Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Partridge Vine


Partridge Vine is the name assigned to this native plant by Mrs. William Starr Dana in her 1897 edition of How To Know The Wild Flowers.  Partridge Berry is its more common name.  This is another somewhat insignificant evergreen ground cover that would be easy to overlook.  We stumble across small patches occasionally when we walk in the woods.  This marks the first time that we have seen it in perfect flower.

It is growing over a rather large area just uphill from our first transplanted arbutus plants.  This worn cone shaped hill was likely formed by glacial melt water pouring over the high edge of the receding ice sheet.  Gravel has been mined nearby and the newly exposed ground reveals different layers that are steeply sloped.  Broken stone of various sizes is commonly mixed with muddy clay. Thin layers of washed fine sand are found but nothing resembling soil exists within the deposits.  The surface ground is a dark thin layer of rotted fallen leaves or pine needles.  Trees do grow here but their thick canopy prevents most other plants from taking root.  Fern growth is sparse and an occasional blueberry bush skeleton are  the only other plants found here.  Surface stones are common.


Twin flowers joined at their base is an uncommon characteristic.  Even more unusual are the bright red berries that follow.  A single berry with two indentations marking the former locations of the two styles is somewhat visually unsettling.  Seeing both the flowers and the berries at the same time would be a treat but the ground birds have eaten the berries by now.

The lighter green leaves in the picture are from a maple seedling.  We tend not to pose our photos so the distraction remains.

Partridge berry flowers are dimorphous in form.  The term refers to the occurrence of stamens and pistils of different lengths on different plants.  This makes self pollination highly unlikely.  Flowers with tall pistils are best pollinated by flowers with tall pistils.  Another of our favorite plants, Bluets, also has this flower structure.


Partridge berry flowers are frequently described as being highly aromatic.  We cannot speak to that point.  Our patch covers a sizable area but there is more ground showing than plants.  Damp rotting leaves and needles are also a source of scent and theirs is the only aroma that we can detect.  A solution would involve snapping off a flower or two and carrying them to cleaner air.  So far we have been unwilling to do that.  We now know by experience that Partridge berry flowers form near the end of June.  This is a busy time in our gardens but we must remember to take the time to look for these special native wild flowers.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Snow Peas Fresh From The Garden



The Oregon Giant peas are ready.  Ed plants them in two rows and then adds a chicken wire fence down the middle for the peas to cling to.  This year he mulched them with finely chopped and sifted leaves.  The results are spectacular and except for a little hand watering during dry periods we have not had to do any upkeep.  We have been having a lot of deer trouble this year, but the cage around the bed had kept the peas safe.  Now we get to enjoy the best part!


First thing this morning Ed went out to pick the snow peas and get them into the fridge.  It made us happy all day to know we would be having one of our absolute favorite summer dishes for dinner tonight!  Both pea beds are producing now.  Maybe I will actually make something different with snow peas this year too, but this dish is  fabulous!


 This recipe dates back to our vegetarian days.  Now I realize not everyone likes or even wants to try tofu, but this Sesame Baked Tofu With Snow Peas and Almonds would be a great place to start.  I have made this with chicken and it was delicious, but the original is still our favorite!  The recipe is from  The Moosewood Kitchen Garden Cookbook, pg. 235.  I love this book!  I might have scanned the page directly from my cookbook. I have used it so much that the pages are loose. However, I don't know what the current rules are for that sort of thing and I may have spilled soy sauce on this recipe once or twice.  I wouldn't want anyone to see that!   I'll be picking more peas on Tuesday morning.  I can hardly wait!


Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Arbutus Seeds and Strawberries


This is always a busy time of year for us but we frequently check on the progress of the arbutus seed clusters.  Today Becky found the first open seed berries.  They are just beginning to open and the ants have yet to find them.  The white pulp beneath the seeds is what the ants eat.  They simply discard the seeds.  This may be the year that I taste a small piece of the white pulp.


Seed clusters are numerous on the three female plants growing behind the arbutus wall.  We have yet to see a new plant from seed appear in this area.  Arbutus is well known to rigidly follow its own schedule.  The number of years required for its seeds to germinate remains unknown to us.  We have scattered seed in suitable spots around the place but no arbutus plants appeared.  We tried to carry seed over the winter in our freezer but nothing grew when the seeds were spring planted.


The large number of big light green new leaves is impressive.  These leaves and their new stems quickly followed the cycle of the flowers.  The small reddish green new leaves show that these plants are still sending out new growth.  This pleases us since next year's flowers form only on the tips of the new growth.

These plants have nearly filled their safe area under the cage.  We need to decide just how we will deal with the ever expanding plants.  It may be that the foraging animals only feed on arbutus at the end of winter.  If that is the case, then we could remove the cage during the months of new growth.  Then we could replace the cage after allowing for the unhindered passage of new growth under the cage sides.  That would place the new growth at risk of being eaten but the rest of the plants would remain  protected.



We usually limit each post to one subject.  Strawberries are included here so that we will be reminded that fresh strawberries appear at the same time as new arbutus seed.  New strawberries never go unnoticed and their appearance will remind us when to look for arbutus seed.

The berries in the basket were just picked from our sixty plants.  The box is marked for Heller's Farm but sadly they are no longer open for picking.  We have been enjoying their berries for five decades.  All good things come to an end and that appears to be the case here.  Heller's fields were always well cared for and their berries were excellent.  We will remember their friendly greetings, fair pricing and top quality fruit as a totally pleasant experience.



We plant one dozen plants within the confines of a forty by sixty inch cage.  Bird netting keeps nearly all of the birds out. The cage is simply set aside to tend the plants or pick the berries.  We tried to plant thirty plants in the garden by the woods.  No covering netting is in place and no red berries have been found yet.  We may need to find a way to cover those plants next year.  For now the new plants are sending out runners.  We will limit the number and location of the new plants so that all have room to grow.  A densely planted bed like those that were in Heller's fields is our goal. 

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Mid June All Stars


This is the time in the gardening year when there is simply more that needs to be done than what we can do.  Most of the potted plants are now planted out but some still need attention.  Afternoon temperatures in the mid 80s has us looking for work in the shade.  Becky spent considerable time in the shade garden and this is the result of her efforts.

Serbian Bellflower, Campanula portenschiagiana is an amazing plant with an unbelievably long name.  It flourishes when pushed into a crevice in the stone wall.  Some soil was first pushed into the crack but we did not expect the plant to survive in such a difficult location.  It continues to spread across the vertical face of the stone wall.  A tiny mail order scrap of a plant has now claimed a large section of the wall.

Bluets have been difficult for us to grow.  We have seen them spreading across a lawn that oozed with septic moisture.  Our plants were placed in the soil but have self seeded on the horizontal surface of the wall.  They receive frequent visits from the watering can in a attempt to keep them alive.


This is the neighbor's view of our garden by the road.  From a distance or when speeding by in a car this garden looks rather good.  It needs attention as too many plants are growing close together.  Deer are also feeding here nightly.  Asiatic lilies are safely enclosed in wire cages this year.  Last season the deer ate every lily bud just before they had a chance to open.  One cluster of buds is perilously close to the top of the four foot high cage.


So far the Siberian iris have escaped attention from the deer.  If that holds, these flowers may become our first choice for the perfect perennial plant.  The sword like foliage looks good all summer and the flowers are elegant stunners.  Some have become separated from their name bearing stones.  We think that this one is Silver Edge.


  Roaring Jelly was the first Siberian Iris that we purchased.  It is both hardy and a colorful eye catcher.  Divisions now have it growing in three different locations around our place.


Golden Edge is another beauty.  We find that the edge color rather quickly fades away from gold.  All have proven durable and we will continue to spread them about with early in the year divisions.  Jane, our friend in her ninth decade, has reported that when she visits places that she occupied decades ago only the Siberian Iris that she planted still remain.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Misty Morning Garden Delights


The World famous  Itsy Bitsy Spider was in the woodland garden this morning and so were  Ed and I.  There is just two inches between those wires.  Now that's tiny! One can only imagine how tiny the bugs are that this spider hopes to catch!  Just as exciting as that for me is part of the freshly weeded onion  bed that can be seen in the background.


It's cool in the garden before the mist burns off.  Every spider web, flower and leaf  has beautiful little droplets of water on them.  It is a great time to be in the garden.  Of course the bugs agree.  I'll be snorting all morning to get rid of the little black bug that flew up my nose.


Soon the sun will burn through the mist and all the wet glistening dew will be gone.  The tiny spider will still be there, but without the water droplets her web will never be noticed.  The flowers and plants will enjoy the sunny part of their day.   I'm glad I was out there in the  delightful misty morning.  I'll be even happier when I'm sure I have gotten rid of that little black bug!  What a wonderful beginning to a sunny blue sky day!

Monday, June 5, 2017

Twice Used Tree Leaves


Last summer two hills of squash grew here.  Fresh grass clippings were placed under the young plants to discourage weeds.  After frost ended the squash plants, all vegetation was removed and composted and the ground was left bare.  When the village trees finally dropped their leaves, this planting bed received a thick leaf cover.  Various wire cages were placed on top of the leaves to keep them in place.  Today we needed to clear the leaves away to make room for new plants.


This planting bed is bordered by pasture grass.  That means that it will fill with grass runners with each passing day.  Our attempt to win this battle involves expendable plants and leaf mulch.  Three of the sunflowers that reseed freely here were  planted near the peas.  Three cone flowers that also multiply freely were planted next.  A catnip, a rose campion and a poppy round out this planting of free plants for the moment.  When additional weeds are cleared, more temporary or expendable plants will be given a place to grow.  The leaf mulch placed here today came from the bed cleared for planting.


We needed to clear the planting bed so that the basil and pepper plants could finally be released from their pots.  Our frost free date is June first so we are not that far behind.  This ground will be left bare for some time.  Exposure to sunlight is thought to be of some benefit to the soil.  We will then open a bag of tree leaves that were chopped by our lawn mower last fall.  A trip through a sifting screen will give us small sized leaf pieces to be placed under the basil and pepper plants.  These fine old leaf pieces will look really sharp and will nearly rot away be fall.  Weeds will be few in number on this ground then and the rotted leaves will add a much sought after layer of black to our soil.  A generous application of limestone will be followed by new leaves as winter approaches.


This bed of peas is just across the stone path next to the basil plants.  After putting the seeds into the soil, full sized leaves were placed on the bare soil.  Room was left open to allow the peas an easy trip into sunlight and fresh air.  Once the peas were up, the leaves were pushed close intending to keep the weeds away.  The soil under the chicken wire was left bare and we expect to see some weeds there.  The peas have a good head start so our next job here should be picking fresh peas.

We are looking for techniques that will decrease the work required to keep the gardens looking tended.  Some time is required to gather and place the leaves but once they are on the ground plants can reach harvest with little additional effort from us.  A recent inspection of the garlic bed in the garden by the woods revealed a nearly weed free planting.  The garlic will be harvested in little more than five weeks from now and what weeds are present are small.  They will not negatively impact the growth of the garlic now.  Only my pride will require some time spent pulling weeds there.

Ed's Birthday Bash From My Point Of View


Sometimes when Ed is really focused on some project here at the Stone Wall Garden, he is a little hard for me to locate.  The first evening when Amy arrived it was relatively easy to find Ed.  First we listened for the sound of the tracker, then we drove the truck to the back.  We simply followed his tracks.  At first the uprooted Asian honeysuckle bushes were small and Ed's tracks were quite large, but we could see he was getting the hang of it.  Finally we saw him moving in the distance on the other side of the meadow.  He was just a little red spot in a sea of green!


If you notice the trees on the horizon you can see that this picture is taken in the same basic direction as the first two. The misshapen tall red maple tree is in all three pictures.  The impressive thing is what you don't see!  That one remaining bush hasn't got a chance!


Early the next morning Ed and his machine tackled the driveway.  Heavy rain was expected so he had to be coaxed into quitting long enough to have lunch.  Here he is headed to get another scoop of gravel to spread.  He might have had a little bit of trouble getting it perfect this morning, but he's rolling now!


Because heavy rain was due, Ed smoothed out the driveway and took a break long enough to say goodbye and get Amy on her way home.  He worked on the driveway until the rain got pretty heavy.  Finally we covered the skidder with a tarp because we couldn't get the  %#&? door closed to keep out the rain.



Early this morning when the truck arrived to pick up the machine Ed was trying to finish his driveway work.  Reluctantly he dumped his scoop of gravel and brought the machine to be loaded for its return.  Ed's Birthday Bash was a big success!   He got more than I ever thought possible done and he had a wonderful time doing it.  It's not sad because I don't think it's really goodbye but   à bientôt!

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Best Birthday Ever !!!


In our part of the world, Asian Bush Honeysuckle may be the most invasive foreign plant in existence.  Its appeal as a decorative shrub was likely the cause of its introduction into the New World.  Hardy beyond comparison, the pink or white flowers are attractive and their scent is pleasant.  Berries for the birds and nesting sites make this plant seem like a responsible planting subject.

We first encountered the bush we call Japanese Honeysuckle behind our former village home.  A disused  sawmill site had been totally claimed by huge bushes.  Far more than head high, a walk among them soon had one nearly lost.  During our time here on this land, these invaders claimed and held waste places.  Now they are taking over some former fields.  The birthday rental machine is well suited to remove these unwelcome aliens.  It topples them with such ease the process is satisfying!


Roots that seem to run forever in many different directions make these shrubs difficult to remove with hand tools.  A pry bar and fulcrum can reveal the location of roots that can be cut with loppers.  Given enough time and energy, it is possible to dig these plants by hand.  The skidder makes quick work of even huge specimens. In just one weekend and fabulous progress has been made!

We call this glacial kame terrace the high meadow.  The view to the east features our nearby bedrock ridge.  It penetrates into the valley forcing the Unadilla River to change its generally southerly course.  For airborne birds, butterflies or machines, the direct down river path is directly over our meadow.


Bushes this size are easily removed with the skidder.  Most of the time their roots seem to run forever and sizable chunks of turf are sometimes torn up.  Much work will be required to repair the damage done but it is best to allow time to remove the soil from the root masses.

When Amy was living and working in NYC, this flat meadow was visited often when she spent a weekend with us.  The view here runs full circle and the pervasive quiet is quite a change from ever present city noise.  This picture shows the western ridge that parallels the normal course of the river and one of my piles of removed bushes!.


Each end of the meadow now holds an impressive sized pile of removed honeysuckles.  Come winter we may have a burn here when snow cover protects against wild fires.  It was tremendously satisfying to return this former cow pasture to its former appearance.  We shall try to prevent the return of the invaders. 


Three different uses of the birthday rental machine can be seem here.  A path to our electric pole was opened up.  This involved the removal of more bush honeysuckles.  A section of the bank that encroaches on our driveway has been pushed back.  More needed to be done but thunder storms will visit here today.  The cleared section will keep rain water runoff from crossing the driveway here.  The new gravel lane surface awaits compaction from the truck.

The past three days and the big machine have been different and wonderful.  We frequently pass by the loader at roadside with a sign inviting its rental.  That always caught my imagination but I remained unsure that I could operate it.  Amy removed that hurdle with a weekend machine rental.  I suspect that the machine will make a return visit as much remains to be done here.  Thank you Amy!

Friday, June 2, 2017

Ed's Birthday Bash


Ed's big, very special birthday present has arrived!  WOW, he has it for the whole weekend!  It looks so small from a distance.


It looked small when we drove by and Ed talked about renting it too.  It looks pretty big up close!


Ed is ready to go, but first some instruction from a pro.


Doesn't he look happy?  He can do amazing things with a wheelbarrow and a shovel.  We will see what he can do with this!


There he goes destination Amy's meadow.  This thing has lights and a radio.  He may be gone for awhile!

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Made In The Shade


Now that the locust tree has its leaves these plants have it made in the shade.  It's great for me too.  If you are looking for me in the garden and it is a sunny day, look in the shady spots.  The lovely purple Campanula portenschlagiana in the foreground is just getting started.  This plant seems to love growing in Ed's stone wall and it has yet to disappoint us.  


This year the Jack-in-the pulpit plants are huge and beautiful.  The large three lobed leaves provide even more shade for Jack.  You have to get down at ground level to get a peek at the fascinating flower.


These bluets growing in a crevice on the top of Ed's wall are in the perfect spot to photograph.  Small clumps of tiny leaves can be seen beneath the tiny little blue four petaled flowers. 


 When we first came here, I remember having just three red columbines that we would look for in the woods every spring.  Now the plant self seeds with abandon in this shade garden.  The flowers make a cloud of red blooms that the hummingbirds find irresistible.  Here columbine plants are crowding my small twinleaf plant.   Weeding in this bed gets a bit tricky.  I admit I am not an unbiased referee.  My favorite plants have the edge.  My maidenhair fern grows nearby. Too many beautiful native wildflowers is a great problem to have.  I will enjoy my time in the shade working on it!                                                                                                                    

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Why Garden?


With birthday seventy-three in the wings, one cannot help but look back and wonder just how did all of this happen?  Twenty-three years ago we bought this former working farm in a somewhat abandoned state.  Several horses spent their summers here running wild within perimeter fencing.  Their presence kept invasive vegetation in check preserving the cultivated appearance of the former fields.  Under our stewardship the briers and the Japanese honeysuckle have made serious inroads but we are fighting back.

The stone walled square was our first project here.  It required three years to gather the stone and complete using only hand tools and a pickup truck.  The glacially deposited soil remains unfit for cultivation.  It contains more stones than soil fines.  Stones were screened out of the garden beds.  Some were used to establish garden paths.  Larger stones were used to build the upper section of our driveway.  Occasional stones suitable for walls went there.  Tons of compost were added to the sandy soil and workable garden soil was slowly built.

The overgrown area to the right of the stone square was our first garden bed.  Goldenrod, asters, quack grass, rugosa roses and a smoke bush now hold most of this bed.  We are working to reclaim this ground.  Flowers and strawberries have the far end now.


Our ambitious plans called for sections of rectangular planting beds that would surround the stone square on three sides.  Eleven beds were completed.  Stones were sifted out building both planting soil and stone paths.  Only one entire bed has been reclaimed by the quack grass.  The adjacent bed never saw its near section finished due to a change in elevation.  The remaining nine beds serve as planned but  now we grow more flowers and fewer vegetables.


Age related adjustments can be clearly seen.  Only the face peers out into sunlight.  Sun protective clothing now covers everything else.  Passersby must wonder just what sort of people work this ground.  We care not at all what others think and there are some advantages to being seen as perhaps just a little off.

The garden cart keeps all of my small tools close by under the seat.  Working the soil from a seated position overcomes some problems while creating new ones.  My feet must rest on the soil compacting what we never used to walk on.  When the distant work is finished, the soil is loosened where the feet and the cart wheels were. The fact that I had my big feet in the garden bed is kept a secret!   Muscle soreness signals when the activity must change and we try to listen.


This area in front of the house is nearly finished.  Some sod must be removed and replaced with stones in our continuing battle with pasture grasses.  Then we will move to the far end of the house and bring that area under our control.  More planting areas and a swing are planned.

The original question remains unanswered.  Why garden?  Quite simply, working outside among tasty or beautiful appearing or pleasantly scented flowers brings a quietness to my soul like nothing else.  The positive results that come with carefully done manual labor have played a major life sustaining role for me.  I cannot imagine a life away from these plants and stones.  Whatever adjustments must be made to extend my days here will be made.  A mat that will assist working the soil while flat on the ground is already here.  We use it to place our nose close to the ground to sniff the trailing arbutus!

Sunday, May 28, 2017

A Fleeting Garden Visit, Photos By Amy


I have a thing for purple alliums.  What can beat round balls of purple star like flowers?


Being related to onions you might expect these flowers to have an unfortunate aroma, but to me they kind of smell like grapes.   Although their leaves are already yellow, these round balls will look neat even after the purple fades and the seed capsules form.


My deep purple meadow sage plants are looking spectacular right now!  These unusually shaped flowers don't seem to have a scent.  They really don't need it since the foliage has the plant equivalent of BO.  The pollinator that is attracted to this plant likes a strong scent!

It seems like every year spring flies by faster.  Here we are at the end of May.  It is too early to do some things in the garden and too late to do others.  Some flowers have already had their time to bloom and disappeared until next year.  Others didn't get to bloom this year at all.  The most important thing is to take the time to smell the flowers and appreciate their beauty while you can.  I would recommend that you sniff an allium if you get the chance.  In my opinion meadow sage is best appreciated from a distance.  Today Amy discovered that the lovely white flowers of snow in summer have a great fragrance.  I have grown the plant for more than 30 years and never noticed.  Our time spent in the garden today was short, but it was wonderful to be there together!

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Alien Smells


In almost every instance, we go with what we think is right.  Native plants hold a special stature for us in part because they have always been here where we call home.  All plants are native someplace on this earth and it is easy to see how early colonists would have wanted to bring something from their former home with them when they first came here.  Dame's Rocket would have been an easy plant to pack.  A few tiny seeds hidden away would have been certain to grow in the new world.  It is a survivor and now is commonly seen in flower in roadside ditches.  We have intentionally introduced it into our gardens in several locations.

This plant has much to recommend it as a garden subject.  Its colors range from purple to white with an occasional pink flowered plant.  Each evening a pleasant scent fills the air close by this plant.  Its leaves are a little coarse but that only points to the plant's strength.  If the seeds are allowed to mature, new plants will be numerous.  Seedlings are easily removed if caught early and a few can be left in a chosen spot.  We prefer to see this plant as a colonial garden treasure rather than a common ditch weed.


Autumn Olive is an invader from Asia.  It has been here since 1830.   Our single specimen is about eight feet tall and has suffered numerous vicious pruning attacks as is grows into the lane right of way.  Late frost frequently takes the flower buds but when the shrub flowers it is spectacular.  Its scent heavily fills the air and is carried on the breeze for a considerable distance.  One only has to approach the plant to enjoy the sweet smell.  Horror stories abound about the invasive nature of this plant but we have only found one plant on our land.  A smaller younger plant grows just across the lane but we have found no others.  We will leave well enough alone.  No attempts will be made to kill this plant and no effort will be expended trying to get new plants either from seed or cuttings.  We will look forward to another year free of late harsh frost so that we can once again enjoy its wild sweet scent.