Saturday, March 28, 2020

Driven Inside Early

We were outside early intending to complete some garden cleanup ahead of the promised rain.  Unaware that the temperature was a mere 36 degrees, cold hands soon ended that activity.  Riding about in the warmth of the truck took us up the lane and onto the back meadow.  Stopping near the Arbutus patch, we quickly spotted a ruffled grouse.  Usually they are seen scurrying away from us.  This one instantly spotted us but decided to wait while we passed.  This is the first picture that we have ever taken of this elusive bird.  As is usually the case, flight soon followed.

Passing close to the garlic planting revealed that nearly every planted clove was sending up new growth.  Our battle with root rot seems to have been finally won.  We continue to peel every clove before planting in order to remove the occasional infected clove.  A vodka soak follows.  This is time consuming but we simply must not reinfect our ground.

Becky discovered this unknown to her plant growing on the root mass of an upended tree.  We have spent 25 years walking on this land and I was certain that she had identified every plant growing here with the exception of the ferns and mosses.  She is presently searching her books but some time for the plant to present its summer growth may be needed before this plant is identified.

This body of water was impounded before this land became ours.  A group of horses spent their summers here and this was their water supply.  Glacial till was dropped here and the bedrock ridge hidden behind the trees disappeared into it.  Several springs drain onto the flat surface leaving the uneven ground wet in places.  All of this water seeps into the gravel soil left behind by the glacier before lower ground seen in the distance can be reached.  Later in the year wet feet sometimes result when I try to move into the forested ridge from the meadow.

All of these downed trees fell on our watch.  When we first came to this land it was possible to step from the dam across water to the ridge soil at he base of a now fallen tree.  Walking among these trees while so close to the impounded water was a thrilling experience for us.  That wonder has been replaced by a jumble of uprooted trees.  The thinness of their root masses show that these trees were growing close to the ridge bedrock.  Solid footing was simply not available here.

Searching For Signs Of Spring

Yesterday morning Ed and I worked together at cleaning up the  bed down by the road.  We made a very small dent in what needs to be done. We were hoping to work until the mail was delivered but in a relatively short period of time our hands were throbbing.  Ed loaded the tools and our garden carts into the back of the truck and  we headed back up the hill to the warm house.  We decided then that we would take a trip over to Irma's woods to see if we could find some signs of Spring.

 Ed wanted to go right after lunch.  One of the really wonderful things about Irma's woods is that it is on a slope  with sunlight filtering through the trees.  You can see a lot of wildflowers without leaving the comfort of your vehicle,  Usually when we go to Irma's woods we take the truck and drive by while I try to  watch for  spots of color or groups of plants I can identify.  He was waiting for me in the car when I got outside.  This time to my delight, Ed parked the car and shut it off.  We both got out to walk  along the road.  First this moss and lichen caught my eye.  After we had walked away from the car I heard something.   I asked Ed if he heard anything and he said no.  Once we spoke the sound stopped.  We walked on searching for signs of Hepatica plants.

Hepatica is one our favorite early wildflowers.  The hairy flower buds are nowhere to be seen yet, but if one looks, last years reddish leaves can be seen.

Sharp lobed Hepatica, Hepatica acutiloba, is a wildflower that is abundant in Irma's woods. Here with the moss background the leaves are unmistakable!

This single Hepatica leaf is surrounded by Ramps also known as wild leeks.  They have just starting to push their way up through the forest floor of dried leaves.  It is March after all and most wildflowers are still hidden under the leaves.

Happy we walked back down the road to the car.  As we got closer, I heard the sounds again.  This time Ed could hear it too.  It was a quacking noise.  Ed was looking for ducks.  I was looking for frogs!  Following the sound Ed went far enough up the bank that he was able to see many small Duck frogs diving under the surface in a small vernal pool of water. They were so fast there was no time to get a picture.   It is not every day that someone who is 75 discovers something new he has never seen before.  Today it is raining but we took another quick trip over to Irma's woods to get a picture of the pool of water.  I think a little rain is exactly what is needed here!

Friday, March 27, 2020

First Transplants

Our recent weather has kept us inside but the forecast of an afternoon high of 55 degrees drew us outside.  We found the ground free of frost but tight fitting gardening gloves resulted in cold hands despite the early temperature of 44 degrees.  Moving plants was our plan and moving plants was what we did.  This picture shows all of the new plants in the ground and watered.

Shooting star was the plant we intended to move but a Columbine was growing right next to it.  Not certain that March is the best time to move plants, we decided to avoid possible injury by removing the interloper.  It is possible that different plants growing close together might create a more natural appearance.  Columbine has a long tap root while the Shooting star grows from a dense near the surface root mass.  We will watch to see how our actions today work out. 

A huge pile of plastic bags filled with leaves are close by the planting area.  They certainly do not present a natural look but their contents are a vital part of our attempts to create natural woodland soil.  The property owner that bagged these leaves two or three years ago used his lawn mower to gather up the leaves.  Usually we chop them again with out push mower but it is a little early to drag out the mower so these were spread as they were.  Sharp eyes will find several spots of green showing just where the new transplants were placed.

This shows the final state of this wild ground today.  The clumps of moss were moved here last year.  The two groups of Snow drops were transplanted just recently but not today.  The Shooting stars and Columbines are between the Sumac trunks and the Snow drops.  The chopped leaves will both protect the new transplants and create a woodland floor appearance.  As they rot down, more natural soil will be formed.

That white rock marking the end of Moss Island deserves mention.  It is likely limestone and that means it is not native here.  Our bedrock is shale but the glaciers moved great quantities of broken stone here.  Limestone bedrock occurs to our north so this chunk might be native to Syracuse.  It was found on our land likely close to the spot where the retreating ice dropped it.

Friday, March 20, 2020


The appearance of a wild bee on a crocus flower speaks more about the arrival of Spring than any number on a calendar.  The protective cage is required to block our herd of deer from eating these beautiful blossoms.  Recently thirteen deer were seen taking their evening meal near these plants.

Purple Bee Balm was planted behind the bench  in our new shade garden last year.  That location gets generous amounts of sunshine each morning.  We selected that spot near the bench since Bee Balm flowers attract Hummingbird Moths.  Human presence does not bother these hovering insects so when the flowers appear we will be able to sit on our bench while surrounded by feeding moths.

This plant native to a far away continent was also intentionally planted here last year.  Using a more natural approach we simply scattered mature seed heads on the surface of the ground.  That method was clearly successful but flowers may be one year away.  Native plants hold most of the ground here but these very early bright yellow flowers simply could not be denied.

Early Meadow Rue occurs naturally across the valley.  Plants come in either male or female form.  Becky knows the difference and that impressed the operator of a nearby native plant business.  We purchased both genders but have yet to see the second plant.  Our experience with these plants is limited to May visits so we have no way of knowing if the cluster of new growth will open as flowers or leaves.  Leaves might be what appears here next.

Jacob's Ladder is an impressive plant.  This one may be large enough to divide now but we will most likely buy another plant or two.  Strong winds filled with large raindrops sent us up the hill before all of the desired pictures were taken.  Rain now will only improve the size of the new growth.  We will return when pictures are possible without getting the camera wet.  It just feels like our gardening habits will take us outside.  Becky pointed out small Catnip plants that are sized for successful transplantation.  That may well be the first work done outside tomorrow weather permitting.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Garden Advice

Lots of gardeners talk to their plants.  I feel comfortable to be in that group.  My plants do not talk back to me, but looking at these photos of my Dutch Iris I am getting a message.  Plants have to bloom where they are planted.

Sometimes it is too cold, Sometimes it is too hot. Sometimes it is too wet. Sometimes it is too dry. Sometimes deer come along and nip them in the bud. Sometimes ...

All I can do as a gardener is try to help.  I placed a cage over them to keep the deer from coming back for seconds. It worked!

Today my Dutch Iris are safe inside their cage, soaking up the sunshine and blooming while they can.
Their blossoms are not perfect but that has not stopped them.  You can learn so much from your garden if you don't ignore it!  I could use some fresh air and sunshine too.  Things are far from perfect, but I'm not going to let that stop me either.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Cardinal Flower Rescue

Cardinal Flower has been with us for nearly one quarter of a century.  The words of John Burroughs introduced us to this native puzzle.  These brilliant red flowers were hard to find in the Catskills where he lived.  This is hard to understand as the plant has two different methods of creating the next generation.  Following blossoms, the entire plant dies.  Around the base of the dead stem up to six daughter plant begin to grow before the onset of winter.  Spring snow melt reveals low rosettes of bright green plants.  In this part of New York State, days of incredibly warm temperatures are frequently followed by hard freezes.  Moisture filled plant cells sometimes burst killing the new growth.

The second method of reproduction involves seeds.  When cutting away the dead stems recently, we discovered many fully packed seed clusters.  These seeds need warmth and moisture to germinate.  This usually occurs in late June.  In our gardens the greatest risk to these seedlings is inadvertent removal by the mad weeder.  If allowed to grow, these seedlings will enter winter with a low rosette of leaves very similar to new growth around the base of the flowering stem.

To our north in the Adirondack Mountains, Cardinal Flower grows in impressive stands alongside of the small rivers that connect lakes.  Temperatures there are much colder that here so it seems that death by cold is not the problem.  Our unusually warm days are the result of Alabama air that works its way here but passes east of the Adirondacks.  To enjoy this plant it seems that we have two choices.  We could move or we could work to rescue plants.  A goal of our work with native plants is to restore naturally occurring stands.  In this case that seems unlikely but we do enjoy seeing it in our gardens.

This is the same clump of plants pictured above.  Everything seen here is new growth that began last fall.  Last year's rotted stems are hidden among these new plants but the roots are all new.  Considerable patience is needed to wiggle free individual plants.  Working among the roots avoids crushing the crowns of these densely packed plants.  When set free, the size of the root mass is impressively large.  On occasion a transplant will die as a result of crushing damage to the crown.

The clump of plants in the first photo have enjoyed growth in that spot for several years as is shown by the number of plants.  With frost just recently having left the ground, we were able to dig up the entire clump without finding ice.  Working carefully but with some forceful twisting and pulling, fifteen pots became the new homes for these plants.  They will remain outside until hard freezes threaten.  Then the entire tray will by carried inside.  We will continue this dance until late May when hard freezes are not likely.  Then these treasures will be given new homes around the gardens.

Last summer one dozen plants were placed in one gallon pots.  Actually it was 12 clumps of plants since it is the natural habit of Cardinal Flower to grow in dense groups.  These plants had an interesting summer.  Many deer call our garden home.  They showed no interest in eating these plants but bent or broke several stems as they walked by.  We were able to experience the flowering habit on shortened stems.  Masses of red blossoms looked great but the plants looked more like carefully pruned plants that one might find is the garden of a wealthy landowner with staff than a wild native plant.  We will likely go with the wild look again this year.

Carrying twelve one gallon pots into the basement to avoid frost sounds like a task more suited to a younger gardener.  Becky put together this heavy cover to see if it will protect against cold.  It would come as no surprise if one or two of the pots found themselves inside on really cold nights.  NOAA predicts overnight lows in the teens this weekend so we will soon know just what happens here.

Click on the first sentence of this post to see Cardinal Flower in bloom.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Snowdrops And A Bluebird

Ed and I went in search of a nice clump of Snowdrops to dig up for a friend.  No gardener who lives in New York State where we do should be without these cheery little flowers that bloom  even when the ground is still partly frozen.

Actually we both knew where to look for our quarry, but the trip was filled with obstacles.  We slogged through some snow, climbed over a number of fallen branches and tried to avoid stepping in innumerable patches of deer scat.  We found exactly what we wanted although Ed found that the ground was still frozen under the leaves.  Three clumps were lifted. Countless Snowdrops remain in that location.  One clump will be left on my friend's doorstep.  The others will be planted in  Moss Island where they can be more easily seen.

The biggest excitement of the day was when both Ed and I spotted a bluebird perched on the top branch of the Smokebush.  This time it was not wishful thinking.  The first verified bluebird siting of 2020 goes down on March 10th.  The flash of blue seen when the bird flew up to the roof of the house was unmistakable. This view of the garden shows the Smokebush but no Bluebird and no Snowdrops.  It also makes it clear why I get so excited by the return of my treasured flowers and birds.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Desperate For Plant Growth

At this time of year snow remains in the shadow of the kame terrace.  Open to full sun, these Snow Drops are the first plants to open flowers here.  These have remained tightly closed buds for days but today's warmth tickled them into opening.  We tend to prefer native plants but these early pure white flowers hold ground in several locations here.

Yellow Aconite is another nonnative that is here because its flowers appear early.  This display appears pitifully small but we know that many more blossoms will quickly follow these.

A recent heavy snowfall that included an ice layer brought down several mature Sumac trees.  Fortunately these old guys were growing on unused ground so they represent nothing more than a mess that needs to be cleaned up.  Working slowly and carefully, an embarrassing large number of days were used to tidy up.  These moss growths on a fallen trunk are attractive.  We will find a way to move then to the shade garden down near the road.  A wood chisel and hammer might result in movable chunks.  We do not know the name of this unique moss since moss names tend to involve a huge number of letters.  If we knew Latin the proper name might translate into Moss Balls.

Another fallen tree trunk is home to this interesting growth.  Here again the name is unknown to us but we do know that this growth wildly responds to moisture.  Even a very cold rain will push this plant to enlarge and open its then reddish pink reproductive organs.  That display is usually brief unless it rains for several days.  In any event that display always impresses.

We are working outside for rather short periods of time.  Cold air and ground quickly turns old hands white but we return after a cup of something hot to drink.