Monday, June 29, 2015

Final Arbutus Move

Four years ago four small wild arbutus plants were moved to this spot.  A fifth plant appeared from seed and the patch has expanded to its present impressive size.  Bright green new growth has almost totally covered the older darker leaves.  It is impossible to tell where one plant ends and another begins.  As an evergreen plant, old leaves are carried over from one year to the next but at some point older leaves must expire.  Dead leaves are almost never seen so we have been unable to determine their life span.  Now that the older leaves are covered by new growth, they can die and decompose hidden from view.

One month ago our year old transplants were separated and placed in pots.  My original plan was to examine their root structure since I have never seen a photo or drawing of the underground parts of this plant.  When the moment of opportunity came, I could not disturb the soil and quickly potted both plants.  Today was moving day.

This site was selected for arbutus planting two years ago.  What little grew under the large white pine tree was levered out.  Last summer arbutus seed was scattered in the area outlined by the three dead sticks.  No arbutus plants from seed appeared so this is where the two potted plants were placed.  Never cultivated because of its increasingly steep stony ground, this is wild native ground.  It should prove to be a perfect location for arbutus.

During its one month in the pot, much new leaf growth has appeared but no new root growth pushed its way to the edge of the pot.  Once again we are denied a glimpse of arbutus roots.

Fallen decaying white pine needles were brushed aside.  Soil from the hole was carefully placed in a bucket to be used to fill in the voids surrounding the potted plant's root mass.  Once the holes were filled, pine needles were brought up under the leaves and stems.  This plant displayed a single female flower this year.  Despite generous pollen tracked into the open flower, no seed was formed.  The companion plant produced no flowers this year so its gender is unknown.  Needless to say we are hoping for a boy.

Water and a wire cage were brought in to finish the job for the moment.  Stones in the background  were moved to the edge the adjacent cultivated field generations ago.  Back then the stones were piled in a wall but the growing pine tree pushed them downhill.  The next picture you will see of this spot will find the rusty barbed wire gone and the stones piled once again in a wall.  It may be an artificial composition but I have long wanted wild arbutus growing into an old field stone wall.

The arbutus seed collected earlier has been drying on a paper towel.  Today the seeds were moved into a waxed paper envelop, placed inside of a plastic bag and tucked away in the refrigerator.  When winter seems like it will never end, these seeds will be placed on soil under lights in the basement.  How we will handle tiny plants that may spring from seeds that are about the size of the point of a pin remains to be seen.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Lingering Frost Impact

Some have not forgotten our late May freeze with frost.  The lasting impact on various plants raises many questions.  Contradictions are all that is clear when looking at what happened to various green growing things.  For the first time in our collective memories, peas were hammered by the freeze.  We have two plantings of snow peas spaced about two weeks apart in time.  The earlier taller plants were hit harder than the younger shorter peas.  As shown by the harvest, these plants made a comeback.  The older plants are shorter than usual and both plantings are ready to pick now despite the difference in when they were planted.

Our wild ginger is planted inside the stone square at the base of one of the walls.  Despite the protection from the rolling frost river, the ginger took a real hit.  Blackened leaves were the only ones open when the frost hit.  Lower bright green leaves opened after the storm.  We probably should trim away the damaged leaves but this is a native wild plant that has survived many generations without human interference.

Our locust tree would prefer to grow 100 miles south of here in central Pennsylvania.  It is late to open its leaves here and has proved to be frost sensitive in the past.  We expected it to drop the newly opened leaves that endured the freeze.  We had absolutely no hope of seeing blossoms because of the cold.  Not only did the tree keep the leaves, it opened flowers. A nearby state road runs along the Butternut Creek valley.  Locust trees line both sides of the highway for several miles.  We were fortunate to travel there when the trees were in flower.  Rich farm fields, a meandering creek and white locust flowers painted a beautiful picture.

We have two varieties of Lily Regale.  Both were covered with a giant plastic garbage can when the frost hit.  Bud-less brown plants mark the location of the plants that show off pure white flowers occasionally.  The variety that has white flowers with red on the outside of the blossoms is apparently more hardy.  We sometimes see many more buds here but at least we will have some open flowers soon.

One of Becky's new purchases was planted out before the cold.  This single remaining flower, smaller than a dime, and a few stubs are all that remain of what was a large beautiful plant.  These pieces may survive but it will take a couple of years before we see a mature Spider Web Hens and Chicks plant.

This astilbe lies directly in the path of the frost river that pours down on us from the nearby ridge.  Despite the protection given be an inverted five gallon pail, impact of the freeze can be seen.  In a normal year this plant would be taller than the stone wall.  Now both the leaves and the flowers look great but short.  Perhaps this plant was forced to put out a second flush of leaves and they did not grow to their normal height.  "Bloom where you are planted!"  It's not always easy!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Remember Sleeping Beauty?

I didn't prick my finger on a spindle. I have not been sleeping for years, but the plants in the garden are growing so fast I feel like I've missed some time somewhere.  Vines have not yet covered the garden walls, but the pathways are disappearing. My garden paths are lovely to be sure. Thelma's yellow sedum and thyme have softened the hard edges of the stone path.

Here woolly thyme, red creeping thyme and snow in summer have nearly covered the path in the center  circle.

This carpet of thyme has overflowed into the path.  I admit there is a part of me that likes a formal garden with hard lines and symmetrical beds.  However, my garden will never stay like that.  I have far too much difficulty removing my old sentimental favorites that pop up here and there.  Actually I like the uncontrolled wild feeling in my garden. It's never boring and there is always plenty to do. Every day there are more flowers and more weeds.  It's a delightful place to be!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Japanese Water Iris

The magic of Iris Ensata is apparent in this photo.  A tightly wrapped flower bud is about to open into a complex broad blossom.  Hours have been devoted to trying to catch the moment of unfurling but it has yet to be seen.  Nearly daily rain has limited our time in the garden this month and the weeds are growing explosively.  We have no time to stand around waiting for these flowers to open but it must look mystical.

This beauty has been with us for several years.  We were able to lever it out of the ground and divide it in the past.  A five foot pry bar and a 4 inch square block of wood multiplied my arm force sufficiently to raise the entire plant up from the ground.  Its root mass extended under the dry stone wall that serves as the foundation for the shed.  Passing time has left its mark and I am unsure if uprooting this plant can be repeated.

Five different times we ordered new plants.  All are single despite catalog pictures showing doubles.  That is fine with us since the relative simplicity of a single flower displays the complex beauty of these plants.  Time of open flowers is a disadvantage here.  Flowers last only slightly longer than day lilies.  In both instances, it seems a shame that such exquisite beauty should exist for only a brief moment.

As mentioned, the weeds have really taken hold of our garden.  However, if one's focus is directed toward the open flowers, then weeds seem to disappear.  Nothing can detract from the visual impact of this pure white flower.  Late June is made special here by these Japanese Iris.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Seeds and Ants Everywhere

We need a written record of when events happen here especially with the arbutus.  Last year's newly moved plants are beginning to open their seed berries now.  Ants were working all over the patch when we visited today.  One was caught in the act of chewing off a tasty piece of the white supporting part of the seed berry.  Both black and tan seeds are scattered about as it is the white flesh that the ants are after.  This plant opened pink colored flowers this year and the seeds are tan rather than black.  This is nothing more than an observation since we do not know with any degree of certainty the accuracy of what we think that we see.

Two styles have been separated from the remains of the flowers.  A close look will reveal an ant working the center spot where the style was.  The structure of this newly opened seed berry strongly suggests a second flower very different from the original but beautiful in its own right.

This picture was cropped in an attempt to make visible the white spots that cover the surface of each seed.  Total success is elusive.  Here we also have black seeds and red seeds growing on the same plant.  The black seed are just coming into daylight as the wrappers are just starting to open.  We find more puzzles than answers.

This arbutus leaf was withered and cemented closed.  Investigation revealed the caterpillar responsible for the damaged leaf.  It resembles a lesser maple spanworm that becomes a small white moth.  They are the most common night flyers that gather around porch lights.  These  pests need to find another food source as they will be dispatched on sight.  Arbutus is protected here.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Beautiful Moments In The Garden

There's so much to do in the garden now!  It's nice to stop for a few moments and appreciate some of the incredible beauty there.  A Skipper loves the delicate blue Amsonia flowers and so do I!  Skippers flit about the garden all the time, but it is a rare treat to catch one still enough for a photograph.

Pink Ontherea and Dianthus co-mingle in the same space making a mixed pink bouquet right there in the perennial border.  No cutting is needed.

Rose campion with its pale grey foliage and magenta flowers makes a bold statement!  This striking volunteer is a plant I always let grow unless I have a reason to pull it.

Campanula portenschlagiana flows from the spaces in Ed's wall around the shade garden.  We could never have too many of these lovely lavender and white stars around!

Ahhh... Nothing is more satisfying than taking a moment to enjoy  freshly weeded red creeping thyme on Ed's stone patio.  It feels so good, I think I will do another patio today!

What can say about this picture?  Wow!  I guess in my fantasy garden I might have a lovely lady with the hens and chicks for a hat and the dew covered spider web for a veil over her face.  But this is our garden and reality is already perfect for us.  You could never count on a spider to cooperate anyway!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Here We Go Again

This first arbutus seed berry to open was caught in the act.  Three of the five covering flaps have peeled back exposing tiny ripe black seeds.  Imprints made by the developing seeds are clearly seen on the open flaps.  White spots mark the black seed surface in an amazing display of miniature complexity.  We have seen no young plants yet from the seed scattered last season.  More than one freeze thaw cycle may mark the natural process of germination.  Since ever advancing age places time limits on how long we can wait, harvesting some seed, carrying it over in the refrigerator and starting it inside in late winter is the present plan.  Three additional unopened seed clusters lie hidden under the open one.

Creating arbutus plants from cuttings has totally eluded us.  The number of plant pieces killed must now approach one hundred.  Given the success we have had using Richters natural rooting powder with lemon verbena, more arbutus stems have been nipped.  Heel cuttings will be taken just ahead of the stem cut.  These larger leaves may allow us to identify which method was successful.  Stem cuttings will be taken near the growing tip.

The stem cutting on the right still has its growth tip.  We have in the past seen continued growth from that point despite the fact that no plant crown or roots formed.  The heel cutting on the left will have to grow  its leaf larger.  Our potting medium consists of equal parts of white builders sand and screened soil taken from under a white pine tree.  Plastic saucers allow the water to rise up to the top keeping the rooting medium in place.

We are not using ordinary tap water here.  When the soil was removed from under the white pine tree, masses of roots crisscrossed every shovelful.  Screened out, the roots were placed in a bucket to collect rain water.  That is the source of the brew that will water these cuttings.

Old juice bottles with their bottoms removed provide a humid environment for the plant parts recently severed from their roots.  When the time seems right, the bottle caps will be removed to lower the humidity inside the bottles.  At that time everything will be moved into brighter basement light.  After another wait, the bottles will be removed.  In the past, arbutus leaves remained green at this point but rootless.  The brown color of plant death quickly followed.  So the wait begins again.

Here is the current status of our older transplanted patch.  Bright green leaves mark the extensive new growth.  The white seed berry shown above can be found in the lower right corner of the picture at the base of the first dark green leaf encountered  moving up near the edge.  The new growth heading into the stone wall at the top of the photo was the source of the cuttings.  The three pieces taken will not be missed.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Cutting Scapes

Garlic harvest should begin in one month from now.  Each year I try to delay digging in the hope that my crop will feature impressively huge bulbs and cloves.  Dying leaves relax their tight grip on the stem and rain water finds its way down inside the bulb wrappers.  This year the plan is to begin digging early.  In spite of the bizarre weather this year, the garlic now looks extremely good.  Putting large size aside, we are going for a disease free harvest.  A scape can be found amidst the tangle.  It is pointing toward the ground.

Not all growers believe that removing garlic scapes increases the size of the bulbs.  With the second method of reproduction gone, all of the plant's energy is directed to the bulb.  If left in place these leafless stalks will produce an incomplete flower and a cluster of tiny bulbils.  The advantage in planting them is that they carry no soil borne disease.  Their disadvantage is the number of years required to grow full sized bulbs.  Garlic scapes appear in farmer's markets as a food fit for humans.  They might pickle like green beans but we gave up canning years ago.  As a stir fry ingredient they would add zip but we now eat very little rice.  So in the compost they go.  Their scent will be unmistakable a year from now when the mature compost is screened.

Purple stripe is the name of this variety.  We use it as a marker plant to separate our other plantings of varieties that display only similar to each other appearances.  Purple stripe is shorter than the rest with a thicker stem.  Its leaves are broad and closely spaced.  A bluish cast in the leaves makes purple stripe stand out from the rest.  Harvested bulbs display beautiful colors making this a real winner.

White Bishop is the name we assigned to this variety.  Purchased from a local grower named Bishop, his name had to be matched with this variety.  Anyone that has attended the Saugerties Garlic Festival must have seen Mr. Bishop.  Most growers there displayed their crop from the back of a pickup truck. Charlie worked the crowd with a never ending carnival barker's banter.  He sold a great deal of his fine garlic and everyone knew that he was there.  I suspect that the actual name of this variety is Extra Hardy German White but definitely prefer to call it White Bishop.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Potato Update

This picture appears to show five potato plants that are entirely too close together.  They are all that but what is not seen is the fact that six potatoes were fall planted here.  Planting your own potatoes is in violation of current understanding about carrying over evil pathogens.  Late blight that quickly destroys tomatoes needs a living host to survive northern winters.  No part of a tomato plant remains alive over winter but a near relative, the potato, does remain alive year round.  We hosted no late blight last year and felt it would be safe to try fall planted potatoes.  Six potatoes went back into the ground the same afternoon that they were dug.  Purple Viking is the planted variety and our crop was fantastic.  Lunkers are common but six egg sized potatoes were set aside for planting.

This is our certified seed potato planting.  Delivered here from a Colorado grower in early May, they were presprouted indoors and planted out one week ahead of our frost free date June first.  These potatoes are several days behind the ones that grew on their own schedule.  Both plantings escaped damage from our last freeze.

The blight that I am fooling with here was the cause of the Irish potato famine.  Disease is common among plants that grow from last year's crop.  New York garlic growers are fighting crop destroying organisms in their self produced seed.  Tissue culture is a new process that is claimed to be a way around this problem.  Potatoes and garlic have been grown from self produced seed for generations.  I will not plant a large stand of plants from my own seed but the complex problem is not understood here.  I will feel both responsible and foolish if this year's tomato crop is taken by late blight.

This planting will be hilled as a single row.  The five foot wide beds are problematic if the potatoes are planted far enough apart to hill up separately.  Even with the single row treatment, extra soil will need to be added when the second hilling is completed.  Dried grass clippings will be used after that.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Wouldn't Hurt A Fly

Behold Araneus diadematus, a Garden Spider sometimes known as a Cross Spider.  Now I like to have spiders in the garden.  I think they are interesting and attractive.  I usually admire them, sometimes photograph them and basically leave them alone to do their thing.  My first encounter with this lovely lady this morning happened when I opened the screen door to enter the kitchen.  Both spider web and spider hit me in the face.  I'm not crazy about walking into spider silk although it happens often, but when  I saw the size of this spider as it dropped to the deck I was spooked!
I thought the whole thing was behind me, but the next time I went out the door she was back.  I got the camera and took her picture for identification purposes.  I noticed that she is missing part of one leg.  I sure hope I didn't do that.  Usually I wouldn't hurt a fly!  I gently flicked her off the edge of the door.  Little did I know that this kind of spider always uses a parachute.  She made a strand of web and dropped slowly to the deck.

All she had to do was climb back up eating the silk on her way.  Here she is again disappearing into the space between the door jamb and the door.

It looks like a tight squeeze with little room to spare.

There goes the last of her seven and a half legs back where she was in the first place.  There is no doubt that I lost round one.  I'm not completely sure what to do next.  I refuse to stop using the kitchen door for the summer, but I don't care for the idea of squashing her  or worse pinching her legs off one at a time.  If I am lucky when I go back outside she will be gone, but probably I will have to see if Ed will evict her for me.  She is too smart, too fast, and too stubborn for me.  I'm fine with spiders in the garden, but when they cross the line and come into the house the rules change.  Things can get interesting when you wouldn't hurt a fly!

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

These Will Be Together

Our style of gardening includes little planning.  The urgency to get the new plants into the ground has us searching for an open spot rather than reading a carefully drawn site map.  On rare occasions inspiration strikes and a carefully planned grouping comes into sharp focus.  These lemon lilies will be part of an organized planting.  They are the earliest daylily to flower and many years sees them taken by frost.  The west facing stone wall must have stored considerable heat in advance of the recent freeze because these buds remained undamaged.  Our new planting will be near the south facing basement wall.  Warmed by house heat and reflected sunlight, these beautiful flowers may bloom more frequently.

Oriental lilies are reported to benefit from companions plants that shade their base.  Groups of lemon lilies keep their leaves for the entire summer and will shade a central cluster of oriental lilies.  Early yellow flowers will be replaced by tall oriental lily flowers.

Gaps in the lemon lilies could provide excellent spots for Cardinal flower.  They too appreciate some shade from the high sun.  Clusters of brilliant red flowers swaying above lemon lily foliage will be a traffic stopper.

Meadow sage bursts into deep purple flower at the same time that the clear yellow of the lemon lilies peak. This photo is back lit by the setting sun and it does not do the clear purple color justice.  We really need a better picture.

We are working to tame the sloped ground directly in front of our house.  Rows of sizable rocks are being placed to create nearly level planting areas.  One such spot is ready for plants now.  When the time is right to move our plants, they will be placed in this new ground in a carefully planned arrangement.  This will be a first for us.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Accomplishing The Unlikely

Lemon verbena has been with us for many years.   Fresh finely chopped leaves sprinkled over fruit salad creates a flavor that defies description.  What it does to watermelon is truly wondrous.  Native to western South America, it grows into a eight foot tall bush that must be an impressive sight.  In climate zones numbered above 8 it is a perennial shrub.  Here in zone 4 it is marketed as an annual.  Difficult to find at local nurseries, we try to keep it alive year round.

The first obstacle that must be conquered is the speed with which its leaves droop and drop off when the plant is unearthed preparatory to potting it up.  No amount of water will coax the leaves away from their pout.  If the plant is placed in constant shade and watered liberally for days, some leaves may remain when the plant is moved indoors.

Once inside lemon verbena serves as a white fly magnet.  Sticky traps catch and hold them by the hundreds but survivors do serious damage to already struggling leaves.  We flood the potted plants twice each week.  Plastic dishpans contain the overflow.  A great deal of luck combined with generous amounts of water sometimes carry living plants through to spring.  This year all three plants survived.

These three plants have been basking in warm sunlight for weeks.  Perched on the stone wall near the basement door, the plants are carried indoors when nighttime cold threatens.  Few leaves remained when the plants were first moved outside.  Visible new shoots and bright green leaves are all new growth.  These plants have lived to enjoy another summer in the sun.  That will be the end of the road for them as they will grow to a large size that will make potting them up impossible.

Heel cuttings taken when the new branches first appeared seem to be well on their way.  Our cutting soil mix includes a generous amount of fine white builders sand as well as peat moss and some of our compost.  This is our first year using Richters rooting compound.  So far all of the cuttings have rooted.  Initial high moisture is maintained by dropping a bottomless juice jar down over the plants.  A pot saucer holds enough water to supply ample moisture from the bottom.  These plants appear ready for a move into a larger pot filled with regular garden soil.  A few weeks later they will be set out in the garden.  At summer's end, a move into large pots will ready them for a winter spent in a sunny basement window.  This entire process is repeated every year,  so far we find lemon verbena well worth the effort!