Sunday, August 29, 2021

Signs Of Seasonal Change

There is no question that our late August weather is less than fun to work in.  Searing heat and the accompanying heat advisories limit the amount of time that we are willing to remain outside.  The swarms of tiny biting insects are beyond unpleasant.  So far no broken safety glasses have accompanied frenzied moves to get the little buggers away from my eyes.  It might be considered heresy to wish for a frost but the thought has crossed my mind.

New England Asters are a favorite.  We enjoy them as do the deer and insects.  Deer pruning gives us shorter plants and slightly later blossoms.  This wire cage could be identified as deliberately placed protection but actually it is part of a pile of unused fencing.   

Goldenrod is an invasive weed beyond description.  Its root mass is so huge that a five foot pry bar is needed to loosen the plant for removal.  In short order it will choke out all of the other garden plants.  We would like it gone but it provides the last source of pollen for the newly arriving Monarch Butterflies.  Frost survival is an uncommon trait among flowering plants so we actually welcome extensive appearances of it.  Its yellow color is quite attractive if one can get by its invasive habit.

Becky found five different species of Goldenrod growing on our land when we first moved here.  Their names were easily retrieved then but those days are behind us now.  Even I recognized that this plant was different from the more common variety but I have absolutely no idea of its name.


The Clara Curtis chrysanthemums were deliberately planted here.  That small group has expanded wildly and they have been transplanted in many different locations throughout our gardens.  Cardinal Flower and Rudbeckia Triloba are both self planted and welcome.

Saturday, August 21, 2021

What Actually Is

It would be wildly inaccurate to claim that our gardens are anything close to well tended this year.  We have always had more cultivated ground than we could keep up with but the present combination of the weather and our age has created a huge mess in what was our garden.  This is the present state of our asparagus bed and the overwhelming presence of the giant weed seeds does not bode well for next year.  This is a sixty square foot planting bed and it could be cleared rather quickly but there are so many other places just like this one.  The combination of heat, humidity and biting bugs had us inside by 10 AM today.

Looking past the brightly colored self planted Gloriosa Daisy, one can see the stone path that edges our planting beds and a horribly invasive relatively new weed that has taken and holds this ground.  It grows close to the ground and finding the centered root mass is not easy.  We believe it essential to remove both the seed bearing growth and the root mass in a futile attempt to eliminate this weed.


When selecting photographs to share, it is customary to frame the image so that only beauty can be seen.  This combination of Ruby Spice Summer Sweet, Milkweed leaves that have served as a food source for perhaps a Monarch Butterfly caterpillar, a feeding butterfly whose name is not known and a background of grass and trees is a great picture.  In addition to the visual image, the scent of the pink flowers is fantastic beyond description.

These feeding bugs and a caterpillar appear to be working together despite their obvious differences.  We cannot be certain that they are not harming each other but they may be sharing.

We have been posting Lobelia cardinalis pictures perhaps to excess but the real star here is the Giant Blue Lobelia.  How these plants that feature so many differences can have the same last name puzzles us.  Both are native plants but the structure of their flowers is more different than just color.  These plants are both self planted here but we tend to focus our efforts on the striking red plants.  That should change but we can no longer keep up so the blue beauty will remain on its own.  One thing in its favor is our limited time weeding will not remove a self seeded plant that we do not instantly recognize.

Closed Gentian is a native plant that presents flowers that never open.  It is a vigorous plant that has taken and holds considerable space in our garden.  Pollination falls to the huge bumblebees that force their way into the tightly closed blossoms from the top point where the  petals meet.  Upon first glance, I thought that an insect had chewed a hole to gain an entrance into the flowers interior but that is not true.  A closer look will reveal that the fly's internal organs are visible and that the bug is totally outside of the undamaged blossom.


Monday, August 16, 2021

Healthy Fun

When this land was purchased as an age of 50 years approached, my plan was to have a life lived close to nature and to work with hand tools.  Several years later health issues mandated the purchase of machines so physical labor was assisted by noisy, polluting help.  Originally this driveway consisted of two ruts permitting truck access to a gravel bank.  The Town of Unadilla removed enough gravel each year to cover the taxes but otherwise access was limited.  An ancient field stone dump extended far enough into the lane from the left to require evasive steering to drive a small Subaru up the hill.  An impressive amount of stone was removed using hand labor to both widen the lane and build a stone wall.  Recent heavy rain had severely cut ruts on this downhill run and they needed attention.

A local contractor brought a bulldozer and three truckloads of gravel.  His work was impressive but apparently he saw my road as excessively wide.  Both sides required more fill to both raise the level of the roadway and define the drainage ditches.  The smooth wet surface that climbs the hill is the result of several days of physical effort on my part.  One of the things that I have learned is that it is impossible to pack dry sand.  Wet sand however will pack hard enough to resist runoff for some time.  It is also easier to unload wet gravel since it pours out of the trailer onto the road.  So this picture shows the result of several days effort moving gravel.  The other side of the lane also will receive some attention.

This is what remains of a truck load of gravel.  Given my age, the physical effort must be controlled to keep me out of the emergency room.  Thirty shovels full of gravel are moved from the pile to the cart to make a load.  Then a trip up the hill is made to add a sizable amount of water to the mix.  When that is dumped on the driveway, the combination of a down hill run and the mortar like consistency does most of the work.  Raking wet gravel is far easier than moving the dry stuff.  After the load is raked smooth and leveled, it is given several hours of inattention to allow the water to distribute itself.  When the surface is mostly hard, both the tractor then the pickup truck are used to pack down the new fill.

This view shows just how much gravel has been moved.  The original pile extended to where the cart is now parked.  On day one, I moved three loads and then took a break.  There was no chest pain but I did feel tired.  After some inactivity, another three loads were moved.  The following day the load count increased to four before a break was taken.  Now I am up to five loads and am expecting to place an order for another truck load to finish this job.  Anyone might be impressed if they knew the age of the resident workman.  The product of two consecutive prime numbers equals my age in years.  2X3 or 3X5 or 5X7 are small but consecutive prime numbers but you get the idea.  The master believes that there is only one correct answer.

Sunday, August 15, 2021

Burning Cardinal Flower

Once again I have lifted the words of John Burroughs as the best possible description for the native treasure Cardinal Flower.  In an essay comparing our native flowers to those found in England, he used the three words in my title as a succinct complete description for this plant.  This picture may look familiar but this second shot was taken early in the morning while moisture from night fog still coated the leaves.  Ordinarily the stunning color of the flowers captures and holds the focus of the eyes but in this light the glistening dark leaves also star.  The other connection here joining this plant with Burrough's words  is the dark area of woods.  On one of his outings he described finally finding this uncommon plant and its affect of breaking the gloom of the deep woods.  

As the newly opened flowers approach the top of the stalk, the time for observing just how this plant creates viable seed is nearly over.  Out working early in the day allowed me to witness the ever so brief fertilization ritual of Cardinal Flower.  The central tube that is surrounded by five petals is tipped with what looks like a white beard.  As the moments of fertilization approach, these white hair like structures explode with a dense coating of yellow pollen.  Try as I might, I cannot find a photograph of either the initial appearance of the white beard or its coating with pollen.  By 8 AM that time had passed and the fertilization process was well underway.


In this photo, the location of the white beard has been penetrated by a stigma and style.  The flower in the lower left corner clearly shows the condition of the stigma extending past the opening of the tube.  Its pollen load is already moving toward the ovary at the base of the flower.  Soon this stigma will become limp and shrunken its work having been completed.  In the center of the photo, two yellow pollen covered stigmas are visible.  Our belief is that Cardinal Flower is a self pollinating plant.



This view shows some dropped pollen staining a leaf.  It also shows several pollen coated stigmas.  Once again we state that all of this activity unfolded early in the morning and the pollination was complete while the birds and the bees remained asleep.  For me the remaining mystery is how the pollen is transported from the tip of the stigma to the ovary buried deep within the base of each flower.  I am reminded that the function of corn silk is to carry a pollen grain to an area that will grow a seed.  Removing a single flower and cutting it open hoping to discover just how an enormous number of pollen grains found their way to the base of the flower crossed my mind but just when to do that remained unknown.  As noon approached, we did see a Humming bird working open flowers in the garden near the house.  Is it possible that its search for nectar is somehow part of the movement of pollen to the deeply placed ovary?  

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Dream Coming True

Neither of the native plants shown here have been encountered by us in the wild but we are well within their required climate zones.  The white flowered Summer Sweet has expanded wildly in the gardens near the house where the Cardinal Flower continues but struggles.  These two treasures needed to grow together so that the brightest red flower and the sweet smelling pure white flower could enhance each other.  Transplanted last year, all three have survived and the size of this display will increase yearly if this site proves friendly.  A huge patch of pine trees covers the hillside to the south of these plants.  Late winter shade lingers here delaying snow melt.  The raised lane traps water runoff meeting the moisture needs of both plants.  Wire cages help us find these plants as Goldenrod also flourishes here.  Some of that will be uprooted each year and at some point the cages will be removed.  This planting is supposed to appear natural after all.

A drive to the back was made early to avoid the searing heat forecast for this afternoon.  This Joe Pye Weed grows totally on its own with no help from us.  This ground between the bedrock ridge and the flat meadow has never been farmed.  Streams of water from the springs ooze along between sizeable rocks but a downhill run to the river does not exist.  All of this water disappears into the gravel loaded glacial till that fills the flat areas.  The two Fritillary butterflies display different markings suggesting that they are different species.  We do not know their proper names.

This view looking eastward shows the rising ridge that contributes to our land's interest.  Goldenrod flourishes here but all of these plants are on their own.  We do not have the time to interfere and this ground is dangerous to walk on.  Muddy depressions, jutting rocks and low growing vines almost guarantee a fall but still the pictures just had to be taken.  Once more my luck prevails with the solid ground found.

This Boneset is another plant that is totally on its own.  These flowers are a little past their prime so they fit right in.  A late afternoon trip down the hill to fetch the garbage cans and get the mail will be quickly made but otherwise we are in for the day.  Neither one of us can endure the heat anymore.

Saturday, August 7, 2021

Another Native Going Wild

Cardinal Flower may well be my all-time favorite native plant despite its apparent scarcity in upstate New York.  The written words of John Burroughs introduced me to this treasure and he also found it scarce where he lived in the Catskills.  I believe that the wildly variable late winter weather so common in our area is the problem.  Extremely warm days followed by hard freezes so common here may be the cause of the frequent  die outs while in the Adirondacks this plant grows in huge numbers.  This evergreen plant can handle uniform cold there while here it frequently is destroyed.

An independently surviving patch is our goal and we may have found a sheltered spot.  Behind these plants is a sizeable glacial deposit that limits sunlight as winter is receding.  Snow cover lingers protecting these plants.  The only impact of human hands here this year was the removal of Garlic mustard.  We did plant the Cardinal Flower but the Blue Flag in the foreground appeared here on its own.  The nearby road to the gravel bank traps water.  Both plants prefer extra moisture.  We will weed again later in the year and renew the layer of ground tree leaves intending to help create a natural woodland soil with some help in the fight against weeds.


Some might feel that plants growing in our shade garden cannot be called wild.  The group in the foreground was transplanted here and continues to receive the human attention so common in a garden.  We delay the removal of the previous season's dead stems intending to leave a natural protective mulch.  Snow pushed or blown from the driveway lingers delaying exposure to harsh elements. To date, these plants have eluded the perils of late winter weather extreme temperature swings.  

The growth habit of this plant causes confusion.  Each fall the plant dies to the ground leaving only the new growth of low rosettes that with luck will flower the following year.  We are uncertain if the label perennial is appropriate.  The low rosettes are all new growth retaining no part of the now dead plant.  These new plants also presents a long term problem.  As many as six rosettes grow at the base of a now dead single plant.  As years pass, these plants become overcrowded.  Some that we have left alone for years have become small somewhat pathetic plants with insufficient room to grow.  We will be watching this group as we intend to not interfere with this native plant. 


These plants can be seen in the background of the above picture.  Cardinal Flower also produces a huge number of seeds that are rather picky about growing.  Given adequate moisture and warmth, a low rosette very similar to what is described above constitutes the first year's growth.  A mature flowering plant follows the next summer.  We had nothing to do with the placement of these plants.  Fortunately we did not unknowingly weed them out.  It may be that this plant with two totally different methods of reproduction is likely to survive the natural overcrowding previously described but the evergreen plants from seed face the same perils of our late winter harsh weather.

This closeup shows the method used to produce seed.  The limp white organs presented themselves just this morning.  Pushing past the at the time pollen laden white beard, completes the transfer necessary to produce viable seed.  While hummingbirds love these red flowers, they play no part in the transfer of pollen.

In his essay dealing with Cardinal Flower, Burroughs offered red Monarda as a possible more common source of brilliant red flowers.  Bee Balm is a native plant but the red blossoms are not.  When we buried our electric supply wires decades ago, I marked the location of the underground wires with these plants.  We have never given these plants any attention since they were planted so in a sense they are surviving native plants.

Sunday, August 1, 2021

Arbutus In The Hands Of Mother Nature

This naturally occurring patch of Arbutus plants is located in the lumpy overburden that was pushed aside to open the gravel bank perhaps sixty or seventy years ago.  We have been on this land for twenty-seven years.  Initially, these plants were difficult to find.  Some years a few flowers were present while other years no trace of the plants could be found.  It is likely that foraging wildlife fed on the leaves during late winter's lack of green plants.  Our solution to the attacks was to construct a shallow stone well whose sides would prevent entry under the wire cage.  That intrusion into the natural cycle has protected these evergreen leaves for the past eleven years.  Any plant growth outside of the cage is fair game.  This planting remains small perhaps in response to the stone laden soil.  We have been unable to identify just how many plants are growing here but seed production has remained absent.

Conventional wisdom holds that Arbutus cannot be successfully transplanted.  Never having limited my activities to conform with ideas held by others, four plants were transplanted about a decade ago.  During the late winter of their first year here, a woodchuck feasted on three of these plants.  One was eaten clear to the ground.  Two others suffered considerable damage while the fourth plant was small and hidden by moss.  The critter never found the hidden small plant.  Fortifications were built and to date no rabbit or woodchuck has been able to feast on these plants.

Our accumulated knowledge about Arbutus plants at the time was scant at best.  We did not know that there are both male and female plants.  As luck would have it, three of these plants are male.  The small plant growing with moss eventually matured and revealed her gender in flowers that were different from the others.  For whatever reason seeds have never been seen in this group.

This is our second attempt to transplant Arbutus.  We gathered more knowledge between the two attempts so this group of six plants contains three male plants and three females.  These plants have reliably produced seed for several years but no identifiable from seed plants have ever been found.  Attempts to start plants from seed have also been unsuccessful.  This plant has taught us that it will proceed only at its own pace and no attempt  by any man will move it from its natural schedule.  The density of these plants is something never seen among wild plants.  The pruning by hungry animals may result in open ground among wild plants.

This transplant site was chosen because of its nearness to a White pine tree and the lane.  The center of the lane marks the border between three property owners.  The right-of-way users have been slow to demonstrate respect for the limits of their use of this land so the stone wall was built to define the location of the end of the lane.  To date these plants have suffered no damage from man nor beast.


 When we were digging the six plants seen above, an unusual group of five tiny plants was found.  They also were removed from the ground and placed along the inside edge of a protective cage.  Several years later two plants remained.  Both genders were present and seed production followed their relocation and maturity.  Here again we have been unable to find any plants from seed despite the more open ground.

The jumble of stones in the background marks the area where fertile river bottom land borders the gravel and stone filled mess that the glacier deposited between the river and the bedrock ridge.  Those stones were cleared to produce fields fit for cultivation.  Our land contains no river bottom land but the deep soil formed from fallen White pine needles seems to suit these two Arbutus plants.  Little time passed between their initial planting and reaching the edge of the cage.  We are eager to see if any of the growth beyond the cage survives.

Age has severely limited our attempts to care for much of our gardens.  Many areas have become weed filled but the arbutus were planted in the natural soil under pine trees and remain largely weed free.  They are basically on their own now.  For a short time we will continue to watch these plants and enjoy their unfolding life cycle.  Hopefully the next owners of this land will recognize the special nature of these plants and help them along if that is needed.