Monday, September 30, 2013

Red Berries

My many recent trips up the lane revealed a new treasure.  The bush has clearly been in this location for several years but it has never before been seen in this stage.  Having absolutely no idea as to the shrub's identity, I asked the resident expert for help.  With several of her books in hand, she soon had the name of this plant.  Winterberry or Black Alder, Ilex verticillata, is a member of the holly family.  It occurs as either male or female typical of members of this family.

I have in the past noticed this plant in bloom.  Its tiny white flowers never drew me down over the bank for a closer look.  These bright red berries are certainly an attention getter but it still took several days before I remembered the camera.  This generous set of fruit, female behavior, suggests that there may be a male nearby.  A large wet area adjacent to the road may be home to more of these plants.  We will need to take a closer look.

The identity of these red berries remains unknown to us.  Two withered leaves can be seen still attached to the stem that carries the berries.  This mystery plant grows among the wintergreen plants.  I remember seeing a plant growing with the wintergreen but I made no attempt to identify it.  Now there is the choice of searching for earlier photos of this area or waiting until Spring when the green growth is visible.

A simpler choice is to search the blog for the post when this area was first discovered.  The picture suggests that the unknown plant may be False Solomon's Seal.  We will still have to return next year to try to see this plant in flower.  The plant's fragrant white flowers should make identification more certain.

Despite the rather large size of this wintergreen patch, a long search revealed this solitary berry.  The berries are eaten by numerous wild creatures but the neighbor's three dogs live very close to these plants.  I would expect that the canine presence would keep the wild animals away.  For some reason the flowers were few in number this year so the berries would necessarily be scarce.  Resisting temptation, I chewed on neither berry nor leaf.  Some of those leaves look wet and there has been no recent rain.  It was not just a moral judgement to let the plant parts remain unpicked.

Monday, September 23, 2013

My Not "HOT" Pink Aster And Other Late Bloomers

This early day in the new season found us working outdoors.  Despite the bright sun light, the air was cool enough to make our hands ache.  Much as we love living in an area with four distinct and sometimes harsh seasons, pain in response to cold has us talking about moving south.  Action is unlikely because we do enjoy living here.  Frequent trips inside to wrap hands around a hot mug of tea should help with the cold hands.

Native asters have captured and held our attention.  Many New England asters grow on the margins of our gardens.  A bright pink aster has been at the top of the want list for some time.  Last year we spotted one growing in the ditch alongside of the road.  A poorly kept house was nearby.  Reluctant to knock on the stranger's door, I considered stealing it.  Moral values or fear of the hefty fine for taking a wild plant kept the aster undisturbed.  Later the county road crew removed the aster and all that was nearby when they cleaned the ditch.

The pink aster in the picture was discovered today, growing in a waste area near a path.  We can find no explanation for its presence.  One near that color was ordered but it was out of stock.  This must be a natural mutation from wild stock or a cross with one of our purchased exotics.  In any event, the location of the bright pink aster will be carefully marked so that we can find it in the spring.  It deserves a better place to grow.  I wanted it and here it is!

Our search for hardy chrysanthemums continues.  This bright yellow plant fills a void.  Planted in front of a south facing stone wall, it may reappear next year.  Our hopes are high since we really need many plants with this color.

This pale pink aster was purchased.  The years required for a mail order plant to grow from a small promise of things to come to a respectable plant caused this one to nearly get lost.  We  did not weed it out in error and now its location can be clearly seen.  Dream of Beauty may be the source of genetic material for our new wild aster.

This white aster is causing us some confusion.  Did we buy it or is it wild?  A comparison will have to be made between this garden plant and others growing wild in our fields.  I suspect that another native was moved into the garden.  It has taken over the area where it is planted.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Autumn Asters, My Fall Favorites

The time after the Autumn equinox, after some light frost, but before the leaves on the trees really begin to change is perhaps my favorite time of year.  Purple New England asters against the yellow of goldenrod and other yellow fall blooming flowers are a vision of gorgeous color in the garden and in the surrounding countryside.  This year many of the flowers  were knocked to the ground by heavy rain, but their beauty is not to be denied.  They may be down, but the mounds of flowers are still a purple delight.

I'm not the only one who appreciates these flowers.  They swarm with bees and other pollinators now that many other flowers have gone to seed or been killed by the frost.

This exuberant billow of October Sky asters, tumbles into the garden path nearly closing the east entrance to the stone square.   Its habit is not unlike the billows of New York asters that line the ditches along our country roads.  Fields of bright yellow golden rod accented with  shades of purple asters are a feast for the eyes.  For me every aster that grows in the garden is  a delight.  It would be impossible to have too many!  The single spot  of orange on these asters is a small butterfly.  Although I may have seen this kind of small brightly colored butterfly before, I did not recognize it.

I could not have been more delighted when this American Copper butterfly, Lycanea phlaeas stayed put long enough for me to take this picture.  It made it possible for me to make sure just who this small but striking butterfly might be.  When I read that the host plants for this butterfly are sheep sorrel, Rumex acetosella and curly dock, R.crispus, I wondered why I haven't seen more of these little beauties.  Both of those plants are weeds that flourish here.  The sheep sorrel is one of our worst weeds that we struggle with constantly, occasionally winning a battle, but never the war.  Somehow it's comforting that something beautiful comes of the nasty, annoying,  pernicious, @*#$!, weeds.  I'm sure sheep sorrel will always be here. We can never have too many asters or striking butterflies.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Touched By Frost

Frost was widely predicted for last night but we awoke to find the valley filled with fog.  Liquid moisture is a good sign, frost wise, so we thought that it had missed us again.  A closer look revealed that the top leaves of the basil were black and smelly.  The lower leaves looked okay but one would have to reach through the black slime to get to them.  Apparently frost formed before the valley fog.

Our self planted pumpkin really took a hit.  The ridge that funnels the cold into the valley sends it to us first.  I thought that the cold worked its way downward but these unfrozen leaves are just a little higher than the damaged ones.  We bought and read a book about gardens and frost but still do not understand how it forms and does its damage.

New people have bought the land behind us.  The only way to reach this land is by a long farm lane that is defined as a right of way.  The new owners initially thought that they owned the lane.  In fact they own none of it.  They seem to be having difficulty grasping the concept that their access is clearly defined and limited.  This stone wall is intended to help them see the limits.  My side of the fence was used as an old stone dump for the adjacent formerly cultivated field.  I may have enough stone here for the nearly one half mile lane but not the will to build it all.  We will see how far the wall extends when hunting season opens.  Guns will keep me front while hunting season is open.

The new owners have posted their land.  One might be confused about just what is posted since the sign is fastened to a tree that grows on my side of the fence.  It  seems like these new people will take whatever they need.  A huge ground level branch was found broken from the tree trunk and left lying across the lane.  The hole into the heart of the tree may result in death for the tree.  For now I will continue to build the dry stone wall.  I find the task completely enjoyable and all of the required materials are just lying on the ground.  What is better than free fun?

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Fallen Giant

Swamp Maple or Soft Maple are not names that inspire grand images of stately trees.  Red Maple may create a more favorable first impression.  Red is the color of their early spring flowers and we seek them out every year.  We discovered that one of our largest and oldest fell victim in part to the recent severe weather.

Our aged giant was structured much like the younger tree in the foreground.  Its main trunk splint into five not far above the ground.  Two of the trunks had previously fallen to the ground.  Once a large  branch broke off but became lodged in a nearby tree.  High above the forest floor this horizontal snag was a favorite perch for the great horned owls that sometimes nested here.  We know this to be true because of the large number of owl pellets scattered about under the snag.

Two trunks remain but the base of the tree looks well worn.  We shall watch and wait for the next trunk to fall.  This storm hit the tree from an unusual direction with pretty stiff winds.  The top of the fallen trunk neatly dropped between two trees at the forest edge.  Only one small branch was clipped off at the end of the fall.

John Burroughs wrote of making white sugar from the sap of Red Maples.  Maple sugar from Sugar Maples is brown much like the color of the syrup.   Late winter tree tapping has always been on our wish list but so far no action has been taken.  I boiled maple sap as a child and again early in our marriage.  Outside working in late February is more than pleasant.  The smell of wood smoke and sap steam add to the experience.  Somehow slogging through deep snow and spending the entire day tending a fire while stuck in the woods has sounded like more than I want to attempt. 

The two earlier fallen trunks are slowly being reclaimed by the forest floor.  Located in a wet valley, there was no practical way to remove the wood.  The twisted trunks would have been a nightmare to split so we left them where they fell.

Very close to the fallen tree trunk I found both Partridge Berry and Wintergreen growing.  Any attempt to remove the fallen wood would place boots on top of both of these groups of plants.  Our choice to leave the fallen tree to return naturally to woodland soil was strongly reinforced by the discovery of these two prized ground covers.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Squash And Pumpkins Anyone?

Last year we had a bumper crop of pumpkins and butternut squash in the wilderness garden.  I still have quite a lot all processed and in the freezer to enjoy.  Ed planted butternut  squash and pie pumpkins in the back again this year.  We never thinned the plants or paid a lot of attention to them.  We could see that the plants were lush and saw some fruit along the edges and hanging from the fence. Today when Ed went to the back, the leaves of the squash plants and some of the pumpkin plants were dead.  We were amazed by the number of squash and pumpkins sitting there.

Many of the pumpkins were orange and the squash looked healthy, so Ed picked them and loaded them in his wagon.

I counted 13 pumpkins.  I don't even know how many squash there were.  Ed put three of each in the basement and left  the rest down by the road.  If you drive by here, please help yourself.

The really spooky part is that this huge pumpkin vine that grew on a compost pile is still going strong.  There are even more larger pumpkins lurking beneath its leaves.  Self planted from the seed of a pumpkin left behind last fall, this plant lagged behind the seeds that we planted.  It has now outgrown all that we planted with a span that exceeds forty feet.  The core of the plant has powdery mildew but the outer leaves are still clear.  We believe that powdery mildew ended the plants inside of the fence.  If we miss the predicted frost tonight, one more meal featuring squash blossoms could happen tomorrow.

These pumpkins are much bigger than the others and right now they are still growing.  This vine still has blossoms.  Who knows how many more pumpkins there will be?  Ed will need a bigger tool to  harvest these.  With a garden sometimes it's not about what you need, it's about what you get!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Severe Weather

A line of severe thunderstorms threatened us yesterday.  Only one cell passed over Stone Wall Garden.  Its wind blew wildly from the southeast and the rain was torrential.  Our electric power winked out only briefly and the house held against the powerful onslaught.  Our plants displayed mixed responses to the storm.

The sunflowers are now heavy with seed.  They took a beating from the storm.  The one pictured above had its stem snap well above ground level.  Carrying off the broken plant was a bit of a task.  I never expected a few flowers to weigh so much.

 Our Autumn Joy sedums always flop when in full bloom.  Each year I plan to make wire cages before growth starts.  If the plant grew up and out of the cage, then the branches would have some support.  Good intentions were of no help so our plants are open in the center.  Perhaps next year will be different.  

Several small fallen branches littered the driveway under the huge cherry tree.  One of them displayed fungal growth that we have never seen before.  The purple circles are an uncommon color.  We have absolutely no idea of the name of this unusual growth.  The same can be said of the bright light green sheets nearby.  This growth occurred high up in the tree.  Had the storm not broken the branches, we would never have seen these beauties.

Our apple trees were planted eleven years ago.  We do not know how to properly prune fruit trees and we use no pesticides.  There have never been more than a few pathetic ripe apples here.  This year the frost was kind to the apple trees and the rainfall was abundant.  All four trees are carrying a heavy load of apples now.  We expected that the storm would break branches and shake most of the fruit to the ground.  The direction of the storm and the shadow of the high meadow combined to create a quiet place where these trees grow.  All of the apples and all of the branches are still in place.

We lost a few flowers to the storm but nothing terrible came to us from it.  New to us fungal growth on dead tree branches was the result of the storm here.  Our luck continues to hold.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

September Arbutus

Our solitary wild arbutus cluster experienced a difficult year.  Its location is poor at best.  Nestled among waste stones, this area was scraped by a bulldozer more than half a century ago when the gravel bank was first opened.  Early this Spring, very little of the arbutus displayed any growth at all.  I was certain that we had lost it.  Now I believe that it received a visit from a hungry woodchuck just breaking hibernation.  Only evergreen plants show growth at that time of year and so they are at risk of being eaten.  This ground is so uneven that I can find no workable way to cover the plant with a cage.  The plant did an admirable job of reestablishing itself over the Summer but no flower buds were seen today.

This new from seed plant has a flower bud and impressive leaves.  The possibility of flowers on last year's baby is exciting.  There was no sign of any new plants this year.  The carefully watched female flower parts showed no sign of any seed.  They must not have been pollinated.  We do not know what insect is responsible for arbutus pollination.  Early Spring weather must not have favored them this year.

Our known to be female plant has several clusters of flower buds.  Three distinct groups can be found in this picture.  Forming flower buds ahead of Winter seems unwise to me but how else would they be ready for their early Spring opening.  Finding so many bud clusters today has me really looking forward to next Spring.

We will close with this group portrait.  The from seed baby plant that appeared last year is at the top center of the picture.  The female plant is located where 10 o'clock would be found on the face of a clock.  The four transplanted arbutus and the from seed new plant form an impressive cluster.  With any luck, these plants will be loaded with flowers come Spring.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Asleep At The Switch

Ed and I both spent some time in the garden this morning.  It was pleasantly cool.  I even came back inside the house to get a sweatshirt.  We were having a great time collecting our morning bucket of weeds.  Ed worked on the tomatoes picking the red ones and placing them in the basement.  The big flock of turkeys was chased from the garden several times. They even come around while Ed is working in the garden. We should have been aware of what was going on around us.  Hummingbirds seen just the other day were not around.  The meadows around us are yellow with goldenrod.  The morning went by very fast and when I came in to make lunch I opened the windows to enjoy the cool air.  After lunch I joined Ed for a short nap.  It was the sound of the generator that awakened us.   Our power had gone out.  It was George, one of my neighbors who broke the news that frost was expected tonight.  "Clear with a low around 36 with north winds 5 to 8 mph becoming calm after midnight" was the forecast.  We have been enjoying first frosts in October for several years now.    We did have a September frost in 2012 but it was September 24.

It's a good thing we were rested up.  I went out and cut some basil to freeze while Ed began the process of potting up our tender plants.  The lemon grass in the first picture can't take any frost so they were first in line for the fast move to the basement.  The lemon verbenas came next .

The remainder of the week looks good, but tonight Ed's latest lettuce plants  will escape the cold in the basement.  They are still in pots because so far he only intended to set them out.  Sometimes there is a benefit to not getting a job done.

Our second planting of summer squash and zucchini is just starting to produce.  We covered them, although you can tell from the shadows the sun was already sinking fast in the West.

I picked the largest peppers and then we covered the peppers and basil with old sheets.  We will see if the frost actually arrives tonight.  We were asleep at the switch.  There were plenty of signs right in front of our noses.  We just didn't read them!

PS: Although it was a cool and starry night, the frost didn't happen.  I think we are awake now!