Snowdrops

Photo of snowdrop bloom
Photo of ice on tree
Photo of raked-off flower bed

 

Our weather was icy and snowy for a week or two; then, this Wednesday (2/24), the temperature got close to 70F. The forecast, going ahead, calls for 40s and 50s well into March. If nothing changes, that means we’re still having a warm winter, with only a handful of nights in the single digits, and no daytimes with the high in the teens.

For gardeners, the holiday (or celebratory) season is approaching: Time to Start the Seeds. But it needs holding off until the end of March, since the bigger the seedlings get, the more room we run out of indoors. Plus, the tenderest annuals aren’t safe planted out until late May. Last May, we had a nasty mid-month cold snap. I subsist meanwhile on YouTube gardening videos, and plant catalogs, of which there are fewer than there used to be.

This year, I’m trying a bunch of things that I’ve never found seeds for in the past. Pelargoniums, Hens and Chicks, Begonia, Sarracenia (pitcher plant) and Ginseng. Then, all my usual favorites. I’ll blog later on about the success or failure of the odd ones. As seen above, I tried snowdrops this year for the first time, and they’ve come up to bloom in February, as advertised. The second picture shows some of the magical sparkle of the ice storm in bright sunshine, but the camera couldn’t showcase the effect altogether.

The third picture shows a chore that needs doing as soon as the bulbs nose up, and perennials put up their first leaves; if, like me, you let nature shelter your beds with tons of free mulch. Even though we might have more winter weather, frigid temps at night, and snowstorms (looking less likely, though), it’s important to get the leaves raked down to a nice thin layer. Once they begin to decompose, they will stick tight to each other and make a mat that keeps off light, water, and air, so most leaves need collecting and composting in late February/early March. But your perennials and hardy bulbs are adapted to cold, so they will get on with the business of growing, once you’ve exposed them to the open air. 

 

Family Support for Writers

This is a small blog, and I don’t get a lot of commentary, but in this post I’m going to invite readers to answer some questions. You can take them rhetorically, if you like, and answer them to yourself.

You have started a business. We’ll say a bakery, that, COVID times in mind, has a web-based storefront and does home deliveries. A relative tells you she needs a birthday cake for a party: “And you can just send it to my house on Saturday. Get it there before two o’clock.”

She thinks you would do this for her, for free.

Or you’re an accountant, the tax season begun, and people in your circle keep calling you with “just one quick question”. They don’t think your answering counts as a billable service.

In either case, you, the business owner, probably feel that freebies take time and resources, and it’s not reasonable to expect that being someone’s sister or best friend entitles you to them.

Writing a book, of course, takes hundreds of hours. You may self-publish, and be forced to bear that onus of “not a real writer”. If people will buy your books, they give you two gifts: a dollar or two in royalties, and an uptick in stats. Better stats mean more eyes to see that your book is out there, among the millions on Amazon.

So, writers, do you find that people you know think it’s your job to give books away? Do you find members of your family to be very supportive, or to act as though your career isn’t one, legitimately? If you have family or friends who own businesses, do any of them expect your patronage, without patronizing you in return? If you sell on Amazon, do you know of anyone who boycotts Amazon, and won’t buy your stuff even to be helpful to you? Would this person accept your book if you bought it yourself, then, and made a gift of it? And being honest, would people you know treat you differently if you were “somebody”? Would you treat people differently, if their work were acclaimed, or had the attention of a famous person?

In the world of consumer choices, dogmatic quid pro quos are not realistic. People are going through rough times and doing their best, these days, but you can’t buy all the makeup and vitamins they’re selling, donate to all the causes, get rooked for family loyalty’s sake by what might even be a Ponzi scheme, just to be helpful. If you have ten books for sale at ten dollars each, it’s fair for others to balk at the expense of collecting the set. But what are your thoughts on double standards (you owe me, I don’t owe you) or just a general level of enthusiasm lower towards yours, than you would (at least like to think) yours would be towards their attempt to make a living?

Nature Keeps On

Photo of violet stems
Photo of two types of moss
Photo of unusual large sleet

 

The time that plants and animals spend in winter dormancy is much shorter than the season. Here in Southeastern Ohio we have a mid-Atlantic climate, more so than it used to be. Most years we get few, if any, snows having more than a few inches of accumulation. The trees drop their leaves, perennials die to the ground, the grass turns browner. But after a month between December and January, a lot of things began their cycle of return. The birds have been singing territorial call notes, and the daffodils are sending up leaves.

In the first photo above, you can see the strange appearance of violets in an actual phase of their growth, when the rooty aboveground stems start to bud up, and turn progressively greener. In the second photo, some new moss, carpeting up like it might in a northern rain forest. The third photo shows an odd fall of sleet mixed with hail that came down heavily for a time, before the weather turned to snow. Finally, below, a short video of summer things, to help dispel the cloudy, rainy stuff of winter. 

 

Grey Day Things to Read

 

I subscribe to those newsletters—from the New York and Los Angeles Times—that give a round-up of the daily headlines. And ones on cooking, book reviews; ones from the Smithsonian, Atlas Obscura, Snopes…quite a few. So I don’t try to keep up with reading them each day; I put them in a folder, and read ten of the oldest. By this method, I’ve gotten to January of 2019. Which, by serendipity, gives me a daily reminder of what was going on this time last year. The political news ages badly. Headlines about Trump’s lies, or his plans for the border wall, are boring same-old, same-old, taken in retrospect. But the emergence of COVID—which hasn’t happened yet—is pretty suspenseful. 

Above is a little collection of books I harvested out of my basement. Some of them I’ve carried from place to place since childhood. Some I’ve had for a long time and never read. I used to own Ursula K. Le Guin’s essay collection on fantasy writing, The Language of the Night. She more or less recommended The King of Elfland’s Daughter (Lord Dunsany), but when I tried it years ago, I found it a little slow-paced. So I’ll give it another shot; reread some of Ray Bradbury’s short stories, the Nicholas Blake mysteries—good, and actually by the poet Cecil Day-Lewis (father of actor Daniel Day-Lewis). 

Then, there are the Joan Aiken (daughter of poet Conrad Aiken) stories, and the Lloyd Alexander series The Chronicles of Prydain, both books I read over and over growing up, so I’m going to try them again, for nostalgic fun.

 

Snow Shots and Animal Anecdotes

Photo of dead ash with snow

Snow, lining objects with white fluff, acts in photographs as a shape definer and contrast maker. A light snow works well for bringing out shapes and colors in the (near) winter landscape. Above, the dead ash tree with borer trails and some remaining bark.

Photo of shrubs with snow on branches

An evergreen and a deciduous shrub, dark green and crispy white tangle of branches.

Photo of red pear leaves and dead ash trunk

Oak trunk, ash, and the red leaves of the pear. 

Photo of owl pellets in bird feeder

Owls have been taking prey at the ground feeder. As the contents show, a lot of not long digested peanuts make up the bulk of the pellets. (Pellets are parts of their prey that owls regurgitate, usually fur and bone fragments.)

Photo of male deer lying down

This male deer spent several hours in my yard with his doe companion.

Photo of male deer facing lens

Here he is standing face to the camera.

 

Animal Anecdotes

 

Some time back I watched squirrels in my yard flinging from branch to branch, sometimes barely catching hold, and wondered if they ever fall. Then one day I heard a big cracking noise and suddenly a squirrel came plummeting from the oak. When it got to the ground, it managed to spring off its hind legs, catch its claws in the bark, and scurry back up the trunk. I assume the answer is, one, that their bushy tails work as gauges to detect air flow from surfaces, so they know how close to the ground they are; two, that they use the skin flaps between their front legs and bellies (modest compared to flying squirrels’ but still something…cats also, famous for soft landings, have those skin flaps) to create a parachute effect. Three, their bodies are lightweight and flexible.

Next story: I noticed a technique used by the Carolina wrens at my ground feeder. They have relatively thin, curved bills, the sort insect-eaters have, and insects are a large part of their diet. But this one, having peanuts available on a flat surface, banged down with its head and drilled out a core sample. So it was able to enjoy the favorite food even without having a finch’s bill to pick one up.

Last story: on that day the deer were in the yard, a Red-tailed Hawk was hunting, flying from tree to tree. I had my cat Ed out for his walk, which isn’t really a walk, only Ed wearing his harness and sniffing at things while mostly sitting. When he noticed the hawk, he rushed for the door. Then my other cat Chester was snuggled on the bed one night, while I looked at videos. One was of a wolf howling for her friends, and as soon as Chester heard the noise he sat up with round eyes, and after a moment ran off. Interesting that little house cats have instincts about predators they rarely if ever have any contact with.

Sights in the Garden

Photo of male downy woodpecker at suet feeder

Male Hairy woodpecker at the suet feeder.

Photo of northern flicker at suet feeder

Female Northern Flicker (woodpecker) at the suet feeder.

Photo of English Ivy leaf with fall color

Pretty fall color, and striking vein pattern, in an English Ivy leaf.  

Photo of ageratum in half shelter

Here we see the microclimate effect. The exposed half of the ageratum is shriveled from nights in the 20s, while the side closer to the garage is still alive.

Photo of sheltered garden border acting as microclimate

Here again, nicotiana looks fresh along this sheltered border, where underground water flows down from the hills, keeping the soil temperature above freezing for a longer period.

Photo of burgundy fall privet leaves

A privet in the brush pile, from a seed delivered by birds. The deer bite the growth off, leaving these fringe shrubs scrappy looking, but this one has produced excellent color.

A Few Things Linger

Photo of small bird's nest

A small nest uncovered when the leaves fell off the beech (that I originally thought was a birch, but I see it’s starting to develop some distinct eyes on the trunk.)  The nest is probably a song sparrow’s.

Photo of blue veronica bloom

One bright blue-purple veronica bloom. A few things will pop a random flower in the late fall.

Photo of catmint growth

Catmint, having a fresh spate of leaf growth, in the cooler weather. 

Photo of iris blooming in fall

An iris, that may slip this one past the deer. All my bearded iris are rebloomers, but last summer they didn’t bloom at all.

Photo of foxglove bloom

A foxglove, with a warped little flower, and others it’s trying to open before it freezes.

Photo of poblano pepper

One last poblano pepper. There are three ways to preserve a pepper, one of the few vegetables that may survive wintering over in a pot. You can start one from a stem cutting, pot the roots after trimming back the topgrowth, or save seeds from one of the fruits and start them in the late winter, or early spring, depending on your zone.

Photo of ruffled lichen

Closeup of a ruffled lichen, growing off a twig that fell out of a tree.

A Strange Seed

This was lying at the foot of one oak tree, a seed found someplace by a squirrel or bird. The only thing I’ve seen online that it much resembles is from the cocao pod. Which could have got into the local environment by a few means: someone’s potted tree, a health food store’s “grind your own chocolate” display…

Plants rescued from garden

A few of the garden plants that I’m overwintering: coleus, impatiens, and one sweet pepper. They should be all right for temperature in the garage window, and I can’t have many in the house because of cats.

A path in its fall state. I’ve used branches dropped by my trees for bordering, which should help block the leaves from blowing away. Over winter the weather will decompose and settle the branches, and in spring fungi will reduce the leaves to a thin layer. Preserving leaves preserves your insect population; a healthy insect population feeds birds, reptiles and amphibians, small rodents, bats. My other plan is to cut off seedheads from coneflowers and rudbeckia, and place them among the branches to make flowering edges.

Something interesting. Deer ate all the leaves off this nicotiana. But it grew back these strange ruffly stem-leaves.

A pretty little grass, that has blueish leaves, and spreads slowly in clumps.