Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Long Fall Slant

As summer wanes, the sun's track is lower and lower in the sky, and its rays slant across the landscape, backlighting flowers and turning spider webs to gossamer gold, while deepening shadows bring an underlying sense of solemnity and of ending. The bees buzz more lazily, the flitting swallowtail butterflies are starting to look a bit tattered, and locusts drone mechanically from the dense treetops.
Yet the trees are also host to flocks of young birds; finches and chickadees, vireos and comically entertaining small woodpeckers... it is a season of excitement and noisy sociality for them, though they become quieter as the barred owls clear their throats in the waning afternoon and begin to cackle and to call to each other from their leafy perches:
Who, Who, Who are you ?
The misty, cool nights are bringing some excitement to the garden also, as I see the new leaves of the puttyroot orchids and the wild cyclamens emerging; the arums can't be far behind. It all goes so fast now, though... I hope I don't miss anything.

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Saturday, August 30, 2008

Vanishing Blogs, And Where They Went...

I've just finished my annual pruning... not in the garden, but rather on my blog, for twice a year I remove inactive garden blogs from my link list. If there's been no post for six months, and no evidence of any stirring about, I'll probably remove the link. However, a few of these blogs have mysteriously sprung to life even after that interval... usually no explanation, no sense of anything amiss; they just suddenly sputter back online. I have found that these re-awakenings are usually false springs however, for more often than not they are just the last twitches of a dying effort.
Some of the bloggers apparently just lost interest, some may have suffered an overwhelming attack of writer's block; then others moved or their lives took a turn to a busy or a dark and less pleasant part of the woods. A few of them leave a note, so to speak, and others just disappear without a trace. My link list still has some old-timers like Kathy and Annie.... but there are a lot of empty chairs at the table.

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Friday, August 29, 2008

The Weatherloon

I know, without looking at a single weather show, that there has been some cold weather recently in the upper midwest; my sources for this knowledge are the loons which have been showing up on our pond on their fall migration. This is quite early, and rather unexpected, so it must have been quite nippy in northern Minnesota and Wisconsin this last week.
Upon first moving here, I was very surprised to find that loons land on our little four acre pond in the spring and fall, and I've come to look forward to their visits. Also now, on hearing the loons' yowling and moaning echoing through our garden, I no longer call the animal shelter, thinking the neighbors are tormenting their cat.
They are very wary birds and I do not wish to disturb their brief (and I'm sure very necessary) rest here, so I've never gotten a good picture of them... the picture above is from a kind (and very excellent and patient) photographer who shared this photo on Wikipedia Commons.
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Thursday, August 28, 2008

Stairway To Nowhere

I sometimes wonder if I really like gardening... or is it actually garden construction that I love? I have a concern that when I finally stop expanding or changing the garden, that I'll soon become bored with it. I have an area piled high with accumulated lumber, stones, bricks and other stuff that might someday be useful in my projects; it looks like a salvage yard and I've had to build a fence to hide it (see at bottom).
Currently I've just finished (among other things) a stairway, using some of the used materials. The stairway runs down a small hillside; the trouble is, it's a stairway to nowhere; it just ends in a muddy ditch (we'll call it a small ravine). I'm thinking I'll now build a landing at the bottom of the stairs, to make a destination for the stairs. People can then stand there ... and look around the ditch.
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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Spring In Summer

Although we are certainly in the summer doldrums, one plant that is putting out new leaves like crazy and looking like it is spring, is Cyclamen purpurascens. In the good old days we called it Cyclamen europaeum, and it is indeed native to central and southern Europe. It's range extends more northerly than any other cyclamen, which promises excellent hardiness, and it's grown like a weed here for ten years; the above pictured clump is from self-seeding and is only three years old.
There are several things that are different about this species; first, it is pretty much evergreen (though in drier years here it will almost go mid-summer dormant before putting out its new leaves in late July-early August), secondly it often puts out its flowers a few at a time over a number of weeks, third it doesn't mind being planted more deeply and doesn't mind a light mulch, and lastly because it doesn't go completely dormant it doesn't like to dry out like the other cyclamens. As far as the deep planting goes, I've even noticed that I need to pluck up new little seedlings and plant them deeper, or they disappear.
I hear purpurascens can be picky about what garden it wants to grow in (for unknown reasons); I'm happy it likes ours... I would say it is the most persistent cyclamen here and just gets bigger every year. It's crisp new leaves in August are a breath of... well, spring!

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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Garden Sleeps

This is the time of year when our garden nods off; normally on walks there are always new things to see... but here at the tag end of summer, the garden is taking a short (and well-earned) siesta. Soon it will awaken with the cooling nights and (hopefully) soaking fall rains; the colchicums will raise their ghostly blooms from the soil, and everywhere the cyclamens will put up crisp new leaves... the garden will go down with all its guns blazing into the wintry sea.
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Sunday, August 24, 2008

If You're Not Growing This Plant... You Should.

I suppose (rather, I KNOW) I can seem a bit of a nag when it comes to telling people what they ought to be growing in their gardens, but if you're not growing Hepatica acutiloba (now Hepatica nobilis var. acuta), then you're just losing out, and I mean to change that.
I don't think there is a single other plant in our garden that gives so much in return for so little required care... all it asks is a modest little shady spot, and to be left alone. Right now it's leathery, shiny green foliage is looking great, and as the gloom and cold of fall descend on us, that foliage will turn to a deep plum color, and it will persist all winter, until the plant puts up clouds of fuzzy flower stalks in spring.
We're at the western edge of this little hepatica's natural range, and it's much less common here than the round-lobed hepatica. I've seen it said that acutiloba prefers growing in the wetter ravine bottoms, but can't vouch for that personally, as I seem to see it more on the shady north sides of hills. It's flowers range from white to pink to lavender, and in the woods I see some really stunning colors, and leaves that can be quite variegated.
I have my plant growing in a spot so shady that the hostas there are dying out, yet the hepatica just gets bigger and better every year. So, grow it in your garden (or I'll hold my breath)!

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Saturday, August 23, 2008

The August Jungle

As August slipslides into September, flowers in our shady garden become less and less of a feature, and one has to start looking at foliage (there comes a dark day in late fall, of course, where one starts admiring the rocks).
A plant still worth looking at is Sauromatum venosum (also called S. venustum, S. guttatum, Arum cornutum, and Typhonium venosum... some of these plants have more names than a dog has fleas). Native to the Himalayas and India yet perfectly hardy here, it has formed a large clump which begs to be divided, but I really like the jungle-like effect of the broad umbrella-like leaves and the spotted stems on the three foot tall plants... an August jungle.

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Friday, August 22, 2008

Lycoris Sprengeri: New Kid On The Block

For some time, I have wanted to try some types of lycoris other than the old-fashioned surprise lily, Lycoris squamigera. Last fall I finally sprang for a single bulb of Lycoris sprengeri, endemic to China and sometimes called the Tie Dye or Blue-Tipped Lycoris. It actually is a parent of Lycoris squamigera, the latter being a hybrid of Lycoris sprengeri x straminea.
I must say, my small investment has been a success; sprengeri has shorter flower stalks, at 18 inches, and smaller, more trumpet-like flowers. The flowers are pink, overlain with a ghostly, electric blue color.
There are several other types (species and hybrids) of lycoris I would perhaps stand some chance of keeping in our 5a garden; I mean to try Lycoris sanguinea next.

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

The World Is A Big Place

When you're a small cat, the world is a very big place...
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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Something Something Something?

Well o.k., a couple of days ago I showed a picture of my Something Something Calla; here's my Something Something Something Calla (I've got to figure out how to keep labels on these things).
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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Another Bit Of Family History Tarnished

My maternal and paternal families are fine folks; salt of the earth... but have not been the stuff of legends. It's therefore distressing to have the few interesting family stories that I do know about, one after the other, turn out to be hooey. For example, I had always been told that Oliver Hazard Perry, the great American naval hero of the War of 1812, was an ancestor in my Mother's maternal family (the Westcotts), and to this day the name Oliver or even Oliver Hazard is given to the occasional boy in the family. Well, it turns out that this is a belief and a given name common to quite a number of families; sometimes there may actually have been somebody from the family who served with Perry and named a son after him, but probably more often the name Oliver Hazard was just picked because Perry was a popular hero with a dashing name, and then later generations came to believe there must have been a biological connection with the Admiral. By this same token, with all the little girls being tagged with the name "Britney", I suppose someday there will be hundreds of families thinking they are descended from Britney Spears, and wondering where the money went and why their little snowflakes can't sing worth a lick (actually I guess the lack of any singing talent in this case wouldn't preclude a true biological link).
Anyway, the big pots of spider lilies are blooming their heads off right now; they were a gift from my cousin's husband Ed... and Ed was the source of just about my only other interesting family story; a story which has also been greatly deflated recently. The original story (which I, in gripping detail, related in this blog last year at this time when these flowers bloomed) goes like this: Ed worked for Rockwell Collins for many years, but always wanted to run a commercial greenhouse, and finally sprang for one; unfortunately he purchased the business in Oelwein, Iowa in May of 1968, one day before an F5 tornado tore through town, totally destroying his greenhouse before he'd had a chance to get it insured. Sadly, with this huge financial loss he had to give up his dream and go back to Rockwell Collins, where he remained until he retired (though he had a hobby greenhouse at home, and then later grew his plants under lights in the basement); my spider lilies were a gift from his collection of amaryllids, and they delight me by blooming for a very long time in late summer.
It happened that Ed and some other family members came down for a visit and garden tour last fall, and I asked him about that famous event of forty years ago; it turns out the tornado came through a couple of weeks after he'd purchased the nursery, and he had plenty of insurance, but just decided not to rebuild... certainly still a bit of a speed bump in his life, but not, sadly, the stuff of family legend. About all I've got left is the story about the time my Uncle Det and Aunt Floy (who were Ed's wife's parents) were driving through an Iowa town which was too small to even have a single stoplight, and they waved to the town policeman as they drove through the one block long main street business district. However they somehow then took a wrong turn and ended up doing a complete circle, so they again drove by the cop, then made the same mistake once more, and this time the policeman decided to escort them through town. Well, it's not a story that anybody has ever eagerly asked me to retell, but it's all I've got.
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Monday, August 18, 2008

My New Trowel... See It While You Can

I don't mean to be too fatalistic, but if history is any indicator, this may be the only time you ever see my new garden trowel... it will, like all the others, soon vanish forever... poof! Admittedly our garden is a labyrinthine place; over-planted with bushes and weeping trees through which vines creep and crawl, while thousands of shade perennials fight for the shafts of sunlight that penetrate to the ground. Through it all, paths meander and intersect, going up and down hills and stairs, crossing bridges, and passing through mysterious gates. One could certainly envision temporarily misplacing the occasional tool here, but we're talking about a steady parade of trowels simply vanishing, never to be seen again.
I admit my last trowel was not a wise selection; it was totally black except for a white band on the handle. I've gone to a day-glo yellow handle this time (and am toying with the idea of tying a helium balloon to it).
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Sunday, August 17, 2008

Blue Light Special In A Pot

I was loading some bricks in my pickup the other day at Menards, glanced across the truck bed, and saw a pallet of huge Japanese maples on clearance priced at about $65! This cutleaf viridis maple tagged along in my truck. Now I'm kicking myself I didn't also buy one of the even larger Crimson Queen maples at the same price. These would cost $250 each at the local nursery. Guess I do need to pick up some things in town tomorrow, and I might as well swing by Menards as long as I'm right in the neighborhood...
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Saturday, August 16, 2008

Something Something Calla Lily

This is a really nice calla lily; dark maroon purple flowers and white flecked leaves. It's named something like Dark Pearl or Pirate's Patch; I've lost the label... it's the Something Something Calla.
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Friday, August 15, 2008

Miss Tiger Fancy Pants

In most of nature, the male gets to wear the fine duds, but not so in the tiger swallowtails... the female (at top) gets to sport a deep blue band with orange spots, while the male is quite plain. I hope he at least has a nice workshop in the basement with a t.v. and a refrigerator full of beer.
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Thursday, August 14, 2008

Surprise Lily Surprises.

Lycoris squamigera, the August lily or surprise lily, has an extra little surprise it springs each year. There is a pretty good sized clump right by the main pathway in our garden. Every year, when it first starts putting up its flower stalks, for some reason it only puts up two or three stalks at first, so you think the clump must be dying out. Then in a few days, a couple of dozen other stalks all come up at once. I guess it likes to send out scouts to check things out; I must confess I've considered chopping off these first few flower stalks just to see what the rest of them would do.
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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Gray Can Be Attractive

Gray clouds, gray moods, gray hair... not much I'm enamored with there... though I've come to appreciate at my age that my gray head of hair is at least preferable to many of my friends' lack of hair of any hue (doesn't the old saying go: "In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king"). However one gray I do especially like is when the blue hydrangeas just pass over into that metallic gray stage. Every time I see one, I think I should be drying flowers.
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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Beautiful Hibiscus... But I Am Not Fooled

The hardy hibiscus are blooming in every sunny spot in our garden, with huge crepe dreams in bright colors of red, pink, cream and white. But I know this is a brief fling; it is like the spectacular fireworks burst at the end of the show; it is an Ingrid Bergman smooch at the airport. I will enjoy this glory while it lasts, but I am not fooled... I know all too soon there will come a morning where I wake to a cold wind from the north blowing through the window curtains, and then see a folded letter on the nightstand.

(above from top: old Yella, Lord Baltimore, Fantasia)
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Monday, August 11, 2008

Another Dream Dashed

Who among us gardeners has not harbored the dream of traveling the world, camera in hand, photographing nature for a magazine like National Geographic? Unfortunately there is the matter of a few personal traits that would be helpful in this avocation... patience, skill, and luck... none of which I seem to have in abundance.
Take the hummingbirds; they flock to a large patch of red beebalm in the garden, and when I went for a walk this morning there were several taking turns feeding on the nectar and then chasing each other around in circles. I ran back to the house for the camera, but when I got back out to the garden, there was not a single hummingbird in sight. I stood there for ten minutes, peering in first one direction, then the other; rather like standing in an empty station looking forlornly in vain up and down the tracks for a train. Well, no luck; by now the black gnats were chewing on the back of my neck and one of the cats came along and flopped down next to me, which brought the wrens and catbirds out of the woods, scolding both the cat and me. I picked up the cat and carried it back to the house; as I was then walking back down the path, I saw one of the hummingbirds was back, but by the time I picked up my camera again, it had chased a bumblebee away from the beebalm and never came back. I stood there another five minutes... finally the bumblebee at least showed up again, and for something to do while I was waiting, I took its picture. The bee then started flying tight circles around me, buzzing loudly. I guess he was still ticked at being chased by the hummingbird and was taking it out on me... I decided the bumblebee was sizing up whether it was worth giving up his stinger to nail me, so I left.
A half hour later I walked back out to the garden without my camera, and there were now two hummingbirds sitting peacefully in the bushes right next to where I had been standing earlier. Maybe National Geographic needs a proofreader.

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Sunday, August 10, 2008

More Than An Afterthought...

I'll have to admit, I don't normally pay much attention to the flowers on the many hostas here in the garden; they seem to be somewhat of an afterthought, not really adding that much to the plants themselves or to the garden as a whole. I make an exception for Hosta 'Blue Dimples'; the flowers are on short stalks, avoiding the gangliness that afflicts many hostas' blooms, and the flowers are packed on the stalks so tightly it looks like they might explode from sheer floriferousness.

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Saturday, August 09, 2008

A Better Yellow

I'm usually not that crazy about yellow daylilies, but Molly McButter has undertones of pink and green that just make it glow (the ruffling is nice, too). It's also a late bloomer (it's in full bloom now) so extends the daylily season.
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