.  They fall on the surface of the ground.  Light may be necessary for germination so the seed was left on the surface.  If cardinal flower seedlings appear here in the spring, we will be able to see just what they look like.  Knowing their form will help us save some during early spring weeding.  Our ignorance may have placed countless seedlings in the compost bucket.

Robin's Plantain usually blooms here in  late spring.  These late fall flowers are a fluke.  Usually the stems on this plant are much taller.  For some reason this plant was compelled to produce these short flowers in November.  I suppose a real optimist would take this as a sign of an early spring or a mild winter.  The snow and chill in the air today does not support that idea.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Another Layer Of Protection

Fringed polygala, Polygala paucifolia, is a favorite native wildflower here.  As a low growing largely insignificant plant, it is easy to miss when not in bloom.   Its rose purple flowers of unusual form are a special treat in May.  The flowers are short lived so they can easily be missed.  We have read several references to their decline in the wild.  I went contrary to every principle of responsible behavior and moved a single plant from the woods to our shade garden.  Flowers followed the first year after the move but there was no sign of the plant this spring.  Clearly responsible for the apparent loss of a wild treasure, I felt terrible.

My guilt eased when the plant put out new growth later in the spring.  We saw no flowers this year but the plant was still alive.  Low growing evergreen plants face a number of challenges.  Deep fallen leaf litter can smother them.  We had found a large area covered with polygala in bloom in a neighbors oak woods.  When we returned the following year to more closely examine these plants in the wild, they had totally disappeared.  A thick layer of fallen oak leaves covered the ground where the polygala had flourished.

Our transplanted treasure faced a different threat.  The locust tree that provides the shade also sports a suet feeder.  Woodpeckers are not terribly neat feeders so much perfectly good food falls to the ground.  Crows number among the opportunists that find this fallen bounty.  We have watched as they also fed on the nearby Iris christata but took no action.  I believe that the lack of snow cover last winter exposed the green leaves of the polygala to the crows.  Stripped of its leaves, it had no way to generate the energy to form flowers.  A cage now covers the polygala.  We hope to see again those delightful purple flowers come spring.  Additionally, we will not feed the birds this winter.

Crows are wildly successful social animals.  Hawks and owls are sworn enemies of crows.  We frequently hear the alarm call go out when a crow spots a hawk or an owl.  Quickly the sky is full of other crows coming in from all directions to harass the enemy.  Despite their cunning and group ethic, I prefer the majestic hawk.  Besides, crows are known to drop baby owls from the nest to their death.  This crow has been lying in repose for several days.  It was part of a group of four.  I do not know if the dead friend is keeping the others away but they have not returned.  So for now this crow can remain where it fell.