Do We Have the Gall?

Photo of gall on azalea leaf

Here is a fascinating one, of a type I’ve never seen. This azalea leaf has been mutated by whatever creature formed the gall, into a shape that resembles an orchid flower. Functional, or not? You can see the red going up the center vein, but the cells of this leaf are also generally deformed. Some galls are caused by insects, some by mites, some by fungus or bacteria.

 

Photo of wildflower with tiny white blooms

Here is a cute, tiny wildflower. Even the little serrated leaves are cute.

 

Photo of foxglove seedlings

This is a swath of seedling foxgloves, all from the parent plant that died off after blooming last year. That’s nothing sad (mildly sad, maybe, but nature has her ways) because foxgloves are, most varieties, biennials. Some of the ones I’ve started this year have grown so big and robust, I hope they will bloom. Meanwhile, I’ve got plenty here to spread around to other beds.

 

Photo of cloche protecting monarda

You might have come across what looked like snipped-off leaves, on some of your garden plants. I added a monarda to my “round the tree” bed, and came out one day to find it had vanished. I dug up another piece from a stand in the front border, and that one got snipped too. I thought it must be a bird, but the leaves were left lying on the ground, so what could the guilty party have in mind? Another day, I looked through my back door, and saw a grackle snipping at a brand new store-bought monarda. So, if you’ve ever had a similar experience, I can testify I’ve seen the bird in the act. Maybe the strong scent, the oils in the leaves, helps them get rid of lice when they’re nesting. (Now nesting is over, they’ve left my plants alone.) Maybe the scent helps disguise the nest from predators.

 

Photo of lily eaten by deerPhoto of impatiens eaten by deer

Speaking of depredations. We had two solid days of heavy rain here in southeastern Ohio. Normally I use Liquid Fence to keep deer off my tasty garden plants, the lilies, daylilies, impatiens, elephant ears…besides which I plant as many deer resistant flowers as I can find. I have most of the usual ones; sometimes the deer will snip the tops off coneflowers or shasta daisies. But a convergence of circumstance put my garden at risk. The rain meant I couldn’t spray, and then…which is common at this time of year…a deer showed up during the early daytime. They are normally nocturnal in their foraging, so I’d expected to have enough time when things dried up, to stink up my plants for them. (Liquid Fence is a spray you mix that smells like a combination of garlic, pepper, and manure.) As you see, some of this year’s lily flowers got snatched away, and these impatiens I just planted are down to the nubs. The deer also chopped some centaurea, which won’t care, and my goatsbeard, which one or another deer tends to do every year.

 

Photo of cuttings in nursery box

But here are some new impatiens getting a start, as well as cuttings from some petunias I just bought. You can keep a nursery box like this all summer and stick cuttings in as your plants get leggy, or when you just want more.

 

 

 

What’s in the Garden

The last of the unseasonable winter-in-May has passed by, so this week was the real start of getting things planted out. All my seed-grown perennials, that I planted in April, survived the frost just fine, as most perennials will. But the annuals were getting large in their pots, and using up all their potting soil nutrients.

 

Photo of maple with woodpecker holes

Here is one of my front lawn sugar maples. From the time this was taken, the tree has already leafed out in full. As you can see, the dead center trunks make the best of habitats for hole-nesting birds, also flying squirrels (I’ve never seen one, but I assume they’re there, since the owls catch some sort of prey around the feeder), and ordinary squirrels in wintertime. Important to note, the tree is still quite alive and leafs robustly, so although a lot of homeowners would decide to cut down a half-dead tree, it’s worth keeping for the wildlife it supports.

 

Photo closeup of verbascum bloom

A close-up view of a verbascum flower. I grew a bunch from seed last year, but had to wait for this year to see them bloom. Note the pentagon-shaped bud.

 

Photo of plants in garage

When it was freezing at night, and forties by day, I had to make do, finding someplace to get light to my mature seedlings. And a couple of venerable houseplants. In the background, my garage collection of dead appliances.

 

Photo of coneflower heads

This is all that remains of the coneflower seedheads. This structural part that supports the sepals, flowers, and seeds, reminds me of a cycad. There seems to be no purpose to it, other than as a basic derivative of the plant’s evolutionary history. Flowers of the Asteraceae family are over forty million years old, so far as the fossil record currently shows.

 

Photo of Cooper's Hawk nest from distance

In my callery pear, this new nest has appeared. You can see by the recently clipped branches, still green, that it’s either in progress, or just completed. It’s the type of nest, and the tree-crotch location is typical, of a Cooper’s Hawk. But it’s only about five feet off the ground.

 

Photo of Cooper's Hawk Nest

Here’s a close-up.

 

Photo of baptisia australis

This baptisia has been growing in my garden for several years, and this is the first year it has ever bloomed.

 

Photo of red peony

My red single-flowered peony.

 

Photo of wildflower

Finally, this is a wildflower we have locally. It looks like a member of the rose family, but I couldn’t find it in my guidebook. I’m going to give it a chance and see if it develops into a decent groundcover for shade, where it likes to grow. The flowers are as shown, tiny, but the leaves are like a heuchera.

 

 

May Garden Notes

Photo of leaf gall on birch

I think this tree is a gray birch, that got itself next to the garage foundation. Then I neglected getting rid of it, so it shot branches up above the roof-line. When I cut it back one branch took off a piece of flashing. But I feel sorry for the tree, so I trim it back as a shrub and let it live. This year it has all these galls on the leaves, that seem to grow into this strange plant/insect object. You can see some in the background that are stretching.

 

Photo of lilies of the valley

The lilies of the valley are pretty this year, since I raked their bed out for them, and added some fortified potting soil. Its a difficult spot to design, because in the winter the oaks shed masses of leaves, and the bed gets heavily piled; then in the spring the daffodils have to run their course, before there’s room for the next thing. This year I added the dwarf spruce, and a climbing trellis.

 

Photo of squirrel on feeder pole

In the local squirrel gene pool, is this tendency towards red tails. So far this year, only a Cooper’s hawk, seen in pursuit of an unknown bird, so the squirrels are fat and frollicking. I have a whole flock of morning doves, which seem to be the bird-hunting hawk’s favorite prey.

 

Photo of catkins

In the springtime, the oaks drop so many catkins I can sweep them up and use them for mulch. Catkins are high-protein (it seems, as I learned from looking it up, you can eat them if you like…something to remember if you’re ever lost in the wilderness at the right season), and so it takes little time for them to decompose in the garden.

 

Photo of hens and chicks

Here’s a good way to hatch out your hens and chickens, when you want to spread them around.

 

 

Waiting for the Cold Spell to End

Photo of garden cart and plants

These are the seeds I started March 15. The biggest growers are the annuals, the centaurea, nicotiana, and tithonia. They toughen up well enough with temperatures in the fifties, but need an eye kept on them in case the wind blows too cold. Of perennials, I have rudbeckia, columbine, shasta daisy, lupine, achillea, foxglove, hollyhock, catmint, coreopsis, hibiscus. The slower-growing annuals are coleus, impatiens (the big ones flowering above were started from cuttings), larkspur, calendula, ageratum…and I just started the end of spring annuals, that could sprout sown directly; but, in the case of sunflower, are vulnerable to birds eating them, or need a good start to root well and bloom sooner: morning glory, marigold, and nasturtium.

 

Photo of Milkweed border

Along the side of the garage I have a stand of swamp milkweed (white-flowered) that grows every summer into a seasonal hedge. These plants get a lot of love from bees and wasps; so far, I haven’t seen monarchs. But, as every year, I want to tout the tithonia flower, which is very attractive to monarchs. That may be because the kind that migrate to Mexico are looking for a familiar haven along the way (tithonia is also called Mexican sunflower). When they go to seed in the late summer, goldfinches will feed on them too.

 

Photo of old yew bush

On my old property, I planted an acorn and grew a Chestnut oak about twenty or thirty feet tall at the time I left. I’d like to think it’s still there…maybe it isn’t. But owners can do what they need to with their own place. My garage was first hedged with yew, bushes grown a couple feet taller than me. If they were left alone, there’d be no moving up the side between my property and the neighbors’. I don’t myself like trimmed foundation bushes, so I cut them down, rather than try keeping them up—I couldn’t get the stumps, because my chainsaw is only a little battery-operated one. One yew, and I’m happy it did, if I can keep it small, came back and has a sort of Bristlecone pine vibe.

 

Photo of my grandfather and his brother

My grandfather (left), his brother (right). I don’t know who the skinny man in the center is.

 

Photo of my grandfather, his brother and mother

Same group, but with my great-grandmother in the middle.

 

Photo of my great grandmother

My great-grandmother Barker, 1960s, probably Mt. Vernon, Illinois

 

 

This Week’s Doings in the Garden

Below, a very short video, answering the question I posed a while back, as to who’d be using the treehole for a nesting site this year.

 

 

 

Photo of yellow primrose

 

My mother gave me this yellow primrose (a red one too) when I moved to my present house, ten years ago. That’s not even how old it is, having lived however long before I got it. So, if you’ve got some rocks to plant your primroses among, you’ll find them some of the most reliable and long-lived perennials.

 

Photo of violets in yard

 

My yard is full of violets, one of the nicest things to see in the springtime, when they bloom in swaths. The leaves will also stay green even in a drought. All the more mystery why anyone would want a chemically green lawn, instead of a beautiful meadow. Photographing violets doesn’t work on bright sunny days. You need a good overcast sky to get the colors to show true.

 

 

Photo of seedlings being hardened off

 

This is the time of year when caring for the seedlings gets laborious (a little). They can’t spend the night outside, both for temperatures and creature interference. So, for a week or two, I have to carry them out, set them up, carry them back inside, repeat… But they need wind and natural light as soon as possible, when they get to the potting on stage. Hardening off is not just to get them ready for the garden, but because a little pot of soil won’t keep them fed well enough when they’re really growing. Wind gets the root and leaf systems respirating properly, and sunlight cranks up the photosynthesis.

 

 

April Garden News

Here’s a sassy orange tulip I saved from the deer. I have two blooming, and one that will probably get away with making a flower. The others have had their heads bitten off.

 

I’ve been getting into the gardening magazines, getting inspired by projects. I don’t subscribe anymore, but still have a stack never read. So, I’ve gone through my garage, finding every pot or article (large pieces of pipe, an old dryer vent), that could be spruced up with craft paint. At the left is nothing but a shrub-sized plastic pot, such as garden centers use. Here’s one kind of recycling to keep plastic out of circulation altogether! The paints are Martha Stewart metallic and pearlized, and the decoration is done by dipping crumpled plastic wrap in contrasting colors after a base coat dries, then tamping on the freeform design. When they’re ready to go out, add a coat of car wax, to make them more rain resistant.

 

Here are my garden seeds, sprouted and on their way, after two weeks. It’s something of a balancing act to get them early enough they have a healthy amount of growth, comparable to plants you’d buy at the garden store. But growth is especially important with perennials. Last year, for example, I put out probably a dozen hollyhocks, which like most perennials won’t bloom the first year. This year, I count less than half that number surviving, from voles and deer, and crowding by the roots of other plants. Last year’s achillea (deer resistant) has pretty much all come back, but this is the first season they’ll bloom. I had good monarda (also deer resistant) last year, a plant that will flower like an annual, but this year a couple stands don’t seem to have returned. But since even tender annuals can go outdoors in April during the daytime (unless the temperatures are below the upper fifties), it’s better to start early, and have big plants that will bloom as soon as possible.

Seedlings, though, then young mature plants, do get to be a lot to handle indoors.

And by the way, the impatiens flowering pink, above, are from cuttings. They’ll grow easily that way—just snip a top with buds, making your cut between two sets of leaf nodes, and stick it in potting soil. It will root and start blooming within a week or two. The downside is that cuttings are clones. Impatiens are also very easy to start from seeds, and that genetic diversity will improve their chances of not picking up disease.

 

 

 

A Damp Climate

The air, when I lived for a few years in Columbus, Ohio, was always notably drier than down in Athens. My town is part of the greater Ohio Valley, built alongside the Hocking River, that feeds into the Ohio. It’s a moist part of the world, but has been especially rainy for several weeks. Last week we got two days of heavy rains in a row.

 

Photo of fungi in brush heap

Here in my brush heap are a nice collection of fungi and lichens.

 

Photo of purple mold on limb

And an interesting one from a couple of years ago, that looks like a purple mold growing on a lichen.

 

Photo of streaming water in yard

The rainwater in this patch of my yard just streams, and builds itself miniature sandy shoals.

 

Photo of burrow filled with water

And the reason the water streams is because this animal burrow fills up, and appears to run underground from the pear tree to the brush heap.

 

Photo of pickerel weed in tub

But, good news. My water tubs are shaped like big shallow bowls, so I never do anything for them in the winter, because when the water freezes it just expands outwards and doesn’t harm the tub. So I usually don’t keep my water plants and have to buy new ones. This year, either for mildness on the part of the weather, or hardiness on the part of the pickerel weed, I have one plant that’s pulled through and is starting to grow again.

 

 

Be a Backyard Naturalist

If you’re having a down week…because you can’t go to work, or can’t go anyplace other than work, and it isn’t officially spring, try getting outdoors in any case. Find out what nature is gifting you with this year. Go online and hunt for the plants you can’t identify. If you’re feeling well, fresh air and exercise will keep you that way (fingers crossed), and keep your spirits up. Take a bag to a city or state park, and pick up trash. Take some photos. And observe the natural world in this interim between seasons.

 

Photo of crowns of two oaks

 

Here are the two crowns of my mighty oaks, which is why I’m still bagging up their humongous leaf fall, and finding ways to re-assimilate so much organic material into the environment.

 

Photo of bird feather

 

This feather is likely from a mourning dove. Notice the beautiful downy stuff at the bottom of the shaft.

 

Photo of piece of wood gnawed by squirrel

 

What’s left of an old landscape timber, having long since lost its weatherproofing. See how these curved spaces are cut out? That’s from squirrels (possibly chipmunks) gnawing to hone their teeth.

 

Photo of hole in tree trunk

 

Here the choicest real estate in the animal world of my yard. Last year red-bellied woodpeckers nested here first, then northern flickers, then through the winter, squirrels. The opening has gotten quite a bit bigger than originally. We’ll see who gets the house this spring.

 

Photo of cypress branches used to prevent washing

 

While doing such chores outside as I can, I clipped back the branches of a cypress shrub. Last time, I talked about the “wash” problem, with so much rain as opposed to wintertime snow. This is one way to improve sloped beds in your garden. Evergreen branch-ends are airy and won’t stop perennials from pushing up, but they’ll slow water running downhill.

 

Photo of daffodils in spring

 

Here’s another chore, when the foliage dies back. You can see I’ve got some good-sized stands of non-blooming daffodils, that need dividing and replanting.

 

Photo of tulips caged to protect from deer

 

I love tulips. When I was growing up, Sunday papers had little magazines, and the magazines always had ads at the back for Dutch tulips, showing fields with rows and rows of color. I don’t know, tulips’ optimum blooming life being short, whether that would be practical and affordable, but it was a little dream of mine to plant so many tulips, one day when I had a yard. Right now, I can hardly keep them safe from the deer (maybe strength in numbers would make a difference), but here’s a way to protect your vulnerable bulbs: cage-style hanging baskets turned upside down.

 

Photo of seeds started under lights

 

And here are this year’s seeds, just now started. Mostly, members of the Compositae family (daisies, black-eyed susans), the flowers deer hate most. I do keep my shelves in a bedroom, where the plants are warm and safe from the cats. It’s not that hard to avoid making a mess. Tip: if you spill dirt, leave it until it’s completely dry before you vacuum.

 

Photo of my grandmother in her rose bed

 

And here’s my grandmother (Vera Barker) in her rose garden, probably from the 1970s. This corner at the back of the bungalow was covered in broken concrete slabs, always a thing I liked playing stepping stones on. I suppose it kept the weeds off…I don’t know if concrete is good for roses. She never grew a lot of flowers, but always had opium poppies, salmon-colored. That might sound strange, but old farmstead gardens were planted with medicinal flowers and herbs, and Grandma kept up the tradition by saving the seeds.

 

 

 

Spring Fever

It’s that time of year, when the weather warms up, the garden starts to grow, and  it gets hard to sit at your desk and work. 

 

Photo of sky during hailstorm

 

We had a late winter thunderstorm with hail on the third of March, during which I saw a weather phenomenon I never had: the sky turned a shade of pink. By the time I got my camera it was almost gone, but there’s a hint of it in this picture. Otherwise, it’s a nice moody shot, showing how at this time of the year greys can look bright and the landscape eager to get started. And today (the 8th) I had a pair of courting turkey vultures flying over my yard.

 

Photo of backyard drainage project

 

Here’s a shot of my drainage project. My yard has a steep little slope going from the house to the garage-level. In southeastern Ohio for the past several years, we’ve hardly had any snow, nothing like the six inch or more longterm storms we used to get. Now, in a winter, we get one or two events that drop a couple of inches at the most, then melt off within days. Meanwhile, we’ve been having huge downpours of rain; this year, it seems, every week. All that is a reflection of the changing climate, but when you have rain instead of snow, you get a lot of washing. The wash carries away the topsoil, and keeps anything green from growing back. So backyard drainage should be purposed not to channel, but to slow down and spread the runoff, make it trickle down into the soil, rather than stream to the ditch. Pea gravel is a great choice, and if the cinder blocks are set this way, they can function as a step and a place for rainwater to burble away slowly.

 

Now, in about a week, it’ll be time to start seeds and root cuttings from the impatiens and coleus I saved from the garden last fall!