Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Stunning Combinations

Much of what happens in our gardens is a matter of luck rather than careful planning.  In this case the unplanned combination of White Phlox and Cardinal Flower must be remembered and repeated.  That both flower at the same time is what makes this special.  There is a self planted small phlox that is easily movable and we must give some thought to its next location.  It will be surrounded by Cardinal Flower plants.

Phlox come with some drawbacks.  Deer are terribly fond of eating them.  The plant in the picture is encased year round inside a wire cage.  Deer trimming does not drop below the top of the cage so the white flowers are lower than they would be if the plant remained unmolested.  As it is the height of the red and white flowers are very nearly the same.  That could be seen as a plus.

Left alone, Cardinal Flower places all of its blossoms on a single stalk.  Early pruning will result in a shorter but more numerous flower set.  That action totally destroys the natural appearance of this native plant but so does placing it in a garden.  We shall see what changes appear next year.

Anything looks good near a dry stone wall.  Clara Curtis Chrysanthemums grow here like dandelions so this picture seems like cheating.  Still this accidental staging will be repeated again and again.

Here is a bit of a puzzle.  Cardinal Flower presents a low rosette of leaves each spring.  As the flowering stalk grows the leaves near the ground disappear.  They may grow on the climbing stalk but the end result is that the ground at the base of the stem is bare.  This may be a plant from seed sending up flowers in its first year.  Likely the stems should have been snipped off to encourage the growth of a healthy rosette.  I cannot see myself doing that at this stage of the game.  The others are ending their flower production while this plant is just starting.  This plant is on the inside of the stone wall opening shown in the mum photo.  With this written reference, we may remember both the plant and its location next spring.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Seasonal Shift

Last night the temperature dropped into the low 40s.  At a different time of the year the decision to cover tender plants or take a chance would have been made.  August frost is not unheard of here but it certainly is rare.  An extra early wake up found the air filled with moist fog.

New England asters fill the roadside ditches and grow freely in other waste places.  A purple flower catches my attention every time so we have this native growing in far too many locations in our planting beds.  Roadside locations show this plant flowering on short stems following highway crew's mowing.  Here the deer rough prune as they walk our garden paths.  The plant's response is to produce more flowers on shortened stems.  We have yet found the time to prune and the beautiful flowers appear at the top of tall stems.  Lower the stem is covered with dead dark leaves.  With care these plants would make excellent garden subjects.

My Great grandfather introduced me to both chrysanthemums and the notion that real men could grow flowers.  Our cold location makes mums usually an annual plant here.  These Mammoth Pinks may be an exception.  Out in the garden they frequently winter kill.  These located right in front of the south facing house wall have expanded after two years in this spot.

Nursery men find our native asters irresistible.  From them they have created an aggressive plant named October Skies that grows rather close to the ground while maintaining the wild form of the flower.  No pruning is needed here but a large space will be filled by this plant.  Our original scrap of a mail order plant has given us two divisions and it still closes off the path opening in the stone wall.

Clara Curtis is truly hardy here.  It winters over with ease and has taken over large areas of whatever planting bed where we placed it.  Its appearance would benefit from some timely pruning and thinning.  We do manage to weed out occasional intrusions toward other treasured plants but have so far resisted the pull to sell plants.

This resembles a weedy jumble but it actually contains treasure.  This Pinxter bush has formed seed pods.  Checked daily, we plan to harvest some seed at exactly the right moment and again attempt to raise some of these plants from seed.  Our first attempt at this failed but this time we will place a screen barrier to keep out garden rodents.  This native plant grows best in moist locations that would also support the natural growth of Cardinal Flower.  We may have the perfect spot for these two plants to grow together.  All we need now is to get the seeds to sprout.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Dew Spider Webs Add Beauty To The Garden

This spider web on the coral bells is one of those interesting ones with a tubular hole in the center.  I don't see a spider lurking in there, but if I were a spider and could build a web like this, that is exactly where I would hang out!

The spider web on the Rose of Sharon looks all relaxed and curvy.  I have to wonder if when the dew dries this one will tighten up.  Perhaps some spiders are more laid back than others!  Without the dew droplets these small webs  are nearly impossible to see!

The Summer sweet bush holds a  small rather chaotic looking web.   Perhaps it met with an accident after it was spun or maybe not all spiders follow the plans exactly.  I still like the way the dew drops look on this one!

Next to a single Clara Curtis chrysanthemum flower is a classic spider web.  This spider might be small and brown, but she is a talented spinner. If I were a spider, I would be tickled pink if I made a web like this one!  These are only a small sampling of the spiders' traps that lie waiting for bugs in the garden.  I for one wish them good hunting.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Natural Planting

Only the brilliant red flowers at forest's edge were planted by us.  Everything else is here with no human action of any kind for many years.   The area was plowed as a field or used as cow pasture in the distant past.  The Cardinal Flower may naturally reproduce in this location since we searched for a spot that had everything that this plant requires.  An occasional spring seeps water into this area.  The shade of the bedrock ridge delays the arrival of warm days as winter ends.  Late snow cover may help these plants avoid the ravages of bitter frosts.  We will likely find eighteen daughter plants growing where these three plants grew.  As next summer builds we will look for new plants from seed that may appear as a result of this moist ground.  We find those prospects exciting.

This is one of the recently discovered new plants from seed.  They were placed in pots to see how they responded to being ripped from the ground.  A shaded location and frequent watering have them in excellent condition.  Fall transplants usually do not survive here but these plants have considerable time to put down roots in their new location.

This is hardly a natural looking location but we are doing everything possible to help these plants survive and reproduce on their own.  This is river-bottom ground and it is much warmer here than up the hill.  River fog frequently washes away frost before it has a chance to really form and damage plant leaves.  That should lessen the impact of frost on these plants.  Stones store both heat and moisture.  Cardinal Flower requires both to survive.  A little work on the driveway will divert rainfall runoff in the direction of these plants.  Partial shade from the nearby sumac trees will make this a more gentle location.

These three times chopped leaves finished the planting.  Their job is to smother weeds, retain moisture and decay into a more natural woodland soil.

The triangular shaped rock and I have a history.  The farmer working the land that borders ours places stones removed from the field on the aged stone wall that serves as a boundary.  A huge visually interesting rock was part of the newly dropped stones.  Despite the landowners permission for us to harvest stone here, there was no way that this stone could be moved.  Hammer and wedges split the stone into several slices.  This top piece was walked up the hill to the gravel bank.  That journey required several days since my periods of hard physical exertion must be limited to avoid cardiac episodes.  Several flip overs moved this stone to the top of a temporary wall.  Today the stone was easily moved down into the lawn cart.  The final move was accomplished easily.  The stone will last for years and we hope that the Cardinal Flower can survive in this location.

The area behind the stones is scheduled to be transformed into a no care planting of native plants.  The first New England Aster is in place.  It will be joined by Black Eyed Susans, Anise Hyssops and more asters.  First we need to beat back the invasive field grasses.  That task needs to be completed soon or our new natives will simply be overrun.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Pictured Exactly As Found

These cast off remains of a likely coyote kill were in the path I use to get to the gravel bank.  The stomach and intestines hold no interest for the predators.  Size suggests that the victim might have been a deer.  Investigation in the brush filled area near the entrails might have revealed bones or hair where the pack tore their victim apart.  Good common sense dictates no exploration of the area near a fresh kill.

In the past a snake appearing creature was found in the grass.  It was a dead snake covered with carrion beetles.  These dead parts were left where they were to see just what animals will feed here after the pieces lie in the sun for a day or two.  If we get another opportunity to see carrion beetles, pictures will follow.  If nothing shows any interest in these pieces they will be buried.

When we were younger and somewhat more foolish, outside after dark was a common occurrence for us.  Seeing coyotes altogether too close and chance encounters with surprised skunks have led us to surrender the night to the animals.  We will venture out if necessary but essentially remain indoors after dark   Night trips outside usually feature us talking rather loudly to ourselves not because we are losing it but because we do not want to surprise any creatures of the night.  If they hear us coming, we are usually given a free pass.

Two days after these pictures were taken all of the pieces remained in the path untouched and unmoved.  Four days after these pictures were taken no sign of these body parts remained.  Even small pieces of the broken intestine were gone.  We missed the cleanup crew but suspect that either crows or vultures were responsible.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Sex Among Flowers

Most of our efforts focus on just keeping the wild flowers here alive.  We aim for their reproduction to follow its natural course with no help from us but to date the actual results have been disappointing.  For the past several years attempts have been made to see Trailing Arbutus plants with fresh pollen.  So far all that we have managed to see is old pollen tracked across the white surface of the flowers.  It seems that the fresh pollen exists for only a moment.  We know with absolute certainty that their pollination was successful since numerous  seed clusters formed each year.  Today for the first time we stumbled upon the fertilization moments of Cardinal Flower.

We brought a loupe into the garden this morning.  It revealed detail that we never knew existed despite the many hours over several years that we spent looking at these flowers.  We knew that the white speck existed but we did not know that it resembled a neatly trimmed beard.

Yellow pollen stains on red flower petals were easily seen with the naked eye.  Magnification clearly revealed that the white beard hairs were now covered with pollen grains.  We were seeing both the filament and the anther producing and holding pollen.

What came next took us completely by surprise.  The pollen gathering stigmas began to push their way past the pollen bearing male parts.

Here the male beard seems attached to several protruding stigmas.  Wasted pollen litters a red flower petal.

Several fully exposed stigmas can be seen pushed well past the former location of the anthers.

Another plant displays similarly exposed pollen gathers.

We checked back later in the day to see what if anything was going on with the Cardinal Flowers.  No trace of the fertilization process pictured here could be found.  Both the stigmas and their styles had been pulled back into the flower destined to send their pollen load to the ovaries located in the base of the bud wrappers.  Some dried anther hairs hung from the outside of the hollow tubes.

All of this drama will be repeated among younger flowers waiting to open on another day.  The process ends rather quickly and it is easy to miss completely.  It appears possible that the entire fertilization process is completed within each individual blossom.  Hummingbirds are widely credited as Cardinal Flower pollinators but what was captured here today did not need anything external to the flowers.  We will continue to watch and perhaps learn.  In our location the main problem remains.  What can be done to improve the germination rates of the thousands of seeds we saw created today?

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Batterson Bower

We presently have more garden than we can properly care for so the creation of more might be difficult to understand.  A no care woodland space filled with mostly native plants is our goal here.  Since the young sumac trees have not been growing here very long, soil from our woods and bags of fallen leaves were trucked in to rot down creating a natural woods soil.

Batterson is the surname of the family that operated an inn here in the distant past.  Their business came from travelers making the trek from Sidney to Gilbertsville.  The railroad came up the other side of the valley and Mr. Batterson built a bridge across the river in an attempt to keep his inn afloat. A nearby pine covered picnic area on the bank of the Unadilla River was a popular outing destination.  The Batterson Inn was just a short walk away and he could sell food to those enjoying a day nearby.  Batterson Crossing is still recognized as the name of this spot despite the removal of the bridge almost 40 years ago.  We respectfully borrow their name for our developing garden in the dappled shade.

The large stone is intended to serve as a water source for the moisture craving bunchberry.  Warm stones gather moisture from cool night air so the area around the stone will be more moist.  The stone was also placed to divert rainfall but that water will drain away from the bunchberry.  Those plants were placed so that they were in full view.  They can always spread toward the wetter soil.

This is the view looking to the west.  Our neighbor's well tended former field begins where our sumac trees end.  A strip of bark mulch will be installed as a barrier for his grass.  It will need to be weeded and renewed but it will be effective in controlling the naturally spreading grass.

The stones in the foreground are in storage.  They will be placed to define planting areas that at least suggest a natural setting.  The bags of leaves await their trip through the mower.

There are four plants that we placed in this area.  The larger two plants with spotted leaves was gifted to us under the name trout plant.  It is actually a Pulmonaria native to Europe.  It has no proper place in a native plant garden but is  a well behaved alien.  Its flowers open pink colored then turn to purple.  How neat is that?  The spotted leaves look good for months.  It is hardy and spreads generously but does not claim large areas for itself.

Foamflower is a native that grows in our back woods.  Three newly purchased specimens complete the planting under this cluster of sumac trees.  Foamflower is described as a spreading ground cover but that is not its habit in our dry woods.  We will watch and wait to see how it grows in this location.

The leaves were collected last fall and have been stored in their plastic bags.  Two trips through our hand mower has produced a fine mulch that will not blow into our neighbor's lawn.  A winter under the snow pack will reduce these bits of leaves to a dark rich looking  soil that could have come from a forest.  We will renew the leaf mulch in the spring to smother unwanted weeds.  For now we really like the way this looks.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Exceptional Clarity

We were walking about where the remains of the bedrock ridge dip into glacial gravel deposits.  This area is unique in the natural cycles that play out here.  Huge quantities of snow melt water pour into this area but no signs of surface runoff are ever seen.  Water stained snow works its way across some of the meadow but never reaches the point of sharply lower ground.

Three Cardinal Flower plants were placed near an occasional spring run in the hope that these plants could reproduce here.  That is a long shot at best but the attempt was free.  Today we discovered a jumble of three rather large chunks of ridge stone protruding out of the ground very close to the red flowers.  Gaps between those stones may allow the water to drain away keeping this spot moist but never submerged.

This picture reveals two special qualities.  One is the clear brilliance of the flower color that exceeds displays in our gardens.  That difference may be the result of generous soil moisture or a partially shaded location.  The clear image of a single open flower is rarely seen.  Flowering begins at the base of the raceme and works its way toward the top with one flower opening over the next.  Here a single open flower is surrounded by buds.  The buds are rather long and the seeds form deep at the base where the bud is surrounded by green.  How the pollen grains travel that great distance is a puzzle but the length of a humming bird's tongue may be a factor.  Three flower petals droop downward while two others resemble arms reaching toward heaven.  The white tipped tube is part of the reproducing organ.  There is nothing simple or easy about this plant.

Close by we found this area that is frequently flooded.  The usual pernicious field grasses are naturally absent from this spot while tufts of grasses usually seen near the pond leave some open ground.  This spot will receive several Cardinal Flower plants to see if they will grow here.  This area is in the shadow of the ridge and the snow cover lingers here.  Some natural protection from hard frosts might be found here helping the tender new growth to survive.  We know that a location where Cardinal Flower can survive long term is incredibly rare but we will persist in trying to find one.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Lettuce Coming And Going

How can one garden without growing lettuce?  Controlling our food supply was one of the forces pushing our early efforts in he garden.  Having spent many winters reading about the lifestyle of Scott and Helen Nearing, clearly defined what I was looking for.  We have their book featuring the stone greenhouse but our version never got built.  We do manage to grow our own lettuce for several months of the year.

Rabbits and lettuce both growing in the same area presents predator problems.  Wire fencing bent into cages is our first line of defense.  Unfortunately, baby bunnies zip through the two inch wide openings like no barrier exists.  Mobile home skirting was fashioned into a low wall.  For many years the combination of the wall and cages have protected our plants.  Once a woodchuck burrowed under the wall but found the cage array troublesome.  Only temporary damage done was the yellow subsoil and stones that were left on top of my carefully made dark soil.

The old plants flowering and making seed now need to be cleared out.  We make no attempt to save seed but sometimes find new plants growing at the base of the compost pile or where the previous year's crop grew.  Once the lettuce bolts, the leaves become bitter.

These plants are growing one bed behind the others.  It has provided us with great fresh salad material but is now largely past.  A second strip of wire fencing was added around the bottom edge.  Rotated 90 degrees, the openings went from 2 X 4 to 2 X 2.  The young rabbits were effectively denied entrance to the tasty young plants inside but the extra wire made the cage heavy and awkward to remove.  Simply placing it on edge solved that problem.

These plants will serve as our current source of fresh lettuce.  The combination of a shade cover over the wire cage and the lower nighttime temperatures will keep these plants usable for a longer period of time.  Composting old lettuce is unpleasant but it is part of having enough.

Here is the next generation of salad supplies.  Summer heat prevents lettuce seed from  germinating so these plants were started in the basement.  Their potting soil was also stored in the relative cool there.  Four seeds are placed in each pot and some of this day with drizzle will be used to replant with but a single plant in each pot.  Holding these plants in the pots will slow their growth until they are needed in the garden.  When the time is right they will be planted out and our supply of fresh greens will continue into fall.   A new tray of seeds could be started now but this whole process is getting a little old.  The first seeds were put to soil in March driven by my need for winter to end.  Now we have no season extenders so our plants will be ended by frost.  My preference is for that first frost to find my garden soil bare.  What is missed from late harvests is offset by a lack of cleaning up the black slime that follows frost on plants left in the garden.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

To Move Or Not To Move...

 Amy and I were working to clear some of the weeds from the thyme on the patio.  Things were going great, but then she spotted this gorgeous "Marge Simpson" spider otherwise known as Arigope aurantia.   We both remembered these spiders as being much darker in color.   We decided to leave this beautiful blonde in peace and move to another spot in the garden to work!  That was several days ago and she is still right there in the middle of her web today!

 A single milkweed plant is growing out of Ed's curved stone wall.  I spotted this Monarch caterpillar on the plant when he was tiny.  It has been great fun to look for him when passing by.  The change in his size has been astounding.  Of course all caterpillars really do is eat and drop frass.  Leaves on the plant this morning were down to a precious few, but it was the slight tinge of yellow in the leaves that made me decide to take action.

I lopped off the plant at its base and carefully placed it against  a nice green milkweed plant inside the stone square.  Later I went out and checked   The transfer has been made.  The caterpillar switched to the new plant.

The caterpillars new home is in the foreground of this picture right between the lemon and the red basil.  I hope he likes it.  I think it was a fabulous move!

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Red and White

We do not usually cut our flowers and bring them into the house.  Yesterday included a special event.  Our cut flowers were to be a gift at an open house.  One of our massage therapists is moving her studio to a building that she now owns.  Since she plays such an important role in keeping us able to continue to work among our plants, we wanted to mark her special event with some of our special flowers.  More stems were cut than needed so we now have flowers inside of our home.  They were temporarily placed outside for the picture.

These Red Norlands are our early potatoes.  Their vines blackened and dried signaling harvest time.  We planted only six of these potatoes.  The basket holds the harvest from only three hills.  This is enough for several delicious meals without creating storage problems.  We would prefer to harvest enough to eat without having to discard any that were in storage too long.  Our later potatoes will be ready to harvest by the time these are gone.

This is our first year growing both red and white Cipprolini onions.  The reds have been a favorite here for years.  Their colored rings extend all of the way to the center adding visual snap to any recipe calling for raw onions.  This year Becky wants to braid both colors together.  The resulting bi-colored onion braid  might win a prize at the fair.  Our onion plant supplier will be given a picture to be considered for use in his catalog.  A past braid containing only reds has appeared in his catalog.

Cardinal Flowers and stones are popular photo subjects here.  Now that we understand that their seeds need both generous moisture and warm soil temperatures to germinate, we will be able to write a complete chapter for our future book.  We have finally stumbled over the missing last piece of that puzzle in a book, taming wildflowers by Miriam Goldberger.

Summer sweet has long been a favorite plant here.  It combines dark glossy leaves with white flowers that fill the air with their sweetness.  Last fall we discovered this plant's willingness to be transplanted.  Two were placed in the newly opened bed in front of the house while an unneeded third plant was stuck in the ground at the edge of a compost pile.  All three transplants survived and each will flower this season.  We intend to utilize both their beauty and their hardiness to create a hedge at the edge of the garden down by the road.  Deer sometimes nibble on the new growth taking the flowers buds.  The trimmed plants grow on seemingly unfazed.  While working outside now we frequently walk into a sweet fragrant cloud.  Could it be their scent that has been carried a considerable distance from the plants.  Does it get any better than that?

Friday, August 4, 2017

Here We Go Again

Cardinal Flower is a native plant that combines rare beauty with uncommon natural appearances.  It reproduces both by seed and by new daughter plants that begin to grow as fall approaches.  The daughter plants appear to grow under the snow since snow melt reveals plants of some size that display bright light green leaves.  These leaves are tender and frost frequently turns them into mush. Seeds seem to require a great deal of moisture to germinate and we have yet to see a new plant that we know is from seed.

Last fall seed was scattered in two places close to the back woods. Our strongest spring run at the base of the bedrock ridge was our first choice for Cardinal Flower seed in response to their reported  high need for moisture.  We have yet to see any plants from the seed dropped there.  That is a moist but somewhat shaded location and broken chunks of bedrock litter the ground.  Soil there is thin at best.  The other location seeded was a piece of the cultivated ground in the garden near the woods.  Frequent checks early in the year revealed only weeds where the seed was scattered.  Today was different.

Our planting beds are edged with broken stone paths.  Last spring in the area near the path, weeds resembling Cardinal Flower were found.  A tangle of white roots is a characteristic of Cardinal Flower and these plants clearly displayed that feature.  The structure of the leaves appears to be similar to mature Cardinal Flower plants.  Ten plants were placed in pots

 We are doing that same thing again.  These pots will be placed in a sheltered garden location.  Snow melt should reveal the true identity of these plants.  If they are as expected, our cool moist May will be credited with the success.  It is possible that these seeds will not germinate in the absence of a long period of abundant water.  It is also possible that in response to the frost tender nature of new growth, these seeds wait for warm soil temperatures to germinate.  In the past I may have simply given up hope far too soon.

Next year I will try to keep an area between the stone wall corner and the Pinxter properly watered until mid July.  The Cardinal Flower now growing there will be allowed to drop seed without intervention.  Our only action will be to keep the area moist to the expected benefit of both plants.  Perhaps we will recognize new plants from seed if they appear by mid summer.

This year Cardinal Flowers were planted at wood's edge adjacent to an infrequent spring run.  Fallen leaves were scattered around the base of these plants to discourage invasive pasture weeds.  With the exception of planned additions to the leaf mulch, these plants are on their own.  Wouldn't it be great to see new plants from seed appear here without further intervention?

How can anyone not understand why we have fussed over this plant for more than a decade?  The brilliant clear red of the flowers is obvious, but for some reason no hummingbirds are in the picture.  Working in the garden at this time of year features frequent close flybys by these native creatures.  It simply does not get any better than this.  If only we could manage to assist this native to make it here on its own.