Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Why Garden?

With birthday seventy-three in the wings, one cannot help but look back and wonder just how did all of this happen?  Twenty-three years ago we bought this former working farm in a somewhat abandoned state.  Several horses spent their summers here running wild within perimeter fencing.  Their presence kept invasive vegetation in check preserving the cultivated appearance of the former fields.  Under our stewardship the briers and the Japanese honeysuckle have made serious inroads but we are fighting back.

The stone walled square was our first project here.  It required three years to gather the stone and complete using only hand tools and a pickup truck.  The glacially deposited soil remains unfit for cultivation.  It contains more stones than soil fines.  Stones were screened out of the garden beds.  Some were used to establish garden paths.  Larger stones were used to build the upper section of our driveway.  Occasional stones suitable for walls went there.  Tons of compost were added to the sandy soil and workable garden soil was slowly built.

The overgrown area to the right of the stone square was our first garden bed.  Goldenrod, asters, quack grass, rugosa roses and a smoke bush now hold most of this bed.  We are working to reclaim this ground.  Flowers and strawberries have the far end now.

Our ambitious plans called for sections of rectangular planting beds that would surround the stone square on three sides.  Eleven beds were completed.  Stones were sifted out building both planting soil and stone paths.  Only one entire bed has been reclaimed by the quack grass.  The adjacent bed never saw its near section finished due to a change in elevation.  The remaining nine beds serve as planned but  now we grow more flowers and fewer vegetables.

Age related adjustments can be clearly seen.  Only the face peers out into sunlight.  Sun protective clothing now covers everything else.  Passersby must wonder just what sort of people work this ground.  We care not at all what others think and there are some advantages to being seen as perhaps just a little off.

The garden cart keeps all of my small tools close by under the seat.  Working the soil from a seated position overcomes some problems while creating new ones.  My feet must rest on the soil compacting what we never used to walk on.  When the distant work is finished, the soil is loosened where the feet and the cart wheels were. The fact that I had my big feet in the garden bed is kept a secret!   Muscle soreness signals when the activity must change and we try to listen.

This area in front of the house is nearly finished.  Some sod must be removed and replaced with stones in our continuing battle with pasture grasses.  Then we will move to the far end of the house and bring that area under our control.  More planting areas and a swing are planned.

The original question remains unanswered.  Why garden?  Quite simply, working outside among tasty or beautiful appearing or pleasantly scented flowers brings a quietness to my soul like nothing else.  The positive results that come with carefully done manual labor have played a major life sustaining role for me.  I cannot imagine a life away from these plants and stones.  Whatever adjustments must be made to extend my days here will be made.  A mat that will assist working the soil while flat on the ground is already here.  We use it to place our nose close to the ground to sniff the trailing arbutus!

Sunday, May 28, 2017

A Fleeting Garden Visit, Photos By Amy

I have a thing for purple alliums.  What can beat round balls of purple star like flowers?

Being related to onions you might expect these flowers to have an unfortunate aroma, but to me they kind of smell like grapes.   Although their leaves are already yellow, these round balls will look neat even after the purple fades and the seed capsules form.

My deep purple meadow sage plants are looking spectacular right now!  These unusually shaped flowers don't seem to have a scent.  They really don't need it since the foliage has the plant equivalent of BO.  The pollinator that is attracted to this plant likes a strong scent!

It seems like every year spring flies by faster.  Here we are at the end of May.  It is too early to do some things in the garden and too late to do others.  Some flowers have already had their time to bloom and disappeared until next year.  Others didn't get to bloom this year at all.  The most important thing is to take the time to smell the flowers and appreciate their beauty while you can.  I would recommend that you sniff an allium if you get the chance.  In my opinion meadow sage is best appreciated from a distance.  Today Amy discovered that the lovely white flowers of snow in summer have a great fragrance.  I have grown the plant for more than 30 years and never noticed.  Our time spent in the garden today was short, but it was wonderful to be there together!

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Alien Smells

In almost every instance, we go with what we think is right.  Native plants hold a special stature for us in part because they have always been here where we call home.  All plants are native someplace on this earth and it is easy to see how early colonists would have wanted to bring something from their former home with them when they first came here.  Dame's Rocket would have been an easy plant to pack.  A few tiny seeds hidden away would have been certain to grow in the new world.  It is a survivor and now is commonly seen in flower in roadside ditches.  We have intentionally introduced it into our gardens in several locations.

This plant has much to recommend it as a garden subject.  Its colors range from purple to white with an occasional pink flowered plant.  Each evening a pleasant scent fills the air close by this plant.  Its leaves are a little coarse but that only points to the plant's strength.  If the seeds are allowed to mature, new plants will be numerous.  Seedlings are easily removed if caught early and a few can be left in a chosen spot.  We prefer to see this plant as a colonial garden treasure rather than a common ditch weed.

Autumn Olive is an invader from Asia.  It has been here since 1830.   Our single specimen is about eight feet tall and has suffered numerous vicious pruning attacks as is grows into the lane right of way.  Late frost frequently takes the flower buds but when the shrub flowers it is spectacular.  Its scent heavily fills the air and is carried on the breeze for a considerable distance.  One only has to approach the plant to enjoy the sweet smell.  Horror stories abound about the invasive nature of this plant but we have only found one plant on our land.  A smaller younger plant grows just across the lane but we have found no others.  We will leave well enough alone.  No attempts will be made to kill this plant and no effort will be expended trying to get new plants either from seed or cuttings.  We will look forward to another year free of late harsh frost so that we can once again enjoy its wild sweet scent.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Native Sweetness

If there is a more brazenly beautiful native flower, I have yet to see it.  Thrusting their sexual parts far from the flower is relatively common to entice pollination but the addition of color and fragrance makes this presentation unique.  The single pollen receptor extends beyond five pollen producers and is tipped with white attracting liquid.  We have yet to see a pollinator in action on these flowers but each year some seed pods are produced.  Our first Pinxter from seed has yet to appear but we remain hopeful.

Placing these plants near a field stone wall was no accident.  We find that the soil at the base of a stone wall remains moist even when rainfall is scant.  In the wild, we find these plants growing above but close by wet ground.  The contrast of the dull solid stone and the vibrant pink of the flowers is spectacular.

Last winter presented many difficult situations but non hit us harder than a deer feeding on this treasured plant.  Pinxter growth is unusual in that all of the action happens at the tips of the branches.  Bare branches are crowned with flowers and leaves while most of the branch remains void of growth.  We expected that the deer damage might severely impact the plant.  As it turns out the pruned tips are causing new growth to appear lower on the stems.  This new growth might have  been suitable material for heel cuttings intending to grow new plants.  Now it appears doubtful that I have what it takes to put blade to branch in search of new plants.  It is most likely that this plant will be allowed to repair itself unmolested.

Our other Pinxter went unnoticed by the marauding deer.  Wire cages were scattered about in front of this bush and that may have kept the deer at bay.  This fall we will intentionally surround these plants with wire protection.  For now we have the promise of an  abundance of sweet flowers in the coming days.  This will give us many chances to try and identify and describe the components of this perfume.  In contrast to the visual boldness of these flowers, their scent remains subtle.  It carries on the breeze close by the plant but defies description.  Some have reported that the scent of these flowers brings to mind the comfort smell of baking bread.  That it does but there is also an understated presence of some spice.  We must walk near to these flowers every time that we move from the garden to the house.  It goes without saying that nearly every such trip includes a pleasant pause to take in more of this exotic scent.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Return To The Wild

One of our life goals is to assist the return to a natural setting of native plants.  With the exception of the protective covering wire cages, arbutus now grows here in three appropriately wild locations.  Lobelia cardinalis has been here with us for decades but it survives with our help only in the gardens.  Pasture grasses overwhelmed it after two seasons when we planted it near our pond.  So now we make another attempt to introduce cardinal flower in an almost natural setting.

From what we have read, cardinal flower seeds require moisture to germinate.  We recently discovered an area at the base of the bedrock ridge that features an occasional spring.  Moving a short distance toward the former farm field, our plants will find adequate sunlight and moderately wet soil.  These three plants have spent the past several weeks in plastic pots so that a move to the basement protected them from late frosts.  Plants left unprotected in the garden are still alive but their growth is way behind the potted plants.  Perhaps the natural cycle of tender new growth under snow cover making the transition to hard dark green leaves consumes a great deal of the plants energy as does recovery from frost damage.

In the nearby woods, fallen leaf cover prevents rampant grass growth.  We used one of our bags of residential leaves to cover this area of ground.  Additional leaves will be brought here to expand the grass free area.  If the introduced leaves run to the natural fallen leaves in the woods, a wild appearance will result.  We can continue to bring leaves here if the plants survive in this location.  The protective wire cage is intended for a short time only.  Once the  cardinal flower settles in the cage will be removed.

These Jack in the pulpits discovered close to the location of the cardinal flower's new home are the first that we have ever found on our land.  Widespread sizable chunks of broken ridge stone litter the ground here as the ridge gives way to the field.  Walking here is risky but the area favors natural growth of the Jack in the pulpits.  Perhaps the moisture in this area is necessary for these plants survival.

One thing that we did notice is that Jack in the pulpit's with only a single leaf had no Jack.  Perhaps like the trout lily, older plants with two leaves are only ones to flower.

On a totally unrelated subject, as we neared our home by auto yesterday a red tailed hawk flew up just in front of us.  It had been on the ground on the downhill side of the road and was flying into the woods.  It was carrying what looked to be a baby woodchuck.  The distance separating bird and car was extremely small and our view of the sunlit back of the hawk was incredible.  Since we view woodchucks as mortal enemies, seeing one about to feed nestling hawks just seemed right.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Seeds And A Cutting

We have been paying attention to the arbutus plantings and were aware that seeds were forming.  Today was chosen as the day to document this always thrilling development.  The now blackened stigma has completed its mission.  When it was green and glistened with moisture, sufficient pollen was captured on its five pointed star to begin the process of seed formation.  The reddish colored hairy stem next to the four developing seed berries is new growth.  It is truly impressive that these female plants can produce both seed and new growth at the same time.

The withered remains of a spent flower hangs caught on a style.  Both have completed their reproductive tasks so nothing will come of this.  It does show the color of the dried blossom.  The expanding seed berries are pushing past the white membranes that previously covered them.

This hole held one of the four stones placed to support the protecting cage.  It was an accident waiting to happen as it tended to tip over when I tried to use it to support me as I leaned in to do necessary maintenance.  It was removed to clear the way for a replacement providing a view of what goes on underground.  I have long feared that root damage during transplantation might be a cause for commonly reported failure so I have yet to see arbutus root structure. That is still the case since the plant parts seen are unrooted new growth.  A new stone quickly filled the hole preserving the status quo.

My past failures with attempting arbutus cuttings have been documented here.  The recommended rooting hormone is expensive and available only in large quantities so it have never been used here.  This attempt features young willow stems soaked in water as a rooting medium.  Having recently read that now is the time to take cuttings we are making another attempt.  That method may require that the cut be made in front of the first leaf and the emerging new stem but this is what was done.  This complex part of the plant was new growth formed last year.  This is where the flower buds formed in the fall and where new growth starts at this time of year.  It may also be the location of new root growth as this stem moves away from the crown of the plant.  The plants natural tendency to send down roots here may make this attempt at a cutting successful.  If this attempt fails, the next try will involve pinning the stem firmly to the ground with a U shaped piece of wire and cutting the stem the following year.  I really want to be successful at growing new plants.  To date, no seeds formed here have sprouted and no cuttings have rooted.

This is the device that will be used this time.  There is no provision for ventilation so we will remove the cover briefly if excess moisture collects on the container.  We plan to remove it occasionally so that more willow water can be added to the soil.  We will report the outcome of this attempt even if it is just another failure.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Mother's Day Wildflowers

Yesterday our annual Mother's Day search in the woods for Fringed polygala was called on account of rain.  Finding them a day later was still a wonderful discovery!  They grow close to the ground and  are less than three inches tall. This make the polygalas a tiny treasure  for us to search for and find.  Ed saw them first.  For some reason it is very hard to see the first one, but after you become aware of their presence you can see  the whole patch.  It was not a large group, but enough to make us very happy!

Still wet with water droplets from yesterday's rain these tiny little wildflowers take my breath away!   They mean more to me than any hot house orchid ever could.

I was delighted to see a still unopened bud.  That means I can enjoy the flowers for a little bit longer!

It seem like it is getting harder and harder to find a patch of these purple beauties. The flowers we found today have a lot of competition  from grasses and speedwell that have crept in from nearby fields.  It is not really practical to try to weed a patch of wildflowers in the woods, but I am sure Ed will make a special place and move a few plants from the edge of the patch to a perfect spot where they may have a chance to thrive!  He has transplanted them before with great results.   I'm sure he can do it again!

Friday, May 12, 2017

Lessons Learned

Very early on in our quest to garden here, we learned just how vicious the pasture grasses are in reclaiming what had been theirs.  Quack grass is unbelievably invasive.  Any tiny piece of root will grow into a determined plant.  Sometimes I feel like the plant can regrow if only its scent remains in the soil.  The battle to keep it out of the garden is constant.

When we first opened this garden by the woods, a trench system was established as a barrier between the garden and the grass.  We used landscape fabric to cover the bottom soil.  Quack grass quickly grew both under and into the fabric.  Its web of roots was impossible to remove so  it was start over time.

When the fabric is removed the roots above and below it are removed as well.  Major effort is required to pull plant growth free on both sides of the fabric.  Once that is done the remaining soil is remarkably free of plant parts.  Some soil is removed next.  Cardboard is placed at the bottom of the shallow trench.  We believe that the cardboard discourages grass growth.  Weeding the bark mulch is straightforward and simple.  Once finished we expect that this area will require little of our time for the next several years.

The strawberry bed requires some explanation.  New runner plants were moved here earlier this year.  We intend to let these plants run and fill in the straw covered area.  The area covered by leaves will be kept free of strawberry plants.  If all goes as planned we should enjoy a plentiful harvest for three years.  We intend to pinch off all blossoms this year to focus the plants on growth.

We remain totally free of income from our blog.  Any product endorsements are given only because we find the product great.  The Cobra Head cultivator is just such a product.  It has been available with a short handle for several years.  We use them extensively while seated on our garden carts.  They fit the hand with ease and are fantastic for hand cultivation.  A long handled version has recently come to our garden.  It just arrived and a test run was in order.  In the past a four tined stone fork was our tool of choice for standing work.  The single tine of the Cobra Head pulls through the ground with almost no effort.  The tine is on its side in the photo as piece of quack grass root is slated for removal.  In all fairness, this ground had been worked with the stone fork earlier this year.  The hand held model can deliver impressive force to large deeply rooted weeds but it is easier on the weeder to use a spading fork to remove the monsters.  We will treat the long handled version similarly.  Knockoffs are  now appearing on the market so you know that this is a quality product.

Friday, May 5, 2017

The Scent Of Clove On The Breeze

These native Buffalo Currant bushes make this one of the truly special times of the year.  Their small bright yellow flowers are cheery enough but the scent they emit is sweet beyond description.  A light breeze will carry this smell of cloves for a considerable distance.  Walking into that cloud is always an unexpected pleasure while working in the garden.

The pictured plant was transplanted two years ago.  Our plan was to combine spearmint with clove currants in a circular bed in the middle of the pasture.  Since the bushes send out deep runners while the mint runs nearer the surface, we felt that both would prosper together.  As an added bonus, Dame's Rocket was planted in the center between the three currant bushes.  It appears that every seed grew so now we have considerable weeding that needs to be done soon.  We find the evening scent of the rocket pleasant so we will put up with this aggressive roadside escapee from colonial gardens.

This plant has held this location for many years.  It as well as our mature trees suffer from the same affliction.  A pale grayish green growth grows uncontrollably on old wood.  It spells a certain death for both the trees and the bushes.  The process is slow so we have years to enjoy both the bushes and the trees.  They will likely outlast us here.

Despite good intentions, it seems that there is always at least one potted plant that spends the winter above ground.  An unrecognizable dead stick is the usual result.  In this instance we have a clove currant that patiently awaits placement somewhere.  Perhaps a spot along an old fence line near the arbutus wall would meet this plants requirements.  If a couple of Summer Sweets were also planted there we would have three of our favorite scents in one location.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Natives Or Aliens?

In my opinion when it comes to the garden, it is not where you are from it is how you behave that matters.  I adore native wild flowers like this lovely Virginia Bluebells.

However I also love many alien plants including the snow drops that come up early in the spring and raise my spirits after a long, sometimes longer than others, winter.  I never worry about having too many snowdrops.  They do naturalize, but they do it in such a dainty controlled way.  I don't think you will ever read about out of control snowdrops taking over anywhere.

 The snowdrops in this picture are definitely not the aggressor!  The other plant is the villain!  Now we come to a plant that I consider a pernicious weed!!  Garlic Mustard, Alliaria officinalis,  is an alien with some serious behavior problems!  I have never liked the plant and I never planted it, but while I was not watching it has grown up what seems like everywhere.  Brought to this country as a potherb, the plant is a favorite of foragers like "Wildman" Steve Brill.

He would be after the tender pointed leaves and flower buds.  The plant is described a spicy and hot to some and bitter to others.  Frankly I would welcome a busload of foragers if they would pull up the plants and take them home! 

The basal leaves are shaped like violet leaves.  I have been pulling this plant, but when I discovered that the plant apparently destroys mycorrhizae fungi in the soil I declared war!  Ed's trailing arbutus and other wildflowers need the fungus in the soil to survive,  Even the Eastern red backed salamander is reportedly endangered by this plant.  So if you are looking for a garden alien to eradicate this is one you can go for with gusto.  If you want to eat it do some research first.  Here I just want it gone !!!

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Trillium Grandiflorum

My first childhood memory of interacting with a wildflower involves the white trillium.  A woodland at the edge of our cultivated field contained a sizable patch of these flowers.  Around Mother's Day, I would bring an arm load of these flowers to my mother.  My grandmother pointed out that I had picked the leaves as well as the flowers so the plants that I had touched would die since they were left with no way to take on nutrients.  Since there were so many flowers, I dismissed the awful truth contained in my grandmother's words.  That childhood memory may be what compels me to grow this native treasure now.

These plants were purchased from a mail order outlet that promises that the plants were taken from the wild in such a manner that guarantees sustainability.  I hope that they are true to their word.  The three large flowers appear to be from a single plant or at least from a naturally expanding root mass.  They have been planted here for several years and are finally settling in.  The much smaller flower and plant have been here for a shorter period of time.

We carried in woods soil and leaves to try and create a natural planting medium.  Our guess is that this location is a little on the dry side.  My planned project for this summer is to build a series of sloping stone ledges intending that extra water will be directed towards the wildflowers to be planted at their base.  Trilliums will be among the first plants placed there.  We hope for an extravagant massive display.

A more recent encounter with the white trillium occurred while driving from Richford to Ithaca.  There must have been a mile long stretch of winding road that bordered a long undisturbed wooded slope.  Trilliums in uncountable numbers filled those woods.  An improvement project to straighten the road destroyed that natural wonder.  That event may be another force that drives us to work to establish a natural appearing planting of this pure white wonder.