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I'm a woman entering "the third chapter" and fascinated by the journey.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

A guilty pleasure

One of many, I'm afraid. In this case, it's daylilies. I grow quite a few varieties and would grow more if we had the room.

I am well aware that the old-fashioned ditch lily, hemerocallis fulva, is an invasive species. One need only look at Ohio roadsides for confirmation. (In fact, the classic summer combination of orange tawny daylily, blue chicory, and white Queen Anne's lace is composed of three plants from the national invasive species database. Sigh. I love them all, but then I, too, am a member of what is arguably the most invasive species of them all.)

But daylilies are not all bad, for all that they are Asian invaders brought here by 17th-century Europeans who loved their flagrant beauty too much to do without them. For one, they are hummingbird magnets, and any plant that attracts hummingbirds has at least that redeeming quality. For another, they attract butterflies, also a good quality. Daylilies are also hard to kill, a positive for negligent gardeners, and they grow fast and are easy to propagate, although their toughness contributes to the invasive qualities of the straight species. To control the population, one could always eat them, although I have never sampled the plants myself.

No, I grow daylilies for their utter gorgeousness and indestructibility. The current favorite in my yard is a heavily-scented once-bloomer finally identified as "Chance Encounter."

But the daylily walk at the Toledo Botanical Gardens has inspired serious plant lust. Here are a few that would greatly benefit the Second Street collection:


Frances Joiner

Almost Indecent
Double Bourbon
and one that I must have.

Raspberry Goosebumps
So many plants, so little space.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Life happens just about everywhere

Today found me at another favorite park, this one Sidecut Metropark in Maumee, Ohio. The trail where I took my brief meander runs along the Maumee River, which, while on some levels not as impressive as the Ohio, is certainly gorgeous

(even with the US 20 bridge and a War of 1812 monument visible from some spots).

Despite the proximity of lots of humans and dogs, lots of wild life was going on this afternoon. Geese and swallows were doing their avian thing in great abundance, as were butterflies (mostly cabbage whites, but dancing white butterflies are still a cheering sight, and there were a few tiger swallowtails and an exquisite tiny blue of some kind). Everyplace, even the edge of a well-traveled paved trail, was bursting with life.

The forest floor (if tiny patches of second-and third-growth woods can be called forest) was covered with greenery that thrives under low-light conditions, and every patch of sun found something blooming, even if much of it was European wild mustard (which plant was doing a lot of business with butterflies, sweat bees, and tiny flies).

A dead tree stump was host to a colony of quite handsome fungi.

Some kind of polypore, maybe?

 In the water, the remnants of a dead tree's roots have formed their own small ecosystem.

It didn't find its way into the picture, but when I approached, a northern water snake, which had been sunning itself on the flat section of tree on the lower right, plopped itself back into the river before the large potential predator (me) could get too close.           

Today brought nothing exotic, nothing exciting, no life birds or rare plants--but lots of the kinds of life that goes on in very ordinary places every day.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Where Life Begins

I love marshes of all varieties. (And yes, I realize that the distinctive "salt marsh smell" is not for everyone.) Something about a spread of waving grass and water mesmerizes me. This beauty is on Hatteras Island, North Carolina.

I would not recommend walking on those lovely tussocks of grass, as we suspected water underneath..

This particular marsh is an estuary, a lively place where fresh and salt water meet. Areas like this are probably where the first tetrapods emerged from the sea, leading to the variety of land-dwelling vertebrates we have today. Estuaries are rich ecosystems, providing places for fish to spawn, insects to lay eggs, and migrating birds to rest and feed. Without marshes, the fish populations on which so many human cultures have depended for food would undergo an even sharper decline than they have.

 The largest grass clumps here are spartina, a plant that has evolved to expel salt from its tissues. Most grass would die quickly under these conditions, but not spartina. The roots of this tough plant hold onto whatever soil they can grab and form part of the matrix of the shoreline. Without plants like marshgrass and mangrove, the flow of all that water might well eventually turn Ohio into oceanfront property.

For all their toughness, however, marshes are globally threatened--often by development. Some of this development results from our human desire to control water, particularly the desire to pave over places where water wants to be. Often, though, the threat comes from being loved to death. People tend to like having views like these off their decks and porches. (I certainly would, and we did indeed spend a couple of nights on this island.)

 This doesn't look so bad. Surely the occasional house or hotel or boardwalk can't hurt anything as primeval and ubiquitous as a marsh.

However, just a few miles away, on the edge of a preserve, this is the view:

Hatteras Island is considered relatively undeveloped, but I doubt that any fish are spawning or herons hunting in neighborhoods like the one in the distance.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Urban gardening

has its challenges. Foremost is the lack of space, given that the area is (no surprise) heavily populated with humans and contains the roads on which humans like to drive their motor vehicles. Plants have to be tucked into the areas between buildings, sidewalks, and streets. What I have discovered, however, is that many don't mind. Our front lawn strip has become quite a lively, colorful place.This bed of mostly native plants and their cultivars is always busy with butterflies, bees, and other pollinators.


Because I have no discipline when it comes to plants, another bed between the sidewalk, street, and stop sign is home to daylilies, irises, and other lovelies that I can't resist (and that attract hummingbirds). 

Tough plants like rudbeckia, monarda, and echinacea ask for almost nothing and put on quite a show. They really don't seem to mind being three feet from the sidewalk.

A streetside garden is a strange mix of public and private. Before such a garden can exist, someone has to decide to create it, hoping that the neighbors won't mind. Once it exists, it becomes an object of public comment and, one hopes, enjoyment. Many conversations have taken place while puttering in the garden, and I have enjoyed the sight of total strangers taking photographs, not realizing that the gardener was weeding, hidden behind a tall plant.

Of course, the public nature of an urban garden can have disadvantages. This Orienpet lily lost the top two feet of its bloom stem when a passerby decided to remove it and take it home.

But the plant keeps blooming, anyway. There is probably a message there.

Monday, July 4, 2016


birds can't read. All the standard information about hummingbirds indicates that they have a preference for tubular flowers, particularly those in the red-to-hot-pink color range, and that they are usually seen in flight. The hummers in our neighborhood have not gotten the memo.

In the old neighborhood, two red flowers fought for the title of Best Early Hummingbird Magnet. The red monarda "Jacob Cline" probably won for most intense activity,

and its ridiculous-looking flowers certainly tick all the boxes for "traits that attract hummingbirds." Just look at those tubes!

But our native honeysuckle, lonicera sempervirens, is no slouch. It climbs high, has a long bloom season, and sports blossoms that are usually the equivalent of an "eat here" sign for hummingbirds and clearwing moths.

And we have lots of it, rambling over a fence, and have had for some weeks.

However, we saw our first 2016 hummingbird just a few days ago. It zoomed in and perched for several minutes on the top branch of a kousa dogwood, then swooped over to a white rose of sharon, an old-fashioned variety with flattish blossoms, where it spent the next several minutes evidently finding something to its liking.

No accounting for tastes.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

A trash tree?

Some people hate catalpas. They have enormous leaves, which they shed in great numbers, and equally enormous seed pods, which children used to use in pretend sword fights. (Do children still do such things?) They are also the host of great numbers of catalpa sphinx caterpillars, at one time a popular fish bait in the South. (Do people still catch their own bait?) Sometimes, the caterpillars are so numerous as to defoliate the tree, leaving a thirty-foot stick until the new leaves grow. In other words, catalpas will make a mess in any tidy landscape.

But a blooming catalpa is quite a sight, perhaps especially edging a wooded path. This one is at an entrance to the University Parks Trail in West Toledo.

I certainly am not capable of begrudging a few leaves, pods, or caterpillars, especially when the bloom clusters are the most tropical-looking things native to Ohio.

Wouldn't they look right at home in a rain forest?

Those gorgeous blossoms are also attractive to pollinators. A close look reveals guide marks for bees, helping them find their way where the plant wants them to go, which also happens to be where the bees get what they need. Not only gorgeous, but helpful.

Catalpas may be gaudy, but I would never call them trashy.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Getting it right

Today found me accompanying the spouse to the Hidden Gems "mini-festival" at Pearson Metropark in Oregon, Ohio, specifically at the Johlin Cabin wetland restoration area.

At the time of its construction in the mid-1800s, this cabin was an isolated outpost in a marshy clearing of the Great Black Swamp (Northwest Ohio's major ecosystem until the mid-19th century); today it is part of a 600-acre preserve surrounded by residential, industrial, and commercial development, visible in the background of this photo.

Just a few hundred feet from this part of the preserve is a new subdivision of what looks like very expensive housing, while the main commercial strip of Oregon lies just beyond the park's southwestern boundary. In other words, this is truly a metropark.

One inspiring aspect of this place is the vision that created it. During the Great Depression, Toledo Blade reporter George Pearson led a fundraising drive to purchase and preserve the last few hundred acres of the Great Black Swamp. In the early years of our century, 320 acres of farmland were purchased and are currently being restored as wetland; already, after only a decade, the preserve has become a regular stop on the long-distance migrations of many bird species, including the warblers that draw thousands of people to the nearby Magee Marsh every May for The Greatest Week in Birding.

Today, the recreated wetland that was a farm not too many years ago is home to muskrats and mink. Despite the disruption of the park festival going on, the swallows and swallowtails were everywhere, and we were treated to the sight of white herons circling overhead and then vanishing into stands of cattail. Hawks are plentiful, as are dragonflies.

The place is not what it once was, when the swamp stretched for a hundred miles, but it shows what nature can do when humans step back and give it just a little room.