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.