Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Milkweed Flowers

June drawing to a close has always been a special time of year.  Thirty-four times it marked the change from working in the classroom to ten weeks of vacation or a summer job.  For many, Milkweed is little more than a roadside weed.  Its unique connection to the Monarch butterfly makes it an incredibly important native plant.  Our retirement land was purchased more than one quarter of a century ago and its wildly rural nature placed us in close contact with both the butterfly and its food source.  Memory of its powerful scent could not go unnoticed.

The difference in the color of the open flowers remains an unanswered question.  Many are close to white colored while others show a rose pink.  One possible explanation could be the age of the open flower but we see both colors on plants with both open flowers and unopened buds.  Perhaps this issue is similar to the variation in human eye or hair color.  It just happens.

Several years ago we started squash seeds indoors well ahead of the last frost date.  When these plants were moved outside there was a long period when no blossoms were pollinated.  The newly opened flowers on the milkweed were a powerful magnet drawing in all of the bees.  Our squash simply had to wait until these flowers were finished.  Early yesterday morning when I first saw open flowers, a perfect Fritillary butterfly was finding food there.  When I returned in the afternoon with a camera the bees had taken possession of these flowers.  The only butterflies seen then were being chased away by selfish bees.

It comes as no surprise to those people that know us that we meddle in the natural order.  As Fall approaches we see huge numbers of Milkweed plants with no leaves as they die down.  This is at the exact time when the caterpillars need a food source.  These developing creatures eat only Milkweed leaves and they are scarce at that time.  Milkweed is an amazing plant.  When it has a visit from a lawn mower, it simply regrows.  We mow two large fields intending to end mowing in July so that the new growth will have young leaves for the caterpillars.  This sounds like a good plan but some of the plants that we cut down are feeding new caterpillars.  We do have large areas that never see the mower so we are not killing all of them.  This working with nature is never easy.

Saturday, June 25, 2022

Flowers & Flies

This area just south of the shade garden has experienced its initial weeding where we are trying to change wild ground into garden.  The Sweet William's stunning flowers are surrounded by uninvited plants.  Some of those are Jewel Weed which we believe the deer find unappealing.  After the flowers are past we really should remove the uninvited allowing the Sweet William an opportunity to spread.  We may remove all of the seed pods except those from the brightly tricolored plant.

Becky has always had an eye that sees nearly everything.  It is highly likely that I would have walked right by here seeing nothing special.  Another part of the impressive is that when she returned to the house, she consulted her National Audubon Society book and rather quickly found their photo with the name of this unusual insect.  Scorpion Fly has an unusual appendage dangling from the front of its head.  Just what it eats and how it catches dinner remains unknown to us.

This vicious looking Early Tachinid fly has been noticed before.  It just looks capable of delivering a painful bite.  Once again the Audubon book provided us with a proper name.  That text describes this bug as easily spooked so we know not how Becky got this photo.

We view this jumble of self planted growth as truly special.  One of several such Cardinal Flower plants grow here.  The tall plant holding the lower left corner of the photo is Cardinal Flower.  To its immediate right is an odd looking leaf composed of two connected oval sections joined to an unusually shaped third part.  This is the highly elusive Bloodroot.  We are trying, with little success, to grow this native treasure while this one appears strong in the midst of many other plants.  Careful inspection revealed that both of these plants are growing from the same thimble full of soil.  Intervention is totally unwise so we will wait and watch to see what their future holds.  Given Cardinal Flower's growth habit of replacing one plant with up to six new plants next Spring each with a huge root mass, the Bloodroot may get crowded out but no way to clear ground for the Bloodroot could be found. 

Here is the likely source of the errant Cardinal Flower seed.  The hooded gardener did plant these several years ago in his quest to find a location where this native treasure would survive with only a small amount of help.  Following snow melt, spent Chrysanthemum stems were spread across these evergreen plants.  Several harsh frosts blackened these leaves but they did put out new growth.  Plants from seeds are rarely seen here because their emergence usually happens in June.  Tiny new growth is seen as weeds and removed.  The seeds that blew to the other side of the path grew under the protective cover of other plants and did flower last year.

That clean line of separation between these precious plants and old pasture growth is the result of a visit from the seated weeder.  Blue Eyed Grass can be seen between his knee and the Cardinal Flower.  Becky rescued a single plant from the lawn in Unadilla and has been trying to grow it ever since.  Given its structural similarity to the much hated Quack Grass, its future here has been dim.  This year several were rescued and placed in this well cared for area.  Our timing was perfect and necessary water carried and  provided.  The transplants took a solid hold, flowered and are now growing full seed balls.  With no other grass like plants in the area, these may well hold a bright future. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Finally Seeds

The first hope when trying to grow native plants is that they will remain alive.  That may seem obvious but we have watched entirely too many simply disappear quickly or slowly over several years.  When we transplanted Wild Ginger next to the stones separating planting areas from path, we hoped that the change there in elevation would allow us to see flowers.  That has happened but we never expected to see mature seeds.  We will most likely leave these seeds alone allowing nature to take its course.  Success will be hard to find since the leaves form a solid canopy blocking ground activity from view.  It is enough to simply know that here in our native plant garden, plants are producing seed for the next generation.


Twin Leaf has held our attention for many years.  We have had difficulty just keeping it alive and never expected to see seed from this plant.  Watching this seed pod develop has held our attention for several weeks.  Books described these seeds as being forcefully cast about by the design of the plant.  Not knowing if a spring throw was likely similar to Jewel weed, or a ride on the wind like Milkweed, we have been carefully watching frequently not wanting to miss the action.  The lid has opened revealing smooth hard looking seeds that will not float on the wind.  No spring mechanism is visible either.  It looks likely that these seeds will simply fall to the ground.  We will continue to watch every day for this show is not yet over.

Getting perfect closeup pictures with our inexpensive point and shoot camera is uncommon.  Near the center of the picture Miterwort seeds are in focus.  This is another show that we usually miss.  One problem with successful self planted seeds is the small new growth is mistaken for weeds and removed.  This plant naturally occurs in our woods and with a cage cover has maintained its existence in our garden.  Just seeing the seeds is an unexpected bonus.  We will look for new young plants.


Pictures of the old grouch are not common.  I was totally unaware that a photo was being taken.  Being able to stand up from a kneeling position is no longer taken for granted.  A spade is nearby and is sometimes needed to have something to push on.  The attire also deserves explanation.  Its strange appearance may discourage interlopers from visiting here.  The old man may be a little crazy.  The white colored shirt, pants and hat serve two useful purposes.  Protection from the sun to avoid any more skin cancers seems like sound thinking.  The hat, neck cover and shirt are all Solumbra products.  The pants are more commonly worn by bakers.  The white colored cloth also makes ticks easy to see and remove.  Trilliums are the chosen plant here and the invasive grass has once again been successfully removed.  New young growth is finally visible indicating that these natives are settling in here.  That gives one something to look forward to next year. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Where Is Mom

Our retirement land has very little road frontage but it opens up to many acres bordering several square miles of undeveloped wilderness.  In a sense we are isolated but where we live is quiet with frequent animal sightings.  In the past several years it was common to see a doe with twin fawns.  We have no way of knowing if this is her again but we certainly have twins once again.  Raising offspring is sometimes difficult and these two youngsters are unusually active.  What ever mischief one does not think of the other quickly does.  Lately it appears that mom leaves her babies here while she sneaks off for some peace and quiet.  The twins spend a great deal of time here running from one end of the mowed field to the other stopping now and then to explore our garden beds and sampling our plants.  Usually this is not a problem.

We have grown Gull's Wing Siberian Iris for years with no one eating them.  They hold the end of a planting bed making a stunning appearance.  Age has limited our garden time causing weeds to replace many of our plants.  This year these flowers have put on a stunning display for a long period of time. Yesterday morning  an awe inspiring flight of white flowers could be seen from the living room window. I thought to myself when I go outside, I should get a photo of those flowers.  Once outside I promptly forgot all about taking the picture.

Later in the evening Becky remarked about how gorgeous the Gull's wings were today.  Imagine our dismay when we looked out over our garden and saw no white flowers.  How could they be gone?  Nothing has ever eaten them before.  Becky went out to check on the plants. A very few white buds remained, but with the exception of one half-eaten petal, all of the flowers were gone. Little baby fawn footprints left no doubt.  Sometime in broad daylight those twin fawns acting on their own devoured every open blossom.  I was crushed by their loss.  I can only hope that my flowers gave the fawns the squirts.

Sunday, June 12, 2022

Help From Friends

Native plants are afforded some measure of protection by laws that prohibit their harvest from State Land.  With the permission of a property owner, they can be harvested.  We had the good fortune to be granted access to a tremendous wealth of several varieties of native plants.  The light bright green leaves pictured above are new growth on a transplanted Wintergreen plant.  If new growth is visible, then where is the old growth?  The dark green leaves at the left edge of the photo may well be Wintergreen.  Never before have we seen anything like these new leaves on Wintergreen.

One of the problems has been just how this plant grows.  Long stems at or just below the surface connect with roots that may be some distance away.  One author described a method to transplant in view of this unusual placement of critical plant parts.  He suggested finding the stem on either side of the leaves and cutting it while leaving the plant where it was.  Returning one year later to a carefully marked plant will reveal if the severed plant responded with new root growth.  If the plant was still alive, it might then be successfully moved.  That seemed like way too much trouble.  On one rare occasion, a small scrap of a plant was successfully moved.  It showed signs of life for three years, then disappeared completely.  A protective wire cage was not supplied.

These plants were hastily dug on the day before Steve and Elaine moved away.  Wintergreen is visible at the top edge of the picture but the new growth appears to come from dark striped leaves that are somewhat different from those in the first photo.  The small leaves with a center white stripe belong to Partridge Berry.  There are several pink buds visible that illustrate a unique feature of this plant.  The base of the buds almost come together connecting with what will be a berry with two belly buttons.  Apparently Wintergreen and Partridge Berry are frequently seen growing together.  We are more than a little pleased having been permitted to dig these plants.  They do seem happy here.

This is another view of the plant shown in the first picture.  The plant in the lower right corner is a weed and will be removed.  Moving toward the center, dark green leaves are seen and may be the origin of the new growth.  Our resident authority thinks that the leaves in the upper left corner are violets.  There are hundreds of varieties of violets so we are hopeful that these will prove special.


This is the up to the moment condition of our Bloodroot patch. Supervised weeding protected as many as eight young plants.  We did briefly see flowers on tiny plants earlier but no seed pods were evident.  We have kept a careful watch on the woods across the valley but no seeds were seen there either.  The red flowers are on Columbine.  They are allowed to stay and spread since they were a favored plant of John Burroughs and none of these plants naturally grow without neighbors.

Monday, June 6, 2022

Town of Unadilla, River Road

Six days ago a new surface appeared on our road.  It appears to be seamless suggesting that the entire width was placed at the same time.  River Road was closed and we never saw the machine.  When we did return home we encountered a sharp steep drop off from the road to our driveway.  Completing the turn on the road, we slowly drove straight down the drop without damage to the car.  A small amount of the oil and stone mixture had been placed across our entrance.  This needed further attention.

Several days passed with nothing else happening.  We bought a ten yard load of carefully screened gravel and had it dumped at our gravel bank.  Using my lawn tractor and cart, ten loads required two days for me to move this fill.  It is the brown wet mass at roadside.  The drop from the road to our lane remains excessively steep so the job remains unfinished.  At 78 it is necessary to carefully pace myself.  Years ago I read that dry sand is impossible to pack down.  Wet sand will pack down and when dry it will present a surface similar to cured cement.

This picture shows the extent of the drop from the roadway to our driveway.  The black stone and tar mix was placed here after the roadway had been placed.  The drop from the road was abrupt.  We were afraid that the car would bottom out possibly causing damage.  So we took matters into our own hands and began hauling fill.  What can be seen is two layers thick.  Yesterday's layer has been packed down while today's is letting its moisture work its way into the lower layer.  When the time seems right our Toyota pickup truck will serve as a steam roller.

The unfilled area in the foreground is beyond the edge of the driveway.  It is a seriously deep hazard and will require attention after a smooth transition from highway to driveway is finished.  That will require days of  somewhat limited effort.

This picture shows the need for still more fill.  Our goal is a longer less steep surface from the roadway to our driveway.  Our efforts presently span the width of the driveway but some users require a huge area to complete their race track turning style.  We plan to define the deed described right of way with gravel fill and the adjacent lawn with soil fill, grass seed and straw mulch.  This has never worked in the past but I will try again.

The wet area in the foreground is the path taken after our mail is delivered.  That may mark the limit of our gravel fill.

The track across the grass is the path used by our US Mail carrier.  The sharp drop off has little impact now but plowing snow here will be difficult at best.  I intend to fill the area from the road, across the path, and far enough onto the lawn to give us a solid workable access to our mail box.  This will take some time.  I wonder if the Town of Unadilla will pick up the tab for the gravel needed to finish their job.  Judging from the coarse gravel in the back of their truck that simply went right past me, I will get a better job if I do the work myself.

There is no question that our road is now better than it has ever been.  Unfortunately, it now appears that no plans were made to deal with the area adjacent to the road.  Several mailboxes present a problem but a more serious issue is the drop off in some places  where a shoulder might be expected.  On the first curve encountered driving eastward, the drop appears to be six inches deep.  A driver moving toward the edge of the pavement to miss a truck or a piece of farm machinery could easily drop into this void.  A damaged or wrecked vehicle is possible.

The day following this post I felt the need to talk with the Highway Superintendent about its existence.  He told me that the machinery necessary to build proper shoulders had been ordered and that it should be here in a week or two.  He is well aware of the sharp drop offs and is planning to correct that issue.  We also touched on the mail box placements that the machine will encounter.  I do not know if the road work will precede the relocation of some mail boxes.   Perhaps it would have been better if I had talked with him before publishing the post.

Flowers Everywhere

This is one of the last Siberian iris purchased here.  The catalog picture displayed this plant as having dirty white flowers.  For several years no purchase was made since we enjoy pure white flowers.  Imagine our surprise when the new purchase first opened its blossoms here.  Over the years the mail order scraps have taken hold and are now impressive.  We want to divide our clump and will once again put it on the to do list.

Nearby our Unadilla home, an older woman lived in a very small building.  She was an excellent neighbor allowing us to tap her maple trees and engage us in pleasant conversation.  This plant was one that she carefully tended.  It was given to us by her daughter.  These plant to people connections bring to the surface pleasant memories.  This written record will help us remember since we would now be accurately classified as elderly.


This is another of our self planted treasures.  Digitalis is classified as a poisonous plant but only adults live here.  A former student has pleasant memories of her interaction with these flowers when she was a child.  She placed two potted plants outside of her door so that her daughter could have a similar experience.  We also find the shrinking tunnel wildly marked with colored dots magical.  Its chance occurrence close to our stone wall only increases the magic. 

This Woodland sedum has no flowers yet but its light bright leaves are beautiful in their own right.  Growing close to the sizeable stone placed to make the slope manageable adds to the appeal but that one weed needs to go.  In the not too distant past I used hand power to move this stone to its final resting place.  Repeated similar actions may be part of the reason why back ache pain is now nearly a constant companion.  The lichen covered grain of the stone and its companion plants looks great.

These Dianthus flowers look totally magical as they seem to float in the air.  Their scent is so compelling that we violated our do not pick the flowers rule with two flowers in a bowl on the kitchen counter.  These are truly a wonder.



These are the remains of an early flower named Prairie smoke.  It has been twice featured in earlier posts.  Most flowers leave nothing behind after their work making the next generation's seed is formed.  These look fragile but remain intact. 

Sunday, June 5, 2022

New Growth

Trailing arbutus has been a center of our attention for the twenty-eight years that we have been here.  Our small naturally occurring patch is still here and with its wire cage cover it no longer occasionally disappears but its poor location keeps it small.  The plants in the first photo are our last successful attempt to transplant this native treasure.  Placed under a huge old White pine tree, these Arbutus live on a deep deposit of rotting pine needles.  The dark green leaves are perhaps several years old.  The light green leaves growing from fuzzy stems are new growth.  Today just seemed like a good time to look in on these plants.

This picture clearly shows different stages of new growth.  The sizeable bright green leaf is new growth but is older than the new stem to its left.  It has a new leaf that has just started to grow.  In the center of the photo, at least two seed berries can be seen.  They are flanked by the remains of  blossoms that were not fertilized.  This plant produces viable seed every year but we can not be certain that any new plants appear here.  Their first year's growth consists of three small leave while the two mature plants have spread filling the protected area under the cage.

These plants grow adjacent to the lane far away from our other plants.  The center of this photo shows many female flowers that have failed to grow seeds.  Earlier this year I watched a bumble bee enter these open blossoms.  She was much larger than the flowers and frequently pulled the petals from the flowers as she backed out.  I saw this ground covered with white petals.  That in itself does not guarantee sterile flowers but some factor  left these clusters sterile.  In the upper right corner of the picture a developing seed cluster is visible.

This is the planting under the huge pine tree.  Old leaves are dark green while new leaves are bright and light.  This combination of old growth and new leaves is what makes it impossible to spot new growth from seed.  We are pleased that these two original plants are doing so well.  New growth now extends beyond the cage inviting us to try again to root cuttings and drawing in rabbits to feed on these apparently tasty leaves.  We were very lucky as this old pine did suffer breakage from that heavy snow storm but none of the fallen branches hit this cage.

Thursday, June 2, 2022

Third Generation Family Treasure

We know with certainty that this nameless Iris has been in the family for three generations.  They once grew at the home of Becky's maternal grandmother.  Becky's mother always took parts of this plant with her wherever she was to live next.  Several locations in southeastern Pennsylvania had a connection with the family home since this plant always grew where they lived.  That includes a trip to Georgia followed by a move to New York.  We may be the last plant growing branch on the family tree so the journey may be over.  However, through the years many friends have asked for a piece of this iris.  Sharing iris is like sharing love. The more you give the more you have!


This nearly ancient plant has a complex combination of colors.  We are always impressed by a sharp line of white edging a blossom.  The purity of the three upward pointing petals is nothing short of amazing.  Add to that a delicious scent and it seems that plant is unusually configured for a plant that is this old.  We often wonder just what was the original source of this Iris.  This plant has a modest size but so did Grandmother Torbert.

This rose came to us from a friend not family.  Elle gave us both a red rose and this yellow one.  Our lack of knowing the needs of these plants resulted in the loss of the red one.  This plant holds ground near the house so it does get proper care if you allow for the lack of pruning this year.  We respond to Forsythia blossoms to tell us that it is time to prune the roses.  This year those flowers were almost totally absent here.

This beautiful flower always reminds us of both Elle and her service for our country during the Second World War.  She was a nurse and was assigned to care for wounded soldiers as they were flown from Europe to the home country.  Blossoms at Memorial Day seem to us to honor her service.