Friday, February 26, 2010

Such A Pretty Face

There is a point with a snow storm where images change from beauty to freakish excess. It's as if once lithe Mother Nature has put on more than a few pounds overnight. Her beauty is still there, but it is lost in the sheer weight of the snow.

Ed parked the truck down by the road to make getting out possible. It will take us some time for us to dig out. It's the middle of the day and the snow has stopped. Patches of blue sky intermix with the clouds, but the clouds are still moving from the East. The question is what will blow in next?

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Beauty and the Beast

Right now it's so beautiful and white, calm and quiet in the garden. Heavy snow clings to the trees and makes everything look like a classic Christmas card. This is the first winter storm that has made a serious impact here. We have been amazingly lucky. The forecast for tonight is not so nice. Mother Nature is a very beautiful lady, but sometimes she has a very nasty temper.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Some Things To Do While Waiting For Spring

Take a drive and look for signs of spring. Yesterday while we were out we saw our first sap buckets hanging on sugar maple trees. You can have your groundhog, for us this is a true sign of spring. However,February is not finished with us yet, the snow that has been passing us by is dropping in here this time. So far we have been lucky, but one of the things that Ed gets to do is clear the driveway, again!

A fun thing to do is to order new plants. I ordered my curry leaf plant , Murraya koenigii, yesterday. When I asked when my new tropical baby would be shipped ,I was told "As soon as we have four above freezing days in a row. I would guess in two or three weeks." Given the weather today that seems impossible, but Logee's has been in the tropical plant business in Connecticut for many years, so I guess they should know.

Reading gardening books and magazines is another thing to do. The article in the Feb./Mar. Horticulture about the Alnwick Garden is filled with gorgeous pictures. For me the feeling of having visited there because of the Harry Potter movies adds special interest. But it's the picture of the little girl at the locked gate of the poison plant garden that calls to me. I wanted to get past that gate myself. I wanted to see the potent and powerful plants and learn more about them.

Another great thing to do is to take a virtual trip to another garden.
I was visiting Teza's Garden reading a post about monkshood. It was there that I found a key to go beyond that intriguing locked gate. Hidden among the comments I found a link to The Poison Garden. No flying key is necessary, just a click with your magic mouse and you can spend the afternoon beyond that locked door among those potent and powerful plants. I'm going for a visit since from here at my computer I'm perfectly safe from even the most deadly plants.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Still Addicted To Plants

My plant addiction all started with herbs. We grew vegetables for years and I was fine. It was the aromas and tastes of herbs that made me into a compulsive plant collector. During the early years I read everything I could find on herbs. I never bought plants from distant places until then. I started taking road trips to herb nurseries and ordering from herb catalogs.It was so much fun!

This year a catalog arrived from one of my old favorite places, Logee's Tropical Plants. I'm ashamed to admit the catalog is becoming tattered because I look at it so much. The lush tropical plants are gorgeous and the nursery is an old established one. I don't have a greenhouse so most of the plants don't tempt me no matter how magnificent they might be. But there is one, Murraya koeniglii, "Curry Leaf" that is getting to me. I love Indian food, but I don't know for sure if I've ever even tasted curry leaf. Still it calls to me . It's minimun indoor temperature is 55. Would it be terribly unhappy here? My tuberose , Polianthes tuberosa", lives, but never flowers. Do I want to try a Curry Leaf plant knowing I can't provide it with the ideal growing situation? You bet I do! Maybe I'll call this week. If they have it , I'll just order one plant. I'll squeeze it in between the tuberose and the ginger.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Out Of Quarantine

Finally I have decided that my ailing sweet bay is well enough to be moved back among the healthy plants in the South facing bedroom window. Right now I'm more than bit jealous, but I figure one or two more days of this disgusting head cold, and I can move out of quarantine back into the bedroom myself.

As you can see the bay is growing beautiful new pale green leaves. It is so nice to see an old friend back on the road to good health, especially since it was apparently our decision to re-pot this bay last fall that started all the trouble.

Ed is working on our seed orders.With Blotanical out of reach , I think my gardening for today will consist of curling up on the couch with a cup of tea and watching Greenfingers. If I'm lucky I won't sleep through it!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Cherchez La Femme!

It was on Jan 19 when I stuck the top of my rose scented geranium in water. Not only does the plant look good , but it still maintains its scent. I hope I'll remember this when I'm looking for filler in cut bouquets this summer when the plants are large and would benefit from cutting back.

This morning's fox encounter was a brief one. In the early morning light what I'm sure was a fox ran at breakneck speed up Ed's path. Immediately a second fox ran into sight from the right, and sped on the diagonal across the side hill in hot pursuit of the first one. Too bad they disappeared over the ridge, so I can only imagine that this may have been the day for a "roll in the snow". We have watched the foxes mate here in the past. For the foxes this is the time for romance, and you thought Valentine's Day was just for people!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

It's A Boy

I was riding my bike when the red fox walked by directly under the living room window. What a gorgeous creature with beautiful red fur that looks incredibly soft. I watched as he sat below the window casually scratching an itch behind an ear with his back leg. How close was he? Close enough for me to be certain that this was a male fox I was looking at. I got a little excited and tried to take a picture. Of course I pushed the wrong button . By the time I got the camera straightened out, the fox had passed through the garden, and climbed atop the far stone wall. He stood there for a short while ten headed west , marked his trail with urine, and dropped out of sight down into the notch.

Another plant order got called in today. We ordered some new plants from McClure & Zimmerman for the shade garden, to be planted in the spring: Jack In The Pulpit, Shooting Star, Ensata Iris, Bloodroot, Trillium, Acidanthera and "Crested Iris. Our first seed order should be ready by Monday.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Coffee Company

The garden was still tinted blue this morning, while I sipped that first cup of coffee. I was delighted to see the fox just up the hill from the garden. I watched as he stuck his nose under the surface of the snow, and then pounced like a cat in an attempt to catch whatever that delicious smelling creature might be hiding under the snow. Picture a fox leaping up, placing all four feet together and then landing with its nose and feet penetrating the snow. Sometimes it would still be sniffing as the nose disappeared in the snow because it would come up blowing to clear its nose. Perhaps he was tired from being up much of the night, because he pounced many times, coming up empty each time. Next he picked up the scent of something that had left footprints in the snow. I watched as he sniffed along the trail disappearing behind the bushes, and then caught a few glimpses of him climbing up the side hill into the pines. What a great way to start my day!

Thinking the morning couldn't get more interesting, about 5 minutes later, I was very surprised to see what I first thought to be another fox at the bottom of Ed's path. I soon realized it was not another fox, but a coyote. The difference in size and gait is unmistakable. Unlike the fox, who seems so at ease in the garden, the coyote headed directly up Ed's path and disappeared through the notch. If he knew he was being watched, he clearly didn't like it. I can't help wondering if these animals are ever in the same place at the same time. Now I'm not so sure about our midnight serenades. Is the singing the foxes or the coyotes? Is it possible that they get together and the coyote sings bass while the fox sings tenor? I'll never find out. Once it's "country dark" outside here, I don't venture outside, but listen from my window.

As is often the case , no pictures were taken while interesting things were going on in the garden. The pictures were taken after the company had left.I was way too enthralled while they were here, to even think about the camera.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Nothing Runs Downhill Like A Deere

My John Deere LA130 is returning from its week in the repair shop. A new trans-axle priced at one third the cost of the original tractor package, $825, has restored function to this machine. Seeking information from the John Deere service pros, I learned much about my lawn tractor. First, it is really designed for half acre flat suburban lawns. Mowing on my sloping terrain is a bigger job than the machine was designed for. When they delivered the machine how did they miss seeing my mowed slopes? Their comments were about the scenic beauty of our land not that my new tractor was inadequate as a mower here.

A snow plow was part of the package. John Deere has a snow plow that is made to fit this machine. Apparently, the plow is intended for use on level blacktopped suburban driveways. It is understood that these driveways extend only a short distance from the house to the road. When my machine was delivered the John Deere delivery truck drove a great distance up a sloped gravel driveway that contained three separate curves. Now it seems that I can only plow downhill. The engine has more than enough power to plow uphill but the trans-axle cannot deliver that power to the wheels without shredding itself.

The John Deere dealer offered to sell me a machine that was built rugged enough for my machine killing terrain. We talked several times but their price remained elusive. An internet search revealed that a mere $6,500 would make this tough monster mine. When we went to pay the ransom freeing our repaired inadequate machine, I walked past the beast that could tame my land. The dealer had one in stock. His price remains a secret.

I have a plan. First I need to live long enough to save that much money. Having saved the money, I then have to have a reasonable expectation to live long enough to justify the cost of such a machine. For now I have a plan of operation. I will plow only downhill. If the snow is wet or deep, I will pay to have the plowing done. I will mow so that I only go downhill on the steepest parts. This may require some circuitous escapes. Since my trailer bearing the John Deere name, colors and logo is intended only for lawn clippings from flat suburban lots, I will use my wheelbarrow or pickup truck to move the sand, gravel and field stones that are in wide use here. The old man with an invasive cardiologist will resume pushing wheel barrow loads of sand up the hill to his garden. All this because John Deere, in my opinion, mismatched an engine and a trans-axle.

While my machine was in the shop we had a snow storm. My neighbor plowed during the storm. We drove over the inch of snow that fell after he plowed. I did spend an enjoyable hour plowing downhill with my repaired machine. I did miss it and I am glad that it is back. My driveway looks great.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Stocking Up For The Storm

The snow has been passing us by. It seems quite weird really but, this time we are expecting 3 to 5 inches of snow. Ed went out this afternoon to fill the bird feeders.We would hate for the birds to be out of seed,suet, and peanut butter during the storm.

Talk about high tech. A plastic jar of peanut butter with a stick for a perch makes the Chickadees very happy . We did have some trouble keeping the jar wedged in the tree, but Ed resorted to our often chosen solution, a stone, to take care of the problem. He was only a few steps away when the first bird arrived to inspect his work. As I write this the snow has already begun.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Sometimes Something About The Garden Stinks

Looking out the bedroom window this morning,skunk tracks and areas of digging were the first thing I noticed. Skunks are a mixed blessing. The do eat grubs and ground bees. On the other hand they also eat honey bees, dig up freshly planted plants, and of course there is that nasty scent problem. Here we have a live and let live policy where skunks are concerned.

It's a sad day when one of your favorite garden toys is in the shop in pieces with serious repairs needed. Apparently Ed's John Deere just wasn't up to the task at hand here in the stone wall garden. This would only be worse if it were warmer, and Ed was missing time in the garden. We will have to make time a difficult choice between getting a bigger machine that can handle our varied terrain, and repairing the one we have, knowing it's not up to the job. Having to make this kind of choice really stinks!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

What A Great Ride!

My exercise bicycle is positioned so that I can do my 2 miles on the bike and still observe the birds at the bird feeder or look out at the garden. Today I got a special bonus, the fox dropped by the garden for an early lunch. I watched as he walked right through the garden disappearing behind the pile of finished compost that's under the bird feeder. He was out of my line of sight for several minutes , but then reappeared and walked away carrying his lunch in his mouth. He stopped as soon as he was no longer out in the open. Although he was some distance away, I him watched for some time. Finally he disappeared into the brush. This is one of our "wild" areas. Stone from the farmer's fields was used to fill in a depression. The ground is uneven and sometimes wet. It has brush and briers. It's just about the right distance away to be the source of our night serenades. We will not go there searching for a fox den. We want them to stay, and take away as many furry little critters as they can eat.

It wasn't until I saw this picture that I noticed the faint pink color of the buds on the Red Maple trees. It's an early sign of spring to be sure, but another real day brightener.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Reunited With An Old Friend

This old friend was found in a back corner of the shed. We logged many happy hours together trying to change some of our glacial moraine into garden. Frequent stone strikes wore away the edge of the shovel. I stayed with this old friend entirely too long. When it was replaced two shovels ago, it still lingered in the back of the shed. Now it has found new life.

John Deere equipped my plow with a feature that changed the angle set of the plow from the operator's seat. The handle that pulled a spring loaded lever out of its slot proved not up to the job. Bent to the side, the handle became useless. To change the position of the blade I had to stand in front of the plow and push this lever. A certain amount of pain in the hand was part of this task. The old shovel came to the rescue. The end of the shovel handle was cut, flattened and drilled to fit the lever. I still have to dismount to change the set of the blade but the piece of shovel handle makes the job painless and easy. Now to see if I can discard the remains of my trusty shovel.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Winter Thyme In The Garden

This morning as I drank my coffee and gazed out the window , I watched as once again a fox came trotting down the path on the hill toward the garden. I called to Ed, but the fox's speed was fast enough that by the time Ed got out of his chair to see, only tracks in the snow remained. The fox had disappered into the brush.

This afternoon I took the camera out to the garden. Most of the garden is covered in snow. I did catch some woolly thyme peeking out of the snow on the South facing edge of the stone patio.

These are some tracks made by the fox this morning. They are not quite a neatly made as they would be if the fox had been moving slowly. The rabbit tracks that are on either side of the fox tracks were made before or after the fox went by. I know there was no rabbit there at the time. That's lucky for the rabbit.

It's not only the fox who makes use of Ed's paths. This rather large rabbit hopped right through the garden staying on the path the entire way. It would be so nice if all the critters would be so polite. Smaller bunnies have been slipping through the wire and nibbling on the kale. This garden that seems so quiet sure has a lot of traffic!

Monday, February 1, 2010

A Fox Tale

Last night near midnight when we were snuggled in our bed, the eerie sound of animals yipping came from outside the bedroom window. I listened for a minute, but curiosity got the better of me. We have seen both coyotes and foxes here in the past. I just wanted to see if I could tell who was serenading us, so I got up and cranked open the window just a crack. The animals went silent in an instant. Obviously they were close enough to my bedroom window to hear, smell, or see me. I crawled back in bed, a little disappointed.

Just before noon today we noticed movement on the hill beyond the garden. After watching for a short time, we realized the movement was a fox. Ed watched while I went to get the camera. By the time I returned to the window, a second animal came down the path. It was another fox! Imagine our excitement seeing two foxes in the garden. I really wanted to watch, but I really wanted pictures too. Both foxes are in this picture. One is obvious. The other is just above the bird feeder camouflaged by the longer grass.

As we watched, both foxes, first one then the other, walked closer to the garden. They were together but separate. Distance always separated them even thought they were moving in the same direction. First one would move and then the other would move in the same direction but at a distance. One fox stood motionless as the other approached it but then the moving fox veered away toward the shade garden. We got a chance to get an even better look. The tips of their tails were white, making them a pair of red foxes. They spent a fair amount of time exploring the area around the finished compost piles and the bird feeder. One appeared to be eating something, perhaps a mouse that lives and feeds between the compost piles.

After that they trotted off again, first one and then the other, disappearing out of sight over by Ed's temporary stone wall. One of the foxes hopped up and stood on top of the wall giving us one final exciting look. There is a south facing den in the side of that hill. Ed would like to catch a glimpse of a fox sleeping in the warmth of the afternoon sun but we would rather leave the foxes undisturbed. If the young are born near our garden the mice and rabbits that spoil our garden will become fox.

It's a thrilling prospect to have a pair of foxes frequenting the garden. I hope they stay. We have plenty of rabbits and squirrels to spare. If we are incredibly lucky, we'll get to see kits in the spring.