Sunday, August 26, 2018

Finding Our Roots

When we found this land in '94, it satisfied nearly all of our requirements.  Located close to the Unadilla River but at a good distance above the water's surface flooding was unlikely.  During a recent flood all of the nearby bridges were closed until inspected so we could not drive anywhere but all of our land remained well above the flood water.  Since seven more years of employment were in my future at that time, the retirement land had to be reasonably close to work.  Privacy was an important issue but isolation was a deal breaker.  The town road is close by but the house is located higher than the road resulting in no intrusion by road noise.  The winding brush lined lane with no end in sight tends to discourage uninvited guests.

These acres were part of a farm but were situated well above the river bottom land.  Various level tracts at different elevations served primarily as pasture and we believed gardening was a possibility.  After the sale closed we discovered that it was impossible to insert even a four tined spade into the ground.  Stones were more numerous than soil so we had a problem.  The five by thirty foot planned planting beds were to be surrounded by three foot wide broken stone paths.  All that had to be done was to place the bed stones in the path and the path soil in beds.  Two wheelbarrows, a shovel and a wire screen made the magic happen.  I cannot begin to imagine how many hours were spent making stone free soil for the beds but I know that I enjoyed every minute of that job.  There is something magical about the transformation from chaos to the finished product.  It makes me feel good to step back and look at what just happened.

The area between the two planting beds remained unfinished for years.  The draw of a new large project elsewhere kept me away from this short path.  We are working to fill in the holes so that this place might actually sell.  This soon to be finished path will allow for an easy walk from the garden to the lawn.

Looking across a long finished path, it is difficult to tell just where the new work begins.  A rainstorm will wash clean the recently unearthed stones making the new work look like it has always been there.  Our first two hours of outside work happen here these days.  This will continue to be job one until it is finished.  We must come clean.  The real reason for including this photo is to preserve the image of Cardinal Flower blooming close to one of our stone walls. 

Monday, August 20, 2018

The Scope Of The Problem

Anyone that gardens for very long soon becomes aware of just how little impact their efforts have on the final outcome.  This year has certainly been an experience here.  After horrid early frosts there was a very long period of frost free nights that happened when frost remains likely.  We never had to cover our Oriental Lilies in order to protect them from possible frost.  The later half of June was unusually hot and dry.  A pick your own strawberry operation closed their fields for days to allow their plants time to recover from weather stress.  We had several of our small patches of strawberry plants wither and die.  Then the rains came.  Hot humid rainy days were nearly a daily event.  The rain was too late to save the desired plants but the weed seeds germinated and grew like crazy.

We formerly used two civilized compost bins to recycle our kitchen scraps and garden weeds.  This year the weeds are present in never before seen quantities and carry huge seed loads.  This photo shows where we dump these weeds.  The top green colored layer shows the extent of the weeds removed from the garden this morning.

I may be the luckiest man alive since my wife really enjoys attacking the weeds that are overtaking her garden.  Of course she is surrounded by the scent of Summer Sweet flowers and frequently experiences close flybys from Monarch butterflies and hummingbirds.  Her garden is far from the road so the natural stillness quiets the mind.  Cooler temperatures added to the pleasantness of working outside today.

This area provided us with fresh strawberries this year.  The plants had been carefully weeded then mulched with chopped straw.  We did bring some water to the plants but when drought comes we simply cannot carry enough water to the garden to meet the needs of all of our plants.  Here the desired plants died and the horrid grassy weeds took over.  Two tools were used to clear the mess.  The tined spade can be seen while the Cobra Head hand cultivator is hidden by the weeds.  The blue trug was filled many times with grassy weeds.

The far side of the stone path was cleaned up yesterday.  The lavender is mulched with a collar of small sized stones.  We have found this method improves the winter survival rate of lavender.  The arc of brown ground bark mulch might keep the bulbs beneath it in a weed free spot.  We still have much work to do in both directions along the paths.

Here we can see two areas that performed as expected this year.  The bed with the chicken wire grew snow peas earlier this year.  The chopped tree leaves kept this ground cool and moist favoring pea growth.  A few weeds did have to be cleared from where the peas grew but this ground was soon ready to replant.  We had just enough leftover seeds to plant a row on either side of the wire.  We may never harvest a fall pea here but all we have invested in this effort is an hour or two of being in the garden.  Continued use will keep this area in good shape.

The planting bed on the far side of the path was also replanted this morning.  Our third planting of summer squash seeds went here.  We do not usually replant the same crop in the place recently used but what is the risk.  September frosts do occasionally happen here so these plants may be lost before they bear any fruit.  We still have several bags of tree leaves collected last fall.  We will spread them on the lawn to dry then run them thru the mower to give us fine mulch to place on this newly planted ground.  That will keep this area looking like the people that garden here actually have some idea about what they are doing.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Finally Yellow Pollen

Some events in the garden take years to see and photograph.  For example, arbutus pollen has never been seen here despite the fact that we look for it every year.  It is present for only a very brief time and we always miss seeing it.  The same is true for Cardinal Flower pollen.  In this case the issue is further clouded by the commonly stated assumed fact that hummingbirds pollinate Cardinal Flower blossoms.  Must be I am not the only person that had previously never seen the yellow pollen.  Today we were in the garden at precisely the moment that the yellow pollen was present.

Look closely at the photo. The tube that a hummingbird explores can be seen at the point where five flower petals and the support for the sexual parts meet.  Adjacent flowers also show the depth of this tube.  Unfortunately for the scholars that restate the fact that pollination is carried out by birds, the clearly seen location of the yellow pollen is a considerable distance above the opening visited by them.  There can be little doubt after seeing these pictures that Cardinal Flower can be self pollinating.

Look carefully at the flower centered at the left edge of the picture.  That is the female stigma that pushed past the white beard that was heavily laden with pollen.  No trace of either the beard or the pollen can now be seen. The head of this stigma is presently swollen in response to its harvesting the pollen.  The white beard was ripped apart by the expanding stigma.  As this structure completes its task of sending the pollen  all of the way down the tube to the base of the flower where the seeds will form, the head is emptied of its pollen load and shrinks in size becoming limp.  In relatively short order the pollen was gathered and sent to the base of the flower.

This act of collecting pollen and transporting it to where the seeds will form is over in a matter of minutes.  No hummingbirds were in the area as this event unfolded.  I can offer no plausible explanation for what draws the birds to the flowers.  The tubes they penetrate are open and could collect water.  If nectar is present, I can see no benefit from it being there.  We are entertained by a single bird claiming ownership of our Cardinal Flowers.  It drives away any other life form that ventures near the red flowers allowing only its offspring near the flowers.

At this point in time, I believe that we have seen everything that there is to see about this plant.  Open flowers are reaching the top of the stalk and next year's daughter plants are beginning to form at ground level.  Life goes on and we feel fortunate to have witnessed the process that yields the seeds for another generation.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Fantastic Hidden Beauty On The Summersweet

It is so easy to be drawn close to the Summersweet by its amazing scent.  The pink flowers are beautiful now.  I stopped to inhale some of the heady perfume and then I saw an unbelievably gorgeous, hairy black orange and yellow caterpillar.  I knew right away I had never seen this kind before, but even from a distance I could see 4 yellow tufts that told me it was a tussock moth caterpillar.

 Although it is tempting to pick up a specimen this interesting,  that would be a rash decision and you get the rash.  I happen to have a field guide for caterpillars so I can tell you that this is Orgyia antiqua, the Rusty Tussock Moth caterpillar.  It is without a doubt one of the fanciest, most beautiful caterpillars I have ever seen.  This is a great picture, showing all of those different orange black and yellow hairs.  Be sure to click on the picture to see it as large as possible!  Still it cannot compare to actually seeing this real life.  It  is not native and may turn out to be a pest, but  it is a good looking caterpillar and I saw just one.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Sweet, Sweet Summersweet

Many of the plants in our gardens remain there because of some personal connection between us.  Summersweet is just such a plant.  Daughter Amy and I were hiking in Minnewaska as part of a return trip to her life in NYC.  Unexpectedly, we were surrounded by an unbelievably sweet scent.  Late August does not feature many native plants in bloom so we left the trail and walked into the breeze that carried the aroma.  Soon we found a head high bush covered with tiny white flowers.  All that we took away was a carefully crafted mental image of the plant.  Our description allowed Becky to identify the bush.  It remains one of our treasures since it always carries me back to a special day spent with my daughter.  We  also displayed a certain amount of woodsman skill since we were able to return to the trail.

This plant has a downside as a garden subject.  This photo shows the dried remains of last year's flowers.  They will snap off easily and that job is pleasant if done during full bloom but the sheer numbers of dead stems demand more time than we have to spare.  Some are broken off each time we pause to sniff,  but many remain.

Ruby Spice was purchased at an end of season sale from a roadside stand.  These genetically altered flowers are intended to hide the golden colored pollen balls that stain the pure white natural flowers.  That they accomplish with attractive grace.  This bush was stunted by its summer spent in a small pot but it has recovered nicely.  It is written that these plants can be controlled by pruning.  We need to try that but cutting away perfectly healthy plant parts does not come naturally to us.  So our sweet bushes are expanding and closing off the path forcing us to brush against the open flowers as we pass releasing even more aroma.

Root suckers are a method that these plants use to create new growth.  The little guy in the path is well shaped and will definitely be placed in a pot.  If we can bring ourselves to nip off its top growth, the second plant would match the smaller plant.  We will have to find the perfect place to set out two similar plants that will soon grow into monsters.

Summersweet sends out suckers freely.  That source of new plants could supply goods for a plant sale.  Here again if time was in greater supply, we could do something new for us.  A respected mail order nursery offers this plant for sale at $27.99 plus shipping.

A comparatively short time ago, this root sucker plant was placed at one end of our dry stone loading dock  That structure is completely hidden by dark green glossy leaves and delightfully scented flowers.  Not all of our transplants now show such luxuriant growth.  One was placed on the north side of blueberry hill to delay new growth in an attempt to avoid late frost damage.  I failed to notice the clear signs of a deer trail that passed right next to the transplant spot.  A protective wire cage limits the deer grazing but they keep the bush trimmed close to the cage sides and top.  This plant must not be a deer favorite since they avoid the bushes in the garden most of the time.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Chasing An Orange Dog Part 2

This beautiful fragrant Summer Sweet bush was the next stop for our big yellow and black butterfly.  Ed's quarry flitted off  very quickly.  It is
 a Monarch butterfly that we see in this picture.  This year there are enough Monarchs around that we see several in the garden every day. After several years with only a few it is delightful to see them often.  But what about the Orange Dog?  For the moment it seemed to be gone.  It looked like the chase was over.

Right before we headed inside for the day the Giant Swallowtail visited the butterfly bush next to Ed's stone wall.  At last we got our close-up. 

When the camera clicked again the Orange Dog took off.  You can see his wings beginning to move in this picture.  Neither the Orange Dog nor Ed's safety glasses have been seen since!

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Chasing An Orange Dog

We saw the first ever orange dog aka Giant Swallowtail butterfly in the garden on August 25, 2016.  At that time we were unable to get a picture. Another of the big bright black and yellow butterflies made a appearance in the garden this year.   This time Ed was not planning to let it get away!  The butterfly can be seen in this picture, but Ed wanted to get closer.

Now he was getting even closer but the butterfly kept moving.

At some point in the chase, Ed removed his safety glasses to get a better shot.  This picture is closer still.

As soon as the camera clicked  taking this even closer picture, the butterfly took off heading east to another part of the garden.  Not ready to give up, Ed continued the chase.  We will continue this saga in Chasing An Orange Dog Part 2.  Will Ed get a  great close-up of this magnificent butterfly?  Will he ever find his safety glasses among the rampant growth of this year's garden?

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Ingaborg's Mallow

Only here will anyone find this plant identified as Inga's mallow.  Her gift to Becky many years ago is the original source of this plant and its continuing presence in our garden.  Malva sylvestrs is the plant's proper name.  In our rather northern garden, this plant is a self seeding annual.  It chooses where it will grow while we provide some assistance. This plant sends down a sizable taproot so if it is to be moved that must be done early.

Ingaborg emigrated to this country from Germany between the two world wars.  We do not know if mallow seeds were included among the items that she brought with her from her homeland.  We do know that in her later years she would frequently weed out this plant since it was not the vegetable that she had planted.  Our transplants kept this plant alive in her garden for several years.  Now these beautiful flowers connect us with many pleasant memories of our various interactions with Inga.

One amazing feature of this plant is that its seeds continue to sprout all summer.  All of these pictures were taken on the same recent day and new plants are growing close by ones in full bloom.  These young plants will insure that we have flowers well into the fall.  We planted the purple flowered Helitrope while the mallows are self seeded and appeared well after the others were planted.  Our choice was to leave the grouping alone.

These seedlings are much younger and protected inside of a wire cage.  This cage provides protection from rabbits and keeps taller neighbors from shading out the mallows.  Function won out over appearance in this instance.

This poor plant lies just outside of the circle of protection.  Rabbits had a meal here but the plant does not look like it intends to give up.  We will watch but there is simply no way that a cage can be placed here.  This plants determination to continue in the face of adversity reminds us of the strength of character displayed by Inga.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Saved By a Skunk


We who garden know that we do not work alone.  Some of the natives aid us in our attempts to grow flowers and vegetables.  Others think only of themselves and see us as intruders.  That is the case with a kind of bee that has its nest underground.  Vegetation hides the entrance to the hive so one comes upon the danger without warning.  An attack by the entire population quickly follows.  We usually just let the bees have that area until frost renders them dormant or dead.

Yesterday this area was swarming with angry bees.  It was apparent that their nest had been disturbed.  We followed our usual practice of staying clear of the area.  A different approach to the garden allowed us to safely continue our work there.

Once before Becky was working in a garden when she inadvertently disturbed a ground bee's nest.  What to do next was a bit of a puzzle.  That night a skunk visited eating both the bees and their stores.  Just like that my problem was solved.  Here again a skunk likely found a sweet meal.  How they deal with the stings remains unknown.  There is simply no way that I am deliberately going to place myself near a skunk and angry bees.  Here again the problem is solved.  Yesterday there were many bees flying about.  Today only a single dispirited bee was seen.  I was able to get close to take the pictures and the bee simply ignored me.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Last Daylily

Unless we have missed something, this is the last of our collection to bloom.  The flower is large and therefore impressive but the colors are close to the wild form of the plant.  It remains unclear exactly what we had in mind when we ordered it.  Big Business is the name of this variety.  Most mail orders include a free gift and that may be the original source of this plant.

After flowering finishes is reported to be an appropriate time to divide these lilies.  Two 5 X 18 foot planting beds are lying fallow and nearly weed free in the back garden.  If divisions of some of our older and better varieties were taken now, the new plants could spend the fall and winter there.  That would push us to have the new ground ready for fresh transplants come spring.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Cardinal Flower Update

Every year several hours spread across many days are devoted to keeping this native plant alive here.  The pure clarity of the brilliantly red colored blossoms is one of the draws.  Another is the difficulty this plant has dealing with our weather.  We find satisfaction from doing the impossible.  To our north this native treasure is abundant in wild places.  It also grows freely in areas to our south.  Here Alabama Slammers frequently kill off  Cardinal Flower plants.  Their evergreen tender new growth faces our March temperature swings in excess of sixty degrees on many days.  Hard freezes turn the beautiful leaf rosettes to gray mush and the plants are done for.  Stored heat in the stone walls many times protects plants placed at their base.

A small white object stands out in sharp contrast to the vivid red petals.  Every living thing's primary purpose is the establishment of the next generation.  Flowers answer this call by making seed.  The Cardinal Flower has a unique method to discharge this function.  A suggestively shaped moist pink double headed object destroys the white beard by pushing out of the tube.  Proper timing smears yellow pollen across the surface of this structure.  It then sends the pollen a considerable distance to the base of the blossom where numerous seeds form.

These plants grew from seed that I planted.  Planted is the wrong word in this instance since these seeds germinate only if exposed to light.  What I did was sprinkle seeds on the surface of weed free soil.  The following summer ten clumps of small plants were moved here to our shade garden near the road.  This location was selected since rain water runoff could be diverted from the driveway toward the plants.

When the snow pile plowed from the lane finally melted these plants looked great.  Then the air flow from the south changed everything.  Sixty degree days were followed by ten degree nights.  These plants looked totally dead.  Truly unusual weather followed.  Hard frosts did not reappear.  Given this break the Cardinal Flower plants came back from the dead.  We are pleased to see these plants in glorious flower but know that this year's lack of repeated frosts is not likely to be repeated.

These are the last of the sixty plants potted up this spring.  Many were given to others to see if various different placements will allow any to survive our weather.  These plants were placed near the base of our cone shaped hill formed when glacial melt water poured over the edge of the ice and fell into standing water.  The steeply sloped sides of this feature keep low winter sunlight from directly striking the ground here.  Snow lingers so these plants may avoid exposure to some of the wildly changeable early spring days.  Water is also trapped here by the road to the gravel pit.  This extra moisture will likely aid the germination of the seeds while the longer period of cool late winter days will afford protection from temperature extremes.

So our quest to help this native plant survive here continues.  Next spring we will look to see if any of the plants given away survive in their new homes.  We will probably pot up more plants than we need to insure that Cardinal Flower always grows in our gardens and plants are available to give to others.