Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Garter Snake

[What? Another post? That's four in two days? What's up you ask? I'm trying to update my resume and start looking for a job in my new state of Massachusetts and this blog is a great procrastination tool.]

I wandered out in the garden mid afternoon today and spotted movement. A snake! I've seen garter snakes in my yard before and I rushed inside to get my camera. This one, unlike all previous ones, was still around when I came back. It's a garter snake.

Garter snakes are probably one of the most commonly encountered snakes in the US and Canada. They are very versatile in their habitat choices and prey choices. They can use sight, taste/smell and vibrations to find prey. I welcome the garter snakes in my yard because I know they will eat mice, insects and slugs. They will also eat earthworms but I have a plethora of those in my garden so I guess I can spare a few.

I followed this cute guy around the base of my only front yard tree, trying to get better pictures (I didn't have the right lens on the camera and didn't think I had time to grab it so I had to get close) and nearly stepped on what he was chasing.

That's right he was following the scent trail laid down by a second, larger garter snake. Garter snakes will mate in both Spring and Fall. Females impregnated in the fall will give birth to live young the following year. Young are born all summer and into early fall but with a four month pregnancy she'll wait till next year to bear his offspring. I have spotted a young garter snake in the yard but it didn't hold still for pictures.

Garter snakes will hibernate during the winter in communal dens, called hibernaculum, of up to thousands of individuals. They are very cold tolerant (for snakes) and are one of the last snakes to enter hibernation in the fall and one of the first out in the spring. They will even come out of their hibernaculum to bask during warm winter days.

Garter snakes are still common but in many parts of the country they are in decline due to habitat loss and artificially high concentrations of predators (ie domestic cats that go outdoors). Yards with brush piles and dense, low growing shrubs provide necessary cover for these snakes. Garter snakes are not likely to bite and will first run away and then, if you insist on picking them up, they will excrete an unpleasant odor, biting only as a last resort. Since many of their prey species are considered garden pests this is one snake you might want to welcome into your garden.


It finally came up. Someone mentioned my 'Avatar' on the side. Let me introduce you to Reno the Bobcat. Reno lives in a sanctuary in North Carolina called Conservators' Center. Reno was hit by a car and, in a round about way, ended up with a vet who had dealt with wild bobcats before and recognized that she was not as difficult as truly wild bobcats.

Was she an escaped 'pet'? Had someone found her as a kitten, raised her and released her? Either one would have been illegal. The state Fish and Wildlife authorities investigated and determined that she was too dangerous to release. She was comfortable around people and she hated them. That means that she might just walk up to a child eating a hot dog and take it away.

So Reno was placed at Conservators' Center where I was a volunteer. I had worked with wild bobcats in California and it was love/hate at first site. I loved her and she hated me.

The Husband (who is very generous with my whims) and I constructed a deluxe enclosure in the woods and 'adopted' Reno. She now lives there with another bobcat, Bobbie Fargo, who was a former road side zoo bobcat and is much nicer to people. I no longer get to visit often but she is still my adopted little girl and I love her.

She still hates me.

Monday, September 28, 2009

There is a season

But retailers keep pushing the boundaries. Tender annuals go on sale well before it's safe to put them in the ground. Seeds can be found in big box retail stores year round. Right now it's the bulbs. Most bulbs shouldn't be planted until the ground temperature reaches 55-60 F (and night temperatures are at least that low). Here in New England we're still having some warmer days but night temperatures are dropping rapidly. I'll be planting my bulbs in the next couple of weeks (the soil temperature today was in the high 60s).

I don't necessarily mind pushing the season in the spring, when I can take a chance we won't have a late (or even a normal last) frost, but I KNOW I'm pushing it. I feel sorry for the less experienced gardeners who buy annuals when they first appear and don't know it's really too early to plant (ditto for fall bulbs). I think it is a bit disingenuous of retailers (and the big box stores are especially bad about this) and discourages many a casual gardener. I would prefer to see casual gardeners go to local garden centers where they can get good advice and be warned that it's really early to be planting tomatoes or bulbs.

The other problem with pushing the seasons is that when it's a good time to plant those annuals, those tomatoes or those bulbs the isles are often filled with what's next or the best of the selection has been picked over. That's another reason I shop early and try to hold on to plants and bulbs until the appropriate planting time.

Oh, and the real impetus for this rant? Christmas decorations in stores! In SEPTEMBER. No wonder I don't like Christmas. By the time it's reasonable to decorate I'm already sick of all the ornaments in the stores.

Miscellaneous Monday

I've been busy recently with work being done on the house (insulation, check, just in time for cooler weather!), followed by a much needed vacation (when I wasn't going through the still need to do to the house list or the job hunting list) to Cape Cod. Today I took a stroll around the garden to see what's been going on recently. Here it is.

My pineapple sage has got buds. I'm not sure if it will bloom before it gets killed back by cold weather. This Salvia will be an annual in my climate so if I don't get a good fall bloom out of it I probably won't plant it again (although the foliage smells good).

I found this Contorted Filbert (Corylus avellana, also known at Harry Lauder's Walking Stick) on sale really cheap at a local nursery. I'm taking a chance. It was terribly pot bound and I spent over half an hour disentangling the root ball. I'm not thrilled with the result - I couldn't get it truly disentangled - so we'll see if it makes it long term. Still it's an interesting plant and was 1/3 what I'd have to pay for the same plant come spring so it's worth the risk.

Looks like the previous owner (or his landscaper) planted fall crocus. That's good. That means I don't have to buy any.

This is an odd growth on my climbing rose, Don Juan. I checked and it is coming from above the graft. I'm not sure if I should leave it or prune it off - is this a sign that's it's settled in and really starting to grow or a sport that I won't want. I'm going to have to do some research.

My potted lilies have surprised me with a repeat bloom. I'm planning to put these in the ground next month when bulb planting time arrives.

Fall is definitely starting. I came home to leaves all over the driveway and the yard. I'll be collecting the leaves up and using them as compost (I'll shred them first) or mowing them in situ - where they fell - as fertilizer for the grass. That's all the fertilizer my grass gets.

I'm still getting tomatoes (yippee!) on my cherry, grape and Roma plants. I didn't have as much luck with standard type tomatoes this year. I expect I'll be able to harvest tomatoes until the plants are killed off for the year. Yum.

I have some (hopefully) perennial violas planted at the base of my chimney where there is a very narrow patch of dirt. The violas looked good until August, when they died back in the heat, so I decided I could interplant with annual pansies. I hope the violas come back next year but if they don't this is a good spot for rotating annuals.

Fall is spider season. Spiders may be present year round but in the fall their numbers are higher, especially among the larger varieties. Combine that with the fact that people tend to be outside a lot and you get lots of people-spider encounters.

I haven't seen any orb weaver spiders in my garden but I did find these two. Hopefully by discontinuing the previous homeowners use of pesticides I'll attract some orb weavers.

My Blue something Hollies (Blue Girl? Blue Princess?) already have good berry loads but are getting one more bloom in before winter. I'm trying to figure out how to keep these shrubs but still do maintenance to the house - the leaking hose bib, a new paint job, replacing rotting wood near the leaking hose bib. Last winter the berries above the show disappeared early and every time we had a significant melt the birds would mob the bushes to get at the newly exposed berries.

My Aster oblongifolis is still in the early stages of blooming. Look at all the buds still to open. I love the exuberance of this plant, as well as how late in the year it will bloom.

OK. So this Greater Yellowlegs wasn't in my yard. I saw her on Cape Cod. Bird (including this one) are migrating through our area right now so it's a good time to be bird watching. You never know what you'll see. Look closely, she's got a fish.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

I used to have a lawn, but now I have…

A sanctuary.
A sanctuary where I can garden.

A sanctuary where I use clover to add nitrogen to the soil.

A sanctuary where I don't have to try and mow that tiny strip of land between the sidewalk and the street.

A sanctuary where my dogs can play without fear of health risks caused by herbicides and pesticides.

A sanctuary where pollinators likes this bee are safe.

A sanctuary where spiders can hunt.

A sanctuary where insects can mate.

A sanctuary where insects can grow up.

A sanctuary for this shield bug.

A sanctuary for this bee that is threatened by loss of native plants and habitat.

A sanctuary for this bee that is threatened by overuse of pesticides.

A sanctuary where I can try to save a small part of the world.

Thanks to Blue Planet Garden Blog where you can look at the Sept. 13 post for links to other blogs on this topic. Thanks to the coalition that created Lawn Reform, a website to help decrease the negative impact on modern lawn practices on the environment by reducing lawn size, reducing chemical dependency of lawn and introducing alternatives to the current practices and plants. Please also check out the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign, you've heard how honeybees are in trouble, well they aren't the only insects out there that are in decline. Native pollinators include native bees that pollinate home gardens as well as some (well managed) commercial crops and the ever charismatic butterflies.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Is that a Weed in your Garden?

Weeding. The perennial chore (sorry, I couldn't resist). In my garden you have to be careful while weeding. Not because of the bees (they are well behaved), not because of the garter snake (she'll flee) but because what looks like a weed might not be a weed.

This looks like a grass but it's really a small garlic chive.

I let many of my plants go to seed.

The birds eat some of these seeds but others fall to the ground and germinate. Depending on the plant (and the location) this might be welcome or it might be a weed. That decision is up to me.

Garlic chives are notorious for seeding in so normally I would dead head them after blooming but I actually want a few more plants in the garden - I bought one and am letting it produce seeds.

This Labrador violet must have come from my planted violet. I can use more of those.

This is a young columbine (Aquilegia canadensis). I have two varieties in my garden and I'm not sure which this will be. Columbine is a steady re-seeder but not aggressively so. It can be fun to see where these pop up and how they combine with other plants in unexpected and unplanned ways.

This viola came from my neighbor's yard. It's either a yearly re-seeder or it's a perennial. Either way it's a cute little plant and not a problem showing up in the garden.

Other plants that might show up next year include Liatris (this is Kobold, another plant I'd like more of)

Asclepias tuberosa - these don't seed in regularly and when they do it's difficult to move them

Echinacea - often a good source of seed for hungry birds

Helenium 'Mardi Gras' - this might also feed the birds



So when I'm out weeding I slow down and think - do I know what that is? and do I want more of it? Not weeding may be the right choice.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Green Thumb

Years ago when I was in graduate school I was coming home to my apartment one night and notice a leaf on the floor of the hallway. Hmmm... Violet. I thought. But I left it there and got on with my evening.

The next morning it was still there. Hmmm... I thought, I wonder what color that violet is? But I was in a hurry and off to campus I went. That night I got home and the leaf was STILL there. Finally I picked it up, took it inside, and stuck it in some potting soil. I didn't have any big expectations but it took root and I still have the plant.

Last week I found some garlic in the back of the refrigerator that had started to sprout. My first thought was compost and my second was y'know, now is a good time to plant garlic.

It's been a busy week (we had insulation blown into our walls) so mid-week I decided I should water the bulb. The Husband caught me. He remembered the Violet Incident. And he warned me that he would be keeping an eye on me so that I didn't try to start growing trees from our hardwood floors.

Uh-Oh. I better prune this sucker before he notices it!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day

Why did the chickens cross the road? To see what was blooming on Garden Bloggers Bloom Day!

Aster 'October Skies' or at least that's what I bought it as but it's already bigger than 'October Skies' is supposed to get and this is only the first year for it. I'm going to have to move it.

African Blue Basil. Just about done now. It's interesting how different types of bees and wasps each seem to have their own preferences in flowers. I don't see this type of bee on any other plants in my yard, just the Africa Blue Basil.

Buddleia 'Nanho Blue' - I have 5 types of Buddleia in the yard and all 5 are currently blooming.

My Caryopteris 'Black Knight' has finally started to bloom.

Gaura (three different varieties) These plants have been blooming up a storm this year

Pycnanthemum virginianum (Mountain Mint)

Agastache rupestris and Pervoskia atriplicifolia (Russian Sage) [and Rose 'Don Juan'] You can really see how new my garden is, I haven't even finished removing grass around this new bed. But I like the juxtaposition of these two plants so I decided to post anyway.

Climbing Rose 'Don Juan'

Salvia gregii 'Pink Preference' I really liked the gregii type of Salvia when I was living in the South so I just had to try a few up here. This one is rated to zone 6

Salvia 'Maraschino' This type of Salvia prefers hot climates so I had to look hard to find any rated for my zone. 'Maraschino' is rated to zone 5. I'll be watching to see if it can tolerate our cool summers.

Sedum Autumn Fire

Stock. I thought this was a short lived annual and intended it to be a filler until the Mexican Feather Grass grew up.

Sleepy Bee on a Zinnia

Thanks to Carol at May Dreams Gardens for starting Garden Bloggers Bloom Day. Check out her blog for links to other gardens.