Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Meadow Vole Attack

This is the present appearance of one untouched clump containing two Siberian Iris plants.  According to the book, this mess should have been cleaned up last Fall.  That would have involved cutting still green leaves and seems rather mean.  We have always cleaned up last year's growth just as soon as we can get to unfrozen plants.  We believe that the cover of dead leaves insulates the crown of the dormant plants.  Just why a plant bearing the name Siberia needs protection from winter cold does not have a rational explanation.

When cleanup was under way we discovered that some of our clumps had been tunneled under.  The underside of the crown had been nipped clean of roots and much of the crown itself was gone. It is the first time that any of our garden plants have sustained this kind of damage.  Snow melt frequently reveals rodent activity of several types.  Mice leave a clear tan trail along the surface of grass.  Moles leave raised tunnels across the lawn that flatten easily and quickly regrow grass.  These monsters were different from anything that we had ever seen.  I was able to insert my hand into a tunnel.  Just why I did that surprised even me.  Nothing bit me and I stopped inserting body parts into dark holes.

This area inside of the stone wall was home to an iris that had grown huge shading out its neighbors.  I knew that removal and division were needed but did not think that me and my hand tools were up to the job.  With nearly all of the roots gone, the remains were easily removed and a small section from the edge was replanted.

A huge nest was discovered between the plant and the wall.  It consisted of a material never before seen here.  Its color and consistency clearly suggested that the chewed underside of the crowns was the source of the bedding.  Mom was home and sought cover between my foot and the wall.  She was obviously pregnant and quickly stepped on.  We feel fortunate to have ended her before the young were born.  Other than cleanup, we can think of no method to control an invasion of Meadow Voles.
Hopefully there are no more about but dad has to be out there somewhere.

This is today's picture of the first damaged clump that we discovered.  All of the pieces were replaced in firm contact with filled ground and watered.  There is new growth all across the plant but some is stronger than others.  We intend to let all of these remain so that we can learn just how these severely damaged pieces reestablish themselves.  With the ground cover removed perhaps our resident fox can clean out any voles that remain.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Hard Frost

Forecast low temperature for last night has held at 26 degrees for days.  We usually experience lows of three or four lower than the forecast.  All we know for certain is that last night we were hit with an unusually hard frost.

Many of the Daffodils displayed damaged stems.  Tomorrow will show if the damage is permanent.

All of our stones displayed no frost damage.

These Coral Bells limited the frost to leaf edges.

Ladies Mantle are reported to provide water droplets with cosmetic power.  Here we see them frozen.

This Grape Hyacinth may not recover.

Clove Currant leaves also limit the frost to leaf edges.  How does that happen?

This newly emerged Valerian will be checked for damage tomorrow.

Frost coated Catnip leaves are simply beautiful. How can anything so harsh look so cool?

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Frost Preparations

April snow is a rather regular occurrence along the Unadilla River.  Both the plants and the people that live here just have to modify and adjust if they are to remain.  Magnolia sounds like something that would grow in Georgia but our flowering tree was nursery bred near the northern tip of Seneca lake.

From this vantage point our garden looks rather good.  Fenced Day lilies have received their early season cleanup and are well on their way.  A pile of brown stems are covering a clump of Cardinal flowers as is the nearby blue bucket.  Since we have way more dead stems than plastic buckets, a test to see how well the stems protect from frost is underway.  27 degrees has been in the forecast for tonight over the past several days and that is unusually harsh.  All of the buckets were removed this morning so the plants can get the rain today.  Wet foliage sometimes survives a freeze better than dry leaves.

Four clusters of Asiatic lilies require two different methods of protection.  Four metal posts will hold circles of wire screen high enough to prevent a bud loving deer from eating them all again.  We will not allow another summer without these beautiful flowers.  The garbage cans are needed now since the circles of emerging plants are large.  Later frosts will also require the height since any lily tip that touches the top of a protective can will be burned by the cold.

This planting of lilies presents a unique problem.  The three plants in a row come from bulbs that were planted in a triangular pattern.  Why they grow in a line is a puzzle.  Perhaps this will be the fall when I remember to dig these up and replant them in a pattern that will not require such a large covering can so close to the center plants.

Quite likely passing motorists wonder why there is such a huge pile of bagged leaves hiding our woodland garden.  Pernicious pasture grass grows where we wish to garden.  Disturbance of the soil to remove weeds would kill the shade producing sumac trees.  Two years of bagged leaves piled here have killed much of the unwanted vegetation.  A little precision plowing with a single bladed hand tool will remove most of the remaining grass roots.  After the desired plants,  yellow violets, ferns and Trout lilies, are introduced where I am standing a deep layer of finely chopped rotting leaves will be placed close to the new plants.  As a result the remaining weeds will be smothered and the leaves will rot producing woodland soil.  Working slowly and with smarts is the only way that this new garden can continue to expand.  The area in the foreground has some spots that need more plants but the moss covered rocks, ground leaves and growing plants create the look of a natural planting.  What is nearly finished will look much better when the nearby bags of leaves that were collected last fall are removed.  This afternoon before the temperature drops the garbage cans and buckets will be put back in place and we will hope for the best!

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

New Enemy

One might expect after reaching the midpoint of their seventh decade that little new remained to be seen.  This tunnel and the destruction that occurred under the Sedum and Siberian Iris is something that we have never before experienced.  Each Spring dead grass marked the existence of critters getting by under the snow cover.  Footsteps crushed the tunnels and the grass quickly regrew.

We have always let our Siberian Iris overwinter under a crown of dead leaves believing that the crown of the plants were insulated from the bitterness of many cold nights.  When we began to put things right, a section of iris pulled up revealing a tunnel under the plant and all of the roots gone.  The underside of the hard base of the crown was covered with teeth marks that looked like we had a visit from a tiny beaver.  Our guess is that a vole or several survived winter at the expense of our plants.

We expect that many replacement plants will be required to restore the garden's edge planting that is visible from the road.  Cutting the soon to be dead leaves will remove extensive thick cover that allowed the critters to move about unseen by any man or vole eating predator.  Luck was once again with me as my thrusting of fingers into the deep caverns found no one at home.  That lack of judgement will not be repeated.

This tiny piece of moss is growing on a solid chunk of tree bark that was only partially ground.  A silver dollar would completely cover this growth.  The tiny green spheres create the spores that will grow into new plants.  Capsules may be the proper name although fruiting bodies sounds like an accurate description of their function.  In the past moss never got a second look.  I cannot believe just how much was missed.  Another load of moss covered rocks was brought to line the paths that cross the shade garden.  This small piece of life will be given a new home in an indentation on one of them.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Magnolias And Lilies For Easter

Amy's Magnolia is covered with buds this spring.  For the first time Ed's big wire cage was large enough to keep the deer from eating the buds.  This will be the first year that we will have an impressive set of flowers.  The cage can be seen in the background but I purposely took the picture through one of the wire squares to get an unobstructed view of the flower.  After the winter weather we have had it is delightful to see  this lovely pink flower.  When the flowers are past, the fence will be removed so that the lawn can be mowed.

One flower growing on a low branch gave me a chance to take a bird's-eye view of a Magnolia blossom.  When more buds are open I will get a chance to see if all of the flowers are pink under the petals and white on the inside.

It is a family tradition to view Magnolias from ground level with blue sky as a background.  I managed to lie down on the grass and take this picture and get back up again without anyone seeing me.  We have both reached the age where  passers-by seeing us on the ground  get concerned thinking we have fallen and can't get up.

All of the lilies in the garden are coming up fast now that the April showers have finally started.  Only some of Ed's Day lilies are  shown here.  These have been with us for the longest time and many should be divided.  Since new garden space does not yet exist these beauties will simply have to wait for at least another year.  The scattered stones carry varietal names as we continue to sort out just who is who.  The four foot high wire fence sections are tied in place preventing deer from eating these soon to appear tasty buds.  At last count we found names for thirty-five different Day lilies so it goes without saying that this is just the first bed that is now ready for summer flowers.

Friday, April 19, 2019

New Plants Every Day

To most this would appear to be a picture of nothing.  It seems that five wooden Popsicle sticks are scattered on the surface of ground dead leaves.  Sharp eyes might see the letters PT on the markers.  It may be hard to believe that we were wildly excited by what we saw here this morning.

In the Fall of 2017, we placed an order for dormant plant parts from Tennessee Wholesale Nursery.  The following Spring nothing grew where we had placed the root-stocks.  A call of complaint was made and we were assured that  we would see live plants in another year.  We were understandably skeptical but were assured that the guarantee would be honored if nothing grew.  So we waited.

This morning we were thrilled to see Painted Trilliums growing near four of the plant markers.  One of the plants had sent up two stems and we will likely see the remaining plant soon.  We fully expect that flowers may be a year or two away as these plants adjust to their new home.  We are more than willing to wait since we have never seen this plant in the wild despite its being reported as common in the Catskills.  We now have live plants that spent a year and one half totally hidden from view.  One has to wonder just what the plant pieces were doing for that length of time.

Here we have two old friends.  The three heavily veined closed leaves mark the appearance of Wild Ginger.  Our new shade garden is the third location that this plant has occupied.  It is just possible that this carefully chosen spot will support growth appropriate for a ground cover.  The bright cluster of leaves belong to Sweet Woodruff.  This nonnative was not part of the planned transplanting but came along uninvited.  It is not by choice that we will allow this alien to remain here.

The Unadilla River Valley has been home to dairy cows ever since European immigrants first arrived on this land.  In the last few years, the size of the dairies has exploded with hundreds of cows never leaving the huge shed on a factory farm.  Manure is drained into huge circular cement ponds where it waits its time to be spread on the fields.  Yesterday the manure tanker made many trips to coat the entire field with this slippery brown gold.  Needless to say the smell of pit manure is nothing like the wholesome scent of old fashioned manure mixed with straw bedding.  Putrid is a descriptive word that is nearly vile enough to describe the stench.

The owners of Cobar Farms are both former students of mine.  We find them to be remarkably considerate since the manure on this field is always turned under the day following its application.  For the size of their dairy operation, this is a really small field but they are excellent neighbors.

Rain is in the forecast for the next several days.  That should send more perennial plants into visible above ground growth.  This year's gardens are truly underway.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Early Arbutus Flowers

Returning home from a therapy session today, I decided to drive to the back and check on the garden by the woods.  In two places string fastening the wire fence to the posts had rotted.  Temporary repairs were made and naturally a stop was made to look at the Arbutus plants.  Six plants, three of each gender, were transplanted here in 2013

Arbutus plants form their flower buds in the fall.  I was expecting to see only white tipped buds.  These were more swollen than expected.

Open flowers came as a complete surprise.  Most of the buds remain tightly closed now but here are open flowers.  Looking at the base of the blossom, one can see five objects resembling grains of wheat.  Those structures will in time produce pollen identifying this as a male plant.  The appearance of the pollen is quickly over and I have yet to see a pollen laden anther.

These two plants were placed in a deep deposit of white pine needles.where nothing resembling soil as I know it exists.  Arbutus plants require extremely acid but poor ground in which to grow.  The growth of these plants is visually different from the others.  Long stems bearing sparse leaves is the rule here.  Each gender is present here and seed production happens each year.  Despite the occurrence of mature seeds, we have yet to see the appearance of a new plant from seed.

This is our only patch of wild plants.  We have no idea just how many plants grow here or what genders are present.  We became aware of their existence when we first purchased this land twenty-five years ago.  Flower buds are rather numerous now so the gender question should be answered this year.

It is surprising how small this group of plants is considering their age.  They were eaten to the ground by a starved rabbit and that is the reason for the cage.  Apparently that is a common experience for wild Arbutus plants.  These have totally disappeared several times in the past before we learned what was happening to them.  Now all of these native treasures grow under wire cages.  We would prefer that they grow without a wire cover but we need to keep them alive and expanding.

These flowers are on a plant far removed from the other pictured plant in bloom.  A close look down into the base of the blossom will reveal a green thing growing above the bottom of the open flower.  It is the pollen grabbing stigma marking this as a female plant.

This is a picture of our first group of transplants.  When these four plants were moved in May of 2011, we did not know that some would be girls and others would be boys.  As luck would have it, one female plant is surrounded by three males.  One new plant from seed did appear here but the seed that grew was in the soil clump surrounding a transplant.

We cannot leave without mentioning the outstanding feature of this plant.  It is obviously a low ground cover with dark shinny leaves but it is the fragrance that has made this plant famous.  One must place his nose close to the soil to sample the scent.  The flower is sweet beyond description and accompanied  by the smell of rotting pine needles, it is an experience will be enjoyed and remembered possibly forever.  Each year as the blooming period comes to an end, I make a promise to myself that I will live long enough to experience the scent of Arbutus at least one more time.  That is a promise that I have kept once again.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Hepatica and Bloodroot

All of today's pictures were taken across the river where the ridge slopes to the southeast.  The solar advantage here has flowers opening while ours have yet to appear.  Today we saw Trilliums pushing up out of the soil while ours have yet to appear.  Spring Beauties were also in flower here while ours have presented only the beginnings of visible leaves.

A purple Hepatica flower above one of last year's leaves is a picture that must be shared.  Our new transplants have been showing flowers for the past several days but this photo also shows a leaf.  The doctrine of signatures is reported to see something of a human liver in the leaves.  Perhaps a single leaf petal has the suggested shape but the complete three does not look even vaguely human.

Hepatica flowers are either white or blue in this area.  They appear rather close to each other but some difference in the soil may account for the two different colors.  All that I know for certain is that these flowers occurring here in great number really boost the mood.  We will likely see more snow this month but the season of flowers is definitely underway.

This marks the first time that I have ever seen a tightly closed Bloodroot bud above a yet unopened leaf.  The flowers do close every night and in response to bad weather but then the leaves remain open.  Notice the two stems visible below the leaf.  Only one stem can be seen above the leaf so it follows that stem and flower are supported by separate stems.

If you look closely at the center of the flower, a vase shaped reproductive part can be seen.  Pollen will be carried here resulting in a rather large seed pod.  Flowers are very short lived but the seed pod develops over a longer period of time.  This is quite possibly the purest white displayed by any flower.

One of these newly opened flowers has lost several of its petals.  Little wind is needed to shake the petals loose.  Beautiful, early and fragile describe Bloodroot flowers.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Finally A Day Fit For Garden Time

One of Becky's favorite photo subjects is the grumpy old grouch gently placing a young plant into the ground.  In this case a new Dutchman's Breeches appeared near the parent plant in our old shade garden.  Our new shade garden is developing under Sumac trees  They are short lived and messy but they are what we have to work with.  A transplanting hole cannot be dug without damaging tree roots so we need new woodland soil to raise the level of the ground.  A fresh supply has been run through the screen and we are ready to move the plant.  The gloved hands have just pulled soil carefully around the root ball.  Water was then applied to the bare soil.  Previously chopped leaves were then worked around the plant intending to create a functionally natural looking planting.  More water followed firming up the leaves and increasing the chances of success for this plant in its new home.

The stone bearing the plant's name negatively impacts the sought after natural look but is a tremendous aid when one finds himself unable to remember.  The name is placed on both sides of the stone since the exposed label will fade.  Correct identification can then be found on the under side of the stone.  This plant should flourish in its new home.

Our old Jacob's Ladder plant had pushed itself up out of the ground.  We took this opportunity to unearth the entire plant and divide it into two pieces.  One piece was properly returned to its former location while the remaining piece was moved into the new shade garden.  The root mass was sizable so a considerable amount of new soil was needed for proper planting.  The new soil created the appearance of a stone nearly disappearing under centuries of decaying forest litter.  That is the look we are trying for.

Some time ago we purchased Wood Anemone planting stock.  What arrived was pieces of root that looked like thin sticks.  Nothing grew in their first year here but finally they have made an appearance.  Chickweed grows freely here and we needed to carefully separate the two plants.  The Wood Anemones should flower this year and begin to take hold of this ground.

Last year Becky purchased a Yellow Ladies Slipper at Catskill Native Nursery.  There one can walk among the plants and select the plants to be purchased.  Naturally the best of the lot was chosen and several flowering stalks presented a stunning scene.  This is another transplant that is making its second appearance.  We are looking forward to enjoying the coming flowers from our bench located just across the path from this plant.

The entire native plant issue is ever present.  The Trout Lily native to New York State has yellow flowers and its leaves are just now pushing out above the forest floor.  These West Coast natives flower much earlier and are simply dazzling.  Moved to this location last year, we were unsure that any would have survived.  There was much action here from chipmunks and red squirrels.  We were afraid that the bulbs were being eaten.  That is obviously not the case and new plants have appeared.  We are well under way for flowers in the  woodland garden.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Finally Flowers

Yesterday, when these pictures were taken, began as the second consecutive warm pleasant day.  Thunder and rain gave way to unpleasant cold.  Overnight frost was missed by just two degrees.  These Round Lobed Hepatica flowers are the first of our native plants to bloom.  Three were purchased last year at Catskill Native Nursery and all are still with us.  This plant's flowers before leaves habit give us a local story of interest.

A neighbor that built his house on the western edge of the Batterson Farm firmly tells the story of his discovery of a purple flowered Arbutus.  Arbutus carries its dark green leaves beneath snow cover and its white or pink blossoms are still a few weeks from opening.  Out in his woods early in the year, he saw purple flowers nestled among the evergreen Arbutus leaves.  It certainly looked like that Arbutus did indeed have purple flowers.  Since that plant was reported as quickly stolen, no one else had a chance to see that unusual sight.  One of our Hepatica plants appears mature enough to divide.  This Fall we will attempt division and place one under light Arbutus growth.  We will not be able to share the resulting purple flowered Arbutus with our neighbor since unfortunately he has lost his eyesight.  He will however be able to hear that his discovery made years ago remains alive and well near where he first found it.

Last year two Bleeding Heart plants were purchased in Norwich and placed at either end of the bench in our newly developing shade garden.  Both flowered and one has made an appearance this year.  It appears that we will have a large native plant flowering close to the bench.  Later this year we will likely see a photo of Becky sitting on her bench surrounded by native flowers.

This Virginia Bluebells plant is also in its second year with us.  It too was purchased at Catskill Native Nursery last year.  Our memory says that it did not flower during its first season with us.  It looks like this strong new growth just might produce flowers this year.  Either way we will not be disappointed since the plant remains alive.

It is easy to see why these nonnative plants are widely popular.  Snowdrops frequently open their white flowers while snow remains on the ground.  They reseed freely with large clumps proudly holding garden ground.  Winter aconites also frequently flower surrounded by new snow.  Their yellow flowers certainly catch the eye even when they are surrounded by brown dead leaves.  These plants are in the shade garden near the house although some of the Snowdrops have been transplanted in the developing garden down near the road.

Aged hands do not respond well to working in cold soil when the air temperature remains in the 30's so this post represents today's gardening activity.