Thursday, January 23, 2014

My Fabulous Fragrant Hour Among The Plants

I just love the way the winter sun shines on my fuzzy peppermint geranium leaves.  What a pleasure to work on the scented geraniums.  It's a delightful experience to remove all of the damaged leaves leaving the plant looking good.  Any time you work around scented geraniums they reward you with their incredible scent.  I dropped  three kinds of rose, nutmeg, and peppermint geranium leaves in my trug.   I cut back a very dead looking Provence lavender and added it to the mix along with some lemon grass and a few weeds.  The nutmeg geranium was quite leggy so I moved it into the sun and moved the as good as dead lavender out of the light.  Once plants are dead their light requirements reduce dramatically!

It took quite awhile to remove all the damaged leaves from the four lemon verbena plants. The entire time I was surrounded with the fragrance of lemon lollypops.  I cleaned up the frass too and found the cocoon.  All that was added to my trug.  The downstairs plants look much better.  At least one intruder has been removed.

Heading back upstairs, I stopped on the landing to water the rosemary and the other plants there.  The rosemarys are still making buds.  I removed a few gone past flowers, but these plants will need my attention very soon.

So here is my trug containing fragrant leaves and the scents of rose, peppermint, nutmeg lemon and rosemary.  If it didn't also contain frass and that insect cocoon it could pass for potpourri.  In this case it is just incredibly fragrant compost.  It certainly made for some enjoyable gardening time in spite of very cold day.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Cold Truth

There was no way I was going outside to take garden pictures today.  Even our double pane windows had formed ice on the inside.  Instead I took pictures of our indoor plants.  I had a nice picture of a rosemary blossom and a lovely picture of winter sunshine on fuzzy peppermint geranium leaves.  I could have used pretty pictures and left the impression that everything was rosy, but I didn't do that.  Instead I'm writing the cold hard truth!  It is frigid here.  Overnight the temperature dropped to -10.  My garden has a little snow cover, but it's a thin sheet when what is really needed is a heavy blanket.  More than that both Ed and I have colds as well.  We did venture out today. The snow made that loud crunching noise under our feet that only happens when it's right around zero or below.  If you are looking for blooms here only the rosemary has them.  They are small, but lovely like a little blue orchid, however a closer look reveals aphids and a gross blob of stuff that they leave on the plants.

Meanwhile downstairs under the lemon verbenas, this is what we find on the window sill under the plants.  I know frass when I see it and the leaves on the branch above have definitely been chewed.

Upon close inspection I found this.  The Pollyanna in me wants to think this is some sort of beneficial insect, but I know  the cold hard truth is that it will probably hatch out into a leaf eating machine.   Lemon verbena leaves are delightful with a delicious lemony flavor and scent.  I like to eat them myself.  Tomorrow will be the last day for whatever lives in that furry little cocoon.  My indoor plants need my attention.  Maybe we'll do the winter sunshine on fuzzy peppermint geranium leaves next time!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Second Thaw

It's just January 15 and the garden has already gone from a substantial cover of snow to no snow twice.  This afternoon I slipped on my green garden shoes and headed out to take some pictures in the garden.

Some of these strawberry plants look pretty good in spite of the fact they still have their runners and dead leaves plus a few weeds.  Somehow we just didn't get this bed cleaned up before the snow hit.

Ed did get a bed of strawberry plants trimmed and set out late last fall.  They look quite nice and don't appear to have frost heaved even though they were newly transplanted .

This time of year Ed's stone paths make all the difference in the garden.  They allow me to walk all around inspecting the garden beds which contain  muddy, waterlogged and, in some places, still frozen soil.  My feet were nice and dry when I finished my garden tour.

I was attracted to the rusty color of Ed's carefully trimmed and mulched Siberian iris.  There is no sign of new green here and that is a good thing.  It is still only January!

It was comforting to see the green of chrysanthemum plants peeking out from the stems meant to protect them.  So far they have done their job and our hopes for the return of the chrysanthemums in the spring are still alive and well.

This Dianthus looks spectacular spilling over onto the stone path.  The tiny green plants are the chervil that I planted last fall.  One of the fine herbs, it is easy to move around the garden just by laying the stalks with ripe seeds where you want them to grow.  Early in the spring I will have flavorful green leaves to brighten up  salads made with lettuce grudgingly purchased from the supermarket.  It will help to dull the pain!

Near the end of my tour, I did discover that the snow is not completely gone from the garden.  Here inside the square on the north side of the stone wall some snow remains.  Where it is located, it receives no direst sunlight since it is always in the shadow of the stone wall.  That doesn't keep the foxglove from looking all ready to do its thing in the spring. These low rosettes will send up flower spikes in the spring that will look terrific in front of the stone wall.  A few brand new lady's mantle leaves can also be seen.  Getting a glimpse of plants getting all ready for spring makes it seem closer somehow, but that is a pleasant illusion. It's January for Pete's sake!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Fascinating Fossil Coral

Geology books describe an ancient inland sea that once covered a huge area of our country including the small spot where we now live.  Geology is almost a synonym for speculation since this science evolves as the experts gather to share recent insights and postulate on how it all might have happened.  Events were documented in the stones but how do we read this record?   By reading books, consulting experts and looking at what is in hand, insight that is tenable can be found.  In all honesty, everything written here should be questioned.

Salt is presently mined near Ithaca, New York.  Historical record describes a salty spring near what is now Syracuse, New York that was used by Native Americans to produce salt for trade.  The presence of salt in massive quantities nearby rather clearly establishes that the ancient sea contained salt water. My found fossil coral is similar to what can currently be found in today's oceans so it is a safe bet that I have found marine fossils.

Honeycomb Coral is a popular name assigned to a group of fossilized coral.  A single coral polyp occupied each cell.  Honeybees build uniform hexagonal cells while this coral is built of four or five sided cells of differing size.  Still, the journey from living organism to skeleton to fossil is filled with events that could have altered some or all traces of the structure.  Then the glaciers pushed it about breaking it into small pieces.  Tumbled in melt water torrents, each piece was polished nearly smooth. I found each of the pictured pieces in my gravel lane or in an exposed face of my gravel bank.

Tabulate Coral is another name given to this type of coral.  When the coral was alive, each table was occupied by a single coral polyp.  As its home became filled with waste, the life form built a new home above the old home.  This fossil is a slice from top to bottom showing the internal structure of the stacked tables.  Dissolved minerals in the dwindling sea crystallized in the voids preserving the structure of the coral.  Each piece is about the size of part of my thumb.

Various colors in the deposits filling the cells suggest that the crystallization of minerals dissolved in the water was somewhat chaotic.  I have observed a change in color when some specimens are first exposed to light. Clear cement has blackened in the sunlight.  Recent life in my driveway may be partially responsible for the variety of colors present here.  I find this piece fascinating.  How did it come to be in its present form?  Some of the chambers appear to be filled with calcite while others may contain quartz.  Favosites is another name applied to this type of coral.

To stage these pictures, I washed some of the sand that was moved inside for winter use on the driveway.  The wet sand held the irregularly shaped fossils in place so the desired faces could be photographed.  Our lane is built of gravel mined on our land or from a nearby commercial operation. That means that each pictured fossil coral was found in a kame terrace located near Mt. Upton, New York. Although each fossil was found here they were not formed here.  Each is well traveled having been carried a great distance from their place of origin by the cycle of glaciers that more recently impacted this area.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Circumstantial Evidence

Winds from the south have pushed the polar vortex system away from us so a walk about outside was tempting.  Several slips on thin remains of unnoticed ice added a measure of risk, which younger folk might find exciting, but an actual fall was avoided.  The increased likelihood of a fall now ruled out a hike to the back woods.  I found something of interest close to home.

Bunny berries is the polite term for deposits left behind by wild rabbits.  These were found very close to our single surviving wild arbutus plant.  We first found arbutus here soon after we came to this land two decades ago.  Sited in the rubble at the edge of our heavy machine opened gravel bank, the plant clung to life but never flourished.  It is an old large plant so any attempt to move it to a more favorable location was quickly scuttled.  Some years we failed to find any trace of the plant at flowering time.  This spring we found the few remains of a well chewed arbutus.  Considerable new growth appeared over the summer but no flowers or buds were found.  We were encouraged by the plants ability to reestablish itself and thought that blossoms could appear next fall.

An evergreen plant faces danger during the winter months when few plants are green and therefore edible. There had been recent signs that something was feeding on these arbutus leaves.  Wildly contorted ground here presents complex challenges to cage construction.  Unable to figure out a way to protect this plant, I have left it exposed to the sometimes harsh reality of life in the wild.  Chewed edges on the few remaining leaves clearly show that something fed here but I cannot be certain that it was the rabbit.  There is no question that the rabbit was close by positioned so that its head was near the arbutus.  Bunny berries don't lie.

Our four transplanted arbutus plants and one from seed are safe under their wire cage,  edged with tightly placed sizable flat stones. Two opposable thumbs are required to remove this cage.  A quick peek through the cage found numerous clusters of flower buds.  April will soon be here and we are looking forward to the sight and scent of these first flowers.

Writing of the problem helped me find a rather simple solution to caging on uneven ground.  If small flat stones are stacked to fill the low spots, a rectangular plane can be established to support a cage.  The cage can be surrounded with larger flat stones to keep it securely placed.  Generous packing with screened gravel and chinkers could keep out the red squirrels and other rodents.  Why are simple solutions to complex appearing problems so hard to find?

Monday, January 6, 2014

Plants and Ice

For several days the garden was tucked under a soft fluffy blanket of snow.  It was beautiful and great for the plants.   Then the temperature went up like an express elevator, the kind that leaves your stomach in the basement!  Just the change in temperature melts snow, but when it rains too the snow goes away fast and what remains turns to ice.

Although it has just begun to freeze up, my hens and chicks are locked in a puddle of ice.

The snow changed to clear puddles in some places.  It left funny little knobs in others. Some places have granules and some are  edges are sharp as a razor.  

It is very weird the way water behaves when it changes from one state to another.  Walking on the snow makes a crunching sound.  Tonight when it gets really cold the formerly snowflakes that are now ice crystals will harden into a firm crust. Tomorrow will likely be a frigid below zero day. If you wanted to walk in the garden you would be able to walk on the surface without making a dent.

We are actually very lucky here.  We are used to bad roads and cold weather.  Although we grumble about the cold we know we are in upstate New York and we have to expect it.  It's the fast ups and downs that bother me.  I hope the garden is more adaptable.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

New Year, New Growth

Planning for a retirement that focused on outdoor activities occupied my mind during the last few years of employment.  Building with native stone, walking in the woods and growing plants were the planned activities.  Winters trapped inside would be spent reading about stone work, hikes and gardening.  My need to see green things grow is a powerful force.  An annual tradition of seeds to soil on New Year's Day has taken several forms.  Leek seeds were planted on many first days of the new year.  Maturity has left me unable to digest leeks so now they are not grown.  Something new was needed for this very special day.

Recently, forcing Easter Lilies has become part of our observation of the first day of the year.  Trying to grow these plants three or more planting zones outside of their natural range has been less than trouble free.  Facing likely death by cold, the production of daughter bulbs seems to be the only activity on this plants to do list.  Each fall many small bulbs are found but the size of mature bulbs diminishes.  Plans to purchase new stock are in place but trashing all of the small bulbs seemed heartless.  Two pots were filled with entirely too many bulbs and placed in the ground near the house. The thaw just before Christmas seemed like the right time to move these pots inside.

Three of the larger bulbs were placed near the bottom of each pot.  Layers of soil and smaller bulbs were added.  Disturbing the bulbs seemed to trigger growth without a period of cold.  Frost killed new growth hangs over the edge of the adjacent pot.  My fears that nothing would grow when the pots were moved inside proved groundless.  I count nine new plants in one pot.  Three layers of three bulbs each makes the math come out right.  Weeds are also sprouting so our natural condition continues.  Somehow pulling weeds when the garden is frozen and snow covered just feels good.

2014's garden is actively growing now.  Tender plants that we carry over in the house are pleasant to work with but nothing feels as good as new growth.  Our New Year's resolutions include limiting purchases of new plants and finishing some spots previously opened for gardening.  Of course, the purchase of new Easter Lily bulbs are outside of the definition of the resolutions.