Sunday, May 31, 2015

Finally Some Rain

We recently had more than two weeks without significant rainfall.  Soil turned to dust and plants began to wither under afternoon heat.  Water was hand carried to a select few plants daily in amounts that just kept them alive.  We avoided working with plants that were experiencing great stress.  Last night saw a decent rainfall that was heavy at times.  Taking a trowel to plants now seemed more reasonable.

This clump of arbutus was taken during our most recent transplanting expedition.  It included more than a single plant.  My intention at the time was to move this clump so that I could try to divide it if it survived transplantation.  A look at its root structure seemed possible.  Today was the day to act.  My only concern during the re-potting was to quickly get the plant into the soil.  I never took just a moment to peer at the partially exposed roots.  Indefensible softness.

First, suitably wild soil had to be gathered and prepared to fill the pots.  Briers have invaded the hillside and the trek up to the aged white pine was an unpleasant and painful experience.  A 5 gallon pail was filled with natural soil taken from under the tree.  Screened through one half inch square wire mesh, larger stones and root mass tangles were removed.

I suspected that the clump consisted of three plants.  One was easily separated.  The remaining clump resisted division so it was left intact.  If two separate plants actually are present here, they will have to live together since their roots occupy shared space.  If they are gender different, they will appear to be a single plant displaying both male and female flowers.  That could lead to some false conclusions.

Returning the potted plants to their former location became a major undertaking.  Hammer and chisel were needed to remove parts of a sizable rock that extended under the larger patch.  The resulting earth tremors should have done no damage to the older plants.

The two newly potted plants were returned here because they will be easy to water in this location.  If they survive being potted up, they will be planted out in a suitably wild spot.  The nearby black plastic rim marks the location of our attempt to grow arbutus from seed.  So far only an occasional weed has appeared here.  We continue to tend this barren ground in the hope that plants from seed will someday grow here.  There remains much to learn about this native wildflower.

When the fieldstone well was built to support the protective wire mesh cage, we knew that the arbutus would someday grow to the stones.  We did not expect it to happen this soon.  This new growth seems like perfect candidates for another attempt to try cuttings.  So far all that has resulted from our arbutus cuttings are dead sticks.  Richters offers for sale a rooting product that is different from others on the market.  Our nutmeg scented geranium cuttings grew into attractive new plants when we used the new rooting compound.  The recent lemon verbena cuttings are now showing new growth.  These successful applications of this new rooting compound will likely send me out to try arbutus cutting yet another time.  We shall see just what tomorrow brings.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

A Passion For Purple

Recent severe weather events had little impact on the plants near the road.  Only the lilies were covered when frost and freezing temperatures threatened.  Most other plants came through the cold unmarked.  Summer sweet is the sad exception.  This shrub is at least one climate zone outside of its comfort zone here.  Given the unending severity of the winter, it is no surprise that it appears almost totally dead.  An occasional leaf suggests some life activity but the future for this plant looks dim.  We may find a small living sucker plant tucked near a stone wall that will enable us to start again with this plant.

Meadow sage appears on the "get rid of this plant" list several times each year.  The foliage reeks of foul body odor whenever we work near this plant.  A coarse unkempt leaf display adds exactly nothing to the appeal of this plant.  It self seeds with considerable success and the deep tap root requires effort to remove.  Pulling a single plant releases a truly foul stench.  But just look at its mass of purple hooded flowers.  When these spent flower stalks are cut away, an unpleasant smelly task, the plant will bloom again.  In the end, this plant will hold several permanent spots in our gardens. Purple flowers are among my favorites.  For the occupants of cars speeding by, this plant is nothing more than a bold splash of color.

A Shaker's prayer Siberian iris flower is complexly colored.  Patches of pure white are cleanly crossed by purple veins.  Yellow near the base of the blossom clearly places this plant at the top of my must have list.   Purple flowers are a personal favorite.  The addition of yellow creates a perfect combination.  This is also the first of our Siberian iris to bloom.  Many more will follow with their own unique beauty but none will surpass Shaker's prayer.

False indigo rounds out our early collection of purple flowers.  More thought should have preceded its placement here.  Deeply rooted, persistent and growing ever larger with each passing season, this plant will expand its claim on this section of garden.  One will be forced to peek around it to see what else grows in this garden.

The distant ground in the first photo reveals our plans for the coming years.  The bare but partly weedy ground is scheduled for planting soon.  A second application of fresh grass clippings just beyond is intended to slow down the retaking of that area by the eventual winner, quack grass.  With any luck we will be able to plant that ground next season.  The dried grass under the sumac trees is supposed to kill the quack grass there.  We would like to place a garden bench in the dappled shade provided by the trees.      

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Seven Days From Frigid To Fantastic

When the snow on the garden finally melted this spring, my uncaged tree peony received another  pruning from the deer.  This year they cut it back hard!  The plant was ugly, misshapen and dead looking.  I have always been conflicted about pruning this plant since I have read that they should not be cut back.  This year I snapped off the dead wood and cut it back hard.  It was starting to look great and then on May 22 we got a hard freeze.  Fortunately we covered the plant with a sleeping bag and a plastic tarp.  When we got frost again the next night I had my doubts, but once the sun came out, the weather warmed and the tree peony exploded with growth!

I have had this plant in the same spot for years. It has never shown me anything like this.  I count eleven big beautiful blossoms in this picture and there are a couple on the back side of the bush that don't show.  This plant could stop a bus on the highway driving by at 60, but of course no one drives by this garden.

I did not measure this intriguing flower, but it is much bigger than the picture, at least 5 inches across.  These flowers do not appear to have any scent.  I suppose if you can dazzle with that kind of flamboyance, who needs perfume.  Now I'm wondering if I should uncover the plant for the winter and let the deer do the pruning for me. Perhaps the plant thrives on adversity.   Like Scarlet I'll think about that tomorrow.  In the meantime, "Oh WOW!!!   Check out my tree peony!"

Monday, May 25, 2015

Native Invaders

On May 12th we were enjoying the bizarrely structured flowers displayed by our transplanted fringed polygala.  Trout lily also intrigues us and at first we were pleased to see it growing with the polygala. Canada mayflower was also moving in and its numbers seemed excessive.  Polygala is an easily displaced plant and we reluctantly reached the conclusion that the invaders had to go.  Weeding here required the summoning of all the courage we could muster.  Wishing to avoid damaging the tender one we finally moved in with delicate force.

If John Burroughs had seen a trout lily in this configuration, he would have had no difficulty in seeing how this plant placed its bulb several inches deep into the soil.  Soon new bulbs would have formed at the tips of the white roots.  One plant would have become three in a single year.  Quickly the trout lily would have crowded out the polygala.

A firm but gentle tug removed many invaders with their roots intact.  The free hand was used to hold the surrounding soil and stems in place to limit the impact on the polygala.  Weeds whose roots broke off may return but so will the determined weeder.

The bright light green leaves are new polygala growth.  A generous soaking with a watering can followed the weeding.  The tilted new growth will have to right itself since no way to help in the tangle could be found.  An unbroken stem has a good chance to straighten itself.  We continue to water here frequently and the polygala is now showing more new growth.  Carefully tending native wild flowers seems to be filled with basic contradictions.  Polygala is disappearing from our woods and intervention to try to save it seemed to be the only course.  Two daughter plants have appeared near the transplant but we can find no information defining a preferred location where this treasure can make it on its own.  For now they will remain where they are presently growing.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Freezing Frost

We have learned to rely on NOAA for reliable weather forecasts.  Friday they posted severe frost warnings  that were deadly accurate.  We were hit with both frost and a solid freeze.  Every covering container we owned was pressed into service to establish barriers between the plants and the frost.  Time will reveal the extent of the damage to many of our plants.

Becky cut flowers that were likely to be ended by the cold.  Bright yellow lemon lilies are both early to flower and super sensitive to frost.  Most years we have only green leaves and the promise that next season will be better.  Several scapes were cut for the vase.  Their sweet scent now fills the house.  We will watch to see how many additional indoor buds open.  Brown is the color of the buds that remained outside.  Once again we will be denied both the sight and the scent of these early flowers in our garden.

After the deer trimmed Becky's tree peony, a protective wire cage was installed.  It supported both a sleeping bag and plastic tarp that successfully protected its many buds.  When these flowers open, the display should be impressive.

We have never before been aware of frost damage on peas.  Each tiny spike of frost burned a hole where it contacted a leaf surface.  Had I made the rounds with a watering can before sunrise, this injury might have been avoided.  Now we will watch to see if peas can recover from this damage.  Becky's gingered tofu and snow peas is much anticipated treat meal.  I cannot imagine a year without it.  Snow peas can be purchased at market but those will never measure up to our peas picked moments before they go into the pan.  Super meals is a major reason why we continue to grow vegetables.

Many of our lilies sustained damage because their growth tips contacted the covering container.  We considered a quick trip to the store to purchase more super sized trash cans.  There is a limit that even we cannot blow by.  As it is, we store four monster cans that are only used to cover lilies.  At this point we are intending to explore long term refrigerated storage for some of our best bulbs.  Held in dormancy, their time to show above ground growth can be moved closer to favorable conditions.

NOAA failed to warn us of last night's frost.  My last check just before bedtime indicated an overnight low of 45 F.  We frequently have temperatures that are six degrees below the forecast.  This morning featured temperatures at the freezing point with frost and we had covered nothing.  My response was to seriously consider selling the place and moving into senior housing.  Upon reflection that seems quite extreme.  They are only plants and many will adjust to their setbacks.  Most will survive but some will produce no flowers this year.  Perhaps next year will be better.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Clear And Crisp, Cold And Cruel

Yesterday was so nice here.  It hardly seemed possible that the clear night could bring on such severe cold.  We did our best to cover plants, but it was a frustrating exercise since most of them had been lured into lush growth making them too tall for the protection used the last time.  Early morning found ice on the windshield of the car and spikes of frost on the plants in the garden.  After a restless night, I made an early 5:15 am trip out to see what kind of disappointment we were facing.  I could see that it was bad and snapped a couple of pictures.  When I noticed the local skunk still out digging for Japanese beetle grubs headed in my direction, I wasted no time retreating into the warm house.

 Later when it warmed many of the iris were limp!!!

The covered Jack-in the Pulpits fared pretty well, but the uncovered Jack suffered.  We simply ran out of pails large enough to cover the plants.

With his pulpits limp from the frost you might say he was defrocked and left exposed.

Some lilies are more droopy than others.  One kind of Lily Regale stood up better to the frost under its protective plastic garbage can than the other.  Many plants have blackened leaves and then there are the peas.  That's enough for today!   I can't do more!   Perhaps tomorrow...

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Another Native Treasure

It is a common sight at this time of year to see a pinxter in flower in front of many older homes.  Some of these plants have reached an impressive size in their many decades as a tended plant.  New York State identified pinxter as a protected plant but the fine for taking one remains at only $25.  The state law clearly identifies the landowner as holding the responsibility for plants located on his property.  Transplanting with permission is permitted in our state.  This plant was recently moved from our dry woods to a spot near a stone wall.  Stones have a way of gathering moisture on warm summer nights and this plant has found its new location to its liking.   Afternoon shade seems to be a plus but many of these plants are in full sun.  We shall not move it again.  It will hold this spot in the garden as long as we are here.

Our other native wild specimen has been in this spot for several years.  Last year it flowered impressively and even set  seed.  The three pots at the base of the bush were filled with sterile potting soil and pinxter seeds.  Some of the seeds were scratched into the soil while others were simply sprinkled on top of the soil.  Unless some animal plants wild seeds, dropping on the surface seems like it might be the natural method.  If any of these seeds germinate, we will have no way of knowing which seed placement produced plants.  We frequently see this plant growing above but near running water.  If any of these seeds grow, we will place them near a sunny spring run at the base of the ridge. Somehow we feel obligated to help increase the number of native plants to offset our having transplanted some here.

The brazen presentation of these fetching pink flowers never fails to catch my eye.  Upturned bent buds also appear unusual.  This is where we are sticking our noses now.  Both our arbutus and clove currants are past flowering.  Rhododendron nudiflorum is currently on our list of sweet smelling treats.  It has been been quite a strange Spring so far, frost is in the wings both tonight and Friday.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

3 For 3

A number of basic errors were made in the placement of these six transplanted arbutus last year.  The distance separating the individual plants is small.  They do now have a year's additional growth but that might have been anticipated.  Two plants in the foreground are both female and that was known at the time of planting.  Alternating male and female plants would have made pollination more likely. The old cage was small last season and needed replacement before new growth appeared.  Now there is twenty-five square feet of protected ground available for new growth.  The three stones inside the cage are intended to keep the cage wire above the plants should some critter walk across here.  The row of stones at the base of the wall will keep the cage firmly pressed against the tree trunk and defines a suitable walkway for people.  Low stone walls will be placed along the remaining two sides of the wire cage to hold it in place laterally.  When they are finished these plants will be safe from foraging rabbits and woodchucks.

The time for arbutus flowers has quickly passed.  With this year's early excessively warm daytime temperatures and a complete lack of rain, these sweetly scented blossoms lasted just over one week. That seems unusually quick and we did not spend nearly enough time inhaling their aroma.  Last year this process moved more slowly.  Now we will have to wait for nearly a full year for another opportunity to adequately enjoy their fragrance.

Three of these plants are female and all are sporting tiny seed capsules.  Two of the plants had pink flowers and their seed berries are also pink.  The white flowered plant has white seed clusters.  This color connection is simply an observation.  We make no claim about an actual cause.  Two hairy stems mark the beginnings of new plant growth.  Forming seeds while growing new plant parts must make this the busiest time of the yearly cycle for these female plants.  There are at least three blossoms shown that did not set seed.  None of them now display the style that would have collected pollen.

These two seed clusters prominently show their styles.  A five pointed star can be seen at the end of the right most style that is still firmly held in the center of the seed berry.  The long profile of the other style shows just how deeply in the base of the flower the seed berries are located.  The tip of the style was well inside the opened flower.  The developing seed berry may have pushed the spent blossom clear.  Cast off flowers litter the nearby ground.

We still have seen no sign of new plants from the seed formed last year.  Perhaps other options will give us new plants from seed this season.  A huge white pine has been found growing on the end slope of the kame terrace.  That location would give us a chance to plant arbutus on a slope.  There is still much to do and learn about this plant.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Frost Protection

As anyone still drawing breath knows, 2015 has been a year of unusual weather.  We went from deep and lasting snow cover to daytime temperatures above 80F in just a few days.  May is our last month of frost risk but until last night none has hit our plants.  Frost warnings were posted widely and we took inventory of our covering containers.  Our supply was adequate to cover everything that needed protection.

The three five gallon pails in the shade garden cover the Jack in the pulpits.  They are frost sensitive but the early warmth had teased their early emergence and flowers into the danger zone.  Two buckets in front of the wall protect astilibes.  The blue storage container covers lily of the valley.  We do not know if they are frost sensitive but we had an extra container that just fit.

We are moving some of the oriental lilies near the house for extra warmth.  That cuts both ways since warmth results in early emergence and a longer period of risk.  The extra large trash cans were purchased just to cover lily plantings.  Three bulbs of each variety were carefully planted so that one can would cover three plants.  Golden stargazers adjusted themselves and now require three containers to cover them.  Scheherazade only needed two containers.  Both plantings will be dug up this fall intending to replant so that one super can will cover next year.

Fog of some form filled the air this morning.  We believe that washing away the frost before sunlight strikes the plants may reduce the severity of the damage.  Precious pinxster  bushes are just beginning to show flower buds but are too large to cover with pails.  They were watered late last evening and again this morning.  With luck their flowers may open undamaged.

We are also concerned about the locust tree in the center of the shade garden.  Its newly opened tiny leaves are super sensitive to frost.  If the leaves were burned by frost last night a new batch will regrow but there will be no blossoms this year.

Out early to survey conditions, Becky found a hard coating of frozen liquid on the car.  It quickly softened as the air temperature hovered about the freezing level.  Frozen fog is different from frost and is far less damaging to tender plant growth.

This is what we found at wake up.  The covering containers must be removed before heat from sunlight builds up to damaging levels.  The time to start removal is now.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Shade Garden Plus One

Fringed polygala is the pink flower that has had its spot in the shade garden invaded by other wildflowers.  Tattered evergreen leaves turned purplish by winter's rigors belong to the polygala.  Light bright green leaves mark the location of the invading Canada Mayflower.  Trout lily's brown spots have lightened to grayish white on the darker pointed green leaves.  Clover like three leaves belong to freely self seeding columbine.  Careful weeding is scheduled when the polygala presents its new leaves.  It is the chosen plant and this space belongs only to it.

The number of trillium bulbs we have purchased is shamefully large.  Three new ones just arrived and they will be added nearby.  We want a large display of this native treasure and persist in our efforts to have it here.  They need several years to make themselves at home in our garden and patience on our part is necessary.

This clove currant grows near the shade garden.  When it is in flower, the scent of cloves is carried on the wind for a great distance.  Going about our work, we frequently walk into a sweet smelling drift of  spicy air.  This plant makes this time of year here pleasant beyond description.

Quaker ladies grow as an invasive lawn weed if conditions are to its liking.  Abundant moisture seems to a requirement.  Our several attempts to grow this plant in our dry soil always result in the plant's slow decline.  This specimen self seeded in a crack at the top of the stone wall.  Located on the outer edge of the garden it benefits from frequent supplemental watering.

This bleeding heart is an alien plant here.  Native to another part of the world it is out of place in our wildflower garden.  A longer time in flower and its compact size make this plant a winner.

Maidenhair fern is among Becky's favorites.  Fallen trees in our woods have prevented us from visiting this plant in its natural surroundings here.  This is another native plant that is slow to establish itself following transplanting.  Fearing that it did not survive, we purchased it in two consecutive years.  Both plantings eventually took hold and we now have easy access to this beautiful, delicate, lacy fern.

Jack in the pulpit is a must have because of its unusual structure.  Late frosts have ended the flowering cycle in the past while the plant persists.  Frost is forecast for tonight and covering buckets are now nearby. The red seed clusters are well worth seeing so we will try to keep the frost away from these plants.  Wild or cultivated, alien or Native, plants these days need a little help from their friends to get through Mother Nature's mood swings!

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Walking in Forbidden Woods

Down the road from us, there is a wooded area that we have driven by for more than fifty years.  Every spring I would try to see what was growing there, but wildflower identification at traffic speed is not among my talents.  The woods are on a curve, the shoulder is pretty much non-existent and the land is posted so we have never stopped.  We wondered if the landowner's described blue arbutus  might still be growing there. This spring we got permission from the landowner to walk in his woods.  We saw what my Mom always called Princess pine and Canada Mayflower but we found no arbutus of any color.

Partridgeberry seemed very happy there.  Close to home this native wildflower is rather common.  We still delight when we see its single red berry formed by two tiny white blossoms.  It continues to grow across a path in our woods that Ed frequently walks.  We have even seen it growing up an old decaying stump.

This Canada Mayflower is almost ready to open its tiny white flowers.  This plant is the source of most of the green seen from the road.

Starflower was the second most prevalent plant here.  It has beautiful  white star shaped flowers when its buds open.

Being a purple loving person I was delighted to find this lovely violet. In this woods it is a rare jewel.

I took a picture of both the flower and leaf in case I want to make a better identification later.  We had certain expectations about what we would find in these woods. We were surprised that there were no trout lilies.  They literally cover the ground at home.  It  seemed strange not to find them here.  It was fun to wander in the forbidden woods! Thanks to our neighbors for letting us do that.  We did discover that we have all of the wildflowers that grow there at home.  I guess we thought they had something we did not. Now we know the truth!

Friday, May 8, 2015

Sex Amongst Arbutus

Our weather's sudden and dramatic shift from cold with deep snow cover to hot and dry has had an impact on all of the early flowers.  Every day finds a different appearance displayed by the arbutus.  The first picture shows the female's pollen collecting apparatus open, extended, and ready to receive pollen.  What first appeared as a light green dome at the base of the blossom has pushed out and opened displaying a five pointed star.  Five is a frequently repeated number for this plant.  Five petals, a five pointed star, and a five sectioned seed berry if all goes well.

This is how the male flowers look on the same day as the first picture.  Here the base of the blossom shows five paired pollen producing structures.  When the flowers first open, the difference in color at the base of the flower is the most reliable identifying clue.  Green is for girl while brown points to boy.

Interior flower parts soon show the impacts of heavy foot traffic.  An ant is in the picture but we have also seen small bumble bees and other unidentified crawling insects in the open flowers.  Some individual flowers have presented a confusing appearance since both male parts and female parts were present in a single blossom or on a single plant.  Speculation suggests hungry ants biting off pieces and  carrying  parts about dropping them here and there.

This mature female flower shows a heavy coating of golden tan pollen that was trapped and held by the numerous hairs the line its tube.  We know the exact location of this flower and expect to find a seed berry here shortly.

At first glance, I was troubled by all of the flowers that were no longer attached to this plant.  A hand lens revealed the exposed pollen collecting structure stained a golden tan.  We hope that timely applied pollen caused the discoloration.  So now we watch and wait.  Seed berries may form here.   Since nothing has yet to appear where we scattered seed last year, perhaps we will try William Cullina's method for treating arbutus seed as a greenhouse object.  That decision need not be made today.  Still wildly working male flowers, not knowing that the female flowers have moved on to their next petal-less reproductive step, are now our only source of the intoxicating arbutus scent.  It is amazing the speed with which these plants have  completed their reproductive activity.  Despite my daily visits to these plants, I have yet to see the yellow pollen shown in a William Cullina photo.  Perhaps next year's possibly more normal weather will allow the plants to complete a leisurely reproductive path and I will finally see yellow arbutus pollen.