Thursday, August 27, 2020


We opened our Wilderness garden one decade ago so that garlic could be planted in soil free of pathogens from the deadly disease that nearly destroyed our entire crop.  Written references  to that situation indicated that our garden near home would always carry the seeds of that illness.  New garlic was purchased and we have been able to grow healthy garlic here ever since.

Eight planting beds were planned but two of them remain undeveloped.  It seems that more than can be completed is always part of the plan.  The soil near the house contains many broken stones that can be used to build decent safe paths but here the soil was more finely ground by the glaciers with the desired small flat stones mostly missing.  With planting beds needing attention this central path was more of a stone dump than a safe place to walk.

Earlier this year Becky attempted to enter the garden crossing the weed filled jumble of stones that filled this area them.  A stone of some size caught the end of her foot throwing her toward the ground.  A steel pipe had been driven into the ground to mark the edge of the planting bed.  Becky fell  heading directly toward that pipe.  Some combination of luck and skill resulted in the pipe end barely grazing the side of her head.  No blood was drawn and we will not mention the contents of my pants as I stood behind her helplessly.  The pipe was pulled that day and this proper end of the path was built yesterday.  A load of junk stone has been removed but small flat stones are still needed to finish this job.  For now the end stones have been solidly placed with absolutely no wiggle.  Small flat stones will be placed on top of the path as they become available.  No steel rods now reach for the sky and they will always be removed before I leave the job.  The white plastic pipe near the fence serves as the hinge for the gate.  It is totally encased by the bent fence and is a hazard to no one.

Here we see the boundary between a bed that has been fallow but weed filled.  Believe it or not these weeds are rather small since this bed has been already cleared this year.  The adjacent bed has been repeatedly covered with grass clippings and the weeds are removable using only hand tools.  As of today the planting bed is totally free of weeds from end to end.  Screened manure would have been spread here today had the early morning lightening and rain not altered our plans.  This ground will be frequently enriched and hand tilled between now and mid-October when the garlic is returned to the ground.

Here are our tools of choice.  All of the weeds on the pile in the background were carried there using the purple trug.  The American made Cobra Head hand cultivator follows the spade that only loosens the weeds.  Gloves protect Becky's hands with an ample supply of water close by.

This wild location at the base of a wooded slope is developing as planned.  In response to reading two sentences written by John Burroughs describing his search for the seldom seen in this area Cardinal Flower, I have spent many years trying to find a location that will support this plant without further help from me.  The raised road to the gravel bank traps the water that moves down the hill in the background.  Cardinal Flower needs generous amounts of water in order to survive.  This hill slopes toward he north delaying the early plant growth that so often freezes out both here and in Burrough's Catskills.  Lingering snow cover protects the tender green growth that has been under the snow for the entire winter.  Our garden plants have been severely hammered by this year's drought.  Short stems bearing few flowers are all that we find in our there.  Many early spring visits will be made here to check the progress of these plants next year.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Meadow Sweet

Once again the level ground adjacent to the remains of the bedrock ridge holds a plant with beautiful flowers not seen anywhere else here.  They lured me in across terribly uneven ground hidden by chest high Goldenrod.  Each placement of a foot required testing for solid ground before any weight could be transferred.  Slow progress was made to the location of the flowering plant.  Pictures were my focus since the identification of the plant was unknown to me.

Once safely home identification was made.  Meadow Sweet is the name of this long naturalized native from Eurasia.  Just how a single plant found our land remains a mystery.  Now that the name of this plant is known, a return trip will of necessity be made to sample the aroma of the flowers.  There is no justification for failing to take a sniff on the first trip. The fragrance just might be grand.

We remain unsure of what about this ground near the house draws these turkeys here several times each day.  Three hens and their broods feed here during their leisurely stroll across this tended meadow.  As is the natural course for ground birds, their numbers have been in steady decline.  Thirteen chicks of various sizes remain on this visit.  These three hens hatched their eggs at different times as can be seen by the differing size if the offspring.

As also can be seen, our trees are filled with tent caterpillars in unusually high numbers this year.  Their large number is perhaps a result of the recent generous rainfalls.  Tree leaves are being consumed at a great rate but this is just one of many things that I can do nothing about.

Mother turkeys maintain keen vigilance of their surroundings resulting in pictures taken from a distance.  They knew that I was close by but have found us to be of no danger to her chicks.  I find it interesting that all are feeding in the taller grass yet to be cut.  We hope that the too cute reference linking birds to the title yet unmentioned has not gone unnoticed.

Saturday, August 8, 2020

Long Time Coming

Daughter Amy and I discovered both of these native plants while hiking in the Shawangunk Mountains.  The red flowered Cardinal Flower was growing in full sun next to a year round stream.  Summer Sweet was found in full shade under widely spaced Oak trees.  Both plants present unique issues concerning their willingness or ability to grow in the same spot year after year.  Both of these plants were transplanted here this year.  Our hope is that they will grow on this spot without much interference from us.  We plan to enlarge the area free of Goldenrod when outside temperature moderates allowing us to remain outside for more than a few minutes.  If it is not kept at bay neither plant will survive.

This photo does not do justice to either plant.  Cardinal Flower is well known for its presentation of incredibly bright deep red flowers.  This afternoon full sun caused problems for our old point and shoot camera..  We will try again when the sun is lower in the sky.  We know that, but we were here at the wrong time today and thrilled to see new flowers..

Amy and I walked into a deliciously sweet invisible cloud of plant fragrance on our long ago hike.  Woodland flowers are scarce in August and we reluctantly left the trail to find this plant.  All that we took away from our encounter was mental images of dark glossy green leaves and pure white flowers.  Once home identification of the plant was quickly found.  Now it grows in several locations here since we view it as a native treasure.

As we developed an understanding of the needs of each of these plants, I wanted them growing in close proximity to each other.  Brilliant clear red blossoms near pure white flowers would be an image of lasting beauty.  Hopefully both plants will return next year.  Their low area between the lane and the wooded hillside traps water runoff.  This generous supply of moisture should help the Summer Sweet survive half day exposure to sunlight.  The Cardinal Flower will also benefit from a moist location.  Early spring cold presents survival problems for Cardinal Flower but if we can remove the Goldenrod its survival is possible here.

Growing squash and pumpkins next to a wire fence is not a smart placement.  Frequent visits are made to keep the vines headed toward open ground.  The vines passed under the sunflowers with no apparent problem.  Both plants look fine.

Since we drove to the back, I did not bother with my usual sun protection clothing or even a hat.  It would be helpful if more of the vines had headed toward this open ground.  I explain this to them on every trip back to keep the vines out of the fence but like some unruly eighth graders from my past it may take time for the advise to register.  Expecting to be ignored, I plan more trips to pull the plants out of the fence.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

After The Rain

Many of our plants have struggled to stay alive during this hot drought.  Despite the distance from running water, we have hauled water down the hill to the shade garden.  Our efforts preserved life but nothing brings plants alive like an all day gentle rainfall.  These   Rattlesnake Plantains have increased in number from last year's single purchased plant but have remained tiny.  Their response to the natural moisture was an obvious increase in the size of the leaves.  No flowers were seen last year.  Perhaps this year will be different.  This orchid does not naturally occur south of Canada in the eastern part of North America.  Its unique leaves are a visual treat and are reason enough to keep give this plant a growing area.

Fragrant Lady's-tresses grow naturally two climate zones warmer than here.  Out of place, it remained hidden in the soil for our harsh early frosts and freezes.  We were both surprised and pleased when three stalks finally appeared.  Last year the flowering spires wrapped themselves around each other creating a visual treat.  The USPS Wild Orchid stamps feature this plant.  None of the selected plants were identified by name but this one appears in the top row adjacent to the header.

Jacob's Ladder is commonly seen in established older gardens.  The lack of moisture had this specimen looking dreadful.  It is amazing how quickly recovery followed a generous rainfall.

These Cardinal Flower plants were bent over and withered prior to our water rescue.  Their short term recovery was made more permanent by the daylong rain.  The general lack of adequate moisture has limited growth to about one half of a normal year's presentation but the red blossoms are as vivid as ever..

Maidenhair Spleenwort is in its first year here.  As a new transplant, these have received more regular visits from the watering can.  Their natural growth habit places them in cracks and crevices of stone outcroppings.  We built a version of a stone ledge that seems to suit the plants just fine.  They are without question a tiny treasure.

This purchased fern was not an informed choice.  Its small size and rugged looking leaves made it a natural in front of our transplanted stump.  Yes, we do plant both stones and stumps.  How could a native woodland garden be complete without them?

Monday, August 3, 2020

Bloom When You Can

It's hot and it's dry.  Long established plants droop in the bright sunshine.  Some are turning brown or have disappeared altogether.  However, if you look you can see beautiful flowers in the garden. My Echinacea coneflowers look great and still attract butterflies.

Minus a few barely noticeable insect holes these Gloriosa Daisy flowers look perfect in the sunshine!

Ed and I planted these Bee Balm plants directly behind the woodland garden bench specifically so we could sit there quietly and observe Clearwing moths.  Where Ed is in the background, the Clearwing Hummingbird Moth, Hemaris thysbe is in the foreground

Now this is exactly what we were hoping to see.  Look how you can see the pink flower through the wings of the moth.  We have red Bee Balm too, but the hummingbirds do not allow the moths to share the red.  Yes, the garden is dry and the weeds are flourishing but there is still so much wonder to behold if you look for it!  

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Rescued Ground

This garden is located near the woods that mark the limit of the glacial deposits that partially fill the river valley . A bedrock ridge supports the existence of trees located on the other side of this depression.  We have four distinct meadows in this area that exist on four different levels.  This ground is the most fertile that we have.  Rather than the usual mix of stones and gravel, this ground consists of clay fines.  The clay presents its own problems while its chief benefit is moisture retention.  We have worked a great deal of compost into this ground resulting in soil that remains porous with enough moisture to support plant growth.

The brown mound in the background was built from weeds removed from this garden.  It is the source of much of the compost that was mixed into this ground.  Only half of this garden is free of weeds.  Once again we tried to do more than we can handle.  Still, time spent here is special.  The roads are far away from here with the only mechanical noise from occasional airplanes breaking the silence.  The sound of the nearby tapping of a Pileated woodpecker cannot be considered as intrusive noise.  It is a natural sound that only adds to the atmosphere of being close to nature.

Our garlic was harvested from part of the area in the foreground.  With the garlic gone, weeds were removed and chopped leaves now cover the bare ground.  We are helping the squash and pumpkins find clear areas in which to grow by carefully moving the vine ends.  Nearby weeds are being removed much slower than the growth rate of these vines and we want to keep the squash away from the weeds and wire fencing.

Presently, we are considering some of this ground as a place where Daylily divisions could be planted.  These huge neglected plants are in desperate need of division and having clear ground ready ahead of time might make that task actually happen.  Garlic will be planted behind the present location of the sunflowers.  These sunflowers are self planted weeds.  Not all weeds are undesirable and more sunflowers will grow someplace here next year.

Our choice for pumpkins is always a variety named Sugar Pie.  Its small size and marvelous sweet taste with smooth texture make great pies.  In a move toward more healthy eating, Becky makes a no crust custard desert.  Portion control forced by the custard cups is another healthy plus.  We have only two pumpkin plants and with any luck more will grow than we can eat with the extras given away.

Waltham Butternut is our squash of choice.  Its longer neck provides more usable product than shorter varieties.  Again only two vines were allowed to grow as the harvest always exceeds our needs.  These squash store on the basement floor for months.  When winter cold makes its presence felt, Becky's baking casserole both warms the house while filling it with comfort smells.

Saturday, August 1, 2020


As the start of my fifth decade approached, plans were finalized for a life in retirement focused on gardens and native plants.  Years were spent transforming glacial till into fertile soil free of stones.  Every year new ground was developed while great care was given to existing planting beds filled with lush plant growth.  Age and infirmity have severely limited the amount of time that can now be spent outside and Quack grass and other weeds have reclaimed much ground that was ours only for a short time.  Faced with the reality of lost garden ground, new areas for plants are still being developed.  We need to have some ground that is ours alone.

The problem of removing and controlling the pasture grasses persists.  For years grass clippings and fallen leaves have been used to cover this ground intending to kill the weeds.  Numerous plastic bags filled with leaves were spread about to finish off the unwanted plants.  Anyone passing by this unsightly mess must have wondered just what sort of maniac controlled this ground.  The time had come to rid this ground of leaf filled plastic bags.  The area in the foreground contains recently liberated leaves.  Time in the sun and wind will dry them so that they can be chopped.  Finely ground leaves are used as mulch to speed up the process of building forest soil, limit weed growth and hold moisture for the plants.  The left edge of the picture shows the remaining few bags of leaves.  Many were emptied today but the increasing heat drove us inside before the job could be finished.

This photograph shows the opposite view from the first picture.  Many woodland plants show no above ground plant parts at this time of year so much of the ground appears barren.  Rows of moss covered stones mark locations of the walking paths intending to prevent anyone from walking on the plants.  Resident wildlife sees no difference between path and planting bed walking so they walk about at will feeding on whatever looks good to them.

Becky snapped a photo of me spreading recently dumped leaves with my tool of choice a stone fork.  White clothing is intended to block out sunlight and discourage insects or at least make them easier to spot.  A Solumbra helmet drape covers my neck and most of my face.  This is not typical garb for those that work outside in this area.  Passersby may see me as either weird or dangerous and that has benefits.  This garden cannot be seen from our house but so far no plants nor our garden bench have been stolen.  In these times of uncertainty there is benefit from inspiring fear.  Recently houses in the area were all entered and burglarized.  We were the only ones that escaped untouched.  There is benefit to being seen as different and possibly dangerous.