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. 

 

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.

Garden Bits and Plans for Next Year

One slightly raggedy Morden Blush rosebud that finds the weather too cold to open. And a bright sweetgum leaf that landed where it makes a nice contrast.

A few annuals will hang on and flower until a hard freeze. Even then, microclimates may allow a vestige or two to carry on until December.

An ornamental grass seedhead that, as you can see in closeup, has an extravagant quality of awns (the parts that look like hairs). A fall treasure, but this grass starting growing voluntarily, so I don’t know what it’s called.

This big branch fell off my dead ash tree, making a nice gift for defining the border between the bed and the path beside it. And all these logs I use for bordering make miniature habitats in themselves, also protecting the root systems of my perennials.

 


 

Bulbs I’m Planting This Autumn

 

Allium aflatunense (lilac-flowered onion)

Apricot Beauty Tulips

Dordogne Tulips (coral-pink)

Eranthis (yellow-flowered small bulb)

Galanthus (Snowdrops)

King Alfred Tulips (sunny yellow)

Little Beauty Tulips (red with blue markings)

Mt. Hood Daffodils (pale buttery white)

Salmon Impression Tulips

Silver Smiles Daffodils (white with pale yellow center)

 

 

Wish List Perennials for Next Spring

 

Artemisia

Astilbe (assorted colors)

Campanula persicifolia

Columbine (assorted)

Dalmatian Peach foxglove

Ferns (assorted)

Georgia Blue Veronica

Heuchera (a few pretty leaf types)

Hollyhock

Johnson’s Blue geranium

Old-fashioned Bleeding Heart

Poppy

Primrose

Pulmonaria

Rodgersia aesculifolia

Southern Charm Verbascum

Tall phlox (assorted)

Tall Sedum

 

Annuals from Seed

 

Ageratum

Bachelor’s Button

Cleome

Coleus

Datura

Double Impatiens

Marigolds

Meadow Sage

Nasturtium

Petunia

Salpiglossis

Scabiosa

Sunflower

Tithonia

Zinnias

 

 

Fall Arriving

Photo of oak galls and fly

A few of the oak galls. (And a visiting fly.😉) Probably the number of oak galls says something positive about the health of the local environment.

Photo of wild asters with wasp

The wild fall asters are covered with pollinators, though this photo shows clearly only one little wasp. These flowers appear on each plant in hundreds, but as you see, once they’ve been pollinated they turn pink, while the ones with something to offer stay yellow to guide the wasps and bees.

Photo of cleome flower with seedpods

Here’s a view of the cleome, which just goes on blooming until frost, and its entertaining spray of seedpods.

Photo of foxglove flowerstem eaten by deer

The deer are not supposed to bother foxgloves, but one bit off the flower stem of a late bloomer. As you can see, it still has buds at the leaf axils. But I hope it may act like a perennial and come back next spring, since its blooming was thwarted.

Photo of achillea foliage

Pretty nicotiana blooms, and a view of why achillea is a great perennial (easily grown from seed). In the fall, these plants will put up a thicket of lacey foliage.

Photo of burgundy elephant ear with purple veins

Sunshine through an elephant ear leaf. You can see the beautiful late-season color and the interesting vein pattern.

Photo of callery pear fruit

The tiny fruits of the callery pear, which in closeup definitely have the characteristics of a pear. The tree makes thousands of them, which are much relied on by all sorts of unnoticed critters. They also draw robins in late winter.

A Few Things of Interest

Photo of foxglove flowerstalk

At this time of year, you don’t mind seeing the garden chores diminish. There are plenty of other projects to do! One of this year’s foxgloves decided to shoot up its flower stalk after all, a pretty white with dark magenta spots.

 

Photo of foxglove blossom

Here’s what the flower looks like when I hold it upright for the camera.

 

Photo of super closeup foxglove

And in super closeup, we learn something new. The bloom usually hangs down, so the bottom petal has a fringe of hairs, maybe for the pollinator to take hold of; then, there are hairs coming out of all the guide spots going up into the heart. A female ruby-throated hummingbird has been working on this one, but the hair arrangement is probably beneficial to small bees.

 

Photo of morning glory vine

As robust a climbing vine as you could ask for, but this morning glory has yet to make a bloom.

 

Photo of goldenrod and aster

Goldenrod, one of the wildflowers I let grow in the beds, because they bloom late in the season, along with the wild aster in the background, so they do the local insect and bird populations some good.

 

Photo of elephant ear leaf

Pretty veining in dusty purple, with background shading of burgundy and dark green, on this elephant ear leaf.

 

Photo of spotted bird feather

Last week, I had a bat in the garage, which fortunately scared my cats, so they didn’t try to hunt it. I left the door open, and it went away. For the last two nights, something has been giving off rasping shrieks in my yard (unless its prey has been giving them off). Some bird with spotted feathers was made a meal of, but note, of the creature’s remnants, how the feather is translucent and the mulch shows through.

 

 

 

Mature Days of August

Three Poblano peppers (one already cooked with garlic and chicken breasts to make sandwich meat) are my harvest this year. That’s not so bad, because I never usually grow vegetables, thanks to the deer. I gained a handful of Pinto beans, to use for seed next spring—but that was from trying the experiment of sprouting those things I could scavenge from my cabinets. And, as to the experiment, it’s a kind of fun apocalyptic exercise, where you challenge yourself to make a food garden out of whatever you have in your house right now. I learned that peanuts from bird seed sprout easily, but aren’t easy to keep going outdoors, where everything wants to eat them. Later, I bought one tomato plant, but it’s not getting enough sun in its safe location, and hasn’t made a flower…probably too late for fruit to mature at this date. Also, I have a single bell pepper that hasn’t disappeared yet; but it hasn’t got bigger than a pea yet, either.

 

This is an earlier picture of a curious wild grass, with seed heads like wheat. Prairie grasses do a great job conditioning the soil, their habit being to grow from a clump one year, then die at the center and spread out in a circle. The dead roots decompose back into the earth, acting both as fertilizer and having a spongelike effect of absorbing water. This is why the prairie soil of pioneer times was described as rich and black, before overuse degraded it. If you start a bed with prairie grasses, you can easily mow and layer on cardboard or paper, covered with bought topsoil or compost, which you can plant in directly (the roots will make a way)…or just hold it down with leaves, if you want to wait a season and rake off the dead stuff under the cardboard.

 

Another earlier picture of a pretty little red-capped mushroom.

 

Here’s what closeup photography can teach. I think these are some kind of very tiny insect on this monarda bloom. They can’t be seen with the eye.

 

A hibiscus I grew from seed this year. I never noticed, somehow, from growing them in the past, that the flowers last only a day.

 

And here’s the full Georgia O’Keeffe, showing how the little round female parts (I believe) have a ring of hairs that seems to reflect a glow.

 

 

Pests and Volunteers

Photo of skeletonized hollyhock leaf

Hollyhocks are typically attacked by the tiny larva of some kind of insect, which skeletonizes the lower leaves, as in this fairly elegant achievement above. Wherever I’ve grown hollyhock, I’ve always seen this pest develop. My gardening practice is radical organic, meaning that in almost every case I don’t interfere at all with bugs and diseases. I let plants employ their own defenses, or otherwise replace them with ones more suited to the immediate challenges. I use only products that are truly harmless—and not all labeled organic are, such as Bacillus thuringiensis. This bacteria may occur naturally in the environment, but never in the quantities used to “organically” control pests. It stands to reason we can’t ramp up one factor in the equation of the biome, without having an altering effect on other factors.

So I allow these creatures to eat my hollyhock leaves, and the hollyhocks (being at the best of times not the tidiest-looking plants) always come back and flower.

 

Photo of columbine leaf miner damage

And here is the work of the columbine leaf miner, a bug I have never tried to get rid of. Individual columbines don’t live for many years. Their garden value is in their ready self-sowing. The leaf miner tends to attack after the ones that are mature enough to bloom have flowered and set seed.

 

Photo of oak leaf gall

Since I always include a gall, if I find one to photograph, here is a forming oak apple gall, a type caused by various tiny wasps. The heat bubble we’re under in southeastern Ohio is, I suspect, the cause of a healthy branch popping off one of my trees…

 

Photo of tiny acorns

From the same branch, here are tiny acorns getting started. They cluster on the twigs just below the new leaves, and if the weather is hot and dry, several may drop off before the crop matures in the fall.

 

Photo of clematis vine

My clematis this year was suffering fungus, that disease called clematis wilt. You can see some malformed leaves that look like a willow tree’s, in the lower left corner, and some of the dried and shriveled ones. I put bone meal in the dirt around the roots, and have been watering steadily. So far, the clematis seems to be recovering. My theory is that bone meal changes the soil pH, and stops the fungus spreading.

 

Photo of hickory tree

I like to inventory those plants that appear voluntarily in my yard. It’s a way of measuring environmental health, and diversity of local plant populations. This seedling looks to be a mockernut hickory, which has a small nut and may have been brought by the deer who like also to browse its new leaves.

Photo of laurel bush

This one looks to be a mountain laurel.

 

Photo of hazelnut

This is a bladdernut, an understory tree/shrub that is one of the few, in fact, with only three leaflets on its compound leaf. The bladdernut’s Latin name is Staphylea trifolia.

 

Photo of pretty coleus

An especially nice coleus grown from seed, with its yellow freckles and almost red heart. So far it hasn’t sent up a flower shoot, so maybe I’ll only get to propagate it if I can get cuttings to survive the winter.

 

Photo of tithonia and blue centaurea

Finally, a couple of nice combos in annuals that should give color through most of the summer. Orange tithonia and bright blue centaurea, above.

 

Photo of dark-leaved sweet potato vine and dusty miller

A shady group with dark-leaved sweet potato vine and silver dusty miller. (Also morning glory, larkspur, and variegated nasturtium.)

 

 

 

Flower Forms

Photo of rudbeckia flower

A fancy variety of rudbeckia grown from seed this year, that ought to be perennial.

 

Photo of monarda flower

Cheerful closeup of a pink monarda. Note the unopened flowers have little hairs coming off the ends.

 

Photo of blue geranium flower

What the inside of a blue perennial geranium flower looks like.

 

Photo of pickerel weed flower

This is the bloom of a pickerel weed, a bog plant. You can see that it’s covered in tiny tipped hairs, like a sundew.

 

Photo of butterfly on milkweed

I don’t know what kind of butterfly this is, enjoying the milkweed. It’s hard to catch one with its upper wings out.

 

Photo of milkweed seedpods

And here’s an inside view of the milkweed hedge, this year producing such clutches of seedpods that the look is a little tropical.

 

Photo of coneflower border

And finally, the abundance of coneflowers along the drive. Not much butterfly traffic so far this year. A fritillary and a yellow, and several of the tiny ones, but only one each of pioneering large butterflies: a monarch and a tiger swallowtail. The populations may pick up in late summer. And I have goldfinches feeding in this bed, mostly on tithonia seed.

 

 

 

 

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.