Sunday, June 27, 2021

Bees And Butterflies

When the thyme is in flower, this unfinished masterpiece demands attention.  We began here very early in the day to avoid what for us has become oppressive heat.  Once the sun reaches here the Bees and Butterflies take over.  Eighteen years ago the house was placed here.  We have yet to finish bringing the soil up to grade.  Deeply placed small stone is intended to keep the weeds away from the foundation and give us a place to walk to tend the plants that will someday be placed between the house and the lawn.  We have a Carolina Rose, the State flower, in a pot waiting for the perfect place for it to grow.  Inside of the right angle where the stone trench turns is being considered as the perfect place for this rose.  It is native and scented.  What more is needed to earn a place near the back door?

This view of the long north side of the house clearly shows that more stone needs to be placed near the house.  We wanted to lower the level of the lawn but that is a huge job that will remain unfinished.  Becky planted Red Creeping Thyme in the cracks between carefully placed field stones.  This has not worked out as expected.  I wanted my artfully placed stones to show with the thyme growing only in the narrow spaces between stones.  Mother of Thyme grows wild here claiming large pieces of the lawn.  It self planted itself between the stones and there is little doubt that it will displace the Red Creeping.  We think that the tall weed is Swamp Milkweed that also planted itself between the stones.  There is no way that this plant will be weeded out.  The tiny parachute on its seed dropped it in a very poor location, but its roots go deep.

Darker Red Creeping Thyme is growing to the left of the Mother of Thyme.  This corner photo was included to show just how small the cracks are between the top stones.  Another reason why the patio is surrounded by ditch is the amount of stonework that will disappear from view when the trench is filled to the appropriate height.  It would have made more sense to fill the area with loose stone and gravel and then build the patio.  Hindsight is sometimes 20/20. but I did enjoy placing these stones.  The upper surface remains solidly level and that is something important to me.

When we were removing tall grass in preparation for pictures that would speak well of us, we dislodged this female American Nursery spider and her egg cluster.  This insect is identified as poison bearing.  Neither one of us show any signs of a spider bite but she may have placed her egg cluster as more important than attacking us.  This is another species that extracts a high price from the male partner.  When he has completed his reproductive business she eats him.  Her values are in many ways admirable since all that she did during our attack on her home was to hold on to the developing egg mass.  As we work in the area, we will remain on the lookout for newly hatched spiders.  Then she may see the need to drive us away.

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Self Planted Beauties

Foxglove is a common name for this plant.  That name makes no sense to me since nothing about this plant suggests an item of clothing that any wild animal might wear.  The tubular tunnel shape of the flowers would likely encourage a child of any age to insert fingers into the blossom.  An acquaintance remembers her childhood fascination with these flowers and bought a potted plant so that her daughter could also have her own memories of this plant.  Digitalis is another name for this plant since it is the natural source for the chemical used in a heart medication of that name.  All parts of this plant are considered poisonous if eaten but not all who admire this plant know that.


We did not plant seed nor transplant this Foxglove in our shade garden.  Somehow a seed found its way here.  There is no way that we could weed out this single plant despite its pure white color.  We prefer the more vibrant pink or purple coloration frequently seen.  This plant is self seeded and young plants can be easily transplanted when they are young.  The decision ahead of us is whether or not we will let this plant produce seed.

Rose campion is another self seeder that establishes a large number of plants in a rather small area.  This plant is a favorite here both because of its flower color and its foliage color.  Here again these plants can be easily transplanted when small.  We are unable to keep up with our several gardens and may harvest seed this fall to get something attractive growing on ground that we cannot take good care of anymore.


This photo shows the view looking out from the house toward the garden.  The rose bush and the Smoke bush occupy a planting bed that we have completely lost control of.  The rose bush was a gift from Jane and she was shocked to see its size if left unpruned.  These Rose campion plants are self sown and seem to do an excellent job of eliminating the weeds in their ground. 

Monday, June 21, 2021

Racoon Tales

We looked out to see deer in the garden yet again, but the big surprise came when we looked down to see a racoon right under the window.  Conventional wisdom says that a racoon seen during the day is sick perhaps rabid, but where we live the critters feel right at home.  This racoon was not happy but definitely not sick.  We opened the window hoping to get a photo, but the racoon took off hopped up on the deck and then scooted along right next to the house.  I headed to the kitchen door  and got there in time to see the racoon walk the top of the curved stone wall.  Finally I got a chance to take a picture.  This racoon didn't like that so much.

Here I got the best side of the racoon both for him and for me.  Racoons are cute and furry with a lovely striped tail, but they also snarl and hiss and have impressive teeth and nails.  Wild racoons are best left in the wild.  I know that from long experience.

It was about 60 years ago that I  learned that lesson.  My parents  went to pick wild high bush blueberries.  I  really loved animals in those days.  As luck would have it my Dad came upon a baby racoon in a bush where he was picking.  He captured the beautiful little creature by throwing his jacket over it.  I don't remember exactly how we got it home, but I do remember putting it in a makeshift cage in the basement.  I gave it plenty of food, even a chocolate chip cookie, and some water.  I went to bed happy but I will never forget that night. That racoon whined loudly.  I went downstairs, turned on the light and sat with it and all was quiet.  It seemed like the baby was asleep  so I crept up the two flights of stairs to my bedroom  and collapsed into bed.  When the mournful cries of the racoon started again they were louder than ever.   I remember making many trips  to quiet  that baby racoon before it woke my Father.  It was still dark when he got up and returned the racoon to the blueberry patch.  We both learned an important lesson about racoons that night. I'm smarter now.  I'm smart enough to let this racoon find his own way home.

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Cleistogamous Found

This picture was posted in May.  Fringed polygala is the name of this elusive native wildflower.  We previously lost a large patch that grew impressively from a transplant.  Invaders finished it and we have not been able to move this plant since.

There is some question if the brightly colored blossom plays any part in the production of seed.  This developing seed pod at ground level has no connection to the May flower.  This is the first time that we have been able to find this secondary never opening flower that produces self pollinated seed.  Now we shall attempt to follow this treasure intending to discover when the seed ripens.  This tiny plant is across the lane but we have permission to meddle here.

We have followed this plant for several years.  It displays a more mature stem with several leaves.  It is highly likely that the pictured flower grew on this plant.  At this point in time we have found the locations of two cleistogamous seed pods.  If we can follow developments here, seed will be planted in our shade garden within sight of the highway when the time is right.  An important first step has been taken but much more investigation needs to follow if we are to see a successful move.

 This photo shows newly forming flowers on the more common Partridgeberry.  Aside from the two flowers joined at the base intending to form a single seed carrying berry, this plant will help us remember when Polygala begins its possibly summer long process of making viable seed.

Sunday, June 13, 2021

Native Plants Almost Gone Wild

Cardinal flower has held our attention for many years.  Starting with a single purchased plant from Sandy Mush Herb Nursery, we learned by both experience and books the habits and needs of this native plant.  Much of what is written does not agree with what we have  seen but little credence is given to the observations of two former math teachers.  Our plan is to find a location where this native will grow without human assistance.  This is a moisture loving plant and the rough road to the gravel bank created a basin, with no outlet, that holds water after rainfall.  This should be enough liquid to both keep the plant alive and encourage its seeds to sprout.  Both the Cardinal flower and the roughly chopped leaves were placed here.  Unfortunately, Garlic mustard seeds were hiding in the leaves.  Some were removed but more need to go.  That will happen soon.

 Directly adjacent to the roadway, sword like leaves grew but no flowers were seen.  Blue flag is another native plant that we have purchased but we were unsure about their actual identity.  They closely resemble Siberian iris so our question was valid.  Since a nearby bog is loaded with Blue flag growing in shallow standing water, there is a chance that these plants grew from their seed.  These flowers are the first to appear here and with any luck we will have a total of six blossoms.  It is solidly possible that these native plants grow in close proximity to each other in a natural setting.  The fern also meets the conditions to escape a jerk from the weeder.  The gravel bank hill delays the arrival of direct sunlight so these plants are slow to begin their year's growth escaping some of the harsh temperature swings of early Spring.  If we can eliminate the Garlic mustard, there is an excellent chance that these plants will survive on their own.  Brilliantly colored red flowers should fill this area later in the year.  More photos can be expected. 

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Going Native

The whole idea of our native plant garden was to have native plants where they could be observed and appreciated by Ed and myself but for others too.  However going native is not easy!  My beautiful Miterwort plant is caged for protection from being eaten or stepped on.  But because of the cage this plant has had a chance to grow, flower and even go to seed.  Tiny black seeds sit in little green baskets.  When the wind blows and the seeds are ready Mother Nature will disperse them.  Wow I'm so happy that I got to see that!

Maidenhair spleenwort looks like a delicate wispy little plant but tucked into a rock crevice for protection it is doing beautifully.  This plant is lovely.  I never saw this plant in the wild or if I did I never noticed it.  I'm watching it now.  What a pleasure that is! 

Partridgeberry is a plant that grows wild here. When Ed last moved trailing arbutus here it was when long time friends moved away.  He never moved arbutus plants in October before.  He had no choice. It was his last chance. That was in 2019.  Sadly the Trailing arbutus died.  However, the Partridgeberry and the Wintergreen that came along with it are doing great.  Partridgeberry is to my way of thinking a perfect native plant.  The leaves are attractive.  The red berries are edible and have the unique mark of two navels.  I was delighted to see that the twin flowers are starting to bloom.  One flower is open here but there are more buds showing.  Knowing when your favorite wildflowers bloom makes them so much easier to find!

Wintergreen is also a perfect native plant.  It has a reputation for being somewhat difficult to transplant and that has been our experience.  It is almost three years later and finally we are finding new growth on these plants.  I love to chew on fresh wintergreen leaves, but these are forbidden fruit!  It was not until I saw the photo that I noticed the tiny beginning of wintergreen flowers.  If we have flowers we might have berries.  Wow I love teaberries!  These plants had beautiful berries when they were moved.  I will keep watching and perhaps see them again!

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Invasive Pests

Rumor has it that at one time in the somewhat distant past, the NYS DEC recommended that Multiflora roses be planted to control erosion.  Unfortunately these plants turned out to be wildly invasive.  They certainly fill a waste space creating an impenetrable barrier.  Their huge numbers point to the fact that they are now here to stay.


Focusing on the flowers, we captured at least two bees.  The upper one has such a generous pollen load that she cannot assume a stinging position.  Several of the flowers have been stripped of pollen revealing black ripening seeds.  As we walked up the driveway, the sweet sweet scent of these roses hit us while we were still some distance from this plant.  These plants are hardy, beautiful and smell great.  It is easy to see why early European settlers carried this seed with them.

What remains of our young Jack-in-pulpits fills the left edge of the photo.  Several bare stems mark the former location of several plants.  Last year our resident deer did not hit here until much later in the summer.  We were unsure if any of the plants would return.  This area would be difficult to cage so no protection was provided.  In the past I have collected urine to use as a deer repellant.  Somehow carrying a sprinkler can down to the road enabling me to spread what is renewable protection seemed in contradiction since the area is filled with a sizeable rock and many other plants.  So our deer made his way between other wire cages and nipped off both leaves and flowers.

This young buck is stabbing the ground clearly stating his ownership of this turf.  We raise our objections to his presence with loud firm teacher control talk or sounds similar to the bark of a big dog.  For the most part he remains unimpressed eventually moving into the cover of the nearby wooded slope.

Two invaders can be seen in this picture.  The two plants growing in cracks in the stones defining the path are sunflowers.  Needless to say we did not plant them.  Some bird did that and these will likely need to be soon moved into more sunlight if they are to grow tall and flower.  Back in the planting bed is a now rather rare ragweed plant.  Becky has been unrelenting in her intense efforts to remove them from our land.  This lacy leafed nasty will very soon disappear.


This is another European immigrant.  It is easy to understand why daisy seeds were intentionally brought from their European homeland to bring a touch of home to this new land.  We have tried, mostly unsuccessfully, to grow large swaths of commercially offered larger plants.  This cluster was pulled from the level ground at the base of our gravel bank to see how it liked the open area near our woodland garden just last year.  It seems to have settled in.  We know that this plant will take and hold considerable ground so we intend to move it nearer to the south edge of this area when a now wild area is cleared.

Becky knows full well the origin of this Wild geranium.  Our first plant came as an uninvited guest hiding under the leaves of a plant purchased at Catskill Native Nursery.  It appeared to be a small attractive plant that could cover the bare ground between our desirable woodland plants.  These tiny flowers have tiny fecund seeds that carpet the area.  Besides that, over time  the original plant revealed its monstrously large root mass and its need to take and hold all of the ground near it.  We weeded out buckets of these plants earlier this year.  Somehow this one still grows here and the flowers will soon be seeding another generation of these attractive but invasive plants.

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Simply Beautiful

Pinxter is a native plant that captured our interest many years ago.  It has been in our garden for more than one quarter of a century since it became ours while I was still teaching.  Pat and I worked together and she knew of a location where I could snatch this plant.  Initially it was placed in the woods but that location was dry.  The plant did not die but it did not grow either.  Moved inside of the stone wall, it found the moisture released nightly by wall stones following hot summer days adequate and has increased in size.  Wire cages fill this area each winter to prevent deer from eating the fall formed flower buds.  The scent released by these flowers is sweet beyond description and always calms my mood.  This plant is without question a treasure and we always remember Pat for sending this plant our way.

This old fashioned Iris also has a personal connection to us.  Becky's maternal Grandmother grew this plant in her garden located in Gatchellville, Pa.  Whenever her family moved, Becky's Mother took some of this plant with them.  Now it is with us.  This plant has a number of positive characteristics that set it apart from more modern plants.  It is hardy and not troubled by disease like more modern varieties are.  It is sweetly scented and extremely hardy.  One of our older clumps is in desperate need of division.  Then there is the thin white line that edges each petal.  This is without question an attractive flower.

As with many of our plants, there is a personal connection that brought it into our gardens.  This Rugosa rose was a gift from Elle   Early on she helped us in so many ways.  That history dictated that her rose be placed prominently directly in front of our home.  She also gave us a red rose that we have since lost.  One of the planting beds that has been taken over by tenacious weeds still sends two single rose stems toward the stone path.  Perhaps this will be their year of their rescue and one of them might have red flowers after the plant is given adequate care.

This section of NYS route 8 passes next to the retaining wall for a bridge abutment where the NYO&W Railway crossed over the highway.  It can be seen on the left edge of the road in the distance.  This occurrence of the non-native Dame's Rocket is extensive.  Much hated by natural plant purists because of its vigor, we remain drawn to it by both its beauty and tenacity.  Its evening scent is also a huge point in its favor.  As a result, we intentionally introduced this plant into our gardens.  Why then did I go roadside to get decent pictures?

 This plant is a true biennial.  Its first year of growth consists of a low rosette of leaves supported by a deep taproot.  These young plants fill both our planting beds and the stone paths between them.  We will have a generous display of mostly purple colored flowers next year but this year is nearly empty.  To break the cycle of flowers every other year, plants would have needed to be brought in for two consecutive years.  I simply did not take the time to guarantee great displays every year.  We do have a few plants in flower this year so eventually the problem will self correct.