Thursday, April 27, 2017

John Bourroughs Named This One

How native plants are assigned names is frequently a mystery.  For this flower the naming process is well documented.  John Bourroughs wrote about this plant at great length.  In his day the name Dog Tooth Violet was the label frequently associated with this treasure.  Mr. Burroughs objected to that name on two points.  First, the flower has the structure of a lily not a violet.  Secondly, he could find nothing about the plant that suggested canine teeth.  The mottled leaf markings reminded him of the native fish trout and the timing of the plants appearance each spring coincided with his pursuit of that fish.  In his writings, he suggested that the plant be called Trout Lily and that became the plant's enduring popular name.

The single leaves pictured here portray one of the great mysteries about this plant.  These leaves are rather large suggesting a mature plant but single leaved plants never flower.  Only plants with two leaves produce flowers.  Burroughs spent not an inconsiderable amount of time trying to solve the puzzle.  He concluded that only older deeply rooted plants produced two leaves and flowers but he could find no plausible explanation for the method of a seed dropped on the forest floor's surface developing a corm that pulled itself ever deeper each year into the soil.  Here we have single leaved plants by the thousands but precious few that flower.  Our bedrock ridge is solidly stone.  Glacial action left what we call soil heavily littered with broken stone of all sizes.  We believe that the overwhelming presence of stone here prevents the Trout Lily from working its corm deeply into the ground.  New plants spring from the wandering roots but plants that flower are rare here.

In this spot the soil depth exceeds six inches.  The corm is deep sending up two leaves and a flower,  This early flower holds an enduring allure on us.  Our rare arbutus flowers earlier while the trout lily is common but mostly without flowers.  These yellow blossoms made their first appearance in our shade garden today.  We moved the plants from our woods into our garden several years ago.  They multiplied like weeds but no flowers were seen until today.  We also found several flowering plants in our woods.  That too is unusual.  We commonly find headless flower stems.  My guess is that the turkeys eat the flowers and the insects that alight there.  It is likely that we happened on these blossoms on the first day that they were open.

The view from the rear clearly shows the flowers structure and its insect companion.

The view from the front is heavily pollen laden.  I owe a huge debt of gratitude to John Bourroughs and his written words.  They awakened in me a desire and an interest to explore and enjoy the small parts of the natural world that surrounds us all.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Bee Gone

Today was another overcast with occasional light rain day.  Light conditions like these have produced some amazing arbutus photos.  These pictures were taken behind the arbutus wall.  All of these blossoms are pink but that color cannot be seen in this picture.

The camera chooses its point of focus and here the hairs that line the flower tube are clearly visible.  Scroll in on this photo and see more that the naked eye would ever see.

Last year I was horrified to find female flower tubes covering the ground in front of female plants.  Yesterday I watched a bumble bee working arbutus flowers.  Today I had the camera and caught one in the act.  Again I watched as the bee pushed its enormous head into the open flowers.  I did not see it pop blossoms free but am relatively certain of the cause of the flower caps that litter the ground.

The tan structures that resemble wheat seeds in the lower flower identify this plant as male,  The open flower above it has no visible sexual parts.  Some insect may have carried them off.

More tan organs are visible here and they are covered with mature pollen.  Foot traffic inside of the flower resulted in pollen stains on the petals.

 This was intended to be just a picture of flowers pulled free of the plant.  The leftmost cluster of flowers clearly shows two green five pointed stars that capture pollen for fertilization.  They are just above twin pine needles.  I did not see them until I was looking at the pictures.  This may be the best photo of the year.

Shade Garden Excitement

Twinleaf, Jeffersonia diphylla is a delightful native wildflower.  Its lovely white flowers are a treat, and quickly  gone but that is not all this plant has to offer.  The leaves last all summer and flutter in the wind like beautiful green butterfly wings.  The plant forms a neat round clump.  The weird green seed pots that come along later  after the flowers are fascinating too!  Best of all the plant seems to do well under less than textbook conditions.  I know I got mine at Catskill Native nursery in Kerhonkson, NY.  This plant is worth the hunt!

A new Twinleaf plant looks like this. Planted last year, it has just two leaves.  I really don't expect this one to flower this year.  I  am just really happy to see it come back.

This plant has a few leaves and more coming.  Perhaps flowers this year are not out of the question.  

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Garlic, Strawberries and Onions

For the first time ever, every garlic clove planted resulted in above ground growth.  Three were slow to emerge but they are all up and growing now.  Rot issues still exist in our harvest but the brown spots are smaller than in years past and fewer in number.  It is hard to believe but these plants will be harvested in less than ninety days from now.  We are opening a new planting bed here this year.  Potatoes will be planted there this year with garlic to follow in the fall.  We believe that new ground is regularly needed to avoid bulb rot issues.  That is another reason while the garden continues to expand while we cannot keep up with what is already here.

Our mail person drove up the hill to deliver a package today.  Our onion plants had arrived.  This bed grew potatoes last year and was covered with plastic bags full of fallen leaves over the winter.  After setting the bags aside, a quick stir with the potato hook had this ground ready to plant.  Welded wire fence establishes a grid that allows for quick placement of accurately spaced planting holes.  We used the same spacing that was used to plant the garlic.  Eight inches between the rows and six inches between plants in the row allows ample room for growth with just enough room for a weeding hand.

This photo is misleading.  Becky planted most of the onions while I set the few that were beyond her reach.  The bed in line with the onion bed contains thirty newly placed strawberry plants.  We ordered new strawberry plants last year from a new supplier.  We have done business with Miller's Nursery for decades but the death of one of the brothers caused the surviving brother to close their business.  The new Sparkle plants got off to a rocky start.  In one spot only five plants of the twelve planted grew.  We were not expecting much from the living but they produced a huge quantity of new plants from runners.  The blossoms will be removed from these plants this year to encourage plant growth and the production of more plants from runners.  We intend to train the runners so that two rows of plants similar to what is found at Hellers, where we pick jam berries, result.  Now to find some mulch straw.

I had harvested a pile of horse apples dropped by our neighbor's horses,  When the pile was moved to make way for the onions, this salamander was living in the warmth under the pile.  We do not know where it will spent this night but at least it escaped an inadvertent shovel injury. As near as I can tell it is a Northern red backed salamander.  He breathes through his skin, needs to stay wet and never actually goes in the water.  We have never seen one like this before!

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Best Trailing Arbutus Display Ever

As regular readers know for certain, Epigaea repens holds a prominent place in our gardening life.  Successful transplantation of this native treasure is rare but all of the plants in these photos were transplanted here.  We still have huge holes in our knowledge of arbutus but we continue to try and learn more about this plant from careful observation.

This is just one corner of our first attempt to transplant arbutus.  This display of open flowers is the most impressive that we have ever seen here.  Our point and shoot camera has problems with the color white.  Today the cloud cover was thick and rainfall was imminent.  Some combination of dim light and yesterday's rain made for great pictures today.

Despite the pretty pink coloration, this plant is male.  Five tan objects that resemble grains of wheat are positioned around the bottom of the hairy tube that connects the open petals with the base of the flower.  The depth of the tube also causes focus problems for the camera.  Some work is required to position a hand lens so that the desired part of the flower is in focus.  The hair like filaments that densely line the tube are somewhat clear resembling fishing line.  They add to the camera focusing difficulties.

In this picture the prime focus is on the filaments.  Beneath them is a green object that is opening like a five pointed star.  Yesterday it was tightly closed.  This organ captures pollen making this the female flower.  If new plants from seed grew here, we would consider our attempt to reintroduce this native jewel a success.  To date many seeds have been seen but no new plants followed.  The number of years between seed production and new plants from seed is not known to us.  We do know that this plant stringently follows its own schedule so we wait.

The petals of these older male blossoms are stained with blotches of brown.  They may be pollen stains.  Today for the first time, we saw a bumble bee working the open flowers.  It was quite comical to watch it force its large head deep to the bottom of the open flowers.  It is commonly suggested that ants pollinate arbutus flowers but we will add bumble bees to the list.  We did have a remote lone female plant develop seed last year and wondered about the source of its pollen.  Due to the distance between that plant and the others, bumble bees are more likely pollinators than ants.

Fallen pine needles, open white flowers and dark green leaves combine to create a beautiful image.  Tan skeletal remains of parts of the leaves eaten by insects only serve to establish that this otherwise perfect picture is in fact real.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Perhaps A Little Too Much Fun In The Garden

A beautiful day like today means plenty of fun in the garden.  On a less perfect day I might have been discouraged when I got a wasp sting on the palm of my right hand before I even made it out to the garden.  I was not taking no for an answer today!

Ed chose to work on the bed where he wanted to plant the Oregon Giant edible pod peas.  They are a very special garden treat for us!  I chose to weed the daffodil and snow drop bed.  I wanted to work close by poor Ed who felt like he was being punished working so hard to dig the quack grass out of his planting bed.  It thrills me to reclaim a bed from those pernicious weeds.  I'm sure we did not get them all, but many trugs of quack grass, sheep sorrel and other assorted weeds were taken from this bed.

When we were finished, the peas were planted and the bed looked like this!

Cleaning up Mom's iris seemed like a great way to spend some garden time.  Gentle Ed and the Shasta daisy benefited from being in the area.  However, I was beginning to think that perhaps I had overdone my garden fun.  It's interesting.   I can be working along doing great and  then I realize I am getting a little sore, a little stiff and a lot tired.   I hated to stop, but I did.

We got the camera and took some photos of the beauty around the garden.  The trailing arbutus is the star this week, but the trout plant that I got from Sarah is looking good with its pink and blue flowers and beautifully spotted dark green leaves!

Glory of the Snow  looks even better to me without the snow!

What could be better for an Easter picture that these brilliant yellow King Alfred daffodils in front of Ed's stone wall?

The sky grew dark and the wind began to blow.  I had to chase my hat several times.  Ed managed to take this terrific picture of my pink trout lily anyway, but soon giant raindrops began to fall.  It was definitely time to top.  After dinner and a nice warm shower we are both feeling good!  Maybe in the end today in the garden was just right!

Coming Out On The Other Side

We were in our early fifties when we moved to this wild land surrounded by several square miles of forest.  Winter walks into the woods were common then.  Treks on snowshoes were enjoyable adventures.  Sledding down steep slopes occasionally included piercing screams.  A hand powered snow pusher cleared the one quarter of a mile long driveway for most storms.  Winter was just another season to be enjoyed.  Now joints ache in response to short periods of time outdoors.  Fingers and toes turn scary white in response to cold air.  Much of the fun has gone out of winter so early flowers are a welcome treat and bring with them the promise of more to come.

This patch of transplanted from the wild arbutus plants is my pride and joy.  Four tiny plants have been joined by a fifth from seed plant to form this sizable display.  We knew nothing about these plants being either male or female with gender identification easily made if you know where to look in the open flowers.  Three male plants and one female are what we have here.  The plant from seed has disappeared blending in with the others.  Its gender remains unknown.  Our lone female has been reluctant to flower and seeds were seen here for the first time just last year.

Two days ago we found a single open flower here.  Recent hot dry days have pushed more buds to open.  These plants could be seen as little more than a rather insignificant ground cover with tiny white or pink flowers.  When the nose is brought close to an open flower, the plant's appeal is quickly understood.  We have two other patches of arbutus nearby.  When I left these plants to check on the others, Becky was pressed flat to the ground with her nose close to these open flowers.  When I returned several minutes later she was still drawing in their unbelievably sweet aroma.

These plants were also taken from the wild and planted behind the stone arbutus wall.  Three plants of each gender were placed here so that fertilization is easily accomplished.  This site is more favorable for arbutus growth as can be seen by the number of flower buds in each cluster.  Many of these flowers tend to be pink.  The eye sees the pink coloration but the camera fails to accurately record it.

The scent of the arbutus now exists in competition with the overpowering smell of the lagoon cow manure that is presently being sprayed on nearby fields.  Tractor trailer loads of this black gold are taken to the fields all day long at this time of year.  Its sharp smell is simply overpowering.  We are fortunate in that the location of the fields and the direction of the winds tend to soften our exposure to this unpleasantness.  We have elderly neighbors whose house is located just past the end of a huge stinky field.  Cut arbutus flowers brought inside might help them but  I simply cannot bring myself cut these precious flowers.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

A Gift Of Plants

Several decades ago when we began our serious gardening efforts, some female gardeners of age took us under their wings and supported our efforts with gifts of their plants.  Many of those ladies are now gone but their plants live on in our gardens.  We remember those caring people with sweet memories whenever we work among their plants.  The gift of plants is a tradition worth preserving and today we continue the practice.

These two arbutus plants were dug with the owners' permission today.  Located at the top of a north facing ridge, these plants were still covered with snow two days ago.  As we move toward summer and the sun climbs higher in the sky, these plants will exist in full sunlight.  Their response to this harsh environment is to keep their leaves small and reproduce freely.  They sense that they may soon die because of their poor for them location and desperately work to create the next generation.

Jane is one of the gardeners that has made  many gifts of plants to us.  Now well into her ninth decade we wanted to make it possible for her to once again enjoy the scent of open arbutus flowers.  We selected these two plants with the plan that they be planted out as soon as the flowers are finished.  Each of these small plants  are at least two years old.  A new plant from seed grows only three leaves during its first year.  The second year sees stem growth and additional leaves.  The flowers buds form at the end of the new stem growth.  Because these plants are small, they will very likely survive transplantation after their short time in the pots.  Jane will be able to raise the pots near her nose rather than going to the ground to catch a sniff of these unbelievable sweet flowers.

We have made countless attempts to grow bluets.  These plants grow like weeds in wet lawns.  They slowly fail for us because of our mostly dry ground.  This time around, we are placing this gift of plants at the base of the hill leading up to our home.  This is the wettest area that we have available to us.  Individual plants are either male or female.  We planted three in the hope that both genders are present.  Natural plant propagation is the goal.  Not only do we want them to live, we want them to prosper.

These four plants were left together because of their closeness to each other.  Dividing them might have increased the stress of the move.  Our rural mailbox is close by so a sprinkling can of water can make the trip down the hill to get the mail on rainless days.

Elaine was kind enough to allow us to take all of these plants from her home site.  Wintergreen grows abundantly there and she offered us a sample.  We have made numerous unsuccessful attempts to bring wintergreen under cultivation.  The growth habit of this plant makes moving it difficult.  An underground stem connects each of these clusters of three leaves.  A small amount of roots form at the point where the leaf stem leaves the underground stem.  Generally, this root mass is insufficient to sustain the part of the plant that has been separated from the crown.  We placed this wintergreen close by an arbutus planting.  Since we continue to bring water to the transplanted arbutus when rainfall is scant, we will remember to water the wintergreen.  The muddy plop is the remains of the soil that was moved today.  Nearby white pine needles were pulled in to cover the soil.  Now these plants look like they are growing in a wild natural location.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Eighty Degrees In The Shade

The past several days have been summer like.  Every house has someone outside happily cleaning up winter's debris.  Perennial plants are appearing everywhere and showing major growth changes each day.  Pleasant as it is to be once again working outside in shirt sleeves, we cannot forget the new growth turned to yellowish mush last year when seasonably cold weather followed early hot days.

Arbutus flowers appear to be only days away.  These plants have been under frequent watch since the buds first formed last fall.  The exposed white tips of the soon to be opened flowers are new.  Despite their location under a white pine tree, afternoon sun strikes these plants daily.  As a result these buds are developing ahead of our other more shaded plantings.  Huge quantities of work cry out for our immediate attention but the arbutus will be checked daily.  We want to see every stage of the development of arbutus flowers.

Our first snake of the season lives in a hole in the wall that separates lane traffic from the arbutus.  Becky spotted it without the ear piercing scream that usually greets the first snake.

Our garlic bed is a regular stop on our tour of the back meadow.  270 cloves were fall planted in this bed.  Leaves made small by an encounter with the lawn mower were placed over the planted garlic.  Soil temperature moderation, weed suppression and water retention were the goals of the leaf cover.  Still some of the emerging garlic leaf blades were trapped by the bigger pieces of mulch.  A helping hand set them free.  Very little work will be required here as this crop moves toward harvest.  Mulch will suppress weed growth giving the garlic a tremendous head start.

Here we see a piece of a Royal Jelly Siberian Iris removed from its former home.  The Smith & Hawkins spade purchased in Manhattan and transported to a Brooklyn apartment before being delivered here by daughter Amy is only used to divide plants.  We wish to avoid a broken tine that might result from contact with stones in the wilder sections of the garden.

The harvested iris was taken from the gap between the wall and the large clump.  It will not be missed as the older plant still holds a large spot in the planting.  Despite their being a common garden plant, the crocus are making a rare appearance here.  Browsing deer usually bite off the early green leaves before the cages are placed.  This year we won that race.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Many Happy Returns!

It is a very April day here!  Rain, thunder  and minor flooding in the usual places are all part of the spring experience here.  Yesterday was different.  It was so nice that spending time outdoors was simply irresistible!  

One of the things on our long, long list of outdoor activities was to clear out the rest of the bluebird houses.  This house had bluebirds in it last summer.  You can tell from the grassy nest.  The little balls of chewed up milkweed fluff indicate a mouse nest.  It can be quite exciting to evict these unwanted winter residents.  No one was at home here so it was easy to just flip the contents into the trug.  I have been seeing bluebirds so it's great to have this done!  In several of the other houses the rodent residents were at home.  Those evictions were far more exciting.  There was a lot of dancing around and squealing going on but Ed and I have been together for a long time and he is used to it. I might have terrified the mice.    Boy, those furry little critters are fast!

We did get some chores done, but I spent some time looking for signs of my returning plants.  I was so happy to see my pink trout lilies poking up through the leaves.  Red now, the leaves will turn green with spots one they have been in the sunlight for awhile. That is a Johnny Jump Up leaf to the right.  Soon happy little purple faced flowers will make me smile.

The shooting stars have broken through. One plant has been pushed up by frost or pulled right up out of the ground by deer  and is showing its roots.  Next time I am out there I will  replant it.

I'm always delighted and a little surprised  to see my squirrel corn come up in the spring.  Perhaps it got its name from the unusual flowers, but the name conjures up an image of the red and grey squirrels quarreling over who gets to eat my plant first!

I think this bright red plant is my single peony emerging.  I could be wrong, but I sure was happy to see it yesterday!

This is a Sea Holly plant.  This plant spreads by self seeding.  It attracts an amazing variety of pollinators to the garden and the lavender flowers last for a very long time.  I don't like to thin these out unless I have to .  This one can stay.  The tiny sedum plants you see here are from seed.  The original plants were given to me by Thelma H., a good friend of my mother. They are another reason to make me smile.

Last but surely not least are some of my Pickwick crocus flowers. April showers bring May flowers, but they bring April flowers too!