Sunday, December 10, 2017

Fallen Giants

When we first found this land, the mix of wooded slopes and former fields just seemed to fit our planned retirement lifestyle.  Time spent here has been filled with a variety of experiences with both nature's creatures and plants.  Trees of mature size gave this place the feeling of permanence and we expected them to outlast our time here.  The good news is that we are still here but sadly many of the huge trees are failing to both wind and disease.  Both are way beyond our control so we just watch what happens.  This red maple has been dead for the past several years.  Now we can watch just how it is falling to the ground.  Its trunk is still standing while the crown has fallen in various sized pieces.  We have not walked near this tree in years since even the smaller branches could be deadly when they fall.

A nearby tree's upper branches have fallen across a deer path that we use for hikes.  The white pine in the foreground is still healthy.  Its dead lower branches are just part of the trees' natural life cycle.  They can fuel a ferocious campfire but our picnic area is far away from here.  A return visit with my bow saw will allow me to cut the fallen branches into pieces small enough for me to move.  They will be dragged and dropped on the downhill slope near the trail.  Then both the deer and I can return to our former route to the south woods.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Do You See What I See?

I had to stop and take a picture of these two rocks leaning up against a stone wall.  The lichens, moss and sunlight paint a definite picture for me.  Do you see what I see?

Monday, December 4, 2017

More Moss Covered Rocks

It seems that I stumble across more stones that will fit right in with the plans for the new woodland garden.  This beauty was partially buried at the base of the gravel bank close to the brush pile.  It seems unlikely that it was not spotted earlier.  Perhaps its location was simply forgotten.  Once again the rock was found some distance away from the garden.  Fortunately most of the way was downhill.  If this rock is partially buried, the moss should survive in its new location.  Garden rocks can be attractive additions to what needs to look natural but moss covered rocks are simply great.

Just why and where these primitive life forms grow is a mystery.  A long row of junk stones were piled along the steep slope of the gravel bank to form a safe place to walk.  One small section of this wall is covered with active lichen and moss plants while the rest of the wall is barren.  Moisture must funnel to this area as it runs down the face of the gravel.  Why that happens is hidden under the surface.

This stone had moss growing on it when it was placed in the patio.  We planted the thyme after the patio was finished.  In time the thyme will spread and cover the moss but now they look great together.

Back at the gravel bank, this seems to be the time of year when both the moss and lichens are in active growth.  Structures supporting reproduction seem common now.  Their timing seems off but they are a very old form of growth so their must be some advantage to doing this important work in the cold.

These rocks will not be moved.  The new location might not support this growth and we will simply not risk ending them.  We can always walk to this out of the way place whenever we fancy a peek at these fascinating lichens.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Anyplace You Build Your Nest Is Home

Even on these short days when the sun drops behind the ridge by 4:30 PM, in the middle of the day a walk in the garden is delightful.  It was the little pink birdhouse in Helen's garden that caught our attention this time.  I guess the brightly colored,  especially pink, house which was a gift to me from Helen was only designed to look pretty.  However when it was placed in the garden, house wrens moved in that very day.  I could not see a way to clean out the house and was ready to give up on it, but Ed took it inside and found a way to pry off the bottom.  It was held on with just three very small nails.  We were both amazed by the tightly packed sticks at the base of the nest.

We decided that the best thing to do was to clean out the house and see if we could use it again next spring.  After all, I had so much fun watching the wrens work to get those straight sticks into that little hole.  I want to do that again!

I was very curious to see the nest. Ed pried out he tightly compacted sticks and carefully laid out the nest.  Clearly the little birds feathered their nest with feathers from other larger birds. I recognized a blue jay feather, but there were others that were way too large to be a feather of a wren. The little white ball at the bottom of the picture is a tiny spider nest.  Wrens have been observed placing these in their nest.   One small unhatched wren egg was left in the nest.  Whether it contained a dead baby or was all dried up will remain a mystery.  I was not interested in breaking open that beautiful little speckled egg!

You can see from this picture taken in June that the wrens filled the house all the way up to the entrance hole with their nest.  As far as I could tell, the little pair of birds were delighted with their housing choice.  When I was weeding in the area, the little birds would dart in whichever door was on the side opposite where I was working.  I got to enjoy their songs and chatter watch them slip inside with bugs in their beaks and I'm sure I heard the noise of tiny  baby birds waiting to be fed.  In the Spring we plan to put the refurbished house back in Helen's garden before the wrens arrive.  Such incredibly wonderful tenants deserve special treatment!

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Sisters Or Seed

Cardinal Flower has been a prime focus here recently.  How a native plant that is described as hardy to zone 3 can freeze out frequently here in what is now described as zone 5 is a frustrating puzzle.  Late winter hard freezes are the problem.

The first picture shows several sister plants growing around the base of a single stalk that flowered this year.  The single spent stalk marks this plant as a transplant that was set out in the spring.  If these young plants survive, each will send up its lone stalk that will produce flowers.  The resulting cluster of flowers will create an impressive display.  These plants are positioned so that a covering bucket can protect them from late frosts while doing no damage to adjacent plants.

This jumble contains perhaps seven stalks that flowered this season.  Since a single plant can result in six daughter plants, there may be as many as forty-two new plants growing here.  Overcrowding is the obvious result and if left alone next year's plants can not all survive here.  These plants will be transferred to pots just as soon as the soil is workable next spring.  Fall transplants always frost heave and die.  This cluster may well contain more plants than we usually pot up but we have big plans for next year.  It is our hope to find other gardeners who would like to  encourage cardinal flower to grow in it's natural environment.

Cardinal Flower also reproduces by seed.  Garden soil seldom contains enough moisture for successful germination but at time plants from seed are found.  Warm soil is another requirement for the seeds to sprout so plants from seed will not be found earlier than late May.  This plant was found and moved in August.  Notice how much larger it is than the pictured daughter plants.  These will require protection in place from the late frosts and they will surely get it.  Sumac berries are the source of the small red spheres.  Any that sprout will be weeded out.

This is one of three transplants set out at the base of the forest covered bedrock ridge last spring.  We are hopeful that the plants that follow these can survive on their own.  Since over-protection is in our makeup, one plant will likely get a bucket cover when frost threatens while the other two will be left on their own.  Since moisture leaks out from the base of the ridge, seeds dropped here this fall will likely sprout next summer.  Our hope is that a wild naturally perpetuating cluster of Cardinal Flower plants will establish themselves here.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Black Friday In The Garden, Photos by Amy

  After a busy day with terrific food and family time yesterday, I awoke very early this morning.  It was not to hop in the car to go shopping.  I don't do that on the day after Thanksgiving.  I was feeling dizzy and queasy and thought the day was going to be a disaster. Then while sitting in the kitchen eating breakfast, I noticed brilliant flashes of blue outside the kitchen window.  I immediately thought of bluebirds, but that seemed like wishful thinking.  A few minutes later a bird came back and sat on top of one of the bluebird houses.  Both Amy and Ed saw him.  The brilliant blue, reddish throat and white tummy made it definite.  Bluebirds on November 24 would have to go down as something special in any garden journal!  Just seeing them made me feel a little better.

 Bluebirds and beautiful blue skies called for a walk in the garden with the camera and Amy.  Actually she did most of the walking and I spent a lot of time sitting on the garden bench in the sunshine. Here we have  the backside of a sunflower.  What an interesting place to leave your sunflower seeds.

Howling winds have blown most milkweed seeds away,  but these two pods are still waiting for these seeds to have a chance to fly away on their silken fluff.

This milkweed seed is hung up in the top of a catnip plant.

Cold has turned the hens and chicks a lovely red.  The prickles on the end of each leaf are perfect for snagging milkweed fluff.  I don't see any seeds here. Perhaps they have been eaten or maybe I will be pulling tiny milkweed plants out of the hens and chicks in the spring.

This unknown Sedum was a stowaway in the pot of another purchased plant.  I planted it on top of Ed's curved wall.  It shows an interesting tangle of textures, shapes, color and light. 

Prickly and soft, red and white, light and shadow make this photo a favorite!

Moss and lichens adorn the top of this stone wall.  Hazelnut catkins add a little more interest! 

The side view of the same rock adds another dimension.  There are always interesting things to see in the garden. Walking there with someone special who notices is perfect!

Monday, November 13, 2017

Before The Shooting Starts

I never know exactly what I will see when I look out my living-room window.  Now that it is November, I very frequently  see a very young male deer with just four points.  Often his twin sister is around as well.  They sometimes sleep in the lawn area between the stone wall on the right and our house.  The gardener in me wants them to go away and stop eating my plants forever, but I have enjoyed watching these deer since they were tiny fawns.  Today I saw  the young male eating grass in the lawn close to the stone wall.  It seemed like he saw the eight point stag step out of the woods  just about the same time I did.  He quietly moved  to the opposite side of the wall from that big buck.  I got the binoculars to get a better look. Wow those big horns  horns looked sharp!  The young deer moved towards the safety of the house while the stag charged with amazing speed clearing the stone wall with ease in a single leap.  Unwilling to let nature take it course, I opened the window and shouted at them both.  The young male, knowing I am totally harmless, took the opportunity to take off to the east as fast as he could go.  The big buck unaccustomed to my bellowing retreated to the edge of the tree line.  He stood there looking majestic long enough for me to get the camera.  Ed got a chance to see him too.  It was not until I saw the picture that I noticed the young female standing motionless in the tall grass right between the two bluebird houses.

Since the young male was now gone, after a time he turned and walked away into the woods.  The young female remained where she was still motionless.  We thought the show was over and the tail of the big buck would be the last we saw of him.

It was then that the young female decided to move.  The buck stopped and turned his head in our direction once again.  There was time for one last picture,  then the female raced off to the east as fast as she could go.  The magnificent stag went after her.  We watched as he bounded across the lawn and then in the tall grass.  His leaps seemed effortless.  His feet barely seemed to touch the ground.  It was not unlike a well trained ballet dancer leaping across the stage. In a flash it was all over. All of the deer were gone!  For four more days that stag will be the force to be reckoned with around this neck of the woods.  However when the shooting starts his magnificent horns will not give him the advantage.  Before today we had heard about this eight point buck.  It was wonderful to see him but it's clear, when push comes to shove, it's the young deer that I have watched grow up here who have captured my heart!

Sunday, November 12, 2017

November Pines

 Some combination of favorable weather conditions resulted in a huge crop of pine cones on several different varieties of trees this year.  These Norway Spruce trees are still holding a heavy load of cones despite their fallen cones thickly covering the ground.  These trees regularly produce a crop of cones but their numbers are usually small.  This crop exceeds anything that we have seen in the past.

Norway Spruce cones remain tightly closed whether on the tree or on the ground.  Some resident rodent peels the cones to expose the seeds tucked close to the center shaft.  This bounty will likely help the squirrels and chipmunks survive the winter in great numbers.  The impact of great numbers of these creatures remains to be seen.  A recent bumper crop of acorns aided an increase in the number of mice which was a factor in a record number of ticks.

Not all trees with needles rather than leaves remain evergreen.  Larch trees needles change from green to a beautiful gold before falling to the ground.  New green needles will not be seen here until next spring.

They may be dropping their needles but they retain a tight hold on their cones.  A slight disturbance now will cause seeds to drop from the cones.  These trees were planted in some of the driest ground we have.  Perhaps this will be the year when some of these cones are scattered on ground that is frequently wet.  Larch trees prefer moist soil.

Our White Pines have matured and dropped their cones.  Hungry critters peel away the scales in search of seeds.  Scales and stripped cone centers litter the ground while the seeds are secreted away for winter food.

These cones have been gathered for two reasons.  Their open structure and white colored tips make attractive holiday displays.  They reportedly make excellent fire starters.  Once snow covers the ground, I plan to make small fires to clear away the nuisance shrubs unearthed earlier this year.  These White Pine cones may help start the fires.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Bloom While You Still Can!

 DST is official.  We set our clocks back.   Daylight hours will keep getting shorter until the Winter Solstice on December 21st.  Flowers in the garden are getting down to a precious few.  If you are a Gloriosa Daisy you have no time to bother with a nice long stem.  Right down next to the still somewhat warm soil is the way to go.  If a few more warm days happen and pollinators fly by, this flower is ready!

Growing out over a stone path works pretty well too.  This Gaillardia, Arizona Sun, flower is not a perfect specimen but it is November and getting very nippy here at night.  Bright red and yellow color is  a welcome sight.

I don't ever remember the Malva sylvestris lasting this long.  After a magnificent showing this summer, this plant is nearly done.  Some of its leaves have rust.  Many of its seeds have already been dropped.  Something is nibbling on its petals.  This last flower  is still beautiful for November!

I never get tired of thyme plants and stones.  This wild thyme  takes the cold in stride.  When the snow comes, and it will come, this plant will be just as happy and green as it is now, but  the flowers are best enjoyed now.  I noticed that a large flock of slate gray juncos is hanging out in the garden.  I don't need a crystal ball to predict that a change of seasons is in our very near future.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Late Walkabout

When it comes to hardy, these Emperor of China chrysanthemums can't be beat.  They don't even get started until it gets cooler in October.  When it gets cold the leaves change to dark red, but the flowers  continue to bloom.  So far the latest flower we have had has been in December! 

At this time of year our focus is on cleaning up another mess in preparation for the next gardening season.  We have found no time for a simple walk in the garden.  Daylight outlasted the chore tasks so we had time for a look around.  This is likely a Cardinal Flower from seed.  There is but a single plant here so new growth near a dying flowering stem is unlikely.  There is also no sign of the remains of a stem.  In the company of violets and clover this might have been seen as just another weed.  Its location in the south west corner inside of the stone square is marked here so that it can be found in the spring.  It is much larger than the plants growing at the base of flowering stems and we would like to try potting it up.

These are newly discovered buds on the Pinxter bush.  We knew that the buds formed in the fall and as luck would have it we found them today.  Last year the deer ate here so timely preventative action was taken today.  Wire cages were placed so that the Pinxters were surrounded by either wire or stone wall.  During this time we found an additional bush growing very near the larger plant.  We have known about this small plant for several years but have resisted trying to move it.  This coming spring perhaps we will try our luck at moving this plant for the third time.

As fall color photos go, this one is somewhat unusual.  The setting sun is lighting up these Goldenrod seed heads in an attractive manner.  Traditional fall colors meet the sky on the edge of the gravel bank hill.  Goldenrod presents a conflict to us.  It is a highly invasive weed that takes and holds ground at the expense of whatever plant grew there in the past.  For that reason it needs to be exterminated.  It is the last plant to flower in our meadows providing nearly the only food source for late appearing Monarch butterflies.  For that reason we must have this plant.  It takes a pry bar and a block of wood to lever out the root mass and some plants are removed in that manner.  Others are left in place to feed the next season's crop of butterflies.

Repeated frosts have caused the trumpet vine to drop its leaves.  Today it was bald enough to reveal the wren nest that we knew must be there.  When the vine was covered with its red trumpets this summer, wren vs. hummingbird activity was wonderful fun to watch.  It seemed like the birds enjoyed their competition.  I fully expect all of them to return next year!

Monday, October 23, 2017

Fall Garden Fun

It was a beautiful day today.  At 7:00 AM the sun  filled the sky with glowing color as it rose above the ridge, but the thing I really noticed was the speed with which the low clouds were moving along the ridge.  It turned into a cloudy day right before my eyes.  The fact remained that it was warm and pleasant outside.  Both Ed and I had been itching to work cleaning up the overly exuberant bed down by the road.   We loaded the tractor's cart with our tools and headed down the hill. First we each pulled a trug full of weeds from the woodland garden. We have high hopes for this garden in the spring.  Of course right now most of the plants are dormant.  It looks more and more like a natural woodland setting with every change that Ed makes!

All warmed up by pulling the small weeds in the woodland garden, we really went for the gusto here.  Ed trimmed back the huge Swallowwort also known as swamp milkweed.  It was magnificent, but needed to be cut back.  It definitely was a home to some orange aphids that needed to be sent packing.  Anise hyssop plants are a personal favorite of mine. I love their lavender flowers and sweet aroma,but they had jumped the stone edging and there where plants nearly as tall as me growing out of bounds in front of the bed.  Ed and his spade got called in for that big job.  It did not take long to fill the cart to overflowing with discarded plants.  Ed drove them up the hill to the rough compost pile.

It was a pleasure to mulch around the plants chosen to remain in the bed.  It is an amazing change with all the grass, nightshade and overgrown Johnny Jump Up plants gone.   Dead flower stalks from the coneflowers,  bee balm and false indigo filled the cart a second time.   Now we were getting somewhere!   Mulch was spread around the plants that were chosen to remain.

It was quite a reach for Ed to lean over the wall and  make this Siberian Iris and Daylily look presentable again.

The wind picked up and the sky began to darken.  More important than that it was lunchtime!  It was wonderful fun working together to return this out of control garden to a more civilized look.  This morning was perfect.  There is still more to be done, but we headed up the hill for lunch feeling really great, happy about what we accomplished together.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

October Red

Carolina Rose seems like a strange name for the New York State flower but that is the reality.  Now more than ever before the actions undertaken by politicians seem to be devoid of logic or general benefit.  Monetary donations to campaign funds appears to be the ruling force.  How that factor influenced the selection of our State Flower remains a complete mystery.

We found this native plant growing along the fence line separating our land from our neighbors.  We secured his permission to dig on his land if necessary.  As it turned out, the desired plant was totally on our land.  A single pink flower carrying a deliciously sweet scent is this rose's claim to fame.  We are pleased to have it in our garden but it deserves a better location.

This close up shows both the prickly surface of the red rose hips and the long thin sharp thorns that line the stems.  These thorns pass through gloves or sleeves with ease delivering a painful stab.  We need a location for this plant that is far away from routine cultivation.  Hand weeding under this plant is always painful.  That is why that task is seldom completed.  We are still searching for a good spot for this plant so it remains in a nursery bed.  Actually, most of the original plant has spread into the nearby stone path where it attacks lower legs.  Beauty often comes with a price and in this case the price is pain.

Sumac is a more docile plant that is held in general disregard.  These trees are short lived and messy.  We have this trash tree defining our shade garden near the road.  At this time of year its red leaves are stunning.  During the summer they provide a shade cover that appears to be tropical.  Soon both the leaves and the stems that hold them will drop to the ground.  The fallen leaves are not a problem but the tangle of cast off stems is messy.  Since we plant under these trees raking up the mess is out of the question.  What is required is some quiet time under the trees picking up individual stems.  That is not a bad way to spend some quiet outside on warm blue skies days.  We also get to check on the progress of recent transplants.