Thursday, May 31, 2018

No More Jam

The parents of people now in their mid seventies were children during the Great Depression.  It is highly likely that they faced bedtime with empty bellies on many occasions.  That may be a factor in my history of large family gardens filled with food.  Becky and I have tended our own gardens across the past fifty years.  We no longer put up large quantities of frozen or canned food but we still make our own jam.

This is the end of our frozen stockpile.  No cook freezer jam filled the freezer and nearly carried us to the next harvest.  Some of the strawberries used in the jam were grown here.  Most were picked by us from a nearby roadside operation.  Most went from the plant to the freezer in just one day.  The balance were processed the next day.  Starting each day with jam made from locally grown fruit is a remarkable experience.

As the last of the jam jars were filled, we turned to freezing fresh berries.  These are seen as a special treat and we usually find some of last year's crop still holding freezer space when the new crop is ripe.  It is a real hardship to make the effort to clean out the freezer in a timely fashion.

The roadside market that has served our needs for more than fifty years is no more.  We have found another but felt the need to grow our own.  These plants are in their second year here and look ready to provide us with a bumper crop.  The original plants were set in two rows.  Runner plants were set in rows on either side of the parent plants.  There was supposed to be a one foot wide clear space down the middle.  More plants should have been removed.  The bed is five feet wide and the wire fence is easily removable.  Picking from either is within our extended reach.  The one hundred new plants here might just supply our needs.

These berries lag behind the forty-eight plants near the house.  The nearby maple trees shaded this part of the garden despite their lack of leaves.  Since the sun climbs higher each day this ground lies in full sun now.  Winter was just a little late to leave here and that could be seen as a plus.  In any event we will be picking fresh ripe strawberries here very soon.  We must remember to purchase needed supplies now before the store stock is depleted.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Wretched Weather Bonus

It should come as a surprise to no one that the recent weather here has been brutal.  The first photo, taken March 30th, shows the condition of the Cardinal Flower plants that grew from seed as the snow cover was disappearing.  All six clumps look a little tattered but ready to grow.  At this point we were optimistic about the likelihood of summer flowers.

Just two weeks later conditions had taken a sharp turn for the worse. Bitter cold returned in force and the plants looked almost totally dead.  Our decision was to move on to other parts of the garden where we could focus on more positive  outcomes.  This mess would be cleaned up later.

This is the condition of these plants today.  Six of these pictured plants can be matched with the mostly dead remains shown in the second photo.  Their recovery was totally unexpected and we will watch to see just how they grow this summer.  Basal rosettes may be the outcome with flowers an additional year away.  Flowering stems of a reduced size may also be what happens here.  In either case, we are positioned to see just how Cardinal Flower recovers from the damage done by our common extreme weather.  The larger plant in the lower right corner was one that we potted up.  It also was in damaged condition from the cold but it did miss many cold nights while housed inside in the basement.  Another potted plant is just out of the picture at the right end of the upper arc of plants.  The coming summer season could be highly instructive on the life cycle of Cardinal Flower in this general area where it remains rare in the wild.

We have also devoted years of effort helping Oriental Lilies survive spring weather here.  We built a sod house that could be covered with a tarp.  Nearly three dozen plants that had each been placed in a three gallon pot survived late hard frosts only to face occasional damage during the move from the pot to the ground.  Try to picture nearly three feet of plant being shaken from an inverted pot.  A second pair of hands removed the pot so that the plant could be righted in preparation for placement in a hole.  The holder had to be standing in order for there to be enough space for the lily to drop from the pot.  Then the holder had to kneel so that the dirt ball could be placed in the hole.  That move could not be completed today for any price.  Other lilies were covered in place with huge plastic garbage cans since any part of the bud that touched the covering can would be frozen.  This season's bitter cold kept the lilies deep underground for much longer than usual.  There has been no frost since they finally broke ground in May.  If these warm conditions continue for just a few more days, we will have many sweet smelling lily flowers in a variety of colors without any of them needing protection from bitter cold.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Finally A Bench

A bench has always been part of the master plan for the new shade garden.  As rocks, a stump and some plants were placed, the location for the bench became apparent.  With a friend well into her ninth decade coming for a visit, the time for a place to sit became do it now.  The bench is placed as is a bark mulch path leading to it.  After a few hours of work it is just wonderful to have a place to sit looking out across the garden.  We can watch the birds that nest in our boxes, the seemingly endless parade of good ole boys in their pickup trucks and an occasional huge piece of farm equipment.  There is a great deal of work yet to do.  The sunny area behind the bench needs to be cleared of weeds and planted with meadow plants.  The leaves need to be freed from their bags and chopped adding to the forest nature of the soil in the shade.

The Lady Slippers are planted just across the path to the bench.  We have been watching for the flowers to open but Ed was looking in the totally wrong place despite the not so subtle clue contained in the plant's name.  He kept checking the end of the swollen pouches for any sign of progress.  Then we discovered that the flower opening is on top and very close to the stem.  Fortunately he found the open flower in time to enjoy it.

These Jack In The Pulpits are finally truly open.  Each faces in a different direction so their message is available to all regardless of location.  With the lack of frost these flowers should set a large number of seeds.  More plants will likely appear here.

This Trillium has once again opened with a pink coloration rather than the usual white.  We have no idea why this color variation occurs.  A closely adjacent plant has bands of a similar pink coloration over a white background.  Perhaps there is something in this plot of soil that causes the unusual color.  Whatever the cause this blossom will be a solid dark pink as it matures.  We may consider moving it to the new shade garden and planting it near to the bench.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Ed's Gone Native!

Ed has gone native and perhaps a bit wild. Some people dig for treasure and there is some digging involved here, but Ed is carefully burying treasured plants in a place where we hope they will flourish.  Bare root plants came today from Wisconsin.  We used to get plants from there in pots, but thanks to those nasty Asian jumping worms, shipments are sent bare root to prevent the spread of destructive slimy worms that jump out of your hand!  I hope I never see one.  It was raining hard, but Ed was determined to get these plants safely in their spots in the woodland garden.  I took pictures from the dry warm comfort of the truck.  It's true I wanted to keep the camera dry, but I was not keen on getting cold and wet either!


It was quite a trick to plant new plants between the slippery wet stones while taking care not to injure specimens that were already in place.  I watched in amazement.  Ed reached and stretched carefully planting Trilliums, Wood Anemones, Bloodroot and Virginia Bluebells. I didn't know that he could still move like that!  He is always ready to go the extra mile for his treasured plants.

By the time the last of the plants were in the ground, he was quite wet and cold but happy.  If in the future he is going to play in this kind of heavy rain, he will need a new raincoat. This one leaks!  The woodland garden is beginning to look the way Ed  had it planned.

When the last little rootlets were planted, Ed marked the location of the new plants with the white bags they came in held down by a stone. Those plants went from the mailbox to their spot in the garden on the same  afternoon.  I'm sure the plants will appreciate the rain.  It is likely we will not see them come up until spring.  As for Ed, it was time to head for the house for a hot shower, dry clothes and a cup of hot chocolate.  

Transplanted Yesterday

Treasure means different things to different people.  Most would see little more than moss covered rocks.  Closer examination with a hand would reveal just how easily the moss rolls off of the stones.  That is why each stone was carefully placed in the cart with no two edges touching.  The moss growth is what we are after here.  These specimens were found on the nearly level ground adjacent to the steep side slope of our kame terrace.  A scattered mix of pines and hardwoods create a lightly shaded area supporting little plant growth.  These stones were nearly buried in the forest soil that slowly builds here.

This area is between two clusters of sumac trees in our shade garden near the road.  Several years of piling grass clippings diminished the pasture grasses that flourished here.  Remaining roots were removed and a layer of partially rotted reground tree bark was put down to discourage their return.  Then the stones were placed.  Our nearby pile of woods soil contributed nearly natural soil placed around the stones.  Then the Columbine plants were placed.  A final layer of chopped and screened leaves finished the job.

The moss covered rocks create a more natural appearance than the stones in the background.  Moss growing on stones is fragile and we will need to work to keep it alive.  Their new home lies in afternoon sun and that alone may end the moss.  We will try to keep the moss moist but accept the fact that fooling with nature is tricky.

Columbine is an amazingly hardy native plant.  We found it growing near the gravel bank and it was easily moved.  These plants from seed were pulled from our shade garden near the house and moved here.  Their initial response was to droop and wilt but recovery quickly followed.  By nightfall only the outermost tips remained pointed downward.  Early this morning, just as the rain was beginning to fall, this is how the moved plants looked.  Their flowers continue to approach fully open and seeds will certainly follow.  Next year this ground will be covered with new plants.

My first encounter with Columbine remains a vivid memory.  Amy and I were hiking near Ithaca above Buttermilk Falls.  At one place near the stream steep exposed shale cliffs closely bordered the trail.  The thin layers of broken shale caught on every small outcrop and somehow Columbine seeds found anchorage there and flowered.  How these plants found nutrients and moisture remains a bit of a mystery.  My plants placed with care may have it far too easy.  We shall see what follows here.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Sweet, Sweet Scent

Our unusually cold March and April combined to delay the flowering of the Clove Currant by nearly one month.  This bush has been with us for decades.  When we first began to grow flowers, several women of considerable years took us under their wings and encouraged our efforts.  Ellie was with us from the start and gave us root runners from her Ribes odoratum plants.  We now have them growing in several different locations as one simply cannot have too many of these.

The fruit of this plant is a black currant.  Despite a large number of these bushes, we seldom see many ripe currants.  It is likely that the birds enjoy the currants.  Jam is not the reason that we grow so many of these bushes.  Their scent is a unique winner.  The aroma of cloves carries on the wind for a considerable distance.  We frequently walk into the sweet cloud as we work about the garden.  The scent is light and pleasant adding greatly to our enjoyment outside at this time of year.  There is much work to be done but this sweet smell silently overtakes us without warning.  Busy garden days are simply made pleasant by Clove Currant.

Beauty is the draw of this plant.  An old fashion Bleeding Heart anchors the corner in front of Becky's parents memorial bench.  It is a fair walk to this place since we located the bench in a spot that overlooks one of the favorite fishing holes of Becky's father.  We never fail to visit here when the flowers are in bloom.

The Great White Trillium also exerts a strong connection on us.  None were found growing here when we first found this land.  Recently, we buy more each year trying to establish a large planting.  Patience is required but we now have just slightly more than a few growing here.  Their flowering cycle is much too short so we need to take breaks from the work to take in the beauty of these flowers.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Plant A Stump

It is amazing the extent of the ignorance that is my constant companion.  One would think that a well rotted stump could easily be removed from the ground.  That is not the case.  Tree roots remain in their natural surroundings after a tree dies.  Well suited for life underground, they remain solid long after death.  Earth moving equipment would be required to safely dig out even a small tree stump.  Several failed attempts taught  me this lesson.  One stump was removed from the ground so that it could be planted in our shade garden.

Why plant a stump is a natural question.  A friend has a Lady Slipper growing naturally next to a stump.  Despite a past encounter with a bulldozer, this plant returned after being missing for several years.  Her belief is that the stump added something to the soil that favored the growth of the plant.  Since my past attempts to plant Lady Slippers here ended in failure, I figured that a stump might support a successful plant move.  Becky spent part of Mother's Day at Catskill Native Nursery where she found a sizable clump of Yellow Lady's Slipper for sale.  One day later both the plant and the stump have found a new home.

Spring Beauties grow wild in our woods.  Their growth habit makes for a tricky move.  A pea sized corm supports the growth of a long thin underground stem that finally results in an above ground plant.  Any attempt to move this plant will likely break the slender hidden stem.  Lacking nutrients supplied by the leaves, the small corm will simply die.  Finding the corm as the plant is naturally winding down is almost as difficult as finding a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.  This large old Spring Beauty is growing in a pot with a Smooth Solomon's Seal plant.  So far it looks like both plants have found a new home.  Over time the Spring Beauty will drop a generous load of seeds so this treasure may become common in our shade garden.

Six Jack In The Pulpits were moved from our garden near the house to the garden down by the road last fall.  The move was successful as numerous plants appeared this year in both locations.  Gloves are always worn while working in the garden so no skin irritation followed the move.

Young Sumac trees provide the shade for our new woodland garden.  They are short lived trees but their natural life span should be adequate for our needs here.  The stones visible in the picture have been moved  to this place from various different locations around our land.  Many of these rocks are too large to be moved by hand but so far luck and wisdom have prevented any injury.  The first stones placed can be seen between two of the tree trunks.  We were trying for a natural looking sloped surface to direct rainfall toward moisture loving plants.  The slanted surface works as planned but nature would never have placed three rocks in this configuration.  The other stones have been placed singularly but the natural appearance desired has yet to be found.  To improve appearance, more of the rocks need to be underground.  Tree roots make that task difficult and possibly dangerous to the life of the tree.  Our solution is to bring in our natural soil mix to raise the level of the ground.  Growing plants will add greatly to a more natural appearance.

Here shredded sifted leaves are providing the final touch for the new plants.  Each fall more leaves will be added to support the natural process that builds forest soil.  Plastic bags of fallen leaves are plainly visible in the background of some pictures.  We collect these in large numbers for use in all of our gardens.  Running them through the small mower creates a mulch less likely to blow onto the neighbor's lawn.  Natural decay is faster so the soil builds more quickly.  Speed is important as the difficulties of growing older make more frequent visits now.  Just today I stumbled while trying to stand and stepped on a Bunchberry  plant.  The newly emerging plant may survive the inadvertent stomp.  I watered it and apologized but that is simply how it is here now. 

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Happy Spring Flowers, Photos By Amy

Most of the Pink Trout Lilies had passed their prime, but that didn't keep Amy from getting a great photo of this lovely Spring flower.

The Magnolia we planted has it tough here in zone 4.   I had some doubts that we would get any flowers at all from this  plant with our erratic spring weather, but I was tickled pink that the first flower opened today.   Planted especially for Amy, it flowered on cue when she was here to see it!

How about a close-up of those perfect pink petals?  It looks perfect!

Trailing arbutus flowers are a big spring happening for us.  We love those pictures that include gorgeous plants and interesting stones!

This is my favorite photo this time.  It's never easy to choose, but the sunlight through the leaves and the fascinating shape of the soon-to-open Virginia Bluebells make this one a work of art!

We planted these Guinea-Hen Fritillaries  in the spring of 2010.  It is wonderful to see them again.  Those snakeskin patterned flowers would catch anyone's eye.

When Sara gave me this plant she called it Trout Plant.  It is a Lungwort and has flowers that open pink and then turn blue.  This weekend was a whirlwind visit.  I'm so happy that Amy got some Spring Flower Photos to share!

A Tale Of Four Plantings

This is the current status of our only naturally occurring patch of Arbutus.  In our more than two decades on this land, these plants have taught us much about the natural growth setbacks these plants endure.  Some years we could find no trace of Arbutus plants in this area.  Other years a few of the delightfully scented flowers were found.  Why these plants were here one year and gone the next had us stumped.  Three or four years ago my return walk from the mailbox took me past the location of these plants.  Since Arbutus is evergreen its dark green leaves appeared as the snow cover diminished.  Then the number of leaves grew smaller while the pile of bunny berries increased.  It was apparent that a hungry rabbit had found a source of fresh greens at a time of year when such food was scarce.

A wire cage was placed after the damage was done and we watched to see if the severely damaged plant would recover.  In the first year following the attack, only new leaves  appeared.  The following year stems and more new leaves grew.  Since flowers form near the stem ends, three years were required before the first flowers appeared.  They are few in number but they are definitely here.  Next year we expect to see and impressive display of flowers here.

We have wondered for years just what method was used to pollinate these flowers.  Last year we were horrified to find a huge pile of blossom cups littering the ground in front of their former stems just two days after the flowers first opened.  Nature then followed its course as seeds formed where the blossoms had been ripped off.  This year we saw for the first time just who spreads the pollen.  Two massive bumble bees were working these plants when we arrived there.  The bees are huge compared to the tiny flowers and we watched in amazement as the bees partially entered the blossoms.  Not every flower was pulled free but we did find flowers that had been ripped from the plants.

This is today's picture of plants transplanted in 2011.  Only four plants were moved but a plant from seed soon followed. That seed was in the soil moved here with the plant.  We have yet to see another plant from seed despite the huge number of seeds produced here.  Just how many years must pass before an Arbutus seed sprouts is not known by us.  We hope to someday see new plants appear naturally here.  In the meantime these plants have reached the edge of their protective cage.  If we are going to continue to remove the cage for both maintenance and close up flower sniffs, we must direct all of the new growth under the cage edge.  There it will likely be eaten by rabbits but larger cages are simply out of the question.  We prefer a cover that can be simply lifted clear rather than a fence.

For some unknown to us reason, many of this year's flowers are a delightful pink color. These are female plants as shown by the green stigma at the center of each flower.  When seed clusters form here, the remains of the supporting style will still protrude from the center.  For now, noses were brought close to revel in the sweet scent of these blossoms.  As the number of years pile up, a life goal is to live long enough to once again drink in this unforgetable sweet aroma.

This is the second group of Arbutus  transplanted here.  By 2014 we had learned enough to distinguish between the female plants and their male counterparts.  Three plants of each gender were placed here.  Each year many seed clusters form here but no new plants from seed have yet appeared.  Seeing new plants from seed could be another life goal.

These are male flowers despite their soft pink coloration.  Tan colored structures that produce pollen are located deep at the base of each flower.  Pollen collection by bumble bees must be a somewhat violent event as flowers with no reproductive parts are seen.  The purity of the color of female flowers is already streaked with tan pollen stains.  We are amazed that pollination is completed so soon after the flowers open.  Only two days have passed since the first buds opened.

When plants were being selected for moving four years ago, a cluster of tiny plants was inadvertently disturbed.  We brought them along and tucked them in a corner of the first transplants bed.  Two years later these plants were moved under an old white pine that grew from the stone wall built when the adjacent field was cleared for planting.  Decades of rotting pine needles have created super acidic soil.  These two plants seem to find conditions here to their liking.  As luck would have it, both genders are here.  We have seen a few seed clusters form in each of the past two years.  We hope to repair the long fallen wall creating a solid stone wall behind the arbutus.  If I can complete that task, a beautiful scene with a place to sit will receive frequent visits as we enjoy watching the life cycle of these treasured plants.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Early May Wildflowers

The plant killing horrors of this year's March weather have been replaced with numerous native ephemeral treasures carrying out their spring life cycle.  This photo shows several stages of Blood-root flowers.  Upper left finds an older flower beginning to drop its petals.  Upper right shows a newly opened blossom.  Center left contains a mature bloom that has lost nearly all of its yellow pollen.  Center right has a perfect flower.  Lower left displays a young seed pod against the backdrop of a leaf.  Drought took Blood-root flowers from my garden while they flourish in Irma's woods. Our order of new plants will be here any day now.  The new woodland garden down by the road is waiting!

These early Arbutus flowers will soon be joined by many others that are still closed buds.  Transplanted on our land several years ago, these flowers are highly prized.  The major allure here is their scent.  The good news is that we can still stand up after dropping to the ground to draw in the memorable aroma.  The native stone was placed to support the protective wire cage that is the reason these plants still flourish.  Being evergreen carries some risks.  Rabbits devour unprotected Arbutus plants when the snow first begins to melt.  Insects ate the only partially destroyed leaves.

Irma's woods lie on a south facing sloped bedrock ridge.  The concentrated warmth of the sun there has these Trout Lilies at their height of bloom.  Our plants are just beginning to release their buds from the tightly wrapped leaves that safely carried them through several inches of forest soil.  Soon we will find similar flowers closer to home.

The steeply sloped roadside bank revealed flowers that we have never before seen.  Wild Ginger keeps its flowers hidden from sight close to the ground.  Looking uphill we finally got to see these flowers.  Flies are the pollinating agent so these flower's scent is much like rotting mouse meat.  We passed on a chance to sample that odor.  At home, our transplants have yet to open their tightly closed leaves.  The pictured leaves will soon be much larger hiding the flowers from prying eyes.

Here we see a single Spring Beauty flower behind a row of Hepatica flowers.  It is uncommon for the digital camera to capture the color of a Spring Beauty flower.  Usually all that is seen is white.  Most of the leaves in this picture are Ramps. Sharp-lobed  Hepatica flowers precede their leaves which can be seen here just beginning to unfurl to the right of the Spring Beauty flower.

These freshly opened Hepatica flowers show both their blue petals and white pollen.  Opening leaves surround the flower petals in three places.  Apparently, younger plants have fewer leaves with blue coloration.

Several of these multi-flowered stunning Sharp-lobed Hepatica plants occur singly across the roadside bank.  Their bright pure white color stands out in sharp contrast to the dull brown of decaying fallen tree leaves.  It is possible that older plants have many more flowers.  Some of these larger plants were growing up through the mud filled ditch at road's edge.  I really wanted to dig them up and give them a proper home.  Responsible reason prevailed and they remain where nature planted them.

This is the more common coloration of Spring Beauty flower pictures.  The camera misses nearly all of the delightful pink color. The plant in the upper left corner of the picture shows off  the plant's small  green  leaves.

This is the promise of more to come.  This white Trillium was fall planted in our new woodland garden.  Flower buds can be seen on this newly emerged plant.  It looks like two flowers will appear here during this plants first year with us.  We will need to return to Irma's woods as the Trillium there have yet to open their flowers.  Recent logging will have severely reduced the vast number of plants there but the opening of the forest canopy will aid in their return.

We found our spirits lifted by these early flowers.  Decline that accompanies age is making working in the dirt more difficult for us.  That reality may have heightened our pleasure in finding these flowering plants existing totally on their own.  Many more will follow as the month unfolds and we will try to see them all.  Their allotted time each year is short but they make the most of each day.  We will try to do the same.