Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Christmas Greetings

As is frequently the case, a casual observer might not focus on my intended subject.  The first thing worthy of a second glance is the evergreen tree.  Since my life here was planned to focus on the out of doors, bringing living things inside, be they flowers or trees, has not been important to me.  This year we found this tree growing right next to our utility pole and one or the other had to go. The tree went.  Placed in the center of our stone walled garden square, it just seemed appropriately festive.

There is no guarantee where the eye will stop next.  The red and white hat is not part of a Santa suit.  The logo says International Harvester and  is  all that remains of my first pickup truck.  This is not the original hat but is a recent find. The shirt deserves more than a mention.

In my view, our country is bitterly divided with neither side holding all of the sin nor all of the virtue.  I cannot see how either political party can get us out of this mess.  From what I have heard spoken, RESPECT is a major value for only one candidate for President.  So, for the first time in my life, I am sending money to a political candidate and will likely be relegated to casting a write in ballot.  I understand the futility of my actions since NYS is a send it all to the Electoral College for the winner of the popular vote.

To put it bluntly, I am backing Tulsi.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Holiday Greetings

Traditional holiday greetings from Stone Wall Gardens to everyone that should have received a USPS delivered card or an Email greeting.  We must stay within our reliably functional skill set.  This row of pines were impressive when this land came our way twenty-five years ago.  We believe that one or more of the children of the last family to farm this land planted these Norwegian Spruce trees as a 4-H project.  We have opened a path across the interior of these trees.  It is a great refuge from beastly summer heat.

This is a stark departure from customary holiday cards.  For the second time this year, Locust branches are laden with new snow.  Some may find the brutal beauty worth a second look.  One of our early activities here was to truck compost from a village heap to our planned garden.  A Locust tree grew up out of that pile and was deemed worthy of anchoring our shade garden.

                                         Happy Holiday Greetings to all who read this.

                                                                     Becky & Ed

Monday, December 9, 2019

Snow Place To Sit In The Garden

There is no place to sit in the garden today.  It is covered in snow.  Most places the snow is not terribly deep, but it is the way the wind smooths everything out so steps down or places to trip are hidden from sight make a garden walk tricky.  I ventured out to get a milkweed pod with seeds for a friend.  It is late and most of the milkweed is down under the snow, but I spied one inside the stone square from my bedroom window.  I had the camera with me and the snow on the old garden chairs caught my attention.

We have had these chairs in the garden for a very long time.  My Dad used to sit in them to enjoy the garden in Unadilla.  I love the way the snow curls over the front of the chair!

Right now the chairs sit facing each other on the stone patio.  The snow is more melted on the South side of  both chairs. Wind and sun make interesting shapes with snow.  A goldenrod seed head decorates the arm of the chair.

I love the textures of the snow, ice and weathered wood.  Except for the pale green of some lichens these pictures almost look like a study in black and white.

It is a grey day and the color outside this morning is in the driveway.  Ed is planted firmly on the bright yellow seat of his green John Deere working on clearing the driveway.  We are expecting some warmer temperatures and rain.  Lots of rain might melt the snow, but just a little will  likely make a hard icy crust when it freezes.  The garden sleeps under it's blanket of white, but Ed makes sure that we are not asleep at the switch!

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Missed Thanksgiving

Our home is placed between the glacial kame terrace visible in the background and the rather gentle final drop to the river.  Meltwater from the disappearing glacier cut a narrow ravine at the end of this field that we call our lawn.  Various wildlife use this gentler sloped valley to move from the river flat toward higher fields.  That is the path that these turkeys are using on their march to Hillman's manure coated fields.  Our resident deer also use this well traveled path heading in the same direction as the turkeys.  Just how these animals survive winter with both the cold and snow covered food is amazing.  That makes me feel rather pathetic by comparison.  I have to go now.  My hot tea is ready.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Ready For Spring

Many of the early spring flowers head into winter with their flower buds already formed.  To me this seems to be a huge contradiction.  One quite naturally assumes that flowers are frail and tender so how can their buds endure an entire cold and snow filled season?  On the other hand open early blossoms need a head start to complete their development.

Arbutus has held me in its spell for years.  Writings far more than a century old proclaim this plant's absolute resistance to being transplanted but pictured is a moved plant that has lived here for many years.  Two different bud clusters are growing from the point where the stem end sends out leaves.  Also in plain sight is a nearly totally dead leaf.  Evergreen does not mean forever and the mystery of the life cycle of Arbutus leaves remains unknown.

Magnolia suggests a flowering tree that might be expected to grow in Georgia rather than New York.  Miller Nurseries, now gone, ran a great business that provided me with plants for a very long time.  This Magnolia is one of their special plants.  Those fuzzy gray buds will open into beautiful early white and pink flowers.  Here again the buds must survive winter.  They handle our cold but the deer eat them when most of their food is buried under snow.  A four foot high fence surrounds the tree but the deer simply eat higher buds.  Lower cages are spread out next to the fence to deny the deer a close approach.  We hope that this new twist will save more buds because the early blossoms are truly spirit lifting.

Pinxter is a native plant here as is Arbutus.  This bush has been here for many years but yearly trimming by the deer has kept it rather small.  Here again wire cages are piled to keep the deer away.  Some may find this combination of cold stone near mostly bare branches unworthy of a second look but it is one of our treasures.  When the air turns bitter cold and snow covers the ground, we will tramp about to check on our early flower buds.

Friday, November 22, 2019

More Abandonment Coming

With a lifetime of interest in New York State railroads, a model of the New York Ontario & Western became the one that I wanted to build.  The pictures on the wall show the actual bridge that crossed the valley approaching Sidney Center.  Maywood was the railroad name for this bustling  town to avoid shipping confusion with nearby Sidney.  Fourteen towers were needed to support the rails high above the valley floor.  My model had room for only seven towers.  This was the first part of the layout completed.  Even the dust of moving coal is part of this train.

This picture is included here because of the photograph of the actual Hawk Mountain tunnel.  Construction of the four lane route 17 obliterated all traces of this tunnel.  When I drive the highway the nearby bridge abutments used to cross the Delaware River can still be seen and the end of the short trestle that approached the tunnel are in view.  That is all that remains of this structure.

This model of the Hawk Mountain tunnel was the second section on the model to be completed.  No information can be found to identify which end of the tunnel was photographed making finding the precise location of the real tunnel more impossible.

The real fieldstone foundation near the box car is all that remains of a freight house.  There is also actual stone in two places at the tunnel entrance.  The other stone and the tunnel portal are castings although the keystone above the arch was carved by hand.  The trees were built using Autumn Joy sedum flowers grown on site.

The Lehigh Valley Railroad figured prominently in my youth.  A tale repeated many times describes my first exposure to railroads.  On the trip home from the hospital following my birth, we were stopped at a railroad crossing.  My Father held me up so that I could see my first train.  In later years  memories of my Father driving out of the usual way home so that he could race the Black Diamond to Newfield Station are easily remembered.

The caboose pictured is the best of the train cars that I built from scratch.  Plans taken from the prototype were drawn as the first step in building the model.  Milled basswood shapes and sheathing were custom cut to build the model.  Wire was bent to form handrails and bracing.  Tiny bolt heads secured the diagonal braces at each end.  Most of this stuff is being boxed and inventoried for the coming auction but this piece will stay with me after the rest is sold or trashed.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Fragrant Lady's Tresses Gone For ?

It has been awhile because the garden has turned frigid.  I have to wonder if I will see the lady's tresses again. Even if I don't   I have enjoyed them so much.  The last time I checked on them the cage had blown off and the flowers were gone, not gone to seed but gone, eaten, missing.  I replaced the cage but we have all heard that picking wild flowers can destroy plants. What if the animals eat them off?  What happens then?

 The plant has been happy here.  New growth shows at the base of the nipped off stems.  Perhaps it will make it through the Winter and  be back in the Spring.   Plants are amazing and I think there is a good chance it will  be back in spite of everything.  I will be very excited if it is!

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Abandonment Approaching

Becky and I have owned our retirement land for more than twenty-five years.  In that time I have had three near death experiences.  In light of that reality, we hold the belief that we have enjoyed life in this isolated rural setting far longer than we had any right to expect.  Now we are facing the undeniable reality that the time to move to new housing is drawing close.

Model railroads have been a passion of mine since childhood.  Our new dry basement with a high ceiling looked perfect for a model railroad.  The New York & Ontario and Western was to hold a major portion of the model.  Some space was also planned for the Delaware & Hudson.  Both railroads operated in this area.

This long view features a bridge crossing the Delaware River in the foreground and the legendary steel trestle in Sidney Center.  The Lackawanna passenger train is totally out of place here but its picture was desired before the auction.

This view shows just how this layout was built.  Since this blog focuses on our gardens, mention must be made that Autumn Joy sedum stems from our garden were used to grow the model trees.

The Pennsylvania coal mine belongs here.  Pictures on the far wall show the real Sidney Center bridge.  The passenger train is totally out of place.

I find it hard to believe that this steam engine did the work that later used two diesel engines.  The cardboard guard rails were meant to prevent trains from falling to the floor should a derailment occur in the tunnels.  A cloth drape would have been hung from the edge framework but we never got that far.

This control panel was lettered by my older brother.  Directly above it is a Unadilla Valley Railroad passenger train similar to the real thing that ran just across the Unadilla River from our home.  The milk train crossing the bridge illustrates a major commodity moved initially by railroad in this section of New York State.  The Lackawanna train is totally out of place here but it sure looks good.

This view shows the river.  The sandy area near the bridge abutment was a popular location for wild beach parties.  Each of the milk cars were scratch built using basswood structural shapes following  plans that I drew.  The lettering on the prototype cars was yellow but no decals could be found in that color.  Part of today was spent placing the Lackawanna train in a box that is now ready to be sent to the auction house.  Perhaps by the end of winter all of these models will also be ready to go.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019


For as long as I can remember, a stump seemed necessary for our woodland garden.  Several previous attempts to remove a stump have provided only education.  Anyone that has seen pictures of storm tossed trees should know the overwhelming size of their root mass.  This reality failed to fully register with me despite many wasted hours spent trying to dig up moderately sized tree stumps.  When this stump came into view, another attempt at extraction was undertaken.

This area of the former farm here has been used since colonial times as a stone dump while clearing the nearby field.  No new stone has been dumped here in many decades but the dead vegetation that fell on these stones already here became a dark rich soil that we call duff.  The combination of minerals from stone and developing leaf litter produces unusually rich soil.  When the seed that grew into this tree fell here, its roots could find no path down into the ground.  Instead a ninety degree turn to the west provided the roots with anchorage and nutrition.  My five foot pry bar quickly found a path under the main root and a totally intact stump became my prize.

The depth of the root mass on this stump would have required a deep hole.  Sumac roots form an impenetrable barrier to deep digging.  This woodland ground was recently dumped here so that desired plants could be placed in this new ground come spring.  That depth of new soil allowed a hole deep enough to receive the stump without damaging any sumac roots.  The north south orientation of the stump was preserved so that its new home has the moss growing on the north side.

Now we have all winter to decide just how to plant this new ground.  Wild ginger already here will advance toward the stump from the right.  With any luck we will be able to someday harvest ginger close to the stump thereby limiting its growth.  We believe that a slowly rotting stump will support natural growth for a Lady slipper plant.  A smaller stump close to the bench is home for a Yellow lady slipper.  This might be a suitable home for a truly expensive Lady slipper plant.  Hepaticas are already planned for the area next to the stone line that defines the path.

This is the root mass that was sawed from the stump.  It will find a home in the shade garden also.  To me it looks like a dinosaur skull.  We are excited at the prospect of what will grow on this root mass now that it above the ground in sunlight.  It will be placed near moss and we will watch its transformation.  Just how often does a seventy-five year old actually get something that he has wanted for a long time?  This stump is a truly impressive find.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Down To A Precious Few

Beautiful days spent in the garden are dwindling down to a precious few.  Mornings are cold and frosty.  Darkness comes earlier every single night,  But the hours in the middle of the day today were wonderful.  This year we have no shortage of big taller-than-me  weeds going to seed.  I get a great deal of personal satisfaction clearing a garden bed of weeds to rescue the plants intended to be there.  When I came in for a late lunch there was a huge pile of pulled weeds, a bed where you could see the soil, seeds in my hair dirt under my nails in spite of wearing gloves and pebbles in my garden shoes. It was fantastic!  After lunch I got the camera and went in search of flowers still blooming in the garden.  Flowers in the garden are also down to a precious few.  My Caprilands Sedum still had a couple of pink blossoms and the entire plant is turning pink from the cold.  It will die back to the ground and be return in the Spring.

My Butterfly bushes are all planted next to stone walls.  Insects are slow to leave the remaining flowers making a close-up photo a snap!

I am curious about this one.  I'm sure I have never seen this bug before.  It is big over an inch long.  It reminds me of ants, but it has a very long thin body  and antenna that makes me think of horns.  It certainly casts a big fat shadow.

This beautiful moss covered stone was under the hazelnut.  Now that the plants are dying back great stones become more noticeable.  I predict that this stone will be traveling very soon to a prominent spot in the wildflower garden down by the road.  Ed will see to that!

Friday, October 25, 2019

Darned Deer Defense

Amy's Magnolia still has most of its leaves, but next year's buds are already formed.  They will wait patiently through the ice and snow of winter to open in the Spring.  There are many buds this year but the persistent ever present deer that consider our garden to be home have already left their mark.

I admit I have a very soft spot in my heart for those doe-eyed creatures, but when they nip those brand new fuzzy Magnolia buds off it makes me lose it.  Something had to be done!  Ed worked on out defense against those darned deer this afternoon.

The first line of defense is a wire fence. Today snow fence was added to that.  It is my hope that it will be a bit more intimidating.  Some extra wire cages were added around the outside of that.  I don't know if the deer will be impressed, but when I check out the window on the West end of the house I feel better.  Maybe I can keep Magnolia buds off the menu.  I will be watching!

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Sleeping In The Sunlight

Our weather has definitely taken a turn toward seasonal cold.  Overnight frost has become a common occurrence with chilly days frequent.  We can put on a extra layer of clothing but the animals have to seek a natural source of heat.  This milk snake was likely newly hatched here in late spring.  Larger milk snakes are frequently seen both in and on the dry stone walls leading down to the basement.  Shiny unblemished skin suggests that this little guy recently shed his skin.  Stones placed in bright sunlight quickly warm up.  This snake allowed me a close approach to get this picture but stayed put without moving a muscle.  Somehow it knew that we would not inflict any harm.

This fox is catching a midday nap very close to the house.  Its sleep is restless with frequent interruptions to raise his head looking for intruders.  Despite this wariness, I was able to open the window without disturbing the nap.  I needed him to raise his head for the photo.  My friendly soft verbal greeting resulted in an instant head raise followed by a quick run for the trees.  It did not take long for the fox to return to the warmth of the grass.  Both Becky and I are usually harmless and we enjoy the company of the animals as long as they are not eating our plants.  In that case we send them running with a sharp loud verbal commands until they disappear into the bushes.

Later in the day, time spent weeding in the garden seemed like a great way to use this sunny day.  Pulling my Ames Lawn Buddy cart, which serves both as a place to sit and a tool box, I noisily entered the garden.  The fox was again sleeping on the grass but initially had no reaction to me.  Eye contact was avoided thinking that the fox might remain.  A peek out of the corner of my eye sent him heading for the bushes.

Some time later it felt like someone was watching me.  A sideways glance revealed the fox on the grass peering down at me.  Again, eye contact sent him scurrying into the pines.  This day was made truly special by our numerous encounters with this beautiful animal.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Frost Caused Food Shortage

Several recent frosts have ended much of this year's growth of flowers.  Some still grow in sheltered locations and continue to produce pollen.  Insects of varying types find these flowers and some late food.  Clara Curtis chrysanthemums are quite hardy giving us flowers to look at and food for some bugs.

Goldenrod is highly invasive and has claimed many of our acres.  Exposed plants have been ended by hard frost while some take advantage of their sheltered location and continue to flower.  We have seen several different kinds of insects feeding on the same flower stem and even a fight between two wasps.  This fly gave us the best picture so it is included here.

Our asters have been widely placed in the gardens despite their common occurrence in roadside ditches.  Frost did not harm their leaves yet but most of the flowers are now dark masses with no pollen.  This bumblebee found one flower that remained intact.

Fragrant Lady Tresses flower late in the year.  Despite their southern native range, this plant continues on.  We have been trying to sample its scent by placing noses close to the flowers.  More than once bees like this one were working close to where we were sniffing.  No stings yet and the scent seems to be elusive.  We try to experience it at different times of the day under different weather conditions.  At best we have found only subtle samples of a very different but pleasing perfume.  This plant is well north of its natural home but we hope that it returns here  at winter's end.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Goodbye Good Friends

Earlier this week Elaine placed a phone call to us.  Her house had been sold and if we wanted to dig any more plants there, we had to get a move on.  All of our Arbutus plants were dug from her front lawn.  We thought about asking for more next spring so that we could have this wonderful plant in our new shade garden.  With the sale of their home we had to move now.  As has been our habit, we took a large patch of soil to lessen the transplanting shock.  Appropriate soil from under a white pine tree was taken since that has always resulted in a successful move.  We hope that this last chance ever will give us another Arbutus patch located where visitors can easily see it.

We knew absolutely nothing about this plant that grew at the end of Steve and Elaine's road.  Recent generous rainfall had pushed this Slime mold to sent up its fruiting bodies.  Contact with other bloggers indicated that this was a Slime mold.  We cannot say no to an interesting looking new to us plant.  We need to find a suitable location for this bizarre new arrival.  When the morning trip down the hill was made to water our new plants, this one looked quite sad.  It quickly responded to some water and puffed up its pink fruiting bodies.

Wintergreen has not been successfully moved here in the past.  Our last attempt is still alive but has not grown any new leaves.  We do not usually transplant this late in the year but it was now or never.  If the new plants do not survive their move, we will still have a chance for plants from seed.  Evergreen ground covers are frequently eaten as winter ends.  These plants have been placed under a hastily placed wire cage to protect against raids by hungry rabbits, deer or woodchucks.

All of these plants grow in acid soil.  These white pine needles will provide an appropriate acid mulch for all of these new arrivals.  They will be watered frequently until the ground freezes.  We do expect that not all of these plants will survive here but at least we tried.  Both Steve and Elaine have helped us on many occasions and we already have many of their plants growing here.  We will do our best to help these plants survive here.  This special couple will be missed and we wish them well at their new location.  Thanks to both of you for all that you have done for our family.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Fox In The Morning

 It was so easy to stay curled up in bed this morning.  When I did get up I looked out the bedroom window at the garden like I always do.   I saw the fox reclined on the top of the stone wall.  For a few seconds I got to admire his beautiful fur coat and bushy tail, but when our eyes met the fox disappeared in a flash.  I say disappeared but really the fox was not one bit rattled and simply kept hidden from my view using the garden as cover.  Ed grabbed the camera and we moved to the living room window.  Quick glimpses of fox were all we got to see for awhile, but then the fox came into view and hopped on top of  a bag of leaves.  First he dug in the top  to fluff up the leaves.  Then several circles were made before he settled down  just like the family dog would do.  Having flopped down in this comfortable spot it was time for a little wash up.  He licked his front paws like a cat.  The fox did not remain in that cozy spot for long.   Perhaps it was the noise of the camera or maybe he saw us move, but once again he disappeared  back into the safety of the garden..

We waited and watched, thinking our morning encounter was over, but to our delight he hopped up another stone wall where we could see him again.  For a time something up by the bluebird boxes held his attention.  At that distance he no  longer seemed a bit concerned about us.

 Foxes love to walk on the top of stone walls.  He stopped to sniff the stone wall next to the hazelnut.  Big fat chipmunks inhabit the stone wall there.  Maybe he will stop back at another time for a furry snack.

He made his way along the wall at a slow pace. We had time to take several really fuzzy pictures.

Once the fox ran out of wall  he took off streaking across the grass with his tail streaming behind him.  In seconds he was gone.  Even a brief glimpse of a fox makes my day.  This morning was beyond exciting,