Saturday, November 30, 2013

A Cold Sparkling Morning

Here on the last day of November the air is crisp and cold.  As I sat drinking my morning coffee the sun began to come up behind the far hill.  First it back lit the trees on the top of the ridge.  The sun on the frost covered trees made them glow and sparkle in an incredible way, the white frost on the trees picking up the gold  of the sunlight.  I watched intently as the glowing effect changed until the sun rose high enough to make the brightness more intense than I could comfortably watch.

Once the sun was up every tree on the hill was sparkling white.  The surface of the snow sparkled like diamonds.  This is a sight we are accustomed to see in January or February.  I know from past experience that it is impossible, at least for me, to capture the beauty of this incredible sight with the camera .  I slipped on my boots and went out on the deck to at least give it a try.  I noticed that the thermometer read 20 degrees.  It must have been colder during the night.  I took several pictures and this one was the best.  The hill in the distance looks beautiful, but the glow and sparkle of the reflected sunlight eludes the camera.  I guess you just had to be here.  Where it is cold and frost and snow are familiar to you, I'm sure you can visualize this morning's view out my window.  Snow and frost can be incredibly annoying, but this morning for awhile that was all erased by incredible beauty.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Winter Ready

We are presently under a winter storm warning.  Cold wind from the north is taking up moisture from Lake Ontario and turning it into snow.  Four inches of snow is forecast for us with increasing amounts falling closer to the lake.  This past Thursday the mechanics installed the snow thrower and serviced the tractor.  If the snowfall only amounts to four inches, the snow plow will be used to clear the driveway.  Whether the the accumulation of snow is large or small we are ready.  Better check the amount of gas on hand to be certain that all necessary preparations have been made.

Frost has entered the ground so it is time to cover the chrysanthemums.  Dead stalks are cut and placed loosely over the spreading young plants.  This bright light yellow mum is new to us this year so the amount of past growth available for cover was small.  The plant is on the south side of a stone wall where it will be shielded from harsh winter winds.  A low sun sends its rays nearly directly into the wall where heat will be stored daily.  With all of these advantages, we hope to see this plant alive next growing season.

In order to adequately cover the mum, we had to borrow material from a nearby Clara Curtis.  That plant has been with us for several years so it had stalks to share.  If all of these chrysanthemums survive winter, we will have an abundance of plants to share come spring.

Clipping the growth from the red daisy mum revealed this praying mantis egg cluster.  It was placed on the metal sheets that surround and protect our lettuce and spinach plants.  We hope that the unintended exposure of these developing eggs to full sunlight does them no harm.  Having praying mantis patrolling our garden and feeding on bugs is natural pest control but I fear some animal will feed on the exposed egg case.  Perhaps some phlox branches could be cut and placed to provide some cover here.  Bright sunshine has replaced the swirling snow for the moment so I will tend to that now.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

November New Growth

Death that is extensive throughout the garden at this time of year can trigger depression in an over protective gardener.  We live in an area that has four strongly different seasons and a winter of rest is the natural cycle of plants that grow here.  If we look closely, signs of early spring growth can be found now.

At the base of the stems bearing nearly dead leaves, new growth is emerging on this stonecrop.  We have a long history with this plant.  Sedum sieboldii was purchased from Adelma Grenier Simmons at her retail nursery Caprilands on May 15,1993.  Placed in the garden at the edge of a stone path, it struggled to stay alive.  The pictured plant was moved from the garden to a gap in the top of the wall that leads to the basement.  Here this plant has prospered.  Adelma is now gone but her plant lives on here.  We pass by this spot several times each day and remember that special day and a meeting with a special person.

At first glance, this looks like a bit of a mess.  Beneath the mass of dead stems, vigorous new growth is happening now.  Mammoth Pink is the name of this chrysanthemum and it looks like it plans to be here next season.  We leave the dead stems in place by design.  When the ground freezes solidly, we will cut these stems and place them above this new growth.  That light airy cover will help the plants come through winter.  We will then look for a place for all of the new plants.  That amount of garden space does not exist here so much of this will be composted.  Any spring visitors are welcome to share in the bounty.

New England asters are native here.  If we remember to pinch them back, they make excellent garden subjects.  If we fail to give them that early attention, their beautiful purple flowers will stand at the top of tall stems covered with dead brown leaves.  This hot pink naturally occurring sport was moved from its wasteland home to the garden only recently.  It appears to have taken to the new location.  At least four separate plants are putting out growth that will survive winter.

Here is more new growth on the top of the stone wall defining the entrance into the basement. Lichens constantly amaze me.  How a plant can find both anchorage and nutrition atop a hard stone remains an unanswered puzzle.  The texture of our native sandstone invites a second look.  What color is that stone?

Snow will soon be here.  One tractor lost its mower and gained tire chains and a plow.  Pros will soon be here to install the snow blower on the other tractor.  Plants are making their own preparations for the change in the season and we will also soon be ready.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

No Hunting Necessary

In this part of New York today is the day that  large numbers of the population are out there hunting for the elusive deer.  It all seems so unnecessary.   Certainly  we don't have to hunt for them here.  This one was right outside my kitchen window.

Rare is the morning that I don't see  deer  in the garden pruning my plants and leaving footprints everywhere.  This plant  grows in my shade garden.  I never thought that the deer would jump up to get into that raised bed, but they do and they are very slow to leave when I yell at them from the bedroom window.  They simply feel at home here and are not impressed or intimidated by me.

The deer seemed to think that my Gloriosa daisies  needed to be cut back.  I don't know if I agree, but the year the deer horrified me by eating my tree peony turned out to be the year that the plant had more flowers than ever before.  Maybe they know what they are doing!

Plants that we do not want the deer to walk on or eat have to be well protected.  This cage protects the fringed polygalas from  the deer's munching.

Without the cage the plants look like this.  I just know that deer would make short work of these wildflowers that I treasure so much.  So my wild flowers live in a cage for their own good.  They might make it out in the woods where you have to hunt for deer, but not here.  This morning I counted 6 deer in the garden.  No doubt as hunting season progresses, there will be even more.  I think they know they are safe so close to the house and they like the buffet!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

November Snow

Yesterday was a pleasant work outside in the soil day.  Time was spent removing quack grass runners from underneath the cut grass mulch cover.  Now this soil is ready for new plants early next spring.  Plans to continue this task were abandoned in response to the snow and very cold north wind.

The distant dead level field borders the Unadilla River.  Three different ridges can be seen in the distance.  The bottom land field is rich and productive but it is prone to flood.  We wanted to be on higher ground not knowing that deep gravel deposits form the higher ground.

This view in the opposite direction shows our lumpy topography.  The distant bedrock ridge was scraped clean by the last glacier.  It would appear that gardening activities have ended for this season but temperatures in the fifties are forecast for the coming weekend.

We enjoy this view looking west.  Falling snow blots out the distant ridge but looks great coating the tips of the pine branches.

Many geese are still spending time on the river.  Daily training flights are common at both ends of the day now.  The noise is loud and close as these geese work to organize themselves into an energy efficient vee formation.  Agreements are rare as small groups head off in all directions with no clear leader in sight.  I have often wondered if these come back from near extinction geese were duller than the geese watched in the 1950s.  As a child I saw flocks of high flying geese arranged in symmetrical
smooth vees and compared that memory with the current disarray.  What I failed to factor in was my location then as compared to now.  The child was 10 miles south of Cayuga Lake and geese rising from that distant water had time to sort themselves out before coming into view.  These geese in apparent disarray have just made the transition from floaters to flyers.  With the strong cold wind from the north, these geese may just decide to hitch a ride to warmer places.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Snow, No Snow

It had to happen and today was the day for SNOW!!!  For awhile it really came down until the  grass and garden were covered with white.  Only the stone walls and paths stayed clear.

Later in the day the snow was completely gone.  It didn't really mean it this time.

This is the view out the west end of the house.  The snow was a combination of tiny round balls and huge flakes that stuck together.  The wind was really swirling them around.  Brrr!

Now the snow is gone like it was nothing more than a dream.  I'm kind of glad it's gone.  I'm not quite ready, but it's obvious time to get ready is getting short!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Arbutus Wall

Following our success transplanting trailing arbutus from the wild, we discovered a fairly strong desire to create more natural plantings of this treasure on our land.  As in business, location is everything and this site was selected for our next attempt.  A necessary soil microbe grows among the roots of white pine trees.  Adjacent to the lane, water could be easily trucked to this spot.  Two large flat stones were placed at the base of the tree to kill off unwanted weeds.  All was ready but our arbutus plants failed to produce any seed this summer.  That turned out to be a good thing since the large tree branch lying on the ground fell on the same day that the new right of way users cleared growth  from along our side of the lane.  Had arbutus seed been spread here to endure this trespass my reaction would have been severe.

This field stone wall was placed at the edge of the right of way this week.  It is intended to clearly mark where the right of way ends.  It also should prevent snow plowing from destroying the arbutus plants that will be placed here next spring.  The new right of way users will now have the choice of directing plowed snow downhill over the edge of the lane or forcing it into my new wall.  Given the option of doing things the easy and considerate way, or stubbornly fighting for creative freedom, we will wait and see how they choose to act.

The top of this new wall pleases the builder.  The stones were placed on the wall as they were found at field's edge.  An occasional  wobble knob was chiseled off and sometimes a stone was split to reduce its thickness but otherwise the puzzle was completed with raw stone.  Gaps between stones are rather small and the top surface approaches flat and smooth.  A long comfortable pleasing seat is the result.

Another surprise is the small pile of left over stone.  The ground is widely littered with stone as the wall is being built.  Usually the pile of unused stone is large.  With winter rapidly approaching the work was lessened by placing most of each load of stone in the wall as it was brought here.  Final cleanup took only minutes.

If the new wall emerges from winter intact, arbutus plants will be placed between the wall and the base of the tree.  A thick layer of decomposing white pine needles will have created the highly acidic soil that supports arbutus growth.  Brier plants will be removed and the holes created when their roots are levered out will make excellent planting spots.

There is one nonnative stone in this wall.  Near the center, both vertically and horizontally, of the wall, a long light gray stone rests with its unique color standing out in sharp contrast to its neighbors.  This stone was a gift from Jane.  When we first came to this land, Jane allowed us to remove water worn stone from the bed of her stream.  Water polish made these stones strikingly beautiful.  At least one of these precious stones finds its way into each of our walls.

Here is a current snap of our transplanted arbutus patch.  Placed in the natural soil at the base of a white pine tree, and watered each rainless day for two years, these plants have prospered.  We would like to repeat this process in several more suitable locations.  Our time here will have been well spent if naturally increasing arbutus plantings propagate on their own.

Arbutus plants are not unique with their fall production of flower buds but we still marvel at that method.  No winter snow has fallen yet but the white of the tightly closed flower buds is easily seen now.  These buds will open early next spring and we will be here to enjoy their scent.  We will also be close by with a small soft paint brush to spread pollen among the ovaries.  Seed formation will not be left to chance again.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Fall Back

It's time for change.  The clock has been turned back.  It seems like the garden gets a new and colder chill every night.  Yesterday just a short time in the afternoon was really comfortable to be in the garden and darkness came quickly.  Only a few flowers are still hanging on.  My pink sedum  looks great and still has a sweet subtle fragrance despite the chill.

Today it was cold.  Ed worked outside through the middle of the day, but I ventured out only to empty the compost, to use the hydrant to wash the garden soil off the potatoes that I wanted to cook for dinner and to take a few pictures.  Even our hardiest flower of them all, my Emperor of China chrysanthemums are starting to droop.

This is a picture of my Frostweed.  I got my seeds from Gail of Clay and Limestone.  I don't know if this is how the plant should look now or not.  I had to shoot the picture through the cage because it was firmly frozen in place.  I would so love to have frost flowers of my own.  Who knows maybe one of these mornings when the sun finally makes an appearance,  I'll have a pleasant surprise out there in the garden cold .

Friday, November 1, 2013


This stone wall defining the limits of the right of way is marching down hill.  If I did not thoroughly enjoy solitary time spent in the woods, this project might appear just a little crazy.  Finding all of these stones that were long ago carried to field's edge does forge a connection with the amount of  work early farmers dedicated to clearing their fields.  In a way this stone deserves to rest in a wall rather than in a heap that is covered over by fallen leaves.  Soon no one will be able to know for certain just when this wall was laid up.  Moss and lichens will find a foot hold and  cover much of the face of the wall.

When we first found this land, this area was a favorite destination when walking about.  Several stones were placed at the base of an oak tree forming a seat.  Time spent motionless sitting with my back against the tree trunk seemed to quiet the soul.  Now the end of the wall forms a seat.  Top stones have been selected with an eye to their form.  Undersides are recently exposed flat surfaces while the top sides are weathered natural faces.  Stone bearing fossils are also placed here.  The fossils will soon become softened in relief by the weathering action of wind, sunlight and rain.

This side of the wall serves as a bench.  All of the stones still scattered about will be removed and the area smoothed.  Fallen leaves will be scattered about to hide all signs of my recent presence here.  Then I can come here and sit in the quiet of our woods on most days when I am the only person in the area. There is one example of how not to build a wall in this photo.  A continuous line running from the base of the wall to its top is visible.  Each stone should rest on the two stones beneath it covering the crack.  This is a weak point where the wall will likely fail if I do not relay this section.

The three previous owners of the adjacent field have allowed me to turn my truck around there.  That privilege seems to have disappeared now.  My solution to that issue was to make a place where I can turn my truck on my land.  An overhanging branch needs removal before I can get to a large pile of stone at the top of the hill but the truck is ready to drive out.