Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Butterflies And Me

I love butterflies, Monarchs, skippers, checkers, blues, sulphers ... and White Admirals.  Monarchs get all the press these days and I really think butterfly awareness is a good thing.  Their caterpillars are cute. Their chrysalis is decorated with gold.  Their orange and black pattern is bold and eye-catching.  Their migration is miraculous.

White Admirals on the other hand have a caterpillar that looks like bird droppings.  I have never in fact seen one because their caterpillars feed on trees like willow, poplar, and hawthorn. I often see several White Admirals on Ed's Summersweet.  They quickly flit away when approached. Usually I get a picture of white flowers and no butterfly.  This time though, one of the butterflies stayed. I was delighted!   How about this unusual shot of the underside of the butterfly?  I could have cropped out that upside-down garbage can I suppose but it went so nicely with the upside-down butterfly.

I carefully moved in closer and snapped another picture.  Amazingly the butterfly stayed put.  You can actually see it sipping nectar through its proboscis!

A picture of a White Admiral with its wings wide open was more than I thought possible.  I began to wonder if there was some reason why the butterfly could not fly.

However, just when I had taken this photo Ed approached.  When I spoke to him the White Admiral flew away and was quickly out of sight.  I don't have the patience to chase after butterflies with the camera, but this time I got very lucky. 

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Seldom Seen Garden Serpent

Ed and I are so far behind with our garden work that it is hard to decide what to do next.  Taking advantage of the cooler weather, we decided to attempt to clear the weeds from the bed where Ed hopes to plant his garlic.  So how tall are the weeds we are talking about?  Well the fence in the photo is four feet high and Ed is right in the center of the picture.  This weeding expedition is looking more like something from an Indiana Jones flick.

From my vantage point sitting on my garden cart I was surrounded, but I love a weeding challenge and the scent of the dill was pleasant.  It was when Ed moved a bag of leaves next to where I was sitting that things got exciting.  Sleeping peacefully under the leaf bag was a Eastern Ringed neck snake.   Those who know me know that if I see a snake when I am not expecting to see one  I scream.  I did this time too, but my scream reflex was quickly  overtaken by curiosity and wonder.

I have read about Ring-Neck snakes, but I had never seen one. It is no wonder because these snakes like the dark. They  are most active at night.  Likely he was out late eating slugs (YES!)  worms and other small prey.  Apparently this is a venomous snake but the venom is only used to immobilize prey through one hollow tooth.  A large predator like me has nothing to worry about.  I had just enough time to snap two photos and the snake slithered off and disappeared in the weeds.  Confidant that he was looking for another dark quiet place to sleep, we went back to our weeding.

We revealed a Gloriosa Daisy that Ed liked so he took the time to move it aside  and give it a drink of water.  It is hard to weed out a plant you love but this bed is designated for the garlic. We have been working on the garlic bed for three days.  Finally it is clear of weeds and ready for Ed's soil amendments.  It seemed an impossible task when we started but I guess we can still do the impossible, it just takes longer!

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Wild Flowers

Glacial till abuts the remains of a bedrock ridge here on what may be the most inhospitable land that we own.  Water seeps down the ridge as it seeks a downhill run to the river.  None exists so the trapped water gradually seeps into the gravel ground near the tree line.  Broken stones litter the ground and holes are everywhere.  This goldenrod is taller than I am so one must find solid ground with an exploring foot.  Weight is gradually transferred when smooth footing is felt.  Wisdom and a sore ankle kept Becky in the truck while I approached the plants in the background.  Despite the shortness of the trip, I soon disappeared from her sight.  She wondered just what she would do if I failed to reappear.  With no cell phone service here, she would need to drive to the house to call for help.

Eutrochium purpureum is a plant name that does not roll easily off the tongue.  Joe Pye Weed appears to be an unusual label.  Connecting a person's name with the word weed does not suggest a positive connection to the man.  A few keyboard strokes revealed that Jopi was a native American healer that lived in the northeastern United States and used this plant to treat illness.

We find that this plant naturally occurs in moist areas.  Its appearances here are limited to the ground where rain water collects between the ridge and the meadow.  Pinkish-purple flowers are popular here but these remain difficult to approach.  Many of the individual flowers are now past but many more buds wait to open.  Fresh flowers will be evident here for many weeks.  Butterflies and humming bird moths were seen but my disruptive approach through the tall weeds drove them away.  A return trip is necessary since I failed to stop and smell the flowers.  Their scent is reported to be pleasant.

Boneset as a name suggests a specific medical use.  This plant is growing near the Jopi Weed.  It appears that it also prefers moist ground.  These flowers also open over a span of time making their pure white display visible for many days.  Here again I failed to sniff.

The bright red flowers are the only plants in the area planted directly by man.  Since this native treasure remains uncommon in our area, we are seeking a location that might allow it to exist here on its own.  This soil is moist and the nearby ridge blocks late winter sunlight from directly striking the ground.  Lingering snow cover affords this evergreen plant some protection from the extreme temperature swings of early spring.  We are not claiming success yet since the past two years have been nearly free of brutal hard freezes.  Three plants were set out three years ago.  Seven plants are visible in the picture.  Many more might have appeared here given the plant's method of creating new growth but we are more than a little happy to find this bright cardinal red display at the edge of the darkened forest.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Three Is A Crowd

This morning Ed and I were headed out to go to the YMCA for our exercise class in the pool.  Although we were a little pressed for time and did not wish to be late for class, these Black swallowtail caterpillars stopped us in our tracks.  It would take a person who was oblivious to the natural world around them to ignore these.  I went back in the house and got the camera.  The  Bronze Fennel flowers and new seeds have the undivided attention of these cats.  I can't blame them since I find them tasty myself, but the prospect of beautiful swallowtail butterflies is more important to me than flavor added to a salad..

I hope the fennel lasts long enough.  The frass on the deck under the is impressive,  Caterpillars are eating machines.  This evening when I checked on them one of the large caterpillars was gone and the stem was chewed clear through. The remaining cat will have to move to another stem. As for the other one I'm sure a chrysalis will turn up somewhere.

Here is another very fancy caterpillar.  Ed saw this one crawling on me.  It made an attractive broach.  Ed whisked it away and it landed on his foot.  He bravely stayed still so I could get a photo. I'm sure it is a type of tussock moth, but the coloring does not match the pictures in my books.  In any case touching these can result in a nasty rash for some people.  We sent him on his way delighted to have his picture. This time of year there are lots of caterpillar crawling around.  Each one is amazing in its own way.  I'm glad I didn't miss these!

Monday, August 19, 2019

Moss Island Shoreline Complete

High humidity and building heat sent us into the shade this morning seeking a somewhat comfortable place to work.  Gathering moss covered stones from the wildly overgrown border area seemed like a good idea.  Rain forest like moisture dripped from plant leaves making the uneven ground slippery.  Caution prevailed and a load of stones was gathered without incident.

Planting this area will be a totally new experience for us.  A trip to the back woods in search of natural soil will provide some of the raw materials for the soil that will fill this island.  If we complete that task ahead of winter's arrival, we will have a clear area ready to receive native plants next spring.  Usually our habit is to frantically prepare a planting spot for the generous load of new purchases bought with little idea of just where they will set out.

This Ruby Spice Summer Sweet may be given a home in the foreground narrow tip seen in the first photo.  Calling it a native plant might be viewed as questionable since pure white flowers cover the wild form of Summer Sweet.  Both carry the overwhelmingly pleasant aroma that caused this plant to appear here now in several different locations.  The real drawback to placing Summer Sweet on Moss Island is its size.  A vigorously spreading bush that grows to five feet high will in time overrun this relatively small planting bed.  Individual stalks can be pruned without harm to the plant to control its spread but so far we have been unable to cut away parts of such a beautiful plant.  One of the entrances to our stone square has been totally closed by this pink beauty and still it remains uncut.

Last night's rain pulled this growth up out of the mulch path just beyond the right distant tip of the bed in the first picture.  As fragile as they look, these will be broken and torn by lunch time.  Pure luck allowed us to see this short lived beauty today.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Super Sweet Summer Scent

Here is one of the great treats of summer in our garden.  Amy and I discovered this native plant while hiking in the Gunks.  Our first plant for the garden was a small plant taken from a friend's garden.  Summer Sweet multiplies freely with each clump consisting of many single shoots with no large trunk to be found.  Its scent is wonderful beyond description and carries for considerable distance on the wind.

Any attempt to approach this plant when its flowers are open guarantees other life forms on the plant.  These two White Admiral butterflies were so intent on feeding that my close approach did not cause them to fly away.  This picture would have been better if I had taken a moment to snap off the brown remains of last year's flowers.  I was quite certain that motion would have sent the butterflies away.

This bee is carrying a heavy load of yellow pollen.  Its color puzzles me since the open flowers show brown where the pollen forms.  Here again a really close approach was not even considered despite the fact that a pollen carrying bee is incapable of assuming a stinging posture.

One of my goals for this year was to have the native plants Cardinal Flower and Summer Sweet growing close together.  Bright red blossoms close by nearly pure white flowers could present a perfectly beautiful scene.  For some unknown reason the entire center section of the Summer Sweet had no flowers this year.  For some time it looked like there might not be leaves on this section of our original plant.  We still have much to learn.

In our shade garden down by the road, both Summer Sweet and Cardinal Flower were planted together.  As mentioned Summer Sweet grows with single stalks.  The transplants are all alive and in flower but their scraggly appearance will be diminished with another year's growth.  Several Cardinal Flower transplants were set around the outside of the bushes.  If all goes as planned, a stunning photo should be possible next year.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Edge Of The Woods

Our latest attempt to find a natural home for Cardinal Flower is pictured here.  Some weeds were cleared before the transplants were set one year ago.  Bags of fallen leaves taken from the front area of nearby village homes are in use to both smother weeds and rot down forming a more natural woodland soil.  We have come to understand that Cardinal Flower prefers both moist soil and shade.  Garden placement usually results in only one year's growth while we are looking for a place where this plant will return year after year with no more help from us.  Some of these plants wintered over here while many  more were set out this spring to empty the pots.  Except for the new plants, adding leaves was all that we did for these plants this year.

Our gravel bank hill rises to the south behind these flowers. The height of the hill and its trees keeps this area in shade most of early spring days.  Snow lingers longer here than any other location on our land offering protection when it is needed most.  The road to the gravel bank crosses in front of these plants trapping water runoff keeping this ground moist much of the time early in the year.  Moist and well drained ground results from the deep gravel deposit under this ground with water frequently running down hill to this spot.  We did not see any new plants from seed here but some time is needed for the rotting leaves to form more suitable soil.  We remain more than willing to wait since it appears that this location will help Cardinal Flower survive independently here.

Stepping away from our natural ground at the edge of the forest, twelve sizable pots each containing one overwintered plant were placed in a garden bed.  We expected to find up to six daughter plants in each pot come spring.  It would be a simple task to pull these pots next spring if protection from hard frosts became necessary.  Our plans were working well until the deer herd visited.  Two plants had their tops nipped off very early on.  Recently at least one of the deer walked across this area knocking over several soon to flower stems.  This pictured plant is sending up three or four daughter plants inside of the pot rim.  They appeared here much earlier than normal in response to the flattened stem.  That stem is sending up new stalks that look like they will flower.  If soil was placed along side of the now horizontal stem, roots would begin to grow.  We want the daughter plants already in pots for next year and are in no way prepared to deal with the excessive number of plants that with help would appear here.

This picture shows the entire planting.  Some plants remain as they were planted.  Some are sending up new vertical stems in response to earlier trimming by inexperienced fawns.  Others were recently knocked over and we will watch to see just how they will grow.  It will be interesting to see just what grows here next spring.

Friday, August 2, 2019

Fighting Back

Our weeds have really taken over this year.  Early weeks of nearly daily rain allowed them to grow unchecked.  Recent hot days have limited the number of hours that we can safely work outside.  Our gardens have always exceeded our ability to properly care for them but this year has been a real nightmare.

These stones peeking out between rampant flower growth and runaway weeds is our signature wall identifying the location of Stone Wall Gardens.  Close to the road, it usually stands out easily seen by drivers speeding up the road.  Today this mess finally saw some much needed attention.

Several years ago the farmhouse was purchased by a young couple.  Proud of their new home, they worked feverishly to restore the appearance of their grounds.  At that time our efforts were directed toward gardens out of sight up the hill.  Only a couple of passes with our walk behind mower kept the driveway passable while weeds freely grew on the rest of this ground.  The new owner approached me to talk about a screening fence to separate his manicured lawn from my untended mess.  I suggested a garden instead.  This dry stone wall was built to define the beginning of the garden.  Each year we would work to keep the finished sections of the garden presentable while converting new ground from pasture to properly planted ground.  Some weeds are always present but this year they simply took over.

Just over half of the length of the wall was cleared of weeds today before the sun drove us inside.  A new layer of reground bark mulch was spread on the now weed free area.  We intend to finish the section near the wall tomorrow.

Despite the heavy presence of weeds, many flowers can be seen by people speeding by.  Red Bee Balm has colorfully held its ground for weeks.  Three different Daylilies now peek out above the wall.  Gloriosa Daisies make a bold statement closer to the road.  Cardinal Flower adds its bright red flowers next to the planted side of the wall.  A Ruby Spice  Summer Sweet bush is just now coming into bloom.  Somehow we have plants that provide a changing display of colors that tends to hide the presence of weeds.  That image is possible largely because of the speed with which the cars fly by.  Also, the farmhouse is some distance away so all that the neighbors see is patches of color.  Recently a highly respected gardener of many years identified the presence of weeds as a necessary component of gardening.  Most would agree that we have taken that reality to new limits.