Tuesday, August 31, 2010


About a week ago I notice a lot of noise coming from the street tree in front of our house.  I recognized that sound.  Baby birds.  After a couple of tries I found the nest - robins!  It's kind of late in the year (in New England) for nesting.  This must be a second nest for the robins.

This morning while sitting at my desk I heard a "plop."  I looked out the window to see this...

[Sorry for the picture quality - I took it through the window screen. ] It's a fledgling robin!  Note the stubby tail and the gape flanges (the yellow area at the corner of the beak).  These are characteristic of fledgling birds.  If you see one of these LEAVE IT ALONE!

This guy can't fly yet, he needs to build up his flight muscles and learn how to use them.  So I'll leave him and his sibling(s) alone.  I guess I'll skip my morning trip through the garden to give them time to find safe hiding places in the bushes.  

Good luck little guy!

Monday, August 30, 2010

The Great Hydrangea Hunt of 2010

Earlier this year we had our house painted.  When the painters were done I looked at the mad side of the house and thought it needed something....

Something being a collection of shrubs with a large specimen right in the middle, in that big blank space.  So I thought about it and thought about it and finally made my decision.  A large white blooming panicle type hydrangea.  So I started looking.  Nope, not quickfire or pinky winky - no pink flowers.  Nope, not the pom-pom colors of endless summer.  Nope, not one cut into a standard (seriously?  trying to form a hydrangea into a small tree?).  And don't get me started on Limelight.  I like green flowers but they aren't show stoppers, they're get up close and personal flowers.  I wanted something to stand out against the green house.  No one seemed to have one.

Then...  Last week...  I was at a Big Box store picking up some supplies for the house and wandered through the garden center and there it was!  One white blooming hydrangea.  Size around 8 foot.  After all my looking at the local garden center this was the closest I had come to what I wanted - an old fashioned, large, shrubby, white-blooming hydrangea.

It was... Pee Wee.

Lousy name.

Ok.  So it isn't perfect.  I don't like the small size of the leaves.  This is not a good time to plant in New England.  Pot bound and the potting soil it was growing in was crap (so I washed away as much as I could).  But very cheap (half the price of the ones I'd been looking at at the local garden centers).  So I snatched it up, planted it with as much care as possible and I hope it will have enough time to put down roots before winter.

If not then come back next year for the Great Hydrangea Hunt of 2011.

Bonus mushroom photo (we finally got some rain!).

And since you've been good here's a bonus photo of gomphrena Fireworks.  Don't bother with this plant.  I planted about a dozen and while the bloom is nice it's tiny and there aren't enough of them to make up for their size.  For the cost (well, I started these from seed so for the amount of effort) you can get a much better showing of other annuals.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Seven Secrets of a Biologist

I recently noticed some damage to one of my shrub dogwoods (Cornus hesseyii Garden Glow).  Several leaves on one stem were completely destroyed.


As a biologist and a gardener I wanted to know what was causing the damage.

Secret 1 - Biologist are ALWAYS curious about the natural world.

I scratched my head a bit and recalled that some leaf damaging insects will stay on the plant but will hide under the leaves.  So I looked under a half intact leaf and found these - Caterpillars!

Secret 2 - Biologist look under things.

Well, that didn't tell me what they ARE.  So I hit the reference books.

Secret 3 - Biologists have LOTS of reference books.

No luck in the books.  Caterpillars can be really hard to identify.  First off they can look different at different ages.  Second off there are few good identification guides.  Third off the guides organize caterpillars by family, not by shape or color.  It's a logical way to group them but when the book has around 450 pages it's not easy to flip through looking at all the images.

Secret 4 - Biologist look through all 450 pages anyway.

So I turned to the next best resource - one that can sometime be easier to look through.  The Internet.  I Googled several things - white and black caterpillar, white and yellow and black caterpillar, and such - before I hit on the right search - Dogwood caterpillars.

Secret 5 - Biologists know how to use Google.

Secret 6 - Biologist are persistent in their pursuit of knowledge.


These are Macromphytis tarsatus.  Say that five times fast.  Heck, say that once!  They are the larval stage of the Dogwood Sawfly.

See?  They aren't even caterpillars!  No wonder I couldn't find them in my books!  Caterpillars are larva of butterflies and moths.  These guys will grow up to be a type of wasp.

So what's the last secret?  Remember yesterday's mystery caterpillar?

I couldn't find it either in my books or by internet searches so I sent the image out to a group of butterfly people (the MassLeps listserve) and asked.

Secret 7 - Biologists ask a friend, an acquaintance or a complete stranger who is an expert in the field.

This guy is a Tobacco Budworm (Heliothis virescens) and it will grow up to be a drab looking moth.  These caterpillars vary in color.  It's possibly this color because the flowers of the snapdragon are red and it's eaten some of that pigment.

So there you go.  The Seven Secrets that separate Biologists from normal people.

Do normal people write blogs about caterpillars?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Just Because

After four days of much needed rain the sun came out this morning.  The windows are open.  I'm between semesters and it seemed like a great day to be out in the garden.

When the weather allows I drink my first cup of coffee while wandering the garden.  This morning as I was looking for spaces to put some irises I spooked up a rabbit.  It was hiding in this area, under the spirea and liatris.  I would never have spotted it if it hadn't moved.

[Why irises?  I just heard about a place called Rainbow Iris Farm that has some really unusual colors.  I don't usually like bearded iris but these beauties looks really funky and I'm willing to try them out.]

Then I went out to weed.  I like weeding.  It's relaxing.  See plant.  Identify plant.  Weed or don't.  Here's a dragonfly that was sheltering in my Mexican Feather grass - probably still cold from the four days of 60 something weather.

I was also deadheading.  I like to deadhead.  See plant. Decide if I like the looks of the seedheads or if I want more of that plant.  Deadhead, or don't.

I'm leaving the seedheads on my Penstemon digitalis Mystica because I like the look of them.

These seedheads are staying because I want more of this plant.  Can you recognize it?  That's right.  It's parsley.  I'll get more if the Goldfinches leave me any seeds!

I was going to deadhead these snapdragons but I looked closer and saw...  caterpillars?  Red caterpillars?  I'm working on identifying these guys but I don't know what they are, yet.  The snapdragons they are feeding on bloomed with a dark, velvety red so the color may be deceptive.  

Deadheading requires a slow and steady hand when working in my garden.  I have a bountiful bee collection.

And butterflies!  I'm slowly building up this population. At least two American Ladies were flitting around the butterfly bush and I saw (but didn't photograph) cabbage white butterflies and one rough looking Monarch.  I bet there will be more once the day really heats up!

And none of these shows the sounds of the birds flitting around the garden (including a very fussy fledgling Robin being fed by busy parents) or the sight of a garter snake slipping into the bushes as I turn the corner.  Or the neighbor stopping to admire the gardens and comment on how much work I must put into them.

Work?  This is PLAY.  I'd rather be doing this than work any day!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

In the Air Tonight

Smell that?  In the air?  Eau de skunk.

Lately I've heard a lot of comments about people around here seeing (or smelling) skunks.  I've smelled quite a few.  I've also seen quite a few FORD skunks that were clearly HBC.  What, you don't know those acronyms?  FORD is Found On Roadside Dead and HBC is Hit By Car.  If it seems like there is a sudden invasion of these odoriferous mustileds, you're right!

The Striped Skunk (Mephitis mehitis) is the most common species and the only native skunk species we have here in New England.  These small black and white mammals are so familiar from stories and TV that I bet every one of you could identify them.  But did you know that there is a huge range of color variation?  There is a skunk in our neighborhood that is nearly all white.  Others are nearly all black.  And some appear to be spotted (not to be confused with the Spotted Skunks which are much less common and which don't occur up here).

Skunks are omnivores.  They will eat anything they can get their mouths and paws on.  Compost, bird seed, cat food left out for pet or feral cats, and lots of insects.  And they aren't afraid of anything, either.  My neighbor saw the nearly white skunk in her backyard while her dogs were outside!  The dogs were curious.  The skunk largely ignored them.  Then the dogs needed a bath.

The distinctive odor of skunk can be smelled even when the skunk hasn't sprayed.  They carry that smell with them.  And I can testify from experience that descented "pet" skunks have a faint odor to them as well.

[I do not condone skunks as pets.  If you've ever thought of getting one you should realize that you, your house, your clothes and your food are all going to smell faintly of skunk all the time.  That's enough to make most people think twice.]

Skunks generally do well in urban and suburban habitats.  The high concentration of food around human dwellings make a nice living for a great many wild animals.  Then the skunks just need a place to hole up during the day and during bad weather.  Under the shed will do nicely.

So why are there suddenly so many skunks?  Because this years' babies are heading out on their own.  They've reached nearly adult size and now need to disperse from their mothers territory if they are going to find survive.  Dispersal is a dangerous time.  These young skunks are still learning how to avoid being seen by humans, still learning how to find food (so they're out for more of the day since it takes them longer).  Dispersal also leads to a lot of road crossings.  

The other time of the year that you'll see a lot of skunks is in February or March when it's breeding season and the males are moving around looking for females.  Between now and then the young skunks will have a hard time surviving the harsh winter conditions of New England.  Skunks do not hibernate so I'll be sure to look for their tracks in the snow under the bird feeders during the winter.

 Photo from Wikicommons

Monday, August 23, 2010

Wonderful Monday

It's a wonderful Monday.  After a very wet late winter the summer has been dry, with most of the rain falling in the southern part of the state, not here on The Edge.  But this week!  It rained yesterday, it's raining today, and it should rain tomorrow.  Nice, slow, steady rain.  A gardener's version of a wet dream.

Panicum virgatum collapsed over my front door tomatoes (I plant sweet grape tomatoes by the door for snacking while in the garden)

The rain has wet the "fur" on my Lamb's Ears Silver Carpet (Stachys byzantina)

The Amsonia Halfway to Arkansas is dotted with raindrops.

And a volunteer plant.  Well, fungus.  I'm still happy to see this.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day

My Garden is at it's late summer peak.  I plant a lot of pollinator friendly plants.  So many that The Husband says the garden purrs when he's walking to the train in the morning.  I like the imagery.  How many pollinators can you spot in the following pictures?

Let's start with my Agastache Area.

I have at least five different types of Agastache planted here.

Right next to the Agastache Area is a collection of Russian Sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia).

For something completely different.  Also in the Mad Garden is Rudbeckia Row.  I have three types of Rudbeckia, some Coreopsis (not shown), Ratibida, Helenium.  This is a big swatch of Red, Yellow and Orange.
Rudbeckia hirta Cappucino

Rudbeckia hirta Solar Eclipse

Rudbeckia hirta Prairie Sun

Helenium Mardi Gras

Ratibida pinnata

I moved this Red Hot Poker Nancy's Red (Kniphofia) to the sunny Rudbeckia Row this spring.  Not quite in bloom yet but soon!

In The Hell Strip I have my wonderful Mt. Mint (Pycnanthemum virginianum).

I also have (OH NO!) Sedum matronum Autumn Fire starting to bloom.  OH NO this is a sure sign that fall is coming all too soon.  And after that winter.  The indoor gardening season.  Which, sorry to say, I just don't enjoy as much as being outside in the garden.

Here's another nice vignette with a Hyssop and Coreopsis Zagreb.

And another focal plane.

And another focal plane.

Several of my plants have put out a second bloom.  Not as good as the first but this Centaura montana looks neat with the morning dew on it's leaves.

In the herb garden (which is mixed in with the other plants) my oregano is full of blooms.  I mean FULL.  I couldn't harvest this right now if I wanted to!

The Garlic Chives are making a good showing.  These are slightly purple.  I've only had white ones before.  Not sure if this is a different variety or if the soil here is causing the color.

Often forgotten on Bloom Day are the grasses.  My Panicum virgatum are all blooming nicely.  I was lucky that the winds were down so I could actually get a photo this morning.  

Not shown include so much that it's hard to remember them all.  Let's see... Gaura, Scabiosa, Buddleia are all in full bloom.  Lots of plants that put out a good bloom earlier are putting out one or two blooms for a second bloom period. Like several Salvias (nemorsa types), some of the spring Coreopsis, my holly bushes...  And that doesn't include the Zinnias and Cosmos in the Annual Corner!

So, how many bees did you spot?

Thanks to Carol at May Dreams Gardens for this meme!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Non-primate Residents of The Edge

I don't delude myself.  Many of the residents of The Edge also spend part of their lives outside of my property.  The snakes that incubate under the siding move into the woods behind the house during the summer (most of them, anyway), the birds fly quite a distance in their daily scavenging, even the insects leave The Edge sometimes.  It takes more than a quarter of an acre to support most animals.  But I do try to make my yard welcoming.

Last night we had a skunk wander through the yard.  I think he stopped for a drink in the birdbath (all skunks are male. And, oddly enough, French) but the dogs went barkistic so I wasn't able to admire him.  Sorry no pictures.

The American Goldfinches are starting to loose their summer colors but there's still a lot of flash on most of them.  They're enjoying my lack of deadheading.  Sorry for the picture quality.  I had to shoot through the window screen so I didn't spook them.  You get the idea.  They like my Liatris.

And I have to enclose my Bird Flu Shot.

This was me trying to get a better photo.  No luck this time.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Miscellaneous Monday

Random flower picture.

My Buddleia Evil Ways (from Plant Delights) is doing good so far.  I love the combination of the yellowish-green leaves and the reddish purple flowers.  [I type yellowish-green because I'm not sure how to spell chartreuse.  Oh, wait, that's what spell check is for!  So I don't have to get up and go in the other room to get the dictionary if I want to use big words.]

Topic 2.

I've put in a bunch of Rudbeckias (from Bluestone) in one are of the Mad Garden.  I'm calling it Rudbeckia Row.  Part of the difference in plant size has to do with the Guerrilla Rabbit Invasion earlier this year.  They attacked the plants to the right in this images.  Hopefully next year we won't have such a large Invasion.

Here's a close-up of Rudbeckia hirta Cappuchino.

Here's Solar Eclipse.

Not pictured:  Prairie Sun.  Hopefully I'll have a nice bloom for next weekend's Garden Blogger Bloom Day.

Topic 3.

I also photographed some pollinators.  I have quite a variety of these small butterflies, called skippers.  I've been taking pictures to try to identify species.  These butterflies tend to skip around a lot so most pictures are not good enough to post.  These are on my Scabiosa Butterfly Blue.  Can you spot both of them?

I don't have a good guide to bees.  Too bad.  I have plenty.  These next shots are on my Mountain Mint (Pycnathemum virginianum).

Look closely at these Cappuchino flowers.  See the friend?

Topic D.  

The "big" project for The Husband this weekend was installing the patio for our grill.  Our deck is small and there just wasn't enough room.  [I had the exciting job of writing an exam for tomorrow.  The down side to working partly at home, if you procrastinate you end up loosing your weekend.]

Here's The Sweaty, Hard-Working Husband.

And here's the patio.  He actually dug down and laid a base of two types of material under the pavers.  [We still need to put down some sand to fill the cracks but we're out of sand and didn't want to drive to the Big Box store in a nearby town to pick up more.]  Way To Go Husband!

And here's the grill in it's new home.

That was my weekend.  Excluding the errand running, the bike ride, the house cleaning, the answering of frantic emails from my students, the....