Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Warm Rain & Sunshine

Warm rain is a term without specific meaning.  For us this year it refers to rain without snow or sleet mixed in.  This group of transplanted Arbutus has been holding its flower buds tightly closed for weeks.  Daytime temperature in the mid sixties after plentiful rainfall finally persuaded these plants to display their open flowers.  So vigorous was their presentation that their scent could be enjoyed while standing.  Still, the fragrance if nose was brought close to open flowers was worth the effort.

All of our plants came from the same place.  The other three groups, as well as our wild patch, display only white flowers.  The only disadvantage to white flowers is the difficulty our camera has photographing anything white.  These flowers have a rather deep central depression. and the camera frequently cannot find clear focus.  An overcast day limited the amount of light hitting the flowers resulting in this sharp photo.  The eye sees a darker pink that completely colors the blossom but this is an impressive picture.

Arbutus plants exist as either male or female.  A male plant can be identified by the five structures that resemble grains of wheat.  Tucked deep at the base of an open blossom, feeding insects destroy this flower part as pollen is gathered.  The blossom in the lower left of the cluster still holds its manhood.

There is so much that we do not know about our plants and their natural role in providing for the next generation.  Bumble bees are frequently drawn to open blossoms.  This one features a seldom seen orange stripe.  The size of both the bumble bee and the depth that must be crossed to get access to the pollen explains why the grains are destroyed.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Tiny Leaves No Flowers.

This year has been brutal in so many ways.  It is our habit to begin searching for native plant growth long before its likely appearance.  This year has been disappointing in that some species of plants have yet to push above ground a single green leaf.  For reasons that are not clear to us we continue to try and grow Bloodroot.  Its pure white flowers last for only a few days even in a good year.  This year has seen fierce cold winds, little rain and not much in the way of plant growth.  Today another short drive to Irma's woods finally featured Bloodroot.  We have not been able to find it on our earlier trips since it remained underground longer than usual.

What we found today was plants with much smaller leaves than those seen here in the past.  Only tattered remains of flowers were scattered on the forest floor.  This pictured open leaf was the only one seen today.  It is smaller than usual but a seed pod formed.  Many other tiny plants had damaged flower parts with seeds unlikely.

We have come to believe that our dry cold weather is the cause of small or no plant growth this year.  Plan on us returning next year to see just what grows from these stunted plants.

Trilliums are personal favorites.  Those planted in our garden have been slow to appear and few feature a flower bud.  These wild plants display those same problems with leaves that are much smaller than usual and no flower buds.  Their small leaves will feed the underground tuber making possible normal sized plants next year weather permitting.

Even the Trout Lilies are displaying stunted leaves and few flowers this year.  All of these pictures were taken in a largely untouched woodland.  In the recent past we have enjoyed impressively broad displays of native plants here.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Covered Lilies

Following years of self examination and reading, a retirement life centered on growing plants was planned.  The past two decades have been wonderful beyond description.  The blog record of Stone Wall Garden will serve me well when reality pushes me to a retirement community.  Part of each day there will likely be spent reading and remembering the unfolding of these years and the plants that delivered both challenges and pleasures.

One bit of my gardening madness focused on Oriental Lilies.  Several mail order catalogs listed them as hardy to climate zone four.  Year after year bulbs were planted and their new growth frozen dead by frosts.  Sometimes slow to see the obvious, it took far to long for the need of protective covers to register.  Now the late afternoon features placement of plastic buckets and their morning removal if forecasted temperatures permit.

The first picture features the remains of a purchased assortment.  The catalog illustration featured the variety Lovely Girl.  Its combination of white flowers with yellow splashes and sweet scent could not be resisted.  This variety needs much warmer winter temperatures and like many of my purchases did not survive here.

Included in the collection was an unnamed variety whose garish coloration would suggest placement outside of a French House of Pleasure.  The brightly colored flowers were scentless but the plants were hardy.  That single bulb has multiplied wildly giving me four plantings similar to the one shown.  Division is clearly needed but since I find the flowers unattractive it will most likely not happen again this year.

Late Morning is the varietal name of these plants.  They have been under cover for several nights but one night featured temperatures in the mid twenties resulting in frozen but not frosted leaves.  The formation of frost releases heat with the change of state and that does burn on occasion.  These five plants will present a covering problem in the near future.  Plant growth will exceed the height of the covers and that will be a problem if late May frost is likely..

Three Golden Stargazers were placed in front of the house where nights are warmer.  Two quickly died and the remaining plant had a recent great year resulting in three daughter plants.  These flowers are special enough to warrant a huge plastic garbage can to keep the frost off of tall plants.

  Scheherazade is the varietal name of these plants  Here again their bright colors are not found to be appealing.  So far they have refused to die and were covered with two five gallon pails.  The leaf damage shows their sensitivity to cold despite covers.  Placing bottles of warm water under the covers has been considered but there are limits on what will be done.

Simplon Lilies are appealing in several ways.  Their height places pure white flowers at my nose level when I am standing.  Not having to bend over or kneel to sample the scent of flowers has become a real plus.  The flower count is as impressive as the purity of the blossoms.  Then there is the scent.  Sweet beyond description would prohibit their use as indoor decoration but outside distance can help keep the fragrance level pleasant.  These bulbs need to be reset as their chosen placement will make covering with a single garbage can impossible.

When viewing this post, a search rectangle can be seen in the upper left corner.  Enter any flower name there and you will be taken to past posts.

Today's pictures feature mostly bare ground with the promise of future beauty.  This Arbutus planting shows beautiful flowers today.  Just seeing them and taking in their scent removes the troubles of today at least for the moment.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Mayflowers In April

Epigea repens has captured and held our interest for many years.  The oldest book in our collection  describing it as impossible to transplant was published in 1898.  It continues to be seen that way today.  In 2011, four Arbutus plants, each small enough to be held in the palm of my hand, were dug with permission and placed here under a White Pine tree.  A fifth plant soon grew from seed that was likely in the soil mass holding one of the plants moved.  Subsequent growth has stems growing over other stems so no count can be made telling us just how many plants now grow here.

It is not uncommon to find open flowers in April.  We found this flower several days ago when its complete lack of scent told us that the flower had just opened that day.  The green structure in the center of the blossom identifies this as a female plant.  We did not know that Arbutus plants can be either male or female when we dug these.  It was just dumb luck that have at least one of each gender here.  Mature seed is found here each year.

Buoyed by our unexpected success transplanting Arbutus, we tried again three years later.  This time we dug three plants of each gender.  Despite the yearly appearance of seed, we have yet to see a new plant growing from seed.

This rock intended to support the protective wire cage appears in many of my pictures.  The combination of stone, pine needles, Arbutus leaves and flower buds captures the eye every time.

When the transplants were dug in 2014, a cluster of tiny plants could not be left behind.  After two years growth, we found two plants large enough to move.  These were also placed under a White Pine tree that was huge.  This planting site features only generations of rotted pine needles.  Arbutus prefer to grow in very poor highly acidic soil but this natural ground features nothing that resembles garden soil.  These two plants have put out long stems of new growth but nothing like our other plants.  We took the soil as it was found every time since we believe that rich garden soil kills these tough plants.  Once again our luck gave us one plant of each gender.  Here again we see seeds every year but no new plants from seed.  These plants were placed just inside of the property line.  An ancient stone wall backs these plants.  Each year I intend to rebuild  a section of the wall and this may be the year that it happens.

This is our one naturally occurring Arbutus patch.  Despite its decades of existence here it remains small.  Poorly situated in the lumpy overburden that was pushed aside to open a gravel bank, these plants faced another enemy.  One late winter my trips to the mailbox took me past these plants.  One day a few rabbit pellets marked the spot where the rabbit had been feeding on the evergreen leaves of Arbutus.  With each passing day the size of the waste pile grew while the plant parts were totally consumed.  Working with no visible above ground plant growth, it took three years before these plants regenerated the necessary growth required to produce flowers.  Now all of my plantings are protected by a low dry stone wall that extends beyond the edges of a wire cage.  No woodchuck snout is going to be able to push these cages aside.  Opposable  thumbs are needed to lift the cages free allowing the nose to be pressed near the ground while drinking in this unique and wonderful scent.  Every year as these flowers fade I promise myself that I will revisit Arbutus again the following year.  Once again I have kept that promise.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Cardinal Flower Adventures

"What the heck is pictured here?" would be an excellent question.  When this year's snow melted, we fashioned a cover to protect one dozen Cardinal Flower plants that had been in pots for nearly one year.  One of our larger wire cages was fitted with a heavy fabric cover.  Last night's strong wind caused the cage to fly or tumble for a considerable distance.  A crushing blow distorted the cage and tore the fabric.

This morning our herd of seven deer, that feel our land belongs to them, were troubled by the new location or shape of this object.  Several tentative approaches were closely followed by rapid retreats when the wind snapped the cover.  Since they are not impressed by us ,we took some delight in watching the deer approach and then shy away from the new threat.  A fair amount of time passed before the herd returned to grazing some distance away from the cage.  When the rain stops I will straighten the cage and return it to its assigned location.

These were the protected plants.  Each was given a one gallon pot last Spring.  They did flower and as expected new plants grew around the base of the dying stem.  Last Summer the deer herd walked among these plants several times.  Some stems were bent to the ground while others were broken.  No explanation can be found for the wide variation in present condition.  Some pots are filled with mostly green growth while others appear to hold mostly death.  Despite our many years of close attention to this native treasure, we still have huge gaps in our understanding of this plant.

Each Cardinal Flower plant produces several thousand seeds each year.  These seeds have picky requirements before they will sprout.  Their soil needs to be both warm and moist before any signs of growth appear.  When they finally make their June appearance other plants surround this new growth and many are inadvertently pulled as weeds.  This cluster of plants started out as a single plant from self planted seed.  Each plant generates up to six new plants around the dead stem as snowfall approaches.

This yearly cycle of death and new growth has continued here for several years with no interference from us.  Last year twelve flower bearing stalks marked this location of at least twelve distinct plants.  This mass of growth may consist of seventy-two or more individual plants now.  Seriously overcrowded last year, all flowering stalks were shorter than normal and few flowers appeared.  In nature this plant has survived for thousands of years with no help from man.  We continue to watch this group just to see if this plant survives overcrowding.  Tightly packed together, they have survived many frosts this year in much better condition than my pampered potted babies.

This is the method that we have used for years to guarantee the survival of Cardinal Flower somewhere in our gardens.  Just as soon as the frost releases the ground we pot up individual plants.  Their root system is extensive consisting of tightly intertwined long white roots.  Great but gentle pressure is required to pull the plants apart.  Crushed crowns result in dead plants.  Sharp eyes will find that some of these pots contain more than one plant but none show any dead plants.  The basal rosette of new growth has given way to the stems that will later bear bright red flowers.

Several of the coming nights may bring frost.  Our custom is to move this tray into the basement but we may leave one plant outside to see if these leaves are now frost tolerant.  Since this plant thrives in the nearby Adirondack Mountains that feature much colder nights than here, we try to discover just why ours fail.

Friday, April 10, 2020

Winter's Return

A dusting of light snow covered the ground early this morning.  Once again NOAA's forecast was accurate.  Sharply bitter winds coming at us from the Northwest meant that no outdoor work would happen here today.  This quick look at emerging plants was all that we did.

The slightly out of focus green blob is a newly emerging Trillium.   I had to perch on a curved rock to get this photo and my balance is far from what it was in the past causing the camera to shake.  So far four have pushed above the soil.  Trilliums take me back to my childhood home located in Newfield.  A section of woods contained a large patch of these flowers.  My habit was to snap off an armload for my Mother.  Unaware that I was killing plants by also removing their leaves, I now plant more here every year.  One simply must have a huge swath of these pure white flowers.

This may not look like much but three tips from a Yellow Lady's Slipper have made an appearance.  More will follow.  It is planted just across the path from the bench.  We will make many trips to sit and enjoy these unusual flowers.  The tiny red spheres are sumac seeds.  It seems that every seed germinates requiring a great deal of time to pull the newly emerging trees.  For now we leave this ground alone to prevent damage to the soon to appear Lady's Slippers.

Squirrel corn's pale yellow flowers are easy to miss.  This early native has a growth habit that seems to doom it to failure.  At the end of its growing season, a mass corms each of which resembles field corn kernels mark the location of the crown of the plant.  They appear to be an open invitation to small animals to dine there.  Somehow enough remain to present new growth the following year.  Having seen the remains of this plant, no imagination is required to see the origin of its name.

Last Fall Wild Ginger was transplanted near the Maidenhair Ferns. This Ginger is the first plant to appear here.  There is still no sign of growth from the ferns.   We have read that this combination of different plants will create a stunning picture.  A future picture is sure to follow.

Robin's Plantain was discovered growing in one of our meadows.  Also called Blue Spring Daisy, it has an  lavender and yellow composite flower similar to an aster. It has since disappeared from that spot but transplants continue to thrive in our gardens.  This one was moved adjacent to the developing shade garden where its location will receive generous amounts of morning sunshine.  It appears ready to grow.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

California Trout Lily

Here again we stretch the meaning of native plant.  There is a New York native Trout Lily with leaves very similar to these but yellow flowers.  These pictured here also carry the name Trout Lily but the flowers are wildly different.  There is nothing shy or coy about these California natives.  The petals are thrust way back clearly placing the reproductive parts in the foreground.  Making seeds to insure the next generation is the functional reason these flowers exist.

They reproduce so quickly that transplants were pulled from this ground just recently.  Those moved plants also have open flowers today.  Despite a poorly timed move, we still see five of five plants strongly growing in their new home.

Our early weeding has unearthed these bulbs frequently.  We were unsure of just what plant would grow from them.  It turns out that the locally native Trout Lily freely reproduces from seeds simply dropped on the surface of the ground by last season's flowers.  This bulb's work has barely begun since a flower producing bulb must be several inches below the surface.

Thickly self planted, these Trout lilies are crowded together like weeds.  Flowers will likely be sparse here this year since these young plants have yet to produce deep set bulbs.  Shallowly placed plants with but a single leaf do not flower.  Deeper set bulbs send up two leaves one of which is tightly wrapped around the bud.  We will look daily searching for yellow buds.

Plants continue to teach us.  Round lobed hepatica commonly presents violet colored blossoms.  This transplant has finally settled in and this year gave us a nice set of white colored blossoms.  Its nearby neighbor sent up the more common violet colored flowers.

Becky just returned from her lawn tractor ride down to the developing shade garden.  She reported seeing three Trilliums pushing above the ground.  One was reported to have a stem thicker than her index finger.  With rain in the forecast for the next several days, we should soon see above ground appearances by several more of our native treasures.  It is truly helpful to have something quietly alive promising great beauty for us to focus on.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

April Flowers

These flowers look like Chrysanthemums wildly out of season.  Their name, Grecian Wind Flower, identifies them as anything but a native flower.  These plants like it hot and dry so we placed them in front of the south facing house wall.  Their source was a mail order operation and the tiny scrap of a plant delivered here appears to find its new home satisfactory to its needs.  We hope that it continues to expand creating a beautiful ground cover.

This import from Turkey is named Glory of the Snow.  Actually we purchased both the regular form and giants.  Since this plant is self planted it may well be a cross of the two varieties.  Its blossom color is far more intense that our picture shows.  Our point and shoot camera does not handle bright colors well.  Still, any plant near our stone walls creates an impressive appearance.

There is a native Wood anemone but this may not be it.  Ours have rounded petal tips while the native version's petals end in a sharp point.  We have had this plant for so long that we cannot recall its original source.  Not snobbish by nature, we have included this plant in our developing shade garden.  Many of the favored plants placed there completely disappear by summer.  We intend to allow this plant to take and hold large sections of our garden where Trilliums and similar plants can have their day above the low green leaves of Wood anemone.

We first encountered Siberian squill when driving to our then newly purchased retirement land.  An area near a small barn that no longer housed cows was covered with these flowers.  Buy them we did and they were placed in a garden that we have since lost to the grasses.  Many of these plants escaped into the lawn where we can still admire them.  Their new location only requires that we watch where we are walking.

These white flower buds were formed as darkly colored tiny tight buds last Fall.  One of this plant's names is Mayflower since it is reported to be the first plant to flower where the Pilgrim's ship made landfall.  Arbutus is another name for this plant.  Reported to be impossible to transplant, these plants exist in contradiction to that still widely held belief.  As an evergreen, many animals eat it as disappearing snow reveals its tasty leaves.  All of my plantings are under wire cages and that is why they have survived.  It is possible that these deliciously scented flowers will open in late April.  Then the wire cages will be moved aside so that we can drink in the sweet scent of these ground hugging flowers.  Some insect has been eating these leaves or perhaps chipmunks eat an occasional salad.  These are native wild plants and there is a limit to how far we can go to protect them.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Our Shade Garden

Unlike yesterday's pictured plants that were all photographed as they are growing in the wild, today's plants were all transplanted in our shade garden.  Sharp lobed hepatica has a rather unruly nature,  Petal colors range from white to purple with a wide variation in color intensity.  The number of petals on an individual flower can vary from five to thirteen.  This plant prefers limestone soil so I must remember to mix limestone pellets in the ground leaves that will soon be placed here.

Early Meadow Rue was newly purchased last year.  This plant exists as either male or female and perhaps this is the female form.  Its nearby companion is just now breaking the surface.  That difference may be gender related or simply depth when planted here.

We are rather loose in our definition of native plants.  This California Trout Lily bears leaves that strongly resemble our New York native Trout Lily but its flower colors range from pink to purple.  These plants are rugged beyond belief and deserve regular dividing.

Six days ago many of these plants were freshly transplanted here.  An amazing amount of new growth seems to indicate that they approve of their new location.  We mix our woodland soil in a wheelbarrow and this was laced here last Fall and given a generous cover of ground fallen tree leaves scavenged from nearby village streets.  That time and effort seems to be paying generous dividends.

This plant was a gift from a village resident.  It is called Trout Plant because of its speckled leaves.  It is not native to our continent but it has several characteristics that earned it a place in our shade garden.  It is both rugged and civilized.  A tenacious survivor, its spread is rather well behaved.  Encroaching new growth is simply broken off and discarded with no apparent damage to the old plant.  The two color blossoms are unique and attractive.  Newly opened flowers are pink. They change to blue rather quickly. 

We have been looking for Bloodroot plants.  Last year our new transplants experienced a great growing year and we were expecting them to return.  Cavorting deer trampled both the Bloodroot plants and the nearby Jack-In-The-Pulpits last Fall.  Bloodroot is usually an early appearing plant but so far no trace of them has been seen here.  We were unable to find any growing in Irma's woods yesterday so perhaps a little patience is needed.  I guess I am acting like a little kid on Christmas morning.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

April First Native Flowers

For some time we have been considering which native flower opens first.  It does not require a close look to spot these brazen yellow blossoms commonly seen in roadside ditches.  Note the complete lack of leaves which will appear later.  Coltsfoot cannot be in the running for first native flower since it is an European immigrant.

Eagerness to spot early flowers must be tempered with some reason.  Here the leaves are clearly Partridge berry but the flowers are Hepatica.  This presentation brings to mind a favorite story told by our elderly neighbor,  He saw an Arbutus plant apparently bearing purple flowers.  No one will suggest that what he actually saw was Hepatica growing close to Arbutus.  I intend to plant Hepatica close by one of my Arbutus plants in his honor.

Sharp lobed Hepatica presents blossoms of various colors and different petal counts.  This example bears eleven petals each colored a beautiful light violet.  It took me years to appreciate these first native flowers since early garden work kept me from wandering in the woods.

This nearby plant bears only six petals colored a near white blue.  In these woods Sharp lobed Hepatica is the first native plant to present flowers.

This Spring Beauty came in a close second.  Its bud will soon open revealing another early treasure.  Its growth habit makes transplantation nearly impossible.  From a pea sized corm a slender underground shoot travels a considerable distance before sending up its above ground leaves and flowers.  Removing a plant intact is highly unlikely.  As the plant is ending its growth cycle, following the then nearly dead underground shoot back to the corm is no simple task.  These plants grow wild in our back woods but are absent from our wildflower gardens.

Six lightly colored petals presented themselves above the jumble that is characteristic of natural forest floor.  We were unable to find any sign of Bloodroot plants today.  They will appear soon in this location but lost the race for first flower.

Mention must be made of the justification for leaving  the house during these trying times.  Just across the valley from our home is a bedrock ridge that slopes to the south.  Flowers appear first here in response to earlier warming.  Our walk took us along the dirt road that crosses this ridge.  We encountered no road traffic and saw no bikers or hikers while there.  Our outside time here endangered no one.  The land where all of these pictures were taken still carries tattered or fallen  posted signs bearing the name Haller.  A long ago phone call identified the land owner as Irma Haller.  We both taught at the Sidney Junior High School for its last decade of service.  My call was placed in an attempt to gain permission to explore these woods.  What I got was a sincere thank you for respecting her posted signs.  Becky and I frequently walk on this road while looking for flowers.  While there memories of Mrs. Haller always cross my mind.  In keeping with her high standards of expected behavior, we still respect the signs even though Mrs. Haller passed several years ago.