Sunday, June 30, 2013

Outstanding Smokebush

When I look at the garden from the bedroom window, right now the most outstanding plant I notice is the smoke bush.  I've been doing that a lot, looking out because of all the rain, but I have been able to watch a family of bluebirds trying fit their necessary flying lessons in between the storms.

Smokebush, Cotinus coggygria, is a fantastic garden plant that comes from Eurasia.  It is actually related to the cashew.  I absolutely love the way it looks.  It has a lot to recommend it.  It is drought tolerant and the deer don't seem to eat it, even here.  It's fall color is spectacular!  The leaves are patterned in green yellow and orange.  Check out it's fall beauty at "Watching The West Wind"

Here is a little closer look at its feathery plumes.  I love the way the plumes look in the sunlight.  After a rain the water droplets are iridescent.  We have had lots  rain lately but sunlight has been sparse.  I found a broken branch and cut it to bring in the house.  It shows in this picture to the right just above the stone wall.

 I always thought that that the purple plumes on this bush were the flowers.  When I researched the plant the flowers were described as yellow.  I was shocked!

Sure enough, on close inspection I found the flowers.  I would hate to call them insignificant, but they are very tiny. The fuzzy purple plumes are flashy by comparison.  I have to say it. I love my smokebush right down to it's tiny yellow flowers!

Today ended with rain again, but there was some sunshine too.  I've only seen a few  double rainbows and I like to mark the event when I do.

Friday, June 28, 2013

When It Comes To Fungus Does Color Matter ?

When I found these fungi growing in one of my scented geranium pots, they struck a familiar chord.  For a very long time wiseacre gardens had been a favorite blog of mine. He has not posted for some time so I was delighted to be able to link to his post on white bird's nest fungus.  Now I wonder if my dark grey "eggs" in little nests are a bird's nest fungus or not.  It's amazing the things that are right there and we miss seeing them.  It was nice to be reminded of wiseacre.  I'm glad I can still visit and share his walks in the woods and his insightful knowledge of the things that grow there!

Here For Only A Moment

Iris ensata captured our attention several years ago.  Their nearly waist high foliage looks crisp and fresh all season.  How the blossoms unfold is nothing short of a miracle.  A long sharp cone of tightly wrapped petals pushes up and out of a green capsule.  Then, rather quickly, the flower unfolds.  Many times I had stood nearby watching, hoping to see actual movement, but I always impatiently move away without seeing anything happen.  The flowers are short lived lasting only a couple of days.

This purple wonder is nearly open.  The mechanics of the unwrap are mysterious.  Had the biting bugs been less vicious this morning, I might have lingered here to watch the show.

Fully open, the flower displays its deep purple veins.  Structurally bizarre, its beauty is somewhat creepy.

Pink Lady is the name assigned to this beauty.  Here the form of the flower is more normal in its appearance.  We must quickly take a moment to enjoy this show as it will all too soon end.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Hot Under The Collar

No pretty flowers or cute wildlife visitors today. This is how it really is in the stone wall garden  and it has been this way for days.  It's too hot and it's too dry.  I know it is officially summer, but I could have waited for this kind of heat at least until mid-July.  I'm still picking slugs, snails and rain rotted foliage from my potted lemon grass and scented geraniums.  After clouds and rain for so long the abrupt change to hot and dry is shocking to the plants and the gardeners as well. This thermometer that reads a solid 94 degrees is shaded by my Clematis, Jackamanni .

It has been coming along so beautifully, covered with buds.  Now with this heat the ants have turned many of the buds into an aphid farms.  Needless to say I am not pleased.  I can't help thinking a nice hard thunderstorm is just what I need to discourage this activity.

Most of the time weeding in the garden is fun.   The sounds of the song  birds, the aromas of the plants and flowers, visits from humming birds and butterflies make it delightful pastime, but if it is this hot and dry, when it comes to weeding, it  feels more like work.  Ed had been working diligently to finish weeding the onions.  I tried to help, but the heat drives me inside fast.

Sometimes weeding is only really fun when it is done.  I sure hope we get some rain soon.  Sometimes I like my onions cooked, but I prefer to do that in the kitchen!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Bloodroot Seeds

We do not usually see any trace of our bloodroot plants, Sanguinaria canadensis, at this time of year.  Early hot dry weather has, in the past, brought their year's growth to an end by now.  Most days this June have been rainy and many of the the plants are flourishing.  Some leaves are spotted with rot or feature chew holes but they are still doing their work.  Early Spring is months away while dreams of a rich drift of pure white flowers are here now.

Our early plant order included three more bloodroots.  When the order was placed we had no idea if any of the old plants would make an appearance this year.  The three new plants stand alongside of the older plants.

Only one of the flowers set seed this year.  We have never before seen a seed capsule.  This one has been under careful scrutiny for weeks.  Today, I was behind the plant pulling weeds when this hole was discovered.  Ants are credited with dispersing bloodroot seeds as they feed on a seed coating.  It appears that the ants have opened the package.  We will let nature take its course here.  With any luck some of these seeds may grow replacing some of the plants that have died here in past attempts to cultivate this wild flower.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Sometimes I Can Be Mean

Under the right conditions I can be mean, vicious, downright ruthless.  Most people who know me would doubt this, but let me explain.  You see here baby bird eggs.  Under normal circumstances I would never harm wild bird eggs.  These however are Passer domesticus, house sparrow, eggs.  House sparrows are one of the major factors in the decline of the bluebird population.   They are in fact the only bird eggs  I know of that DEC encourages be destroyed.  In all the time we have been here I have never seen a nest of  house sparrows in any of our bluebird boxes.  Before sealing the fate of these eggs, I carefully checked. Bluebird eggs are this size, but blue, tree swallow eggs are a little smaller and white, wren eggs are speckled but smaller.  These six house sparrow eggs are toast!

It is with sheer delight that I have been watching a pair of  bluebirds nesting in one of the boxes near the new perennial bed down by the road. The other day I noticed a house sparrow sitting on the cage around Ed's blueberries.  Today when I checked the bluebird house I found, to my horror, two dead baby bluebirds.  The other house contained a huge nest and these house sparrow eggs.  The evidence may be circumstantial and I don't know if  the tiny naked babies with the blue tinged wings were actually murdered or if their parents were just driven away.  Either way action will be taken. These eggs are going to be destroyed, crushed, annihilated!  Of course I won't be able to do it myself, but Ed will do it for me.  I ordered the hit so according to the felony murder rule I'm also mean, vicious and downright ruthless and we both feel good about it.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Mother's Day And Father's Day

Native wildflower Fringed Polygala has a close association with Mother's Day in this area.  The farmer's children that lived here in the past gathered handfuls of these flowers for their mother on that special day.  Now we walk to the back woods on Mother's Day to try and enjoy this treasure in a natural setting.  The single plant that was moved to our shade garden from the woods nearly disappeared during its second winter in the new location.  We speculated that foraging crows drawn near by the bird feeder nipped off these evergreen leaves when the snow cover was scant.  Perhaps the abundant rain prompted the flush of new growth that decided to bloom today.

All of this new growth seems to indicate that this wild plant intends to survive in the garden.  That's a pretty good Father's Day gift since I really hate to kill wild flowers by moving them.  It is likely that this is a single plant although there may have been viable seed produced by the underground flowers that we know exist but have never seen.

We will have at least one more June flower from this bud.

The protective cage is back in place now.  We had removed is because a trillium appeared inside of the cage.  If the Polygala grows through the cage, we will have a problem.  Frequent checks will be made to move any new growth under the edge of the cage.  It seems that a wild flower should be able to survive without so much fuss but this plant is becoming less common in the wild.  We will take no chances with this one.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Siberian Iris 2013

This new bed near the road is clearly in the middle of an old farm field.  Quack grass rules here but we have learned a few tricks to temporarily control it.  Grass clippings were deeply piled here for one full year before we considered planting anything.  Then the clippings were pulled aside and the ground turned with a hand fork being careful not to break any roots.  The few remaining roots were cleared intact.  A trench was dug outside of the bed, lined with cardboard and filled with ground tree bark.  Any quack grass trying to cross into the bed is easily removed.  We know that inattention on our part will allow the quack grass to completly reclaim the planting bed but for now we are winning.

Denise recommended Siberian Iris to us several years ago.  We purchased one or two new varieties a year to allow us to learn about this new plant.  Five of our oldest friends were chosen for placement in front of the stone wall.  We think that a dry stone wall is the perfect backdrop for the sword like foliage.  The flowers last for only a short time but are well worth space in the garden.  Our collection is presented in the order that we acquired them.

                                                                    Roaring Jelly

                                                                  Butter and Sugar

                                                                       Silver Edge


                                                                     Sky Mirror

                                                                     Gull's Wing

                                                                  Golden Edge

Nearly every day this June has featured rain.  Today the flood warnings are out with an additional 2 inches of rain expected.  We are so far behind moving our plants from their pots to the garden but the rain really perks up the new transplants.  Weeds are getting the upper hand so we really need some time in a relatively dry garden.  Siberian Iris flowers can be enjoyed from the comfort of the living room regardless of the weather.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

No Deer Allowed In The Garden Except...

As a gardener it's fairly normal to see deer as an enemy.  We chase them from the garden and build fences and cages to keep them from eating our prized plants.  They are in a word, a nuisance.  But then this time of year comes around.  The other day as I drove the garden tractor to the back I spotted a doe with her new fawn.  Mom went to the right hoping to draw my attention and the baby went to the left.  The baby made itself small and didn't move a muscle but I could see it from the path. I couldn't resist taking the tiny fawn's picture.

I was delighted to get as close as I did to the tiny thing, but left quickly not wishing to do any harm.  Ed was watching and he said as soon as my back was turned the fawn got up and ran away.

It was early on this rainy  morning when I looked out of my kitchen window to see a doe and a brand new, born today, fawn.   The baby was tiny, wet and wobbly.  I caught sight of the pair again outside the west end of the house.  Ed and I watched as the mother methodically licked her new fawn. Watching what she was doing made me glad I'm not a deer.  She was clearly trying to stimulate the fawn to nurse.   Once she accomplished that goal she would move a bit to encourage the fawn to follow her.  Clearly she feels right at home here.  She has much to teach her fawn on this its first day if it is to survive.  Sometimes we forget that we were the ones who placed our home right in the middle of hers.

It will be hard to chase the mothers and babies from the garden for awhile.  In the meantime we will enjoy watching them.  The fawns will not stay small for long.  Soon they will be running fast and growing by leaps and bounds. The fact that a whole new generation of plant munching  critters is arriving here is not lost on me, but as long as they are so cute and have their spots, I'm enchanted.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

It Takes A Closer Look

 I'm strictly an amateur photographer and I sometimes am disappointed with my photographs, thinking that the camera just doesn't capture things the way I see them.  Frequently it's a quality of light or color that  just seems to elude my lens.  I was quite pleased with this picture of a beautiful little wild columbine growing in the shade garden when I took it.   It was not until I came inside and loaded the picture in the computer that I saw that this was more in this picture than  a flower.  Sometimes the camera sees things that I do not.  I was quite fascinated with the tiny bug sitting in plain sight on my lovely wildflower.  His striped legs and antenna, tiny black eyes and the minuscule stinger on his posterior were all amazing to me.  I have no idea what kind of bug he is, but I'm so glad I got a chance to see what I never knew was there!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Arbutus Cuttings

Our baby arbutus plant from seed is barely eight months old and its new growth is amazing.  The low cluster of three dark leaves of varying size is last year's growth.  Five light green leaves are the new growth to date.  The large bright light green leaf appeared first.  The smaller olive green leaves are rather new.  How all of this new growth can spring from such a comparatively small and young parent plant has to raise questions.  Soon finding the crown of this plant will be difficult since most of the growth will be a some distance away from it.

Nearly daily checks are taken on this cluster of female blossoms.  We are hoping to record the development of seed capsules.  There has been no apparent change since the flower petals were dropped.

We are also watching this group of male flower remains.  Since we have no botany courses between us, there is a small nagging doubt about our identification of the genders of these flowers.  If seeds appear here, then we were dead wrong with our classification.

These two stem cuttings were taken today.  Small olive green leaves are the youngest so that was our choice for cuttings.  New cells are more prone to accept a new function than older cells.  We need stem cells to convert to crown and root cells if a new plant is to appear here.  My previous attempt to root arbutus cuttings was a complete failure.  New growth was taken before but today I went with really new growth.  Clear plastic juice bottles with the bottoms removed are in place over the cuttings with the entire affair moved to dim light.  Water is in the saucers.  The race is on to see if the cuttings can send out roots to get water before the leaves dry out.  The bottles should maintain a moist environment around the severed leaves.  In a few days the caps will be removed from the bottles to allow some air circulation.  We will also allow the saucers to dry out between watering.

All of these bright green leaves are new growth this year.  A woodchuck ate this plant down to the crown last year but it appears that this one is a survivor.  With all of this new growth, there may be suitable structures available to support flower bud formation this fall.

Expect to see a post announcing the fate of the cuttings taken today.  We will report either success or failure.  We also hope to be able to report the formation of seed capsules.  Our immediate goal is to gain some understanding of the natural cycle of this plant.  If we learn enough, perhaps we can reintroduce some arbutus plants into the wild.