Friday, April 27, 2018

Purple Pollen

Native Trout Lily first captured our imagination nearly one quarter of a century ago.  In our stony glacial soil, it grows wildly but flowers rarely.  It seemed like a worthy idea to try commercially available plants.  We purchased plants from two different sources on different years.  We now need to try and sort out just what we have.  The plants are vigorous and flower freely.  They may be European immigrants or have originated on the West Coast of North America.  Either way they have made themselves at home in our developing shade garden down near the road.

It is difficult to decide which appears more stunning, the split white pollen gathering style or the purple pollen producing anthers.  Combined with the speckled leaves, the visual statement is powerful.  Unfortunately the plant is low growing and the open flowers point downward.  We will need to return with proper equipment to get more photos.  A foam pad to get me flat on the ground and the small tripod to support the camera while it finds its intended focus could produce great pictures.  This is the first day that these flowers were open so we visited them unprepared for what we found.

This purchased Sharp-Lobed Hepatica has been with us for less than one year.  It certainly appears to have found its new home to its liking.  There is a good chance that two more plants will be purchased to plant nearby this one.  A naturally expanding group of this native plant is our goal.  A chance for cross pollination cannot hurt.

Native Wild Ginger has been with us for several years.  Its location along the inside wall of the stone square was less than perfect.  The adjacent Ladies Mantle grew large placing the Wild Ginger in dense shade.  It continued to grow but we believe that its new location between several Sumac trees will result in its more vigorous growth.  We brought our custom mix of woodland soil to this spot.  The impenetrable tree root mass was covered over to provide growing space for the Ginger.  Ground hardwood leaf mulch will add to the topsoil in time while keeping out weeds now.  We have high hopes for the vigorous desirable growth that may happen here.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Skip 2 Poke A Hole

Age related physical decline is making gardening an increasingly difficult activity for us.  Stubborn is our strong suit so we need to work smarter.  Last fall this 5 by 12 foot area was completely weeded.  Then soil amendments including limestone, compost, dehydrated cow manure, peat moss and sand were worked into the soil.  That was followed by a thick layer of finely chopped  hardwood tree leaves covering the bed.  Sections of wire fence were placed on top of the leaves to hold them in place.  All that needed to be done to ready this ground for planting was to remove the leaf cover and stir the soil.  The brown mound seen two beds away is the moved chopped leaves.  They will soon be put to use as mulch around other plants.

Our five foot wide beds are intensively planted.  Uniform planting requires a simple quick method to define the location of each plant.  We use 2 by 4 inch wire fence to keep the deer out of the planted areas.  We also use it to mark the planting grid.  Two pieces of fence placed with one rotated 90 degrees results in two inch squares.  In each row the onions are planted six inches apart.  Using my well worn walking stick, I push a planting hole then skip two squares before pushing another hole.  Eight inches separates the rows.  For that spacing I skip three holes before pushing another hole.  This likely seems unnecessarily fussy but it is much quicker than the traditional string between two sticks method widely used to define planting rows.

Watering the new transplants is the next to the last step in planting the onions.  The last step is to install the sections of fence around the outside of the planted area.  Four metal poles define the perimeter and garden twine quickly attaches the wire to the poles.  The wire sides are easily removed to work among the plants.  The weed covered area next to the onions needs attention now since we did not get to it last fall.

This is the garden near the back woods.  Here the planting beds are 18 feet long and only the perimeter is fenced.  270 onions were planted here three days ago.  Dixondale Farms has been our source of onion plants for the past several years.  Aware of our recent frigid weather, they promised a one week delay before shipping us their Texas grown plants.  That week turned out to be only one day and our exposed ground was still frozen.  The chopped leaf cover prevented the refreezing of this ground.  When it was cleared, some ice crystals remained in the ground but we planted.  The 2018 garden is well underway,

This adjacent bed contains 270 garlic cloves.  Not all have sprouted but that is normal.  March weather had these young plants looking terrible but they have recovered nicely.  Some of the garlic plants still look doubtful but we will continue to care for them and hope that at least some stay with us.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Welcome Back!

There is a lot of interest in Native plants now.  I say wonderful, more choices for me.  But please don't ask me or the bees to give up my Glory of the Snow.  Seeing them come up and flower in early spring makes me happy!

I let out a squeal of delight when I first spotted this sharp lobed hepatica flower.  Today there are two lovely pale purple flowers!  Around here this native wildflower is blooming now.  Our first drive by Irma's Woods found countless hepaticas in bloom.  It seems that the brightness of the flowers fade as the blossom matures.  Boy, can I relate to that!

The Squirrel Corn that we moved to the new woodland garden last year shows its lacy leaves. The funky flowers will be along soon. This is a spring ephemeral will not be visible above ground very long.  Now is the time to get out there and see them while you can!

These are stinging nettles. This plant is armed and dangerous famous for burning skin, but it is useful.  Red Admiral butterflies are among many that use it as a food source for their caterpillars.  When properly prepared it is a valuable food for humans.  If the color green has a taste, this plant has it.

Here is a Johnny Jump Up coming up from between Helen's Herkimer diamond rocks.  These  stones are native fifty miles to our north.  I like to eat Johnny Jump Up flowers and like their little faces.  Native or non-native I'm glad to see them both again.  The truth is I have to rip some of these plants out as  weeds while leaving some that flower.  Welcome back to another year in the Stone Wall Garden everyone!

Friday, April 20, 2018

Patiently Waiting ?

This is such a lovely picture of cool white snow on purple striped Pickwick crocuses.  It is the kind of picture I would look at in July and wistfully think of Spring.  The flowers are closed against the chill patiently waiting for the warm spring sun  so that they can open. 

This could be a picture of last spring, but it is not.  These same flowers were open and buzzing with activity nearly a week ago.  Seriously, isn't this a bit much to ask  a gardener to tolerate?

The Winter Aconites and Snow Drops  don't have quite as much snow because are beneath the tree in the shade garden.  They are still closed up tight in the cold. 

This picture was taken on April 14, 2018.  It shows the same plants but is taken from a slightly different angle.  You can see a Cardinal Flower seed head in both pictures.

 As I write this it is nearly 10:00 AM and the temperature is still in the twenties.  I could feel nearly as blue as my Dwarf Iris.   I am waiting impatiently!  I should try to learn a little something from my plants! 

The King Alfred Daffodils are waiting patiently in the snow, all ready to cheer me up with their bright yellow fragrant flowers.  The sun will come out, the flowers will open, the bees will return just not today!

Sunday, April 15, 2018

What Is that ?

It was warm yesterday and not raining at the moment so Ed and I decided to walk  down to the road to put the the outgoing mail in the box and raise the flag.  I tend to walk down the right side of the driveway since anyone coming up is usually in the middle or to their right.  I noticed this weird oval of black stuff wondering what it was but kept on walking.  The driveway is more than 0.3 of a mile all downhill to the road.  The last part is fairly steep.  After a brief garden inspection we headed to the house.  Needless to say we were moving a lot slower on the way back up the hill.  It is ever so much cooler to say "Oh wow look at this blob of black stuff! What the heck is it?" than is is to say " Hey Wild Bill wait for me, I'm out of breath!"  Besides I was curious!  It was a lucky thing I had the camera in my coat pocket.  We had never seen a formation like this one and we have been walking up and down this driveway for nearly 25 years.

A closer look revealed that the moving tiny black specks were springtails.  We have often seen them on the snow in footprints or a low spot.  These little bugs literally have a spring like appendage that allows them to jump, but gives them no control over their direction.  It is easier to see them on the leaves but you can also see them on the sticks and the stones.  When you consider the uncountable number of  springtails visible in this photo, click on the image, imagine how many there are in the big oval spot.

When I made the trip back down to the mailbox in the afternoon, things had dried off because the sun was shining and the  tiny black creatures were gone.  One has to wonder just where they all went.  At this time of year we frequently see birds apparently feeding on the stone surface of the driveway.  It now seems that springtails may be on the menu here.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Mostly Dead Perhaps

It is no secret that March weather has been brutal in the Southern Tier of New York State this year.  On the last day of February, the garden ground had softened to the point where weeds could be pulled.  Then four Arctic blasts took control.  We were spared deep snow but bitter cold was commonplace.  The damage to Cardinal Flower plants here is widespread.  The remains of ten plants grown from seed can be seen here.  These evergreen plants were placed near the driveway close to the road.  Plowed and blown snow kept these treasures covered.  When the snow finally melted bitter cold returned.  Most of these plants look almost totally dead.  Green leaves can still be seen on the cluster of three in the lower right corner.  Six weeks of possible freezing nights remain.  These plants will be left as they now are so that we can determine if they are truly dead if left alone.

Location is everything and we have been looking for plants that are still mostly alive and placing them in pots.  These sixty plants can be quickly carried into the nearby basement.  Some of these plants have been promised to others in our attempt to find locations where this native plant might survive.  The remainder will replant our gardens with ten scheduled to replace the plants shown in the first photo.  We have additional plants still showing life in the garden.  They will be covered in place when bitter cold threatens.  Others that appear likely totally dead will be watched to see if it is actually over for them.

This tiny plant shows the extensive root mass of these young plants.  Several grow in close proximity to each other and their roots intertwine forming a complex shallow mat.  Pulling the plants apart requires delicate force to wiggle them free.  Then they are planted above a cone shaped mound of soil to separate the roots and get them heading mostly down.  If prying fingers are kept away from the plant's crown, a living single plant usually is the result.  We generally plant them out after mid May if severe cold is not in the weather pattern.

As stated, many of the clusters of plants chosen for transplants suffered frost damage to part of the group.  We need to understand the unprotected plants chances for survival.  To the naked eye this plants looks quite dead.  The camera reveals that new life may be starting just above the plant's crown.  This plant lost its place in the trays but it will be cared for in the same manner as the others.  We would like to know if its recovery is possible.  Why Cardinal Flower is very rare in the wild in this general area is becoming better understood by us.  Constant cold seems to leave the plants alive while warm spells followed by bitter cold usually results in death.  We will encourage those who accept our gift of transplants to apply our methods for saving plants for the garden each year.  The return of these plants in the wild here remains at best a long shot.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Frosted Flowers Bring April Showers

When I saw distant purple, my favorite, from the living room window this morning, I knew it was time to get out there with the camera.  Last year I didn't get to see my dwarf iris bloom at all.  I was not going to miss their grand opening this year!  As you can see the flowers were a bit frosted.  Truth be told so was I.  I am so ready to spend time in the garden with  Ed, flowers, birds, butterflies and even weeds.  This morning the cold wind was too much for me.

I was not to be denied, however, so after lunch I went out again.  This time I was rewarded with just a glimpse of crocus pollen inside lovely purple striped Pickwick crocuses.  Their opening was rather tentative.  I totally understand.  Why flaunt the good stuff when it is too cold for the pollinators to be out and about?

A little more of the inner beauty of these little purple iris is showing.  Some years these bloom in March.  Some years they bloom magnificently in April.   For these little beauties and for me warm April showers would be such a welcome change from snow.

The purple leaves of my Virginia Bluebells have just broken the surface today.  I love spring ephemerals.  It is the beginning of their time . Don't miss them!

Wednesday, April 4, 2018


When the snow disappeared at the end of February we knew it was too early to begin garden work.  Now April has arrived and that is an entirely different story. My annual Cardinal Flower rescue is underway!  The number of spent flower stalks in this cluster of Cardinal Flowers indicate that three or four years have passed since one plant grew here.  That single plant may have been followed the next year by six new plants.  Six plants in a rather small space will grow satisfactorily and their flowers will be impressive.  The present clump might contain up to thirty-six plants that are way overcrowded.  Each plant will have set down a generous tangled mass of white roots.  Multiply a single root mass by the number of plants here to get some idea of the nature of the mess just under the surface.  One their own in a wild location, these plants might be well on their way to choking each other out.  That raises the question of how this native plant survives on its own.

A similar clump, that had been exposed to more sunlight, was removed using a four tined spade.  A real tool was required as the clump of soil held by the roots was sizable.  Once inside at the potting bench the task of separating individual plants began.  One must work from under the plants trying to loosen the root mass.  The force required would crush the crowns killing the plants if one worked from the top.  Patient persistence resulted in eighteen plants.  Many roots were broken in the process but most plants held on to a large root mass.  A cone shaped mound was formed in each pot.  Spreading the roots across this sloped soil will help the plants survive.  The plywood base with handles will make it easy to move these plants into the basement when cold temperatures threaten.  Three more trays are ready so we will soon have sixty Cardinal Plants ready to plant out when the weather has stabilized.  Other people have expressed an interest in locating some of these plants on their land.  We would like to have some of these plants survive in natural surroundings but continue to do the work needed to have them here in our gardens.

This tray of lettuce was started inside under lights.  Artificial light results in leggy plants.  Today was their first day outside.  Cloud filtered sunlight and a little wind will help these plants grow strong short stems.  When these plants are larger, they will be transplanted with only one to a pot.  As usual, I have more lettuce than needed.  These plants will never make it into the garden.  They will be harvested and eaten from trays placed on top of the stone wall.  Hard frost will send them into the basement for the night.  This may seem like a lot of trouble for some early fresh eat it just after picking it greens but we find the taste worth the trouble.  Then there is the experience of tending plants while snow remains on the ground.  This year's garden is well underway.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Spring Run

Finally enough snow has cleared the lane to make a walk across it possible.  Snow still covered the ground here when the series of four northeasters passed close by us.  Snow covering the Cardinal Flowers protected them from damage when the weather turned bitterly cold.  This is the first time that these have been fully exposed this year.  Ice still partially covered them at the end of February before new snow buried them again.

When this area was found last spring, damp soil was apparent but running water was absent.  Piled stones suggested that in the past the farmer's children has created a dam to form a pool.  At that time I had yet to see running water here.  Today the flow had enough strength to make ripples on the surface as it tumbled over a crack in the dam.

Running water has opened up a fair sized channel as it drains into a small automobile sized depression.  No water runs out of that pool.  It all disappears into the deep gravel deposit that underlays the meadow.

This is the present condition of the daughter plants that formed around the base of each flowering stem.  Under ideal conditions, six sister plants will surround the remains of the stalk.  Generous growth creates a bit of a jumble so I cannot be certain of just how many plants are here.  They will be left as they are since we are looking for wild plants here.  Each plant will send up a single flowering stalk so we can count the number of plants here then.  No actions will be taken to cover these plants when hard frost threatens since we need to know if native growth is possible in this location.  If these plants are ended, we will still have a chance at plants from seed.  Their flowers will be one year away but at least they will have a chance.  Does my excitement show?