Sunday, January 28, 2018

Thaw Walk

The frigid string of January days has finally been broken.  Both yesterday and today featured daytime temperatures that strongly called to us to venture outside.  There has been a down side.  Yesterday included a heating gas delivery that was only twenty-nine days after the previous delivery.  That is most unusual since two winter months usually separate them.  This week also included a trip to the ER.  A fall while descending the seemingly clear driveway saw me land on my shoulder neck area and smack the back of my head on the frozen gravel surface.  Not wanting to do a Natasha Richardson rerun, caution ruled.  I had  the recommended  C scan.  Soreness persists but once again luck ruled and no lasting damage was done.

This picture shows the three spring transplanted Cardinal Flower plants still covered by snow and protected with a wire cage.  That was the plan as the woods to the south keep these plants in shade at this time of year.  Most of the snow cover is gone but here its insulating quality persists.  Water is flowing out from the base of the ridge as can be seen in the two areas of open water.  These Cardinal Flower plants are very near but just above moisture.  All of the needs of this rare native plant may have been provided in this spot. We shall see.

This dead stick supporting fungus growth is very close to the Cardinal Flower plants.  An old long dead tree is nearby.  The cone collar of long ago rotted tree parts caught my eye.  Rumor has it that Lady Slipper plants grow in the company of rotting wood.  They sell for about seventy dollars each and I would like to nearly guarantee success with soil preparation before parting with that much money.  I will return with buckets to mine some of this black gold.  The shape of the ridge in the background suggests the appearance of Diamond Head.  That is just a bonus on this warm to us day.

This double tiered fungus growing on a dead Hemlock trunk always catches my eye.  I wonder if the red coloration is the result of exposure to direct sunlight?

This old friend is nearly gone.  Early in our ownership of this land, every walk in the woods featured me backing into close contact with this giant.  There was an indentation in the trunk that would just hold me under a huge branch.  That location made me feel connected to nature in a deeply personal way.  Now that trunk has joined five others that previously fell.  Only one trunk remains.  I wonder which of us will fall next.

This Hickory branch has been on the ground for several years.  Nature's plan has it being converted to forest soil and the pictured fungus plays a part in that process.  I find this decay supporting new growth beautiful!

Monday, January 22, 2018

Seed Catalog Competition

January is the time of year when reading seed catalogs is a big part of our winter days.  Ed's snowy trip to the mailbox is rewarded with an armload of colorful temptation.  Over the years we have made our way to the  top of the "sucker" list where garden and seed companies are concerned.  Ed and I each have our favorites. We swap, share and make wish lists.  Actual orders don't start until later.

However, this year the catalogs have a new form of competition for our attention!   Behold six years of  Plants and Stones printed in books.  Thanks to Amy and Blog2Print,  at least  part of the blog has been brought down from the cloud and is waiting for us to pick up and read anytime anywhere.   I take comfort in that.   I would be the first to admit that my memory is not what it used to be.  I started the blog in the first place to remember what happened in the garden and all of the fun we had here.   I'm sure we will get back to the catalogs soon although plans are in the works for the next four years of books.  2018 is the tenth year of our garden blog.  I never imagined when I started it how much it would change my life!  Having this record in hard copy will allow us to revisit these incredible years regardless of what the future holds.  These have truly been magnificent golden years well worth revisiting.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Snow Can be Beautiful

When we first found this land it provided us with four seasons of outdoor activity each year.  Now in our seventh decade there are some undesirable consequences to playing outside in the bitter cold.  Hands quickly ache and various joints firmly make their displeasure felt.  Even dressing properly can no longer be taken for granted.  I found this scenic wonder when overheating from wearing a heavy coat forced me to return to the house very early in my hike.  This area is seldom visited but was well worth seeing after the storm.

 The falling trees are sumac.  This species is short lived and these have been dead for some time.  Its really a shame that these trees fail so early in life.  Their leaves are reliably bright red each fall.  The seed clusters are also a vibrant red and they serve as bird food.  The unusual angle of these falling branches held a respectable snow load.

A closer look reveals huge sections where the bark has fallen away.  The smooth surface of the branches points to dead wood that has spent several years air drying.  If this wood was in contact with the ground, it would be covered with various life forms that speed the conversion from wood to soil.  These falling trees block a path that in the past saw occasional use.  They will likely be left as is since a new route for the path was used to take these pictures.

Closer to the ground, bark remains solidly attached.  This scar is what remains of a branch that died while the tree was still alive.  I wonder just what rounded the ends of the branch that are now sandpaper smooth?

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

My Point Of View

Ed placed the house so that the view out every window is terrific.  The snow is so clean, silent and peaceful now.  Sometimes we wonder why we still stay where it is snowy and bitterly cold, but I love mornings like this one.  Let's take a look at my point of view!  The view to the west from the second bedroom looks like this.  It's real treat be warm cuddled in your own bed  to watch the snow fall.

On the north side of the house the view is changeable.  In the photo the ridge can be seen in the distance.  Now as I write this the snow is falling again.  The ridge has disappeared behind a curtain of white.  

I have to confess I opened the kitchen door to take these next two pictures.  I did not step outside into the cold.   There is something so very special about the garden covered in a fluffy blanket of white before the animals are about.  It represents a quiet calm that is so very pleasant even if it doesn't last!

The trumpet vine, trees and driveway are all dressed in  beautiful white snow.  The quiet is gone now.  The sound of Ed's machines clearing the snow from the  driveway breaks the silence.  It is one thing to enjoy the beauty and quiet of life in the country.  It quite is another to be trapped by it. 

Others might get bored with this view from my bedroom window, but I never tire of it. Winter, spring summer and fall  I find it beautiful!  What can I say.  That is my point of view!

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Big Plans

These pictures were taken yesterday before the return of more normal January weather.  The ridge above the transplanted Cardinal Flowers is widely strewn with broken chunks of bedrock.  This edge  exposed rock caught my eye because of its unusual orientation.  The last glacier pushed these rocks around  with their largest face commonly resting in contact with the ground.  This rock was pushed into the ground with its thin edge topmost.  In my attempts to create a garden that looks somewhat natural, it never occurred to place rocks in this manner.  Many large rocks have been unearthed by me that remain unused because of their ugly wrinkled and twisted large flat surfaces.  If placed in the garden in this manner their ugliness will remain hidden out of sight and there will be more rocks for me to plant.

Wintergreen growing naturally between moss covered Birch tree roots is what I would like to see in my developing woodland garden.  To date Wintergreen has defied my attempts to move it.  A linear stem grows just beneath the soil surface with small roots penetrating the soil beneath each leaf cluster.  If there is a large system of roots under the central part of the plant, I have yet to see it.  It would be best to enjoy these wild plants where they now grow.

These pieces of rotted tree trunk have been levered out of the ground and carried to the developing woodland garden.  When the ground is free of frost this wood will be replanted.  In addition to adding a possibly natural look to the area, dead wood may hold the secret to successful placement of Lady Slippers.  These plants native to this region have recently become available for purchase.  Their price is steep and the catalogs promise that growing instructions will be shipped with each plant.  It makes no sense to me that the instructions will arrive with the plant.  Having the area properly prepared ahead of the arrival of the plant sounds like a better idea.  I intend to place the stump in soil taken from the area where the former tree grew.  One year will be allowed to pass so that the dead stump can settle in.  Perhaps then we will be ready to part with just under one hundred dollars for one
precious plant.

Partridge Berry is another native plant that grows somewhat freely here.  Each red berry is formed from two blossoms that were fused at their base.  This plant has the reputation of being easy to move.  We intend to include it in our new shade garden.

This monster was just discovered.  Its size guarantees that it will remain where planted.  Several cracks show where a chisel and hammer could split this rock.  Those cracks also show where an unusually hard section directs them downward.  Any attempt to alter this rock will just make a mess.  It makes more sense to bring some native plants to this rock.  White Trilliums  would look really good here.  We shall see just what happens here when spring returns.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Previews Of Coming Attractions

Gosh I miss my plants!  Today's weirdly warm weather allowed for a quick preview of coming attractions in the garden. This perfect little round clump of bluets in the garden down by the road means there will be beautiful little blue flowers arriving in the spring.  They are not to be missed!

This coral bells will be a coming attraction for the hummingbirds in the neighborhood.  True it has been nibbled on a little, but the mound of foliage with slender stems and tiny reddish pink bells will come back strong and have me all a buzz along with the hummingbirds!

This perennial flax is clearly planning to  put on a show of beautiful blue flowers.  Each delicate pale green feathery stem will have blue flowers on the top.  Individual flowers fade quickly, but keep coming and the plant looks great from spring to fall.  For me it is a must see!

Ed's pinxter is a budded and ready for it's dazzling pink display coming in May.  If you have never seen this native plant in person, you have missed something very special!

Cardinal flower is having a special grand opening here in 2018.  These magnificent stunning red native plants loved by hummingbirds and gardeners alike are still in the production phase.  We will tell more when spring arrives.  The rain has begun and our sneak preview is over for now.

Just A Quick Peek

In the past week our daytime temperatures have ranged from eleven degrees below zero to today's sixty degree reading.  A walk about was absolutely required.  The pictured strawberry bed has finished its second year.  The new plants were allowed to send out runners.  Despite the jumbled mess in the picture, time was spent weeding here while trying to limit the number of new strawberry plants.  Our plan is to have two rows of plants separated by a clear area one foot wide down the center.  The clear area needs a lot of work.  It appears that there will be enough new plants to start another bed.

We have never tried to grow all of the strawberries that we need.  It was easier to visit a nearby pick your own business.  That option has disappeared so we are considering growing our own.  One of the unanswered questions is just how long this planting will remain productive.  We have no need for huge berries to display at the fair but we have no interest in processing the tiny fruit that will appear over time.  If a second bed is started in the spring, it will have two years to fill in before we would expect a crop.  By then we will have had two crops from the existing bed and that might be the time to clear these plants.  Watch and try to learn is how we proceed.

This ground was cleared of pasture grass last spring and planted with potatoes.  That successful crop was followed with intensive soil improvement.  Weeds and stones were removed.  Lime, manure, sand and compost were worked into the soil.  Garlic was planted in October then covered with a thin layer of finely shredded leaves.  Strong winds removed much of that mulch so the wire fence sections were placed to try to hold what remained in place.  That wire could have been removed today since snow will likely return soon.  The wire needs to be gone before the garlic emerges early in the growing year.  The small stones at the edge of the bed carry the name of the garlic variety planted in that location.

Few people would get excited by this dull brown patch of ground but I am thrilled with its appearance now.  This bed remained fallow last year.  Some time was spent removing weeds before they had a chance to set seed.  Last fall this ground was cleared and also amended with  lime, manure, sand and compost.  Then the shredded leaves were thickly placed hoping to smother any remaining weeds.  No weeds can be seen here now and that is great news.  This coming spring, the leaves that remain will be raked aside and the soil turned to mix in the expected thin black layer of rotted leaves.  Then this ground will become home for our onion plants.  Our hope is that this soil will remain relatively weed free as the onions grow.  We expect to spend some time removing weeds but hope that the weeds will be few in number since weeding onions always breaks some of their leaves.   What an unexpected pleasure to be out  to closely inspect the garden soil in mid January!

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

What You Don't See...

 I knew when I looked out the window this morning that last night I missed a party in the garden. Finally we are having a heat wave of sorts.  The garden has been silent, covered with a smooth if relatively thin layer of snow.  It seems that many of the creatures simply slept during the days of bitter cold.  Overnight, footprints appeared all over the place.   Some were big, some little.  Some tracks were straight others wavered like a drunk on a toot.  Obviously there was some digging going on as well.  The sun comes up late here because of the ridge which accounts for the blue tint in these pictures.  It was after 8:00 AM when they were taken. 

With so many prints to choose from I decided to feature the ones that I know I can identify for certain.  I would recognize Ed's footprint anywhere.  It doesn't take an expert tracker to see that a feline creature was out and about after he was.

These prints on the top of Ed's curved wall are also the cat.   Check out those prints all in a single line. I can't do that in the daylight on a smooth flat dry surface!

More prints right next to what's left of a catnip plant makes makes me confident that I know these are cat tracks! I can't help nut notice that Kitty's tracks are not as straight now.  Word is that the temperature is going up.  Instead of a fresh layer of snow apparently these tracks will be washed away by rain.  There is talk of ice jams on the river  too.  We have had this kind of a January thaw many times before.  We are happily and firmly planted here in the Stone Wall Garden.  Just like the plants we will stay put and bloom  as soon as  we can!

Friday, January 5, 2018

Snow Now, Snow Then

Last evening we were forced to travel after dark.  That is still possible but has become more difficult.  When we were about five miles from home the status changed when we entered a squall of intense swirling snow.  Traction was an issue that was dwarfed by lack of visibility.  Our staying on the road was in the hands of the driver of the car in front of us.  Two miles later that car tried to make a left turn onto a well traveled road.  Their turn was early and nearly took them down into a deep ditch.

We still had another vehicle ahead of us and willingly followed them until they tried to turn into their trackless driveway.  Having just watched another driver turn early, they cautiously overshot their driveway.   Now we had the lead and safely made it to our  next turn.  I nearly turned  early but my copilot called out a warning that saved us.  The last mile on River Road was a swirl of white snow, but familiar enough that we knew we were going to make it home.  WHEW!

NOAA radar showed a huge storm mass just west of our location.  We expected to find a substantial snowfall this morning but that was not to be.  Perhaps a windblown inch of new snow covered the ground.  Eleven degrees below zero is forecast for tonight.  Our plants will be forced to make do with a rather thin cover of insulating snow.

Becky found some old prints of pictures likely taken in 2003.  The old mobile home has been replaced with a new modular so that date is probably correct.  In our younger days, meaning our early sixties, playing in new snowfall made this place a four season paradise.  A Swiss Bob was the sled of choice.  It was little more than a seat with handles but it served its intended function amazingly well.

This steep face of the glacial kame terrace provided us with long thrilling rides as the trail deepened with repeated use.  This was the time just before urinary tract cancers entered my life.  My bladder and both kidneys were involved but luck sent me to Doctor Hugh Fisher in Albany.  He was the master of his craft as evidenced by my continued ability to really live on this land.

This picture pleases me.  The knit cap dates from my first pickup truck which was a brown International Harvester.  Its floor boards were largely gone and the road surface was easily seen if one looked down.  Still, it served me well as it always carried me to my destination.  The truck is long gone and the cap is beyond worn but I still use it.  My goal each day is to find a reason here to display another smile like the one in the picture.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

First Garden Order of 2018

Propagating treasured plants by rooting cuttings has to date presented one failed attempt after another.  For example, Trailing Arbutus has been successfully transplanted here three separate times involving 12 different plants.  Rooting cuttings of this plant has been attempted several times and every last cutting has died.  An amazing trait of this plant is how long it takes for the cutting to totally die.  For weeks the cutting looks alive and that offers hope that a new plant has been created but its dead stick reveals absolutely no root growth.  In the end its death is obvious.

My well worn copy of the highly informative and lavishly illustrated book The New England Wild Flower Society Guide To Growing and Propagating Wildflowers of the United States and Canada written by William Cullina contains instructions for growing new Arbutus plants from cuttings.  My repeated attempts to follow those instructions always ended in failure.  Then I found an article entitled Propagating and Transplanting Trailing Arbutus or Mayflower (Epigaea repens)  also written by William Cullina in which he confessed to using rooting hormone #2.  My resultant internet searches for rooting hormone #2 revealed the existence of such a product but it was listed for sale only in large quantities, suitable for thousands of cuttings, carrying a hefty price.  I was tempted to pay the price but wondered just what use could be made of that much magic powder.

Just the other day I stumbled across an offer listing reasonably sized containers of all three strengths of rooting hormone.  At 25 grams each, these were perfect for home use.  The cost of international shipping, the hydroponic growing supplier is located in Canada, is rather high but is the same for one container or three.  My decision was made.  The package was delivered today.

This year I plan to try rooting cuttings taken from only male Arbutus plants.  This is not a sexist decision but rather one based upon the reality of the genders my plants.  My early attempt at transplanting these wonderful plants was successful but I was unaware of the existence of both male and female plants.  As a result, I have way more male plants than female plants.  If the planned cuttings root, they will be planted out under a row of White Pines that were set out more than three decades ago, spaced so that an occasional female plant can be placed between the boys.  The female cuttings will be taken the following year only if this year's planned cuttings root.  A huge line of Arbutus plants under these relatively young White Pines with the possibility of naturally producing seed would be a wonderful outcome for  our years spent on this piece of land.

These laudable pure intentions exist in contradiction of my plans for compound #3.  A single highly invasive alien plant grows into the lane near the Arbutus wall planting.  Autumn Olive is on several do not plant lists and is generally unavailable in light of its horrid reputation.  Early each summer this bush is covered with sweet smelling white flowers.  My single old plant has undergone extensive rude prunings to keep the lane open for those holding a right of way to pass here.  This bush is nearly done so hardwood cuttings are its only chance for a next generation.  My abandoned fields are being taken over by another invasive alien, Japanese Honeysuckle, so adding another invader to the mix does not seem completely evil.  I am getting ahead of myself since I remain zero for hundreds of cutting attempts.  I also intend to try Pinxter cuttings.  If successful those new native plants should offset some of the evil karma that will undoubtedly follow new Autumn Olive plants.