Sunday, April 28, 2013

Arbutus Flower Gender Difference

Three years ago these arbutus plants were legally moved from the wild to a shaded spot near our garden.  Any ethical gardener would leave wild plants where they grow but I was determined to have these.  Accounts of failed attempts to move wild arbutus are common.  Many told me directly that it could not be done.  Since I was flying in the face of moral judgement and ignoring shared experience, I needed to keep the plants alive and learn more about them.

Last year I found what looked like it might have been a seed capsule.  Its development passed unobserved but a daughter plant from seed appeared.  Both genders of arbutus plants must be present among my four transplants.  Today a hand lens provided a clear view of the difference between a male flower and a female flower.  A single green rod that resembles a praying mantis head in shape is located in the center of the upper flower.  Pollen will be deposited here.

These female flowers have been open days longer than the ones shown in the upper photo.  Stigmas are visible here although their shape is different from the younger ones.  Round tipped cylinders accurately describe their shape but this is beginning to sound like a voyeur in the men's locker room at the YMCA.

Hairy is a word frequently used to describe trailing arbutus.  Both the leaves and the stems bristle.  The throat of the flower is also filled with hair like projections of differing shape and color.  Near the terminal end of each flower petal, small transparent structures resembling curled fishing line appear.  Deeper in the flower thicker white projections abound.  Moisture appears here despite our recent lack of rain.

This plant displays several light tan structures deep within the blossom.  Each resembles a grain of wheat with a slit running from end to end the long way.  An arbutus plant displays five features in several different ways.  Five petals on each flower are easily seen while the five tan anthers require a close look.

This flower has been open longer that the upper one and its anthers are more clearly seen.  Little imagination is necessary to see the mass of moist hair like projections that line the lower part of the blossom.  A trip to a wild patch of arbutus now would be well worth the trip.  A kneeling pad and a hand lens will reveal clearly the difference between the boys and the girls.  The detail that could be seen by direct observation will amaze anyone that takes the time to look.  Then there is the scent.  Close examination places the viewer's head very near the plants.  Lingering in their cloud of fragrance will create a memory of a wonderful experience.  It feels like I can remember that smell but that may be wishful thinking.

By May 5th much had changed inside of the flowers.  Both genders displayed golden brown stains on the hairs leading down to the base of the blossom.  Apparently there has been a great deal of foot traffic in the area.  The anthers now resemble soaked grains of wheat with a swollen slit across the long axis.  Each male flower contained five of these structures.  One of the styles was missing its tip.  Pollen depositing must be a rough activity at times.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Frost Not Fog

Sometime in May we will see our last frost.  One can never be sure exactly which is indeed the last but June first is generally recognized as the date to begin safely setting out tender plants.  Tubs, buckets and tarps cover plants that cannot grow here without protection.  Part of the problem springs from catalog descriptions.  When they list a lily as hardy to zone 4, they fail to mention that frost protection is absolutely essential.  It took several consecutive years of watching a Lily Regal burn black to the ground from frost before I realized that the plant needed help to survive here.

The weather forecast for last night did not guarantee frost.  We decided to lug out the tarps and buckets to cover some plants.  A predawn look outside suggested the presence of fog.  Still the moisture visible above the ground did not look exactly right for fog.  A quick trip outside to the thermometer showed the air temperature right at the freezing mark.  A second trip outside with shoes proved that the white on the grass was frost not dew.  The white stuff in the air is solid rather than liquid.  Instead of air filled with protective tiny dots of moisture we had air filled with tiny grains of ice.  This is not a common occurrence here.  Now that the sun is up we will venture out to see how the uncovered plants handled the frozen mist.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

First Arbutus Flowers

These transplanted from the wild arbutus, Epigaea repens, are in their third year with us.  Never has a plant received as much attention as these have.  Daily visits, a protective wire cage and hand removal of covering fallen oak leaves or white pine needle clusters are just the beginning of lavish care.  When  I kneel on the large flat stones that surround these plants, it must appear that I am in prayer.  Thoughts of encouragement flow freely but I steadfastly deny speaking aloud to the plants.

Bud searches have been carefully made since fall.  Few were found and I accepted that as a consequence of the woodchuck attack last spring.  Today's visit found two new flowers peeking out from under a covering leaf.  A closer look from ground level revealed a much larger cluster.  The covering leaf was pulled up for the top picture.

This photo is as the flowers are.  The covering leaf is visible.  These flowers are so newly opened that they are for the moment scentless.  Tomorrow should see more mature flowers in full splendor.  This is the plant that made seed last year so its gender is female.  Recording the development of seed is at the top of the agenda this year.  Expect to see more pictures of this flower cluster as we move toward summer.

These western trout lilies, Erythronium, have been a delight this year.  Red squirrels or chipmunks ate the first planting during the fall or winter.  The following year these bulbs were planted inside of a wire mesh cage.  Its top is hinged and the pink plastic closure is visible above ground.  Some munching creature ate the fresh above ground growth the second year.  Now in year three the added above ground cage is visible.  All of that protection permitted a rich flush of both leaves and flowers.

When we wish to view the plant, the upper wire cage is simply set aside.  One must put their head at ground level to see the structure of these short downward facing blooms.  This much brazen beauty deserves to be protected from casual view.

We are facing our third consecutive night of possible freeze or frost.  These trout lilies will not be covered tonight.  Forecast overnight low temperatures are not frighteningly low and we must see just how hardy these plants are.  If they get frosted, we will always have the pictures.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Baby It's Cold Outside

Weather wise this has been a nearly normal spring.  Seasonally cool temperatures have many of our more tender perennials just now breaking the surface of the soil.  Still, with last night's low forecast to hit 24 F we had to break out protection.  A single large tarp covers thirty something pots of lilies.  Here we get a lot of protection with little effort.  In the background several wire cages containing freshly scooped leaves are intended to insulate newly emerged plants from the cold.  The leaves were surprisingly hard to find.  Strong winds preceded the cold and removed most of the leaves.  Only those held in place by ground briers or brush were free for the picking.

Our welded wire cages are intended to protect plants from the rabbits or the deer.  Here one supports a tarp over the lettuce plants that were set out way to early.  Still, the tarp is quickly and easily placed held by water filled juice bottles.

Despite the forecast, we found the air temperature just above freezing this morning.  These lettuce plants may have looked just as good if we had left them uncovered.

My passion for lilies has handed me more than I can manage.  These orange spotted lilies are out in the garden and were covered with leaves and a bucket last night.  The reddish leaves spring from mature bulbs that will flower this year if they are protected from late frosts.  The green leaves sprout from daughter bulbs that will flower next year.  Several of the mature bulbs could be potted up now so that they could be moved into the basement for protection on cold nights.  Since four pots of these lilies are now in the sod house and more of these lilies grow in two others places in the garden, there is simply no way that I can save them all.


Bloodroot, Sanguinaria canadensis, has a long sad history here.  Numerous unsuccessful attempts to find a place where it will grow and multiply have been made.  Moisture seems to be the critical issue. Soil needs to be well drained but not too well drained.  Ample moisture is needed but not too much moisture.  In Irma's woods a solitary large patch of bloodroot  flourishes but it only grows there in that one place. That location is near but higher than a wet rocky spring run.  Since rocky spring runs are common in that area, there must also be some specific soil condition necessary for bloodroot to grow.

All of these bloodroot flowers will be gone in little more than one week.  Leaves remain until early summer when this spot will become a patch of bare ground.  Despite the complete lack of any visible plant then, underground life forces continue.  When dry spells hit I must remember to carry water here.  That is a real problem.  Taking time to water bare ground when the garden is full of withered dry plants is no easy task.  Last summer I placed the bloodroot patch on the must water list.  The only other plant on that list was arbutus.

The photo shows varied stages of how bloodroot gets above the soil litter.  A tightly wrapped sharply pointed leaf protects the flower bud as it pushes itself above ground.  Then the leaf begins to unwrap while the bud climbs higher.  The flowers close every night.  They also close on cold days.

Why is a simple white flower worth all of this fuss?  I cannot begin to find an answer to that question.  These flowers are among many that mark the beginning of another season in the garden but none have been more difficult to grow here.  Still, the nine plants showing in the picture are more than the number planted.  We will need another good year if we are to equal the number of plants that have died here under our care.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Extremely Pretty In Purple

I ventured out with the camera today to get a shot of these purple trout lilies.  Yellow trout lilies grow in the woods here, but when I saw that they came in purple, I just had to have them.  It hasn't been easy.  These bulbs are prone to being eaten by critters, so Ed fashioned a closed wire box to encase the bulbs under ground.  Last year the leaves of this plant got frosted hard.  If it had flowers, they got  got eaten.  I never saw them.  This year an above ground cage was added give additional protection  for this beauty.  The temperature is likely to drop into the twenties tonight.  I hope these lovely pink flowers can take it.  Their yellow relatives have not tried to bloom as yet.  After I took the picture, I returned the cage.  I hope the rest of the buds on this plant will get their chance to open.  If not, we got to enjoy pretty purple flowers today!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Irma's Woods

Across the river valley from us rises a high south facing bedrock ridge.  Numerous small spring fed seasonal streams make their way among the rocks and trees creating a habitat that is very different from our dry woods.  We frequently take a break from spring garden work to see the wild flowers that grow here in great numbers.  All of the land along both sides of the road is posted so our pictures are taken from the roadside ditch.

One section of woods particularly rich with wildflowers was owned by a former teacher that plied her craft in the same school as I.  She taught history while I taught mathematics.  Her health had failed when we first discovered her woods so we were never able to walk with her in these woods.  Still, I remember her each spring when viewing her flowers.

Sharp-lobed Hepatica (Hepatica acutiloba) are the earliest flowers that bloom here.  The flowers push above the leaf litter more easily than the low liver colored leaves.  Soil near neutral in pH is required so we have never acquired this plant.  If time permits perhaps a section of our shade garden could be filled with forest soil taken from under our maple trees.  Then we might be able to grow this plant.

Mixed among the road gravel scrapings pushed up by the snow plow are colt's foot plants.  I once moved some of this common ditch weed into a garden.  Given care it quickly claimed for itself a rather large section of garden.  Now I am content to admire this plant where it grows.  One name for this plant is son before father referring to flowers first, leaves later, growth habit.  This was our first trip to visit Irma's wood's this spring, but it won't be our last.  These earliest of flowers will soon be joined by others.   It would be a shame to miss seeing them.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Lettuce Investment

Now it begins.  Ed set out his beautiful baby lettuce plants.  It's so exciting to plant the first lettuce transplants in the garden.  It's a real step toward those magnificent garden fresh salads we will soon enjoy.   Lettuce plants in the garden are like money in the bank except that this green stuff will increase at an amazing rate.   Money in the bank pretty much just sits there!

A few extra plants are still in left in their pots.  They will be planted in another spot.  In the meantime they grow where they are.  The red and green salad bowl plants are so pretty.  For me they rival flowers.

These are Flashy Trout Back.  One of Ed's  favorites, it is planted here every year.  These plants are still babies, but soon I will be able to pick these attractive leaves.  


Wouldn't you know it?  The very night that Ed  put the lettuce plants in the garden we had a cold downpour.  The tender plants were safe under this tarp. 

Here they are the next day standing tall.   Maybe it's just me but I think they have grown some already.    Ed is ready with the tarp in case the weather takes another nasty turn.  You might think us a tad overprotective, but they are our first babies of 2013!  We have to protect our investment.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Did Not Miss It

Two decades ago when I was still reporting to work trying to help young people acquire knowledge and develop some small measure of responsible judgement, idle hours were devoted to reading about natures other wild creatures.  A life close to and lived in harmony with native plants and animals had captured my imagination.  Swampwalker's Journal written by David M. Carroll and awarded the John Burroughs Medal was a favorite book.  The idea of a rational adult poking about wet places looking for turtles and frogs seemed too good to be true.  In my youth a scolding for coming home with wet feet and possibly ruined school shoes was a more likely outcome of such activity.  Now I really wonder what creatures live in the crevices under these wild rocks near the pond.

Spotted salamanders (Ambystoma maculatum) are impressive when seen.  Their jet black bodies sport two rows of bright safety yellow spots.  I once found an eight inch specimen hidden among layered stones.  Their method of reproduction is something that I have wanted to see.  During the night of the first warm spring rain, dozens of these creatures move from the forest floor litter into shallow ponds.  Males arrive first and join together in a writhing circular mass.  Later the females arrive and join in.  Morning reveals masses of newly deposited egg clusters scattered on the pond bottom but the salamanders will have returned to the woods.

Two indisputable facts have prevented me from seeing this natural wonder.  Wandering about on an early spring night presents certain challenges.  Night here belongs to the wild animals.  Encountering coyotes, raccoon or skunks in what they believe is their territory might present more of an experience than what I would be seeking.  Standing for hours in the dark in the rain waiting for the arrival of the black  salamanders does not sound pleasant.  We had heavy rain last night so I had to check the pond for eggs today.  None were seen.  A warm rain is what the black spotted salamanders will wait for.  The first of the common red spotted newts pictured above are slowly making their way to the pond.

This is the area that I would have to cross in the dark to get to the pond.  Most of the time the lumpy ground here is solid and dry.  A long spring rain creates many deep puddles.  I cannot imagine an event free walk across here.  So I will again read David M. Carroll's description of what he saw when he stood out in a warm spring rain while the salamanders entered the pond in the comfort of my easy chair knowing that the neighbors are having a wild party in the rain.  

Thursday, April 11, 2013

April Flowers For June

I can't remember a spring here when the early blooming bulbs have been so spectacular.  When I spoke to June today she said  she had no flowers in her garden now. These pictures are for her but also so that  I may remember their exquisite beauty that cheers me  in the early spring garden.  My  "Katherine Hodgkin" Dutch iris are a delight.

My solid color Dutch iris have been  mixed and names have been lost.  That does not diminish their beauty which this year has lasted more than a week.

We have been enjoying the crocus blooms as well.  They still close at night and open during the day when it is warm enough for pollinators to visit.   I don't know how much longer they will last, but it has been an extraordinary year for these hardy spring flowers.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Time to Get Started!

Ed planted spinach seed.  The bed is all protected with a cage, and watered well.

The plant identification stone is in place . This Monstreux de Virofaly is a new kind of spinach for us this year. It sounded so fantastic in the catalog description from Botanical Interests seeds.

A second planting of seed put in the same day was planted where we had heated the soil with clear plastic.  It will be interesting to see if this planting comes up before the other one.

Weeding is calling to us as well.  This quack grass only gets bigger with each passing day.  It's a good feeling to remove a such a nice  long piece of this garden thug.

It's not like we are in a big rush, but this shepherds' purse has flowered already and we would love to compost it before it has seeds.  The weather is warming.  The tree swallows are back.  I saw a yellow shafted flicker. The turkey vultures have arrived.  We got to see four of the repulsive, unusual looking birds up close this morning. The rain we were hoping for today didn't happen.  We will have to water some instead.  This  afternoon spent in the garden seems perfect! Later!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Beauty And A Beast?

There can be no question that these Dutch iris are magnificent beauties in our spring garden.

My question is about this small creature on Ed's kneeling pad.  Is this a tick?  Do we have to be on guard already?  I thought the cold this year might have made a difference.  I guess I know it's best to be  prepared.  Yuch!!!!!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Warming To Weeding

Last fall when Ed finished weeding one of the garden beds, we decided to put down a double layer of clear plastic over part of the bed.  I'm sure I remember watching the Victory garden and hearing about doing this to heat up the soil .  As I peered through the wet plastic it was clear to me that something was growing very well under there.

When we flipped back the plastic, lush green plant growth was revealed.

I got my glasses and looked closely at the plants in this bed searching for something good.  What I found was  some shepherds' purse, a bunch of dead nettles that arrived here from somewhere last year and seem determined to take over the place, and some of my least favorite weeds whose proper names I do not know. The  names I call them cannot be printed here.

Meanwhile Ed was working on the area where we plant our early spinach,  lettuce and beets.  The metal barrier along with galvanized cages is our attempt to protect our delicious crops from the wildlife.   Ed's beds all prepared for  planting are a beautiful spring sight here!

We moved the plastic over to this bed to warm the soil in Ed's newly prepared garden bed.

The all clear had been sounded.  Everything in this bed was officially declared a weed.  There is something very satisfying to be able to get in there and just weed everything out of a bed until nothing but beautiful planting soil remains.  When Ed finished weeding,  he placed wire mesh over this newly prepared bed.  This helps to  prevent the local wildlife and the neighbor's cat from walking on, rolling in or leaving unwelcome presents buried in the newly prepared soil.

The sun is shining today, but the wind is chilling. This morning  I spotted a bluebird sitting on a post in the garden. It was a female. The brilliant blue of the male flashed by and I watched as they checked out the houses just south of the garden.  They took turns peering in the hole of first one then the other next box.  After that, they flew together to the shade garden tree.  I sure hope they settle here.  Perhaps I will bundle up and go out to see if a little more weeding progress can be made.  Of course if the wind is still cold , it will blow me right back into the warmth of the house.  

Friday, April 5, 2013

Now We're Talking Spring

Yesterday, Ed thought it warm enough to spend time in the garden.  He found in most places the ground was still frozen.   I went outside for awhile in the afternoon. I did a little clean up, but mostly I walked around with the camera.   I took this incredibly promising shot of the Siberian squill.  The deep blue of the buds is just a small preview of the flowers to come.  As I walked around I noticed that the snow drop and crocus flowers were closed up tight.  They thought it was chilly and I had to agree.  I like it in the garden when it is warm enough for the flowers to be open and the bees buzzing.

Today started out cold again, but the sun warmed things up and we just had to be out there.  Ed placed his tray of new lettuce plants on the wall for some time outside.  We eagerly await the chance to plant these out in the garden, but for now just looking at these beautiful baby lettuce plants makes me happy.  From the Flashy Trout Back  in the front to the red and green types in the back they are a promise of a season of delectable salads from the garden.

This afternoon the sun warmed the crocus flowers enough to make them open.  The bees in the neighborhood arrived right on schedule.

These delicate purple striped Pickwick crocuses are my favorite.  We don't have too many of them because the deer like them too.  If they find them before we do, they get nipped in the bud.   Some of these flowers and  lovely striped leaves were nibbled on before we added a cage.  These flowers will close back up tonight and be ready for another grand opening tomorrow.  

Many of my Dutch iris are blooming beautifully now.  The bees have taken notice of them as well.  Some are blooming but others have just started to come up.  These hearty flowers love this kind of weather.  They are a spring delight that lasts longer in  chilly weather and I love them for it!