Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Plantaholics Anonymous

Welcome to this months Plantaholics Anonymous meeting.  Who brought the white Dicentra?  You know we're here to break our addictions!  See me after.  No, really, I have Penstemon Mystica to trade.

Tonight we are focusing on our First Step.  Recognizing that you have an Addiction.  How many of you have been to a garden center in the past week?  Really?  All of you?  OK, how many of you have dirt under your fingernails because you were working in your garden before this meeting?  Oh.  All of you.  We're not doing very well in overcoming this addiction, are we.

You might be a plant addict if you have rescheduled plans in order to go to a plant sale.
You might be a plant addict if you have called in sick to work in the garden.
You might be a plant addict if your budget is modified in the spring to include plant purchases.
You are definitely a plant addict if you consistently go over your plant purchasing budget.

Do your friends and loved ones miss you during the Spring Garden season, making comments about how they never get to see you anymore unless they join you at the garden center.

Do you know what's going on the wider world or have you skipped the news lately, only skimming the paper looking for garden sale announcements?

Do you speak fluent Gardeners Latin?  Ok, you there in the back, you need PROFESSIONAL help.  No, I'm not talking about a landscaper!

Sigh.  Maybe we should try and break these addictions during the winter, when we're not all busy in the garden.  Let's wrap this up.

So who brought plants to swap?

Saturday, May 22, 2010

A Gardener Walks Around The Neighborhood

I live in a small, quiet, neighborhood.  Turn off the "major" road (and it's not that major) and you'll find yourself on a block long street.  Go the the end, turn right, drive two houses, turn right again and in one block you're back on the "major" road.  Behind the neighborhood is a conservation area.  So the whole loop is about three blocks.  Today I went around the block with The Husband.  Just to get away from all the work I was doing in the garden for a bit.

First I ran into a neighbor whose wife just had a baby (like on Thursday just had a baby).  We chatted.  The wife has a small garden area and she's been thinking of scaling back since two young boys are enough for anyone!  She's thinking of having me over to dig up her plants and replace them with either sod (two young boys!) or shrubs.

Then I ran into another neighbor who has a HUGE vegetable garden in her front yard.  She and another neighbor go in together to do the work and share the produce.  I haven't really gotten to know her so I stopped and talked about what she was putting in, what she'd had success with and oh, did I want to see her chickens?  Absolutely!  I came away with two fresh eggs (YUM!) in exchange for some thoughts about what would look good in that difficult spot in the back that she just hadn't been able to figure out what to do with.

Down the street I went, eggs in hand and poor Husband in tow.  Oh, hi!  Looks like you're doing a lot of work today.  I'd never met those people but that comment opened up a discussion about how they're finally replacing the shrubs that haven't made them happy with something else and Oh, you live in THAT house well feel free to knock on the door and give me advice about these shrubs cause I don't know what I'm doing...

Round the last turn headed for home and neighbors I do know are digging up some grass.  It's a hard to mow spot and they are inspired by my massive grass removal project to get rid of it and put something besides law there.

Whew.  Good thing I walked around the block to get a brief respite from the garden!

Good Gardens make Good Neighbors.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Bad Advice - Garden Center Edition

I checked out a new-to-me garden center recently.  The grounds were nice, the selection of plants decent, prices normal for around here.  On one of the perennial tables I saw a dark colored plant with deeply cut leaves and pinkish-white umbrel shaped flowers.  

There was no information on growing conditions or size or anything.  So I found a staff member and asked him.  Full sun (dark foliage plants usually require lots of light so no surprise there), normal watering, size about an average sized perennial.  The lack of specificity there should have warned me.  The plant was tagged and the name sounded vaguely familiar but I couldn't place it.  So I thought about it.  Where I could put it depending on the size (3 foot?  Is that average for perennials?).  Oh, and they were in small 5 inch pots so they couldn't be something really big, right?

I gave up and bought it.  Actually three of them.  I had several possible places to plant them and I figured I would check on the Internet when I got home and pick one of those spots.

I wish I had a smart phone so I could have looked it up at the time (this isn't the first time I bought a plant, got home and went Hey!  That's not what I thought I was getting!  I WANT a smart phone.  Can't justify the monthly fees.  Have been known to carry books in the car so I can look things up but not this time).  I probably wouldn't have bought the plant if I'd known what I was getting.

What was it?  Sambucus Black Lace.  For those of you who can't put a plant to that name (like me) it's an elderberry.  A shrub.  It gets to be between 6 and 8 foot tall.  

I don't think that counts as an "average size" for a perennial in anyone's garden. 


Fortunately I have a spot for these three not-going-to-stay-little guys.  The Mad Side1 of the house has a large blank area that can use a good sized plant to fill it.  I think a dark colored foliage would look extra nice here.  I had been contemplating options but now it looks like the Sambucus will go here.  I'm not too upset.  I think they'll be nice plants and the wildlife will like the fruit but I would have liked to choose the plant myself and put it in at a good time.  Did I mention that the house is being painted next month?

So I can't plant them until after the house gets painted.  For now they are in a pot where I will try to keep them going until I can get them in the ground and then I'll have to nurture them carefully through the heat of the summer.

Nope, definitely wouldn't have bought them if I'd known.  Also, not planning on going back to that garden center.  They may have gotten me to spend about $20 on plants I wouldn't have bought normally but they lost my continued business.  I am not impressed with staff that clearly doesn't know the plants they have for sale and, worse sin, won't admit to it and find someone who does know.

Here endeth the Rant.

1.  Hamlet is but mad North by Northwest.  This side of my house is West Northwest so it's not REALLY the right direction but it's a fun nickname so I'm going to play fast and loose with the quote.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day

It's Garden Bloggers Blooms Day.  Thanks to Carol at May Dreams Gardens for this meme.

Deep in the heart of Tulip.  This is Hollandia (I think) from Messelaar's Bulb Company.  Look at the blues and greens that you miss if you just admire the tulip from the side.

If we're looking at Spring Plants this Bleeding Heart (Dicentra spectabilis) is still in full glory.  It's a huge, well established plant that must be moved before the house gets painted.  I'm going to try keeping it in a pot during the painting process and replanting it (in a different spot) after the painters are gone.

All of my violas and pansies are still going strong. 

This is Centaurea montana Amethyst in Snow.  A bit aggressive but I'd never seen anything like it before moving to New England.  Now, of course, I've seen several varieties and I want the one with gold foliage and purple flowers.  Not only do I really like golden or yellow-green foliage but that color with purple really hits my retinas the right way.

and now for something completely different.  A Lewisia cotyledon.  NOID on the variety.   (sorry for the, uh, jarring contrast, just had to break up the string of purple flowers)

Chives.  Yum.

Salvia nemerosa Viola Klaus - great variety, bloomed all summer last year.

Aquiligia alpina.  My Aquiligia canadensis Little Lantern is still blooming as well (another windy day on The Edge, my patience limits the picture taking.  I can only spend so long with the camera focused waiting for the wind to die down and the plant to quit moving).  I've grown A. canadensis for years but lately lots of new varieties have been showing up in the garden centers.  I'm starting to expand my Aquiligia horizons.  These are great, hardy little plants (yeah, they get leaf miners, so what, they don't look that bad and the leaf miners usually don't do that much damage!).  There's a seed company in Britain called Plant World Seeds that has even more varieties available as seeds, including some that are fragrant.  I don't like growing from seeds (I'm not very good at it) but I think I'll make an exception for fragrant Aquiligia!

Whew!  A break from all the purple flowers.  This tulip is Formosa (Gavota is in the back, a bit faded and nearly done).  From Brent and Becky's.

Armeria maritima (thrift) Rubrifolia.  And friend.

Cornus hessei Garden Glow.  This shrub doesn't have many flowers this year but I grow it for the foliage.  Look at that color (and the mature leaves have a metallic sheen that I haven't been able to capture by camera) and it prefers SHADE.  This one is really turning out to be a nice shrub.

Cute little Bellis perennis or lawn daisy or English daisy.  Cute as a button.  (Although, now that I think about it, I don't really find buttons to be cute.  Functional yes, cute, not really.  So let's change that to Cute as a Bug.  What?  I am a Biologist.  I find Bugs cute!)

Wow.  OK.  Weird Flower.  This is a Welsh Onion (Allium fistulosum).  Welsh Onion is also known as Scallion or Spring Onion or Green Onion (the difference between those four terms is a bit murky so it may depend on your source).  Another cooking plant that got mixed into the perennial gardens.  And an odd flower to end on.

Not shown:  Lots!  It's starting to be that time of the year.  I forgot to take notes while in the garden  Friday so I can't recall them all off the top of my head.  I'll try to remember to do that later and post an update (in between all the plant sales, the laying down of fresh mulch and the plantings I have to do.  So, in other words not likely.)

Of note.  I am down to ONE cyclamen indoors and it's starting to look ragged.  Last weekend I composted the other cyclamen and my remaining primroses.  All of these plants were bought during the winter to brighten the place up with their blooms.  All of them are supposed to be short term plants that bloom for a brief while and get tossed.  Mine lasted longer than expected (and will be composted) but I'm starting to need the room as my houseplants begin their spring growth spurts!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Problem Areas

Every garden has certain problem areas.  Those areas that are too shady, too clayey, too wet, have a bad view.  Learning to deal with these issues is one way a gardener can grow.  Or they can drive the gardener crazy. 

My problem area is right by the door my husband and I use, near the driveway.  You can see that this little corner is surrounded by hardscape on three sides.

What may not be obvious from this picture is that the garage roof and the breezeway roof (we call that little room between the house and the garage the breezeway.  It's small and drafty and we use it as a mud room/ plant room/ and now the new big aquarium is going to be set up there) where was I going before that aside?  Oh, yeah, the roof of the garage and the breezeway drains right there at the corner, the downspout spills into the little pocket garden between the garage and the stoop.  Not much ground to absorb water.

To make matters worse the front yard slopes toward the house.  Just a little slope but it does mean that all that roof water stays right where it lands.  During the winter it forms a nice layer of ice right there on the sidewalk.

Previously someone tried running the downspout by the chimney into a dry well.  That didn't work.  It caused foundation problems for the breezeway (one source of draft, now filled with expanded foam insulation).  

I'm still contemplating this problem.  I've thought about it for a while and I'm still not sure what to do.  I even asked a professional but his suggestion was to run the downspout down to a dry well by the chimney and we all know that didn't work.

I can hear that.  You, yes, you, you're thinking "what's the point of this post?  Just a chance to complain about this problem?"  Well, yes.  I just wanted a chance to complain about a problem I haven't yet solved.  And I suckered you into listening to me.  Thanks for listening.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Miscellaneous Monday

It's another Monday on the Edge.  It's almost the end of the semester so I'm really busy with my teaching duties.  The final will be next Monday and then - BREAK!  Woo-hoo.  Bet you didn't know teachers looked forward to the end of the semester nearly as much as the students do, did you?

Between the end of the semester busys and the high winds we've been having for the past week I haven't been keeping up with this blog so here's a few tidbits to tide you over until the semester ends and the winds die down so I can get back outside with my camera.

The most disturbing sound ever.  Sorry, I didn't record it but this little thing is the cause of a lot of trouble up here.

It's the caterpillar of the winter moth (Operophtera brumata).  It's a European species that has become a major invasive pest here in New England.  The numbers of these brats are astonishing.  They can defoliate a good sized tree in less than a week (my neighbors beautiful 20 year old weeping cherry.  She noticed the caterpillars on Friday, called a company to come spray the tree and by the time they arrived on Monday it was too late - the tree had no leaves left.  They don't go after most trees this bad but they do a lot of damage).  I found this one on the sidewalk.  Did I mention it's been windy?

I've seen birds with beaks full of these guys, carrying them back to feed nestlings but I guess the caterpillars beat most birds.  We're only now getting Warblers (most of whom eat insects) coming through and it's still early in the nesting season so not too many baby birds to be fed.

The sound?  Oh, yeah.  There are so many of these guys that when I walked back into the woods last week I could HEAR them chewing.  Very disturbing.

Three dollar orchid.  This is the bloom from an orchid I bought at a big box store for $3.  It had quit blooming and was on sale.  The flash washes the color out of bit but if you look at the flower to the left you can see a bit of greenish color.  That's the color of the petals.  Very cool looking.

I noticed that both this Phalenopsis and another one I have blooming seem to have little sparkles on the petals.  I'm not sure what causes this but it's pretty cool looking.  I guess this is the effect they're trying to replicate when they spray glitter onto the bracts of Poinsettias at Christmas.

Not a plant thing but....  The Husband has a cousin who left this 120 gallon fish tank at his parents' house for years and years.  Finally (ok, so it only took asking) we convinced him to let me have it and voila!  Yes, it's dirty and yes the stand is showing some wear and tear but after some work it's a free (well, it cost us about $100 to rent a truck to move the tank -it's four feet by two feet by two feet - and the stand) large tank.  I will put plants in it.  Probably not till next winter, after outdoor gardening season is over for the year.  This will make a nice indoor water garden.

And now for some pretty pictures.  Just because.

Tulip is Tinka (from Brent and Becky) and the shrub is a Blue Mist Fothergilla gardenii

Cute little rabbit under the Epimediums. Excuse the soaker hose.

Remember the conjoined tulip buds?  They formed two normal sized and normal shaped blooms that share a stem.  This is Hollandia and is from Messelaar's

This tulip was advertised as a 55-mph tulip.  I prefer the close up where you can see all the different colors.  This is called El Nino and is from Brent and Becky's Bulbs

This is just a nice red tulip.  I think it's called Cum Laude (unless the purple one is Cum Laude in which case this one is Hollandia.  I didn't label them.  Bad Gardener, no compost!) and it came from Messelaar's (which is just up the road from me.  So much fun to wander in and select my own bulbs.  So easy to go overboard doing it).

I like the detail inside tulip blooms.  Too bad I haven't been able to get inside the purple blooms (did I mention the winds up here, it's very hard to photograph long stemmed flowers in the wind).  The inside of those has blues and greens.  Very neat.

Wish me luck on the final exam.  Writing and grading it, I mean.  I give it next Monday.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

My mom has bees!

Well, my dad has them, too but the title of this post goes nicely to a tune in my head that I can't place...  I guess the effect is lost on everyone but me.  Plus, Mother's Day.  And what do you get a woman who has bees?  A post about her and her new hobby!

Some people get old as they accumulate years.  My parents, not so much.  This year they embarked on a new hobby - beekeeping.  My Mom has talked about it for years but The Husband is allergic (and My Mom is very good about The Husband, she either really likes him or really fakes it well, either way she's doing a bang up job as Mother-In-Law).  Last year we moved away from being within a short drive to being within a short plane flight and My Mom started taking beekeeping classes.  Turns out that the state of North Carolina is supportive of the home beekeepers.  They have classes, Master Beekeepers, field trips to experienced beekeepers.  Wow.

Not only did My Mom start a new hobby but she's also keeping up with technology.  No fear of computers for her (and no fear of bees, obviously)!  She is posting about her bees (check her blog out HERE). I was going to post about her experience but her blog says it all (or at least everything I know about bee keeping).

I did ask her why beekeeping and she had quite the list of reasons.  One of which is the decline in native pollinators and one is the decline in the bee population.  The more people who have bees the more bees there are and her bees are going to be moderately isolated from other beekeepers (except the guy down the road) so there's less of a chance of disease transmission.  The small time beekeeper may hold the reserve population in case the "working bees" that pollinate our food crops suffer another population crash. 

So here's to My Mom on Mother's Day, an inspiration to everyone who accumulates years but doesn't want to age gracefully.  You go Mom!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010


Many gardeners, especially new gardeners, assume that a plant that dies is a Failure and that means that they are no good at gardening.  Experienced gardeners know that a plant that dies may or may not be their fault and it's a chance to learn (or just to buy a new plant!). 

This past weekend I noticed that my Asclepias tuberosa (butterfly weed) has started to come up.  This is usually the last perennial in my garden to show signs of life.  So I consider this the point where I decide if plants are going to come back or if they should/could be replaced (I always have more plants I want than spaces in the garden).

I did plant some things that are pushing it for my zone or climate.  The Mexican Feather Grass came back nicely (it's a zone 7 plant and I'm zone 6 so I planted them near the garage in little planting pockets surrounded by asphalt).  That's a success. 
I tried Rosemary Arp, which is supposed to be hardy to zone 5.  It did fine all winter.  Then we hit the wet, wet, wet season.  We had the second wettest month on history (surpassed only by a year when two major hurricanes came through the area).  You may remember it from when Rhode Island washed out to sea.  My Rosemary that had stayed green through the snow then gave it up and died.  I'm not surprised.  Rosemary likes drier conditions.  Fortunately my potted Rosemary in the garage survived just fine.  I cut the rosemary back over the weekend and let the dogs roll on the dead (but still fragrant) branches.

Another group of plants that survived the winter just fine until it got too wet were these Azaleas (Mother's Day).  They held on to their leaves all winter until the Wet Month.  Then the leaves fell off and now they are, at best, half dead.  This is the best looking one.  The Husband is particularly disappointed with these losses, he liked the dark colored leaves poking through the snow all winter.

I also pushed zones/ climate with Salvia greggii.  I tried three varieties that were zoned 6.  Again, it's a plant that likes things a bit drier (I like a lot of the plants that thrive in Texas gardens).  I very carefully did not cut them back until spring (if you cut these back in the fall water gets into the stems and freezes and, well, that's not good).  Two of them have no signs of life but one of them....

I was quite surprised to see this.  I thought the Wet Month would have killed all of them off.  We'll see how it does this summer.

I'm surprised at these plants.  I planted some Abelia 'Silver Anniversary' that had very weak roots.  I was careful when planting but the root ball was much smaller than I would expect for the size of the bush.  Look here.  I guess I'd better pull that grass away from the bushes, huh?

The last Failure is one of my Gaura.  I really like Gaura.  They bloom all summer long!  I had three varieties and two have come back just fine.  The third, not so much.  But look to the right side of the pictures.  What's that?  A seedling!  I think I'll have plenty of Gaura this year.

So, moving to a new climate, starting a new garden, pushing zones and climate (it's wet up here so why am I planting plants that prefer dry climates?).  I'm pretty happy with the limited losses I had.  Over all: Year One on The Edge - Success!

UPDATE:  For those who don't read the comments I thought this one was good enough to add to the end of the post.  It's from Michelle at Clueless Gardeners:  "Funny, just yesterday I was telling my husband (as consolation for his dead seedlings) that the only difference between a green thumb and a black thumb was that the green thumb keeps killing plants until they get it right."

Monday, May 3, 2010

Put the Bird Back

Late last week I saw them.  Two little brown birds (LBJ - little brown jobs - in birders parlance) that fluttered down to land on the lid of my compost bin.  Then they tried to get up over the fence and failed miserably.  They could fly DOWN but had no coordination and very little ability to fly UP.

Then last night I heard the bizarre ruckus of sounds made by young owls.

It's that time of the year again. 

Fledgling Season.

So Put That Bird Back.

Fledglings are young birds that have just left the nest.  They are fully feathered and full sized (although they sometimes have shorter tail feathers than adults).  But they don't fly well.

This is normal.
No, it's not a fledgling.  Despite working with wildlife in rehabilitation for years I managed to not take many pictures.  This is a young ground squirrel in a pre-release cage.  I guess all the fledgling pictures I took were taken with the facilities camera for their web pages and education purposes.

It takes a few days to build up the flight muscles and the coordination necessary to fly.  During this time fledglings live in low bushes and are very vulnerable to predators, including house cats and people (please keep your cat indoors, especially at night when fledglings are sleeping).  Most people assume that a bird that looks like an adult but can't fly is injured so they pick them up and try to heal them, or take them in to a  vet or a wildlife rehabilitator.  Some people will do this even after it's explained to them that the bird is a fledgling.  They want to "protect" it.  Unfortunately this is not a good solution, long term, for the bird.  A bird taken to a rehabilitator looses out on important lessons that can only be taught by their parents and is less likely to survive long term in the wild.

So if you spot one of these birds leave it alone.  If you're still concerned call your local rehabilitator (in order to handle birds they must be licensed so check with your state Fish and Wildlife department for a list of local rehabilitators near you).
This very young coyote was indeed sick and needed to come in.

What about baby mammals?  I'm glad you asked.  Leave them alone, too.  Adult deer, rabbits and squirrels are not able to pay for child care and must leave their young alone while they are out finding food.  Rabbits and deer in particular may leave young hidden and only visit twice a day to feed them and care for them.  Baby mammals do worse in rehab than in the wild.  Unless you find a dead mother or the baby is injured leave it where you found it.  Those squirrels that fell from the nest?  Mom can come down and pick them up (unless they are cold to the touch).  The baby rabbits holding still under the hedge?  Mom will be back.  [An exception, apparently, is Moose who do not leave their calves alone ever.  But how many of you live in Moose Country?]

Baby deer are cute but are EXTREMELY difficult to rehabilitate.  This one is being "stimulated" to go to the bathroom.  There is a fine line between keeping their stress level low and letting them get too acclimated to humans.  Our solution was to limit the number of people who contacted them (to two) and then, as soon as they could use the bathroom on their own, severely minimize contact to placing the bottles in a rack or fresh food in the enclosure.  It seemed to work and they were quite scared of people by release time.  People who snuggle baby deer (and baby deer would happily snuggle) produce deer who aren't afraid of people and therefore are vulnerable to hunting, traffic, dogs; or they raise bucks who become aggressive to humans who enter their territory, or want to mate with them.  Neither one is good for the human in question.  Or the deer.

Once again, if you are unsure what to do leave the animal where it is and call a local rehabilitator, your state Fish and Wildlife department will have a list. 

Last words.  The most common thing a rehabilitator says during the summer months.

Put The Bird Back.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Drill, Baby, Drill

No, I'm not talking about a hardscaping project outside (although that would be a good title for a post about a construction project where I use a power drill....  Hmmm... I should keep that in mind).  I'm posting today about the Nature side of my blog and the recent catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the recently approved Cape Wind Project.

The Cape Wind Project - a wind farm off of Cape Cod - is quite controversial up here.  Lots of people don't want it.  They worry it will spoil the view and no one will want to go to the Cape for vacation.  They worry it will disturb the local fishing industry.  The Environmentalists worry that it will harm local wildlife.  These are all valid concerns.

Wind Turbines (modern windmills) do kill large numbers of birds, especially during migration season when most birds migrate at night.  There are ways to mitigate the damage but it does do damage.

I'm not sure about the harm to local fisheries but the commercial fisheries up here are pretty much all in trouble and commercial fishing may not be a viable career choice in Massachusetts in the not-to-distant future.  The big problems?  Over fishing and pollution.  Clueless Gardener suggested making the waters around the Wind Turbines a fish preserve.  I think that's a great idea!  In the long term fish preserves improve fishing conditions in neighboring waters.  It's just hard for people who are living fish haul to fish haul to think long term.  They're more worried about the next mortgage payment or boat payment.  It's like if your boss told you they were going to cut your paycheck now so you'd still have a job in 10 years.  

Of course then I go to teach my class and look at all the adult faces (some middle aged, some older, lots with families and children) and see forward looking people who realize they need to change careers or improve their education for their long term financial situation.  Why can't fishermen do the same?  They are welcome in my classes.

I don't think tourism will suffer that much from "unsightly" wind farms.  Maybe some but maybe not.  It's not like a smelly, unsightly power plant that pumps clouds of pollution into the air.

And here's the kicker.  Look at the alternative.  Look at the Gulf of Mexico.  Their fisheries are probably all done for the year, their birds are dying in large numbers, as are their sea turtles and marine mammals.  Is THIS a viable solution?  More off shore drilling?  

Wind farms may not be the most popular solution but it is one way to loosen the grip that oil has on our society.  We need to diversify our energy sources for the long term good of both the planet and our society (how does getting free of the ties that bind us to the volatile Middle East sound?).  I'd really like to see an uptick in alternative energy sources.  Especially the greenest of them all.  Solar panels anyone?