Monday, March 30, 2015

One Step Backwards

Yesterday weather conditions drew us out of doors and this garden area was cleaned up.  Overnight new snow fell and now the sky is filled with low threatening clouds.  Winds are from the south.  NOAA predicts that this new snow will be gone today.  We shall see.

Wild turkey tracks are everywhere.  Initially, I saw these footprints as the steps for the turkey trot.  Later we saw the bird feeding on clear ground at the base of the shade garden wall.  Our first concern focused on the fact that the bird was alone.  We usually see wild turkeys in large groups.  What happened to the rest of the group is an obvious question.  An opportunity to watch this bird for a long time as it fed revealed just how thin it is.  When it moved it seemed to stagger.  My displeasure with this winter seem really weak when compared with its impact on the wild life.

These prints were made before the storm ended.  Fresh snow partially fills the tracks making identification shaky.  Two large footprints side by side point to rabbit.  If its pace was slow, then the front feet could have found ground one after the other some distance apart.

We recently saw our first road kill of the season.  Skunk scent fills the air now so we know that they are out and about.  I find it terribly sad that an animal manages to survive a harsh winter only to be ended by a car during its first walk about.

These early lettuce plants were started with no plans that they would ever be planted out.  They should see some time outside on the wall when weather permits.  Some of these leaves are large enough to take now.  The primary reason for planting them early was that we had to see something green.  Oh my, they surely look good.

The covered tray on the heating pad contains tomato seeds freshly planted.  Here again we are early but there is a workable plan.  Twelve of these tomato plants will be reset in one gallon pots.  Days outside on the wall will be followed with nights in the basement.  If cold weather threatens, days will find them in the basement.  This early start is intended to get us ripe tomatoes ahead of the late blight.  Additionally, soil was found under my fingernails yesterday.  My potting soil smelled great in spite of spending a long winter in a plastic garbage can.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Take What The Day Offers

An overnight freeze created a hard surface on the snow cover.  We went outside early so that a walk about on hard snow was possible.  If we avoided holes in the snow created by animals or dark leaves, no joint jarring drops into the snow pack were part of the experience.  By afternoon ever strengthening sunlight and a cloudless sky softened the surface of exposed ground.  This area near the house lies in full sun and gets more heat reflected from the white house siding.  This was a chance to start garden cleanup.  Working gently to avoid damaging frozen plant parts, dried leaves were pulled clear.  It is impossible to overstate the impact on my mind and spirit  that resulted from this simple task.

These hens and chicks are self planted in the gaps in the stone wall leading up from the basement.  Still partially trapped in the ice of melting snow, these colorful plants appear alive and well.  If any plant can display strength of spirit, these certainly do.

Bluets grow like a weed in the proper conditions.  We have tried several times to introduce them here but they do not flourish.  This clump is growing at the edge of the stone wall forming the shade garden.  One rogue deer has the nasty habit of feeding in the shade garden.  It took out the center of the bluets but left young growth at the outer edge.  Our wire cages remain held fast by the snow so there is nothing that we can do other than yell at the deer.  Like talking to a group of eighth graders at lunch time, our voices here have little impact.  A physical approach is usually necessary to move the deer away.

This spot has enjoyed several seasons of growth with no interference from us.  The daylilies should have been removed from above the daffodils planted here.  We have allowed these plants to go their own way but when the ground truly softens the daylilies will be removed.

This catnip was found growing wild here when we first explored this land.  It resists our attempts to tame it and simply grows in locations of its choosing.  The extra potency of this freshly dried catnip has made Becky's knitted and stuffed cat toys wildly popular.  She has often received reports that Fluffy opened the package containing the mailed toy without human help.

This perennial flax was deeply buried in snow removed from the driveway.  Sand was thrown with the snow and the dark color hastened the snow melt.  New green growth under the snow must impress any who see it.  I do see a weed well into the crown of the flax and that is annoying since it will always be impossible to remove completely.  So far it looks like this flax will be magnificent this year in spite of it.

Fierce winds removed much of the snow cover from the shade garden as it fell.  This area cleared early and open ground pulled the deer in to feed.  A wire cage was found that could be moved here to protect these Dutch iris.  Deer do not usually eat these plants before they bud so protection is in order.  This day helps us believe that spring flowers will soon be ours.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Oh Deer! When Will It Be My Thyme In The Garden?

The thick layer of snow in the garden is finally beginning to recede.  It's moving a little like a glacier, but faster thank goodness.  We never got a cage on my tree peony last fall.  When the snow uncovered it, the deer gave it a hard trim. It  happened before in 2008.  I have never been sure if or how to cut it back.  This year that decision has been made for me.  Either way what's done is done!

These two deer  have spent their time close to the house and garden since last summer when they were beautiful spotted fawns.  Apparently their Mom is smarter than average and knows a safe spot when she finds one. We see the three of them often.  I spotted these two nibbling on the magnolia bush.  I said, " Please leave the magnolia alone, we won't have any flowers.  Come over and trim the thyme instead."  Yes, I talk to the deer, but imagine my surprise when they did exactly what I suggested.

There she is looking at me with that doe-eyed look and my red creeping thyme dangling from her mouth.  Mother Nature has been hard on us and them this year. The deer are so hungry that they are eating plants that they usually ignore!  I guess I can wait for my thyme in the garden.  We have a temporary truce as long as they leave the magnolia alone and stay out of my shade garden.  I will be watching, ready to speak sharply to them when necessary. I save Ed for back-up!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

End Of March Arbutus

We have trailing arbutus growing in three separate locations here.  A small wild patch grows near the gravel bank and is still covered with more than one foot of snow.  Our first cluster of transplants is at the base of the cone shaped hill near the driveway.  Safe from predators under a bright silver wire cage, these plants are beginning to emerge from the snow cover.  I did shovel away the snow down to the top of the cage several days ago.  New transplants are located at a considerable distance from the house and were seen for the first time just yesterday.

These old transplants are still covered in part with beady snow.  Two clusters of blossom buds provide hope that the time for flowers grows near.  The cycle of these evergreen leaves is still poorly understood here.  Four brown leaves can be seen in the photo but their identity is unknown.  We have yet to see dead arbutus leaves in any number.  We have been watching these plants for nearly five years.  That would suggest that most of these green leaves are really old.  When this plants thaws, the identity of the brown leaves will be determined.  For now the only safe course is limited to visual inspection.

This is a new transplant moved nearly one year ago.  The circle of large leaves is the new growth produced last summer.  The interior clump is the original plant.  Its previous location exposed the plant to full sun and its leaves were small and sun scorched at moving day. New growth makes a circle around the old growth.  A sharp contrast in leaf size might allow us to determine just how long individual leaves remain alive.  It continues to appear that transplantation of small arbutus plants is possible if their need for a wild location is satisfied.

This cluster of three small leaves has been under observation since last fall.  It gives every appearance of being a new daughter arbutus plant from seed.  Located on the edge of the soil clump that was moved along with a larger arbutus, we have no way of knowing just how long this seed was waiting to begin life.  We did plant seed last summer and are anxiously awaiting any sign that germination is underway.  Someday soon all of this snow should be gone and we will have a chance for a proper look about.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Finally Some Green, My Favorite

There is no rational explanation for why this part of the lawn is plowed.  The car can be parked and then turned around without ever leaving tracks anywhere near here.  In past winters we would find this cleared spot covered with the first returning robins.  So far this year, we have seen only a single early scout.  Dead grass is in sight but the frost is still in this exposed ground.  That makes drilling for worms an impossible mission.

Five hungry deer were feeding on the dead grass.  When I tried to sneak out of the basement door, deer number five was nearby and it bolted sounding an alarm for the others.  Becky took this snap looking out of a window.  We were surprised to see the apparent good condition of these deer.  The past six weeks have been brutal but these creatures found food.

These arbutus plants made their first appearance just this afternoon.  I did shovel the snow from above the cage several days ago.  When sunlight finally found its way past the white pine tree growing here, dark green leaves soaked up enough sunlight to melt some of the covering snow.  Just seeing these leaves was a real spirit booster.  A closer look revealed not one but two flower bud clusters.  Formed late last summer, they are ready to open as soon as the weather is settled.  By tomorrow even more of these arbutus plants will be visible.  Despite yesterday's new snowfall, we are now headed toward early flowers.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Impatiently Waiting

Warmth from the strengthening sun has finally revealed the top of the stone wall built near the town road.  Black road sand stains on the surface of the snow marks the limits of our snow blower's range.  Road sand mixed with snow creates a dirty appearance but the dark color will speed melting.  Still, there is hope.  Perennial flax is the first plant visible above the snow.  Deep snow cover may have helped clear frost from the ground by now and we would really like to see how this plant and its daughters handled winter.  An arc of summer sweet bushes are visible near the far end of the wall.  Clethera prefers a warmer climate so this may be a year without those sweet summer flowers.  Autumn joy sedum seed heads rise along the property line.  We will surely find new growth there when the snow finally clears.

Periwinkle peeks out near the wall at the top of the long driveway hill.  It is rugged enough to expand in size despite the pasture grass and briers that also grow here.  Our original piece of this plant was a gift from a fellow worker that needed a little help clearing the ground stump remains from her yard.  Many of our plants provide a connection with people from our past and trigger pleasant memories.

Enduring deep snow cover has confined our walks to the driveway.  We saw a chipmunk peek out of the snow that covers a stone wall.  The many voids in this wall provide spacious quarters for these squatters.  Seeds from the giant cherry tree nearby are stored in the wall.  There is no question about exactly how these creatures spent the winter.  The pictured tunnel is recent.  Perhaps the chipmunks also desperately needed a walk in the sunshine.

This foolishness illustrates just how desperately I need to see some green plants.  Snow covering the arbutus cage was delicately shoveled away to the level of the cage top.  This might allow for a safe early view of the plants still covered with snow.  It might also entice salad starved chipmunks or deer mice to dine on early greens.  I will stand watch but for only part of the day.  Hope that this shoveling was not a mistake.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Sap Run

Air temperatures in the mid 40s F finally have the neighbor's maple sap running.  A visit with a real tractor and its front mounted bucket cleared the plowed snow ridge at road's edge creating a solid support for the sap container.  The level of sap in the can is minimal but at least sap is finally running.  My maple trees are far from any road, surrounded by knee deep snow.  Memory finds the smells of reducing sap over an open fire.  It is a pleasant way to spend time outside at this time of year but age and the wisdom that is supposed to come with it dictates that some activities remain only as memories.

Mouse-eared chickweed is actively growing in an area that has been kept cleared of snow between the ramp and the car.  Hairy edged leaves remind me of arbutus but it remains buried under deep snow.  Seeds in a pod are from our locust trees.  Weather favored the formation of locust flowers last summer. One of the last trees to leaf out here, it is frost sensitive.  Usually late frost ends any chance for flowers.  The pea like hooded flowers are deliciously scented and numerous seed pods scattered everywhere now remind us of that recent treat.

Most would likely see running water oozing from mud as messy.  I found this delightful since as recently as last year this water was still running in the driveway.  Adding gravel to the driveway and deepening the ditches is grunt work but we are making progress.  The plan is to have the running water do most of the work.  So a man of years drags his booted foot across the muddy grass creating a depression to contain the water.  Some thought that I was simply playing in the mud.

Our truck is also driven in the ditch intentionally.  As the ground softens, truck tires will squish out a decent ditch.  Here again, it can appear that an older man is playing in the mud.

Our first patch of transplanted arbutus is located a little further up the hill to the left.  Snow has filled their protective wire cage and then some.  The notion of shoveling the snow away to reveal only the top of the cage has crossed my mind.  Continued snow melt would then reveal the plants in a nearly natural way.  That would give me an earlier peek at the plant's condition and speed up the opening of flowers.  On this day I ventured into the snow just to test conditions.  Stepping into snow deep enough to cover my knees made me abandon that fool's errand.  Forced to remain patient, more of the snow will have to melt before I make my first visit of the year.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Seeds To Soil At Last

Waiting patiently for the snow to melt is no longer an option.  A garbage can was filled with our best soil mix last fall so that we would have options on a day like today.  Each pot was filled with delicious smelling soil and four lettuce seeds were carefully planted.  Various leaf varieties were chosen since these plants will spend their entire lives in the pot.  The only rational justification for planting today is the emotional boost derived from the time spent near soil.  Early lettuce trimmings will be a tasty addition to salads but their quantity will be limited.  A moisture trapping clear plastic dome now covers the tray and florescent  lights on a timer will draw the seedlings out of the soil.  We are under way with our next garden.

A finger bowl scented geranium has spent the winter looking out on the winter.  Soon we will start taking various cuttings to supply new beginnings for the coming season.  Last year I saw a woman shoveling snow that had slid from the roof onto her garden.  I understood her impatience then and I am dealing with some of that myself now.

Clear skies, warm air and bright sunlight are working together to melt the snow.  Nothing looks wet since the snow holds the melt water.  At some point soon we are going to see running water but for today just looking at my collection of transported stones lifts my spirits.

Stone walls and sunlight are creating ever changing sculptures using snow on top of the walls.  That far south facing wall is nearly clear of its white cover.  The complete lack of footprints in the snow attests to the fact that everything in sight has only been shaped by natural processes.  That first look at garden soil is still days away.  We really need to see just how the perennial plants survived record snowfall and record cold.  A few more days like this one, or perhaps just a little warmer, would be perfect!

Monday, March 2, 2015

I Feel The Need...

 The snow outside reminds me of the old  song, "I'm being eaten by a boa constrictor ... " . We are slowly approaching "Oh heck. I'm up to my neck."  I look out over the snow covered garden and I feel the need, the need to weed!  I found just what I needed. Wood sorrel, one of the weeds that I battle in the garden every year, was growing in my pot of society garlic.  I got my garden claw and nippers.  I hardly needed big tools for the tiny weeds, but it was my happiness that was the issue here.  I purposely left the gloves in my garden cart. I wanted to get my hands dirty and some dirt under my nails.

There's not a lot of dirt in the pot, but I did get my hands a little dirty and a little bit of dirt under my nails.  I also found scale on the plant.  I can't tell you the satisfaction I felt scraping those little suckers off the plant with my fingernails.  I know the house plant experts say to toss a plant that has scale, but this plant was a Mother's Day gift and I have had it for years.

I left the plant looking like this.  It thanked me by releasing its scent when I watered it. It's not an aroma I would dab behind my ears, but I loved it just the same.  I'm sure I didn't kill all the scale on this plant, but the weeds are gone. The plant is trimmed.  I don't know if the plant feels better, but I know I do.  As for the scale,  "I'll be back!"