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

 

 

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.