Wednesday, December 28, 2016

How Did This Happen?

My mother always had Christmas cacti and they always bloomed right on time like clockwork!  When I was younger I was not interested in plants and I never learned her secrets.  This year the Christmas cactus in my care has beautiful red flowers.  I am thrilled of course, but I have no idea exactly how this happened.  I had the plant in a west facing window.  My watering schedule was haphazard at best.   It was not looking particularly happy.  I moved it to a south facing window where it was pretty much in full sun and left it there paying very little attention to it.   To my surprise red flowers appeared.  At this point I don't know if the plant is very happy or if is blooming because it has been neglected and it thinks it is going to die.  It is wonderful to have flowers now with the cold and snow outside.  This plant has my attention now.  Perhaps I will do a little reading and see if the secret of caring for Christmas cacti can be found in any of my books.

Monday, December 26, 2016

The End Is In Sight

When we found this land nearly one quarter of a century ago, a sizable group of horses spent their summers here confined only by a perimeter fence.  Their free grazing combined with roaming wherever they pleased preserved the grassy meadows.  Second growth saplings were trampled down along with briers and Japanese honeysuckles.  The top of the gravel bank hill was crowned with a single  impressive red maple tree.  We refereed to it as the sentinel as it stood guard over a large part of our newly acquired land.  Expecting it to outlast our time here, we were disappointed to see it too is showing serious signs of age.

Red maple trees have a curious growth habit.  The main trunk is twisted and short giving way to several massive and tall secondary trunks.  The site of this branching frequently collects moisture which starts the rot that will in time fell the tree.

This cavity may have once been filled by an upper trunk.  Nearby ground shows no signs that it once held rotting wood.  Becky remembers that a large section fell toward the downhill side of the tree.  A return trip here will likely reveal the rotting remains of the fallen trunk on the far side of the tree.   Whatever the cause of this large opening, its presence spells a dismal future for this once proud giant.  Located at the top of a hill, the tree is exposed to all of the winds.  Some storm will snap off one of the remaining trunks.  It appears to me that the section at the right will fall next.

Our time on this land has taught us many lessons.  We knew that our time here was finite but we expected that the large trees would outlast us.  Sadly some big red maples are falling faster than we are.  That fact could be seen as our good fortune as we continue to mostly enjoy our time here.

This old print shows both the sentinel maple in all of its youthful majesty and our stone square before any planting beds were prepared.  Our best guess dates this view as 1995 or 1996.  One thing is certain.  The sentinel maple looked impressive.

Writing this post has in some ways been a humbling experience.  I now clearly recall when this tree lost its center upper trunk.  The solid globe of green leaves became deeply divided by a v shaped mass of blue sky.  The remaining two trunks rather quickly filled the newly opened void with green and our focus turned elsewhere.  It is surprising how completely this event was forgotten.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Searching For Green

This year's gardening season ended with unexpected suddenness.  Knowing that many weeds will spend the winter reclaiming our garden beds spread a pervasive gloom. To disperse the dark clouds  despite hand numbing cold, it was necessary for me to get outside, have a long walkabout and look for plants that continue to conduct their business despite adverse winter conditions.  That is exactly how the past two hours were spent.  I feel better already!

An evergreen ground cover is always a morale booster.  This is our single patch of wild arbutus.  Two years ago a winter starved rabbit ate all of the above ground plant growth when the snow cover retreated.  We messed with nature by installing a sub-ground flat stone barrier and a wire cage.  Safe from large foragers, these plants have regrown once again and will flower this spring.  Small foragers have left their marks on two large leaves.

Moss growing on a fallen tree is a welcome sight.  I wonder if the hole in the trunk is an entrance to some rodent's home?  No tracks are visible but this log is large enough to hold a large cache of stored food making trips outside unnecessary.

Moss growing on rocks that are in contact with the ground always deserves a second look.  A recent rereading of an old college geology text found an explanation of how broken rectangular chunks of sedimentary deposits were made round.  According to Richard J. Ordway, a memorable college professor, the action of repeated freeze thaw cycles is most severe at the thin corner edges causing them to break and fall away.  Cracks in the stones show the orientation of the original horizontal layers of deposition.  The farmer that cleared these stones from his field threw them down without regard for which side should have been up.

This evergreen ground cover continues to exist on its own.  Partridge Berry is growing mixed in with pasture grass.  There is little doubt that the grass will soon have exclusive ownership of this ground.  The single berry formed from two fused at the base flowers always catches the eye.

This deer dig reveals the former location of a wild fern.  Pieces of the fern were broken off as the deer pulled the snow clear of the plant.  Then the fern was eaten to the crown.

Any attempt to plant here unearths vast quantities of stone.  These were haphazardly piled so the the actual work at hand could continue.  The top of this wall had developed a serious lean.  As I walked by I wondered if I could push the upper part of the wall back into place.  It turns out that I could do just that.  With the mass that was holding them in place removed, the central portion of the wall fell to the ground.  It was more luck than my cat like reflexes that prevented injury from the falling stone.  Having learned nothing from that experience, I think that I can rebuild the hole while the upper stones remain mostly in place.

Friday, December 16, 2016

No Cover

My 4 am indoor walkabout revealed the cover-less lawn tractor basking in the moonlight.  Yesterday we watched swirling snow devils dance across the landscape.  Temperatures plummeted into the single digits as fierce winds kept the air filled with snow.  The John Deere tractor cover featured a strong elastic cord contained in an edge seam.  This elastic cord was short enough to firmly hold the cover in place.  In fact, the cord caught on every protrusion making the cover's planned removal a bit of a chore.  Sometime during the night the wind got under the cover and carried it away.  We wonder just how far it flew as no trace of it can be seen looking out of our windows.

The good news is that the early snow cover has so far been continuous.  Our plants are presently protected under a layer of white insulation.  We would be happy if this snow was still on the garden in March.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Garden Plants in December

My flat leaf parsley is still green and beautiful.  It can still be used now, but I would be very surprised to see it in the spring.  The same is not true for the tiny German chamomile plants that have come up around it. I have faith in those little plants to take whatever the winter has in store for us.

Creeping lemon theyme does well over the winter here.  I have long since given up on the more upright varieties. I'm way too cheap thrifty to replace all my plants in the spring.

My sweet woodruff still looking good.  It a nice ground cover in the garden. It is not so rampant as to take out the Johnny-jump-ups or the tiny cardinal flower seen at the right of the picture.

Clumps of new cardinal flower plants still look good.  They would prefer a nice snow cover to look this good in the spring. If it's going to be cold I like a nice warm blanket myself!

This  Lewisia  is really beautiful, but I wonder what it is up to with buds in December.  Sometimes I just have to believe that my plants know what they are doing.  Some plants bloom in desperation just before they die, but this one looks too good for me to expect that.  This plant is one that I will dig into my pockets and replace in any case!

Last but hardly least the Emperor of China chrysanthemum has the red leaves that come with the cold, but still has a lovely pink bloom.  I have never understood the growth habit of this plant, but who can resist a pink flower in December

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Stone Stories and Hidden Treasures

We found this land because of our passion for stones and my passion for building stone walls.  The farmer's wife that had worked this farm for decades saw an opportunity to unload the last twisted piece of the original farm.  She offered us free field stone to use in our village garden.  Many truckloads of wall stones later we purchased the last piece of the farm.  Native stone has fascinated us.  At one time this area was covered by a vast sea.  Mountains to the east surrendered to the ravages of weather and their sediments washed into the sea.  Geologists gave the resulting land form the name Allegheny Plateau.  Several periods of glaciers carved the flat plateau into its present configuration of bedrock hills and river valleys.  We own a small piece of a bedrock ridge that is the visible remains of the plateau.  The rest of our land surface consists of glacial deposits.  Our tiny metamorphic stones were carried here from the Adirondack Mountains to our north.  Larger sedimentary rocks were formed closer to home.  We find these rocks both fascinating and useful.

This rock was long ago placed in the patio next to the section of garden enclosed by four stone walls.  It was selected because of its size and shape.  Years of foot traffic have worn away a thin deposit of sediment revealing a stone surface featuring ripple marks.  This stone was formed in a shallow section of the sea where gentle currents formed the ripple marks.  It is also possible that the marks are worm tunnels made by life forms on the bottom of the sea. In either case the rock is interesting and attractive.

This piece of a formerly huge rock is headed down near the garden by the road.

This is the same rock close to where it was found with a newly exposed interior surface taking in the sunlight.  When this rock was first discovered, its shape was nearly a cube.  At that size machinery would have been necessary to move it.  A series of parallel cracks were discovered crossing the exposed top surface.  A hammer and wedges allowed me to split that monster stone into several pieces small enough to be carefully moved by hand.  This piece remained unused because of its other side. Special stones with interesting fossils are hidden treasures!

Here is a closeup of the fossil covered surface.  This face deserves to be seen and that required placement as a top of a wall stone.  Its mass made such a location both difficult and unwise for me to attempt so up until now this treasure remained leaning against a tree in the woods.

This stone slice is from another monster that was located close to the above pictured stone.  A weathered crack invited investigation with my hammer and chisel.  For the first time a stone of this type actually split for me.  The core of the rock is heavily mineralized and unbelievably hard.  Contact with a hammer usually produces only a sharp ringing sound in my ears and pain in the joints of the arm swinging the hammer.  This rock has also remained on the forest floor where it was found.  The moss covered outer edge is soft and moist supporting growth.  That layer will soon fall away from the hard central core.  This stone is far to interesting to bury in a stone wall.

Here is the site of the project that will make good use of these interesting stones.  The current owner of the original farmhouse in the background takes excellent care of his home.  The previous owner allowed the field to grow weeds unchecked and I took similar care of my narrow strip of road frontage.  Now we are working to establish a tended flower garden on our side of the property line.  This new growth of sumac is creating a shaded area that can be used as a pleasant place to sit and rest and it might support native woodland plants.  We intend to use our large flat rocks to build a low ledge that will direct water to the base of the plants.  With our  well drained gardens, extreme drought ended our Bloodroot plants that had reproduced from seed.  Here at the bottom of the lane we have different soil and drainage.  We will see if the large stones will capture enough moisture to keep new plants alive.

Today's weather forecast predicts that we will awaken to find two inches of snow on the ground tomorrow morning.  The rest of the week may feature more snow each day.  Those facts made moving stones out of the woods seem like a great use of this blue sky day.

This stone's final destination is to the left at the base of the hill.  The red of the sumac berries can be seen from a distance.

Here the rocks supporting moss growth are placed flat on the ground to try and keep the moss alive.  When the ledge is completed these rocks will be placed on a slant in full contact with the ground.  So placed these rocks will capture moisture from the night air and hopefully keep both the moss and the native woodland plants alive.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

End of November Green

On occasion our gardening blunders can be attributed to ignorance.  In this instance, the choice to cultivate an invasive nonnative was made with full understanding of both the plants history and nature.  Sweet Rocket is a common roadside weed in our area.  It grew here prior to our ownership of this land and it will continue to call here home long after we are gone.  Its pleasantly scented flowers are also frequently colored an attractive purple.  Color and scent make this plant a sure winner.  It is easy to understand why early European settlers brought seeds of this attractive plant with them.

A biennial habit and a stout tap root present problems when trying to transplant Dame's Rocket.  These three plants were moved early in the year while they were still small.  Their color is unknown but we would like to see purple and perhaps a single white.  If these plants please us and if we cut them back after they flower, a second year of flowers might happen.  Cutting the immature seeds heads is prudent in one wishes to avoid weeding out many deeply rooted seedlings.

This area is our spearmint patch.  Three clove currants were also planted here.  Since the roots of the clove currants run deep and mint's roots hold the upper ground, we planted them together.  A couple of Dame's Rocket transplants were thrown in for good measure.  They dropped a carpet of seed so we will be weeding here.  Five minutes of timely pruning would have saved us much difficult weeding.

The low meadow in the back has been given over to goldenrod and milkweed.  Our considerate neighbors have two horses and little land that is suitable for grazing.  Last season some mowing was done here to discourage the weeds and favor the grass.  The first step in the process is to slowly drive my truck across the area searching out mower killing rocks and leg breaking woodchuck dens.  Next spring we will mow here with the blades set high.  When the growth is more suitable to the horses taste perhaps they can keep the grass short and the weeds gone.

Becky spotted this wintergreen berry from the truck.  It looks like there were several fruits on a single stem earlier in the year.  Neither of us recall seeing multiple fruits.  That will give us something to look for next year.  When there are more berries, we have been known to eat a few.  We are both  old Teaberry gum fans.  The reddish pink new spring growth is tasty as well, but we do not harvest them unless the patch is well established.

All of our attempts to cultivate wintergreen have failed.  Clearing the briers away from a wild patch made it easy for the deer to graze the plants into oblivion.  I throw light brush over the wintergreen to make it difficult for the deer to eat here.  The neighbor's dogs also help to protect these plants.  The wisest course of action would be to enjoy wintergreen as a naturally wild plant.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Bright Red In The Garden. Photo By Amy

Most of the recent snow is now gone.  Amy managed to find some bright red Jack-in-the-pulpit berries to photograph.  A person might think that these berries belong to the green  Lungwort plant with the white speckles, but they actually belong to the brownish black dead leaves in the foreground. I see a couple of  columbine seed heads in the foreground as well.  We have been having gray skies and welcome rain.  Now that the snow is gone the deer blend right into the background.  They can disappear right before your eyes.  We did see a wet ruffled grouse that we could identify with the binoculars while he was on the grass, but he flew up into the woods and we lost him as we approached.  I guess a garden in Upstate New York becomes boring in the winter but not to me.  I still watch every morning for something to capture my interest.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Perilous Widow Maker

Our three day lake effect snow event has finally ended and today's clear skies drew me outside for a walkabout.  This nearly inverted snapped off tree trunk is a new feature likely the result of the recent fierce weather.  At first I had no luck finding the original location of the newly fallen tree branch.  Looking up it was impossible to find its former home.

The original farm included the field in the foreground and the one that extends to a distant tree line.  Fields beyond the tree line lie on the opposite side of the Unadilla River and are part of another old farm.  Our land consists entirely of ground now found unsuited for cultivation and occupies glacial deposits that are higher than the river.

This view shows that the hanging wood was actually the entire trunk.  How this happened is a bit of a puzzle.  The fallen trunk above the supporting crotch is more massive than the remains below it.  Only the steepness of the angle allows the fallen tree to remain where it is.  This system is not stable.  The supporting tree is far too small to bear this load for long.  We will check in to see what happens next but only from a safe distance.

The high ground that provided these safe views are at the end of a fill that was made to bury the remains of the barn that was struck by lightning in the early 1960's.

This snapped off tree could hardly be classified as a widow maker.  It does have the potential to be a leg breaker.  For that reason I have chosen to simply leave it alone.  My walking path did pass under where the tree fell and I could duck and scoot under it but my path simply took a new route.  Walking about in the woods does require a measure of common sense.

Field workers do pass under the first tree shown to dump stone removed from the adjacent field.  It is likely that the tree will have completed its journey to ground before that work resumes.  That is also a spot where I find great wall stones but that work is also suspended until spring.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Snow Bother

Yesterday when the lake effect snow began to fall the ground was warm.  The snow only stuck on the grass and the trees.  The driveway and the stone walls pretty much melted the snow as it fell.  It was my idea of a perfect storm.  It was incredibly beautiful and we could stay inside where it was warm and watch snow fall on the garden.   A peaceful stillness comes with a blanket of new snow.

This morning heavy wet snow was falling.  Those big clumps of snowflakes add up fast. Throughout the day, the snow danced on the wind sometimes looking like it was going horizontal and not falling at all.

It became obvious the the let-it-melt method was not going to cut it this time.  It took considerable time for us to get together the long underwear, winter hat, snow pants, insulated gloves and waterproof jacket necessary for comfortable snow removal.  It has been a long time since I have seen Ed head outside wearing that many layers of clothing.  He reminded me of the kid in A Christmas Story!  Ed enjoys being out there moving the snow where he wants it to be.  Today he plowed some leaves and mud as well since the driveway is not yet frozen.  He only appears in one picture because by the time I saw him coming and got the camera, he was already headed out of sight.

Ed is back inside where it is warm and cozy.  The shoveling, sweeping and plowing are finished for now.  The snow is letting up, but it has not stopped.  Every now and then the wind whirls the snow past the window completely blocking the view.

I guess it seems like we are back at the beginning, but the snow no longer obscures the ridge in the distance.  The snow is  once again building up on the ramp.  It will be dark soon.  Tomorrow we hope to go out.  It could be a bit of an adventure!

Friday, November 11, 2016

Helen's Leaves

Last fall Ed, my friend Jan and I spent some wonderful time raking and bagging leaves with Helen.  Helen was in the middle of chemotherapy treatment then but that didn't stop her from doing what needed to be done. " Many hands make light work," and working together made for a very pleasant experience for all of us.  This year Helen is in the hospital with her family by her side.  So here we are on this beautiful day in November collecting Helen's leaves again.  It is something we can do.  The tree behind me is the  gorgeous maple that is dropping all these leaves.  Far from naked it will be dropping even more. I raked the leaves away from the tree roots so that Ed can use his mulching mower.

That big maple drops its leaves over a large area.  This is the view to the south showing Helen's gardens and the fascinating remains of a Camperdown elm that has been there for more than a hundred years.  Perhaps Helen's grandparents planted it.  The back yard goes all the way back to just beyond the spruce tree on the right.  I walked to the back with a couple of branches that had fallen and needed to be moved.

 On my return I was struck by the silhouette of the Camperdown Elm and the still colorful maple.  Ed and his mower seems so tiny compared to these venerable old trees.  It's easy to see why Helen has  always loved living here.  It is a beautiful place to be.

As long as I have known Helen I have been fascinated with this  now dead tree.  Since I had the camera I had to take a close - up of its gnarled trunk.  All Camperdown elms came from one.  Named  Ulmus 'Camperdownii', it was discovered on the estate of the Earl of Camperdown in Scotland in 1872.  That tree never produced seed.  Grafted cuttings were the method of making more of these trees.

Sometimes it is hard to accept things as they are.  I look at this amazing long dead tree against the blue sky and consider the beauty that still exists there.  Perhaps raking leaves is a small gesture, but Helen has taught me that it is up to each of us to something positive with our day.  It is not always easy but we must do our best!

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Use What You Are Given

When we found this land twenty-two years ago, it seemed like the perfect place to retire.  Near a river but well above it, floods were highly unlikely to reach us.  Even with the aftermath of global warming we should then have beachfront property.  Since the land had been farmed for many generations, we felt that gardens could be easily established here.  Only after the land was ours did we try to insert a spading fork into the ground.  Broken stones were everywhere so that it was impossible to turn a single spadeful of soil.

Our method of dealing with the mess that the last glacier left behind can be seen in the above photo.  First, the plant growth needed to be removed.  That in itself was no easy task.  Undercutting the sod from the side with a maddock allowed clumps to be removed.  These sod blocks were inverted and piled.  After several years of composting, that topsoil became a vital ingredient in our planting beds.  Of course the stones still needed to be removed.

This coarse screen with one square inch holes separates out the larger stones left behind after hand picking the big ones.  What passes through the screen will serve as subsoil in a planting bed.  Topsoil will be forced through a screen with one half inch square holes.  If I am really feeling fussy, there is another screen with even smaller holes.

At this time the large waste stone is being used to bring the lawn up to grade at the west end of the house.  When we first came here this type of stone was used to build the driveway in a manner similar to that used by the Romans.  This area by the house remained unfinished because I did not want to bury the edge of the stone patio.  If we are going to be able to use this feature, one must be able to simply make one step up to its surface.

Here one can see the other results of today's work.  The foreground stone path was previously built using select waste stone.  Dark hardwood bark mulch covers the finished planting soil.  Our planting soil consists of equal parts of screened compost and screened material from the sod pile.  Under that is the soil that passed through the inch square screen.  At the very bottom of the hole is the yellowish dirt never enriched by rotting plant material.

Everything in this patch of ground found a useful location nearby.  Nothing was thrown over the bank,  The physical exertion necessary to move the raw material about has many positive benefits if it is carefully done.  Given a few more days like today, we should reach the end of this planting bed.  We will spend some of the next season planning how to plant this new ground.  This will be a new experience for us since our habit has been to try and find a hole for all of the plants ordered in the dead of winter.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

A Perfect November Day

The weather forecast for today predicted a fantastic day.  A hard overnight frost was followed by clear skies and temperatures that reached well into the 50's.  This glorious afternoon was spent running fallen maple leaves through the lawn mower creating perfect garden mulch.  The bags of shredded leaves will be piled and covered with a tarp.  If all goes as planned, we will find fine, dry, aged, ph proper mulch for our basil planting next June.  How much better than that does it ever get?

Our original Gloriosa daisies were given to us many years ago by Elle, an elderly gardener that took us under her wing.  Many of her plants still grow in our gardens so we remember her fondly and often.  This last of the season flower looks rather stunning dressed with frost.

Foxglove has found many locations around the garden to send down roots.  We prefer to have it grow at the base of stone walls.  That type of location seems satisfactory to the plant as it reseeds wildly there.  A generous coating of frost highlights the texture of these leaves.

Cone flower has been a favorite of the lady of the garden forever.  It now grows here in unmanageable numbers.  We hate to discard living plants but a run through the compost pile happens to this plant rarely.  An end of the season flower still holding petals and a perfect seed head looks lovely with its frost overcoat beginning to melt in the morning sun.

If our overnight freeze was harsh enough to end nearly all of the tiny biting black bugs, this will have been a truly perfect  day.