a Few Things

The first photo shows this year’s deer. My yard, as a territory, usually has a semi-resident female and offspring, but a male deer, who I call Derek, has been growing antlers and browsing at the bird feeder through the summer. He had little velvet spikes, that turned into double points, and are now cleaned of velvet, while he’s grown much larger, and turned from fawn-color to grey for the winter.

In the second photo, a few more bulbs. Bluestone Perennials was having a 50% off sale, so I picked up some allium, Ornithogalum, Dutch Iris, and daffodils, and made combos of them in these yogurt tubs. In the deer photo, you can see the path edges, where I’m planning to have bulbs all the way along, though buying them one year at a time. 

Finally, this bread pudding turned out really tasty, so I’ll tell the story and share what’s in it. The “shortages” meant I could only find a half gallon jug of half-and-half, which I only buy for coffee. It usually lasts well in quart sizes, but this jug must have been the worse for shipping, because it went bad after a couple of days. Then I had almost 8 cups of product to use for some purpose. I baked two cakes to freeze and still had half the jug left. I looked up bread pudding recipes, and none were quite big enough. But the whole purpose of bread pudding is to use up things you would otherwise throw away, so recipes are only guidelines. I didn’t have bread, but I had lemon and spice cakes. This pudding has 4 cups of half-and-half, simmered and mixed with a tablespoon each of sugar and cornstarch (mix these two together to avoid the cornstarch clumping). It has about six loaf-style slices of lemon cake, and the equivalent of four slices of spice cake. The milk is mixed with two eggs, stirred; and everything is topped with pecans.


Wishes for next Gardening year

Above, a hart’s tongue fern, and its interesting way of sporing. The second photo shows how the callery pear tree, that had a section of bark cut out by a yellow-bellied sapsucker, has coped by growing the same sort of collar a tree makes when it loses a branch. I had a fledgling sapsucker, in its juvenile plumage, come to my suet feeder this year. So, the callery pear may be an invasive foreign species, but it does provide sustenance for one type of bird.

I cleared away the pile of brush that was stacked under my sweetgum tree, and the area left, that has very rich soil, I plan to build into an understory habitat, with shrubs, small trees, and wildflowers. I’ve planted lots of jumbo daffodils around my path edges. One thing I decided, based on observation, is that daffodils are better planted along borders than inside beds, because their foliage lingers for a month or so after they flower, and takes up good planting space you want to use for other things. Of bulbs, I’m adding crocuses, tulips in containers, anemones, ranunculus, hyacinthoides (bluebells). 

Next year, I want to plant some conifers, a blue spruce for color, and a mugo pine for its nice size, even thought neither are native to Ohio. I do have a small white pine that appeared in the yard by itself. I have several things in pots, that I’m wintering sheltered against the garage wall, cuttings from shrubs and perennials. I may get a genuine mountain laurel, a second button bush, a cypress, and an azalea—the last two started from root layering. I have a few perennials potted, some columbines, hellebores, goatsbeards, and baptisia. I’ve moved several coneflowers from the front bed to new ones I’m building out from the sides of the paths, turning more of the yard into flower gardens, less remaining lawn.

I would like to get a caryopteris, an Itoh peony, and a blue lace-cap hydrangea. For perennials, I need more pulmonaria (I saw a great, inspiring, multi-variegated planting in Garden Gate magazine, that I’d like to emulate with pulmonaria and brunnera). I need more ferns of different types, and I want to add more primrose and some tiarella. I’ve collected seed of several good annuals and native perennials, but of seed to buy, I’d like to get celosia, cosmos, sweet william, viola, blue centauria, more annual phlox. 



Learned This Year

As mentioned last post, this spring I tried new annuals from seed.

Dahlias worked well; next year I want to grow the pompom style, if I find them in a catalogue.

Geraniums worked well. Most came out the typical red, though I got one hot pink.

Hens and chicks started easily, but stalled at about the quarter-inch size, and not having a good place to nurture such tiny things, I lost them.

Of tuberous begonias, I got two examples, an orange-red, and one too small yet to know what color. They didn’t germinate especially well.

I got nothing from the exotics I tried, although I scattered the remaining ginseng seeds (that stayed dormant in pots) under an oak tree, so possibly a winter will start them. The pitcher plant seeds never germinated.

I discovered it’s hard to tell what certain seedling trees are, and easy to misidentify them. From now on, unless the seedling is a distinctive species, I’ll wait longer and not share a mistaken ID. I was gifted an ironweed this year, but early on posted it as a Joe Pye weed. As abundant as ironweed is in SE Ohio, I’d always wanted one to find its way into my yard, and it never happened until this year. Now I have a few seeds to spread into my meadow area.

Meadows increase insect life, and it doesn’t matter altogether if the plantings are native. Not to say natives aren’t preferable, but where I have mostly ground ivy, I still have seen the smallest butterflies make use of the shelter. They need safe places to roost at night, as well as host plants for their eggs. 

Above, a late display of tender plants, coleus and strobilanthes, looking bright and beautiful. Being in a sheltered bed, they’ll probably keep going until a frost or two. In photo two, my small paw paw tree (not so hard to recognize, both for the big leaves, and their habit of attaching at a 45 degree angle to the stem), notably chewed up at the end of the season, hopefully bringing zebra swallowtails next spring. This reinforces the point that native trees support insects from the time they start growing leaves. You don’t need a park-size specimen to offer nature the benefits of a host tree. 



Saving Seeds

One of the things I tried this year that worked well, was starting dahlias from seed. In most of my gardening years, catalogs didn’t sell them, and the advice on dahlias made them seem fussy. You had to dig the tubers, preserve them in sand or peat, or a plain paper bag, spritz them occasionally with water so they wouldn’t dry out, but not let them get wet… Or just buy new tubers every spring. 

In the metal tray above are dahlia seeds collected from my garden. The spent flowers are slimy, and need extra attention—but not too much—to extract the seeds. Lay them where they get sun, and when they’re halfway dry, spread the heads apart. As you can see, the seeds above are exposed and can now be separated from the chaff. 



All the prepared seeds I’ve collected so far, neatly stored in their envelopes. I concentrate on perennials; most that are helpful to nature and unappealing to deer are in the daisy family, coneflowers and rudbeckias. I’ve also collected verbascum, achillea, monarda, and annuals centaurea and scabiosa.



The seeds drying out in my garage. For this work you can take several plastic containers out of the environment by saving them for use. Put flower heads upside-down and leave them for a few weeks, add a label (I use wooden popsicle sticks). When they’ve dried, using fingers or a butter knife, depending on how stickery the flowerhead is, loosen the seeds, envelope them, and write the name.



I’ve been misidentifying what I wanted (wishful thinking) to be a mountain laurel. It looked promising as a small plant, but I’ve learned after a few such errors, not to ID too early. Seeing the ridges developing along the stem, I was afraid it was only a burning bush euonymus. I would have pulled it (they are invasive), but it seems to be something else. It has leathery leaves that stayed on all last winter. They show no sign of being other than evergreen this year. I’ll just have to wait and see what characteristics it develops over time.




This pearlescent white jelly is probably rarely seen. It made an ephemeral appearance after the heavy rains from Ida, on the side of the dead ash tree, and when the weather dried up, it disappeared.



These shelf mushrooms were especially golden, saturated with rain. Using logs to edge beds does more than give you a chance to see how many types of fungus can sprout in your area. The life that exists in this dead wood also helps sustain a mini-climate. The ground under and just around the logs won’t freeze (unless winter temps are severe). Under every little shelf is a place for an insect or spider to hide.



A new rose I bought, called Cinco de Mayo. Its flowers are coral with areas of dusty purple. And it puts out new leaves in this bright red hue.


I said in an earlier post that my yard habitat lacked any reptile or amphibian species (that I had seen), and that these creatures migrating to your yard is a real proof of progress. After Ida, I got a little frog in one of my bog tubs. That’s how pond frogs move from place to place, traveling when rain is falling and their skin stays wet.



This grass, probably a sort of pennisetum, makes a great show in late summer and fall. 



End of August Odds and Ends

This photo composed itself nicely, with the bright sun and strong shadow, and the swirl of fern-leaf and liriope. The two plants were making a pretty woodland look, so I wanted to show a highlight of my garden at this time of year, when several things are finished.



They say you should cut the flowers off your coleus. It’s true, they add a rangy, unkempt quality, but they are popular with bumble bees, and this year I’ve seen two hummingbirds, while last year, I saw only one—and it was the coleus flowers they were feeding on. These flower stalks by the bog tubs are about two feet long.

In the background is a four o’clock, a better container plant than I would have thought. I didn’t buy them on purpose, but they came as part of a seed mix. I’m not usually outdoors when four o’ clocks bloom, and even when I am, I haven’t been able to detect the famous scent. But even so, the foliage is lush, and the little beginning flowers are so numerous they make spots of color everywhere. Altogether, four o’ clocks in pots are one of this year’s good discoveries.



These are a kind of pepper called Jimmy Nardello. They aren’t chilies, but taste a lot like bell peppers. But they have the advantage, being thin, that the plants produce lots of them, and they ripen quickly. I like sweet peppers raw on a sandwich, and these Jimmys are abundant for sandwich peppers. Another good discovery.



The cactus fully bloomed out. The flowers took on a pink tone after starting peach. I didn’t realize cactus flowers are waxy-textured. I tried finger-pollinating them, but I don’t know if that will make a fruit I can use for seeds.



The alternanthera, that I mentioned also as a new discovery this year. So far, they’re super—beautiful foliage, even prettier with the new blue-green leaves against the older burgundy, than this picture shows. And they’ve grown to a small shrub size, much needed in this new planting area, where the other things have barely taken off. A rabbit, or a groundhog nibbled on them, but hasn’t done much harm to their looks. 



The pin oaks this year have been shedding lots of tiny, poorly formed acorns. The flowering was off, and I could tell early, because I get showers of catkins to sweep up most years, but hardly any for 2021. If my trees are in sync with the rest of the forest locally, the winter will be a little sparse for the wildlife.



Cactus Flower

My poor old cactus, that I’ve had for more than a decade.

Among its sufferings, I was keeping it in a too-small pot, without realizing, because at some point I’d set the small pot inside a larger one. I gave it a new home this year, after finding the lower half was a colorless, squeezed-together chunk. I’ve always put it out on the patio in summertime, and it’s done fine, not bothered by the heavy rains. What bothers it is rodents, squirrels and chipmunks, which is why it has those unsightly gnawed places.

An interesting thing is that the chipmunks will bite the ends off all the needles, then climb up to perch on the cactus, just as their cousins the ground squirrels might do in the west, where cactuses actually grow. There may be a shared evolutionary memory, mostly dormant in the chipmunk.

The other thing the chipmunks do is bite off the flower buds. This cactus has been trying for a few years to flower, so this time I’ve brought it inside before the buds vanish.


The above paragraphs were started as a post a couple of weeks ago. Now the cactus is opening its flowers, and as you can see, they are a beautiful peach. That’s what the poor thing has been harboring inside itself all this time.


For something cheerful, a sunny yellow daylily, and a tiger swallowtail. And my annual reminder that the Monarch butterflies, of which I don’t see many, arrive at this time of year, latish mid-summer. I see them feed almost exclusively on Tithonia flowers (so plant them!) It doesn’t appear Monarchs visit southeastern Ohio in the early season, to lay eggs…maybe there aren’t enough of them to sustain a local population anymore. So all the milkweed I have in my garden doesn’t help much. But they do stop for nectar as they migrate.



Drainage Project

This is the slope from my patio, past the bird feeders, and coming down to the garage door. It’s steepish, and the area has a washing problem due to compacted soil, and nothing growing there. That’s because birds, lightweight as they are, are milling constantly after seed. And squirrels run up and down here all day; deer come to forage at night.

I’ve put in this little wall of concrete cobblestones (with gaps to shelter toads and salamanders), which is making the dirt behind it level off, while the angle at the patio edge gets sharper. That’s a miniature version of the same erosion patterns that eventually form waterfalls. The water rushes over the edge, but is slowed as it spreads across the “flatlands”. Erosion is concentrated at the higher elevation, in effect the rock shelf, because there’s a boundary being created by the two rates of flow.

But slowing the flow is what’s wanted, to control drainage, to keep dirt from being carried into the storm sewers, and to keep the garden from losing its topsoil and mulch. The next step is to dig out a space for steppingstones, down from the patio, and to plant some good anchoring plants, limiting the creature traffic to the center. Then I’ll fill that part in with pea gravel to filter the water downwards.



The next phase. Black hardwood mulch is the only kind I was able to buy. Gardening supplies are off this year, presumably affected by the pandemic. The black mulch looks good, but it will decompose faster than pine nuggets. In the way of things, I bought less pea gravel than I need, so that will take more filling in. 



Mostly done. At the upper level is a strobilanthes plant, two Blue Rug junipers, two Japanese painted ferns, and one heuchera whose roots were all in among one of the ferns, so I had to dig them both. The lower level has four divisions of a fern I lifted from another of my beds. I bought the junipers and the strobilanthes, and shopped my garden for the rest.



Sometimes your garden gives you bouquets. This pretty combo made itself: yellow feverfew and centaurea, white with a pink center.


One of the super-dark burgundy scabiosas, a budded flower getting ready to open.



These bright yellow mushrooms popped up in several places. Of ones in my guidebook, they most resemble chanterelles. 



Along the Pathway

This Is my backyard border, a little collapsed at the center where daffodil leaves used to be, keeping me from planting densely there in the spring. The bamboo stakes are deer-discouragers. The mulched path on the right, I filled in with free wood chips and twigs that form naturally at the bottom of my brush heap. Windfalls from my trees are the edging. Mature logs taken from the heap can be light as paper, reduced to a crumbly texture by the fungi that feed on them. As edging, logs and sticks look nice; they also create microclimates and mini-habitats. So far, I have never seen a reptile or amphibian in my yard, but I’ve added water, stones, and rotting wood, all of which are are important to toads and turtles, etc.

Stands of mint-family plants can make great summer hedges. They tend to grow in a medium-tall upright clump; they flower generously, and are loved by pollinators. The lemon balm pictured defines the path edge, and is easily trimmed backed if it encroaches.

The Alaska nasturtiums blooming, with all their color range. 

This annual phlox is not only lovely, but seems strongly deer resistant. In this patch of garden, I have coneflower and black-eyed Susan, of which the deer have bitten off the flowerheads. But the phlox blooming next to them has been left alone.

An achillea bloom in terra cotta. Also, a tiny wasp, and several of what look like little beetles.

A second Paw Paw seedling. The first gift Paw Paw is about three feet tall now. I read up on them to learn when I might see it bloom, and found out it’s just as well I have another. Paw Paws, apparently, besides being fly-pollinated, are shy to make fruit, and need to have genetic input from another individual. Somewhere in the woods nearby, though, there is a fruiting Paw Paw, making these deposits in my yard possible.

Likewise for the parent mountain laurel. I found a new one, potted it up, and will think about where to plant it. I just ordered a buttonbush, and a steeplebush, and I want to put in a highbush cranberry. The Black Cherry is a superfood for native northeastern and midwestern wildlife, and I always get seedlings sprouting in my yard, since they are not rare in southeastern Ohio. But whole trees are hard to accommodate. 

This one, that I thought was a birch, and then thought was a beech, I’m beginning to think is a hornbeam. Its characteristics don’t really fit either of the others. It’s a great favorite with everything that feeds on leaves. The skeletonization is caused by Japanese beetles. The larvae of Japanese beetles thrive in sunny expanses of lawn, while their best predator, fellow foreigner the European Starling, like most warm-blooded creatures, likes to forage (grub) in the shade. Starlings have done good work for me in keeping this particular pest under control, so I don’t worry about them…even though they are awfully noisy birds. 

Joe Pye weed is a North American native, and its flowers are loved by butterflies. This leaf damage is a good sign that some insects, aside from Japanese beetles, are being fed. The Joe Pye is not a noted host for butterfly larvae, but feeds the adults and attracts them, so that if you have Paw Paw, a host for the Zebra swallowtail, or milkweed, for Monarchs, or pipevines, which have a swallowtail of their own, etc., your yard can help keep butterflies from disappearing—a genuine possibility these days.

By the way, I’ve walked in the woods many times in my life, and I’ve never actually seen a pipevine growing anywhere. The only one I could find to order was a Brazilian species. Of volunteer vines, I get Chinese bittersweet and Japanese honeysuckle, invasives that need pulling (the bittersweet has thorns, so wear gloves). I get poison ivy, which isn’t civilized, though in the forest it’s good for wildlife. I get lots of Virginia Creeper, which is just too abundant to have in the yard (and capable of damaging masonry), English ivy and wintergreen euonymus, nonnatives, also worth pulling, and lots of campsis radicans, the trumpet vine, which is native, and hosts a sphinx moth caterpillar.

Campsis is also tricky, like other vines, because it grows heavy and woody in time, and crawls all over things, shading them out. It probably wants a pergola, and I don’t have enough sunny parts in my yard for that.

A robber fly. I didn’t even know there were such things, but I photographed this one and looked up types of flies. It’s not really a friend or an enemy, because it’s a hunting insect that carries off grasshoppers and bumblebees alike. I just saw the first hummingbird moth I’ve ever seen in my yard, so I hope it can keep safe from the robber flies. 



A cute-as-can-be little spider on my Brandywine tomato. It looks like he’s trying to pass himself off as a tiny tomato hornworm. Maybe this spider preys on the braconid wasps that prey on the hornworm.