Wednesday, April 30, 2014

A Virtual Walk In The Woods, Photos by Amy

Today we are getting rain and the sky is gray. I know "April showers...", but really now!   It is  hardly decent weather for a walk in the woods or the garden, but we can all take a virtual stroll and notice some of the interesting things that Amy did when she took these amazing pictures.  You have to take your time to notice this kind of  fascinating detail.

I love the color, texture, shapes and squiggles on this one!

I don't know the cause of the polka dots on this oak leaf.  I suppose it might not be great for the oak tree, but it makes an interesting pattern.

I'm lichen this one. All that texture and color are just barely clinging to the  wood.

This last one with the little mounds of moss is my favorite.  The biggest mound has tiny little flowers. If I stare at this one for awhile, I almost see a pinkish colored toad staring back.  I guess cabin fever is really setting in with all this rain.  I could certainly use a nice sunny day in the garden!

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Reproductive Parts

These transplanted arbutus plants have been receiving multiple visits each day as we impatiently wait for open flowers.  Recent days have been cool and wet and the buds are slow to open under those conditions.  Still, there are blossoms that are open and ready for inspection now.  This show will run for days and better pictures may be taken in the near future.

Visible ovaries identify this as a female flower.  Five tan colored structures that resemble grains of wheat are located in the base of the open flower.  Numerous white hairs line the cavity above the ovaries.  Today, water droplets from the rain also hang from the petals.  Mrs. William Starr Dana describes arbutus flowers as having ten ovaries.  That would indicate that each tan structure is made up of twin ovaries.  If we ever get to examine a seed pod, the matter may become more clear.  We also noticed that the female flowers were surrounded by more intense scent than the nearby male flowers.

The pale green circle in the center of this flower is the tip of the anther.  A side view would reveal its rod like shape but how does one get the camera inside of the flower?  Plans were to gather pollen on a small fine brush and have a go at bringing it to the ovaries.  Today, examination with a loupe did not reveal the presence of any pollen. We will check again tomorrow.

These were expected to be our from seed daughter plant's first flowers.  These two do not look anything like any of the other buds but they do not look dead either.  Perhaps arbutus has three different types of flowers. These may be self pollinating flowers similar to the near the ground violet flowers that produce a multitude of seeds.  These will definitely be under a close daily watch.

For now, lying on the rocky ground with noses buried deeply in the plants marks one of the high points of our entire gardening year. Gathering numerous deep breaths of this sweet scent will have to create an experience that will last us for the entire coming year.

The following photo and text were added June 13, 2014, in an attempt to correct our published incorrect information.  We never claimed to know what we are doing but we sure enjoy the struggle to correctly learn.

Now that seed clusters have formed, we can possibly correctly identify the two different genders of flowers.  It appears that we were dead wrong on what we posted here.  The long cylindrical structure extending from the center of the seed berry served as a pollen collector.  Its tip was the stigma, the long tube the style and the ovary lies buried deep at the base of the former flower.  It should have been identified as the female flower.

The five tan structures at the base of the other flowers must then be stamens.  We did not look long enough to see the formation of pollen.  These tiny forms positioned at the base of a hairy tunnel are difficult to inspect or photograph.  Next year we will endeavor to examine these flowers over several consecutive days and record the progression of the flower moving to sexual maturity.  For now, I will leave the photos that show me brushing the female flower first and transferring the collected treasure to the male parts.  No seed followed that activity.  If plants can laugh, I must have given them a roar.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Here You Could Smell The Earth Day

Today was one of those days when you could smell the spring rain.  I guess not everyone knows what I mean when I say that, but  if you do then you know exactly how delicious an aroma it is.  This picture of my pink trout lilies was taken yesterday.  The whole garden was just waiting for this nice gentle Spring rain.

What a difference in less than 24 hours.  Spring ephemerals really grow at an amazing rate.  Rain  worked like magic.  Grass that looked brown yesterday was bright green this morning. Early this morning I watched the tree swallows  swooping around the garden doing their best to break up a  ruffled grouse tryst that was going on in the bushes just beyond the garden.   I hope the happy couple found a more private spot to continue.

Behold my first two daffodil flowers.  I thought they were going to have short stems, but the rain is doing wonders.   With such color and scent, wet as they are, they are perfect for Earth Day!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Seeds To Soil

By the calender we are late in planting peas.  Bitter cold and severe frosts have found us recently so in that respect it is good that we have waited.  Yesterday the first egg masses were visible in the pond.  They were few in number but they were present.  Taking that as a sign, the decision to plant the peas today was made.  These four rows of seed took my entire day.  First, the bed required weeding.  We use the hand pull weeds one at a time system hoping to remove the entire plant and that takes time.  A chopping pass with the four tined stone fork deeply loosened the soil.  A wheelbarrow load of sifted compost was prepared and spread on the bed.  Another application  of the stone fork  mixed the compost in and readied the soil for seed.  A Warren pattern hoe cut the furrows.  Several trips with the watering cans moistened the seeds before they were covered with soil.  The chicken wire was hung down the center and the exterior fence was placed.  Those tasks required the entire day.

Neither of us have been happy with the quality of our close-up photographs.  We needed a device if the quality of our photos was to improve.  A Joby gorillapod tripod seemed worth a shot.  The first one delivered was topped by a 3/8" threaded affair that was not compatible with our camera.  Thinking that something was missing from our package, we sent it back.  The illustration on the box of the second order showed how to unscrew the large threaded ring thereby exposing the threads that mated with a camera.  Internet shopping is our only option in many cases since our rural location features few Main Street stores.  You never get to speak to a knowledgeable salesperson on line so one must learn by discovery.  We now have a workable tripod and it is excellent.  The only outstanding question is whether or not we will be billed for returning the first tripod.

This photo of emerging blood root plants was taken with the new tripod.  Its stable platform allows for sharp focus on these plants that are still at ground level.  A tightly wrapped tapered leaf protects the flower bud as it pushes through the soil and forest floor litter.  We may see open flowers here tomorrow.

The tripod was purchased to aid in capturing the magic of arbutus flowers.  The camera follows its own mind when deciding what to focus on but this picture is amazing.  The really great news is that ants were seen on the buds while we were there.  Last year the flowers opened early before the pollinators were active and no seed was produced.  Our later start this year may solve that problem.  These buds sure look like they plan to open soon.  At least three visits each day are made so as not to miss a moment of open flowers.  That may be a factor in why it took all day to plant the peas.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Now This Is Spring In The Garden!

We did have frost this morning, but the rest of the day was perfect for being in the garden.  It's sunny, but not too hot.  Ed's lettuce that got zapped by hard frost before is making a comeback.  Even the plants that I cut back hard are making a comeback.  The plants are making new little leaves.

Ed's tomato plants are big enough to spend the nice part of the day outside. Soon they can be moved to bigger pots.

Ed spent the day working on a project he had hoped to finish last fall. Today he moved the clove currants. Tomorrow I think he will have the bed finished!  That  will be a great feeling.   Actually every thing that we can get done makes such a big improvement  a wonderful feeling of accomplishment comes with the effort!

Ed's bloodroot not only came back this year, but it multiplied over the winter.   We have to keep an eye on it. The plants flower and go to seed very quickly. Ed's watering after the plants went dormant paid off.

The frost didn't make much of an impression on my squirrel corn and in spite of its name it didn't get eaten either.  The plant looks great!

We have some gorgeous blue Siberian squill growing in a place where we did not know we had planted it.  It will take some patience to separate it from the weeds but who could not love those gorgeous blue flowers?

I saved the best surprise for last.  I had circle onions also known as curly chives for years.  Somehow in the last couple of years we lost them.  I was sure they were gone for good, but today I walked by this plant and stopped  dead in my tracks.  There way down at the end of one of the garden beds, growing in the stone path was a curly chive plant.  How it could be growing there so far away from where they had been planted before is a mystery to me, but I am thrilled to have noticed it.  Imagine if it had been pulled as a weed by mistake.  It will be moved to a nice spot and well marked.  Now that we have been reunited, I don't want to lose them again. Maybe if I'm lucky they will send up a nice purple flower for me come July.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Death Along The Trail

This is the sight that greeted me as I crested the hill leading down into our dead ice sink.  Shock and sorrow were quickly replaced with a feeling of envy.  Nearing my seventieth birthday, thoughts of my inevitable end sometimes fill my mind.  Dropping alongside the path seemed, at the time, like a good way to pass.

Dead wild animals are part of the natural cycle and are usually taken in stride.  Somehow the death of this fox created unexpected emotion.  A wild fox moving across the meadow is a thing of rare beauty. Poise and confidence are evident with every move.  Displaying characteristics that are at the same time feline and canine add to the mystic.  A thick bushy tail that is almost as long as the body attracts and holds ones attention.  

Black ears could be photographed without disturbing the carcass.  I failed to look for the white tip on the tail although one can be seen in the first picture.  Only the imported red fox displays the white tail tip.  Our native gray fox sports a black colored tail.  The red foxes were imported for sport hunting.

Our fox was laid to rest at the base of an ancient gravel borrow pit.  A huge white pine tree shades the spot and its fallen needles build pleasantly scented soil.  Large rocks will keep this spot undisturbed although two of them would otherwise make excellent wall stones.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

April Snow Day

This morning the garden was covered with white.  I opened the window to take this picture.  It was way too cold to go out there and I kind of liked the picture with the snow undisturbed except for bunny tracks.  I did notice that the air smelled clean and fresh which is was a nice change from the constant stench  aroma of liquid manure that the neighboring farms are spreading before they plow their fields.

A little later in the day when I did venture out the winter aconites were peeking  out of the snow.


By afternoon the snow was gone. These Dutch iris that looks so beautiful yesterday look kind of mushy now.

This picture is not upside down.  The snow in summer really got flattened.  I hope they will perk up when the weather warms.

By the time the sun was low in the West most of the snow in the garden was gone.  This time of year I am so glad to see it go!!!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Warmth, Wind And New Spring Arrivals

Today was warm and windy .   Flowers that were buds yesterday are open wide today.  The deep brilliant  blue of these scilla makes me sigh with contentment.  You do have to lie down on the ground with the camera  to get this view. I even managed to get back up without help!

This patch of snow in summer went from bud to flower in one day.  Planted in a fairly large group, these look great even from a distance.

This large planting of Ducth iris is outstanding.  I think every bud is open now.  Some of the others that have been open longer have faded in the heat and hot sun. They were great while they lasted.   If the forecast is correct tomorrow will bring a return to cold.  These flowers can take that . If anything it will make them last longer.

Today there were 4 winter aconite flowers.  Yesterday  the plant was barely visible.  Their cheery yellow can also stand up to the cold.

I'm always delighted to see the emergence of my squirrel corn plants.  These delicate looking plants and unusual flowers sometimes get uprooted , I don't know that it is squirrels who do it, but they got their name somehow. This spring ephemeral wildflower is always short lived, but wonderful to see just the same.

So if tomorrow does turn out to be cold with sleet, these  flowers should brave the elements with ease.  I probably will not be as beautifully gracious about it, but I'll make it too.  I heard the peepers tonight.  Spring is here even the little frogs know it!

Arbutus Update

Even for a true fan, it is easy to understand the question, "Why all the fuss?"  Arbutus is after all just a low evergreen ground cover that is easy to simply walk past.  I find the scent of the flowers delicious while the man that allowed me to dig these plants thinks that the scent is close to the smell of cat urine.  Lacking a close personal relationship with a cat, I can neither support nor refute his comparison.  My visits to these plants now number several each day.  These transplants are about to start their fourth year here and they are alive and well.  That in itself is a wonder.

These flower buds are close to opening.  Today the temperature climbed to the high seventies F, but tomorrow may see low twenties.  All five of these arbutus plants have bud clusters including our from seed, naturally sown daughter plant.  The rightmost plant has buds for the first time.  The plant in the lower center of the picture was chewed to the nub by a woodchuck and it is in bud for the first time since the attack.  A total bud cluster count of 24 is easily reached.  To say that we are excited is an extreme understatement.  Both plant genders were represented in the two plants that flowered last year. Identifying the gender of the remaining three is at the top of the things to do list.  

Many mysteries continue to present themselves when looking at these plants.  Here are the first dead arbutus leaves that we have ever seen on our plants.  These leaves are new growth that appeared last year on the plant that was chewed by the woodchuck.  We have no clue as to the cause of death on these young leaves but the brown boils might need to be removed.  We have no clue regarding the natural life cycle of these evergreen leaves.  They seem to live indefinitely.

Flowers will soon open here.  We will attempt to distribute pollen with a small artist's brush.  We want excellent photos of individual flowers.  The structure of both the male and the female flowers needs to recorded in picture as does the development of the pollen and ovaries.  So far a clear picture of the deep white flower parts that are surrounded by sticky clear and white hairs has eluded us.  A small tripod with bendable legs is due to be delivered tomorrow.  That may not be enough since the camera always seems to focus on the nearby leaves rather than the flowers.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Where To Begin? Start Anywhere!

After all the waiting and anticipation, today was the quintessential spring day to work outside.   Ed started early and headed for the back.  When he returned from there, I got my cart and all my other gear and joined him in the garden.  The crocuses are beginning to bloom and it's a pleasure to hear the buzzing of the bees.  There might not be many flowers just yet, but this bee's sacs are brimming with orange pollen.  We have lots of cleaning up to do, but the beds with blooming  flowers  beg for attention and they get it.

Right now my Kathryn Hodgkin Dutch iris are  a delight.  Some of them are open and there are more to come.  These early flowers are always good for a smile.  Cleaning up around something so lovely is fun.  The tree swallows are back and provide a little aerial excitement as well.

Lest we forget the weeds, they seem to have wintered over well.  Here is shepherd's purse already in flower.  Quack grass is making an appearance as well.  The dandelions are off to a slow start, but give you a great feeling if you can get the small plant and its gigantic root out in one piece. We spent the rest of the morning, removing mulch, pulling weeds, cutting back dead stems to make way for new growth.  Ed potted up some Clara Curtis chrysanthemums that he wants to move.  This kept up until lunch time. We were both starved and enjoyed the break for lunch.  After lunch we left our tools in the garden, thinking we would return to do more and took the truck on a scenic tour around the place.

On our stop at the gravel bank, we found the colts foot in flower.  The yellow flowers are one of the first wildflowers to appear.  The flowers always come before the leaves that give the plant its name.  It really is a ditch weed.  These plants are growing on a section of gravel bank that was actively mined last season.  The clump may have slid down to its present location.  Its charm lies in its early blooms.

The buds on the red maple trees are still tightly closed.  We will need more warm weather before they will open.

One of our stops was for me to watch Ed use his new cable and his truck to pull out an invasive rose. The cable has a ring at each end .  Ed puts the cable around the stump and the smaller ring over the hitch ball on the truck.  He still uses his pry bar to loosen the stump, but then the truck pulls it from the ground.  We will see how many Japanese honeysuckles and nusiance roses will get this treatment. I'm betting a lot.  Ed  is delighted with every one that goes!

That's a pretty big rose bush.  It fills the back of the truck. We took it to join the others on Ed's brush pile down at the gravel bank.

When we returned Ed went back to work on weeding a garden bed.  I was out of gas, so I just went out to put away my tools.  We are both tired but happy.  Tomorrow looks like another nice day. I hope we are both up to it!

Monday, April 7, 2014

April's First Flowers

What a pleasure to see snow drops open in the sunlight.  I even noticed a couple of honey bees buzzing around. I suppose these little white and green flowers could be considered boring by some, but to me they are hardy and brave and one of the most beautiful flowers ever.

They will stay open under that amazing blue sky until the sun goes down and the temperature cools. Then they will close their blossoms  and wait to open again in the light and warmth. After all, there is no point in leaving your sensitive parts uncovered when they are no pollinators around to appreciate them.

Here are some of my Dutch iris piercing a thick mullein leaf to  reach the sunlight.  I spent part of this nice sunny day clearing away debris  from these .  Ed got me a cage to protect them from the deer.

There is not much that burns my cork more than waiting all winter for these lovely little beauties and then having them nipped in the bud by some hungry deer

Here on April 6, we have my very first Dutch iris bloom of 2014.  There will be many more, but this one is the first! Usually I get to enjoy these flowers in March.  In 2012 a post very much like this one with a lot less whining was posted on March 13.  Perhaps all this  breathless anticipation has made me appreciate them even more!