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

Friday, October 13, 2017

The blooms of October

By mid-October, the floral year is winding down around here, with most things either dormant or going to seed. (But what a year it has been for seeds! I keep giving seeds away, other people keep sharing them with me, and if all goes well, the Mid-Ohio Valley should have greatly expanded pollinator plantings in 2018.) But a few hardy plant souls have kept going (a good thing, considering the lack of leaf color after September's drought).

Few people are likely to be surprised that some asters are still in bloom

or that many grasses are at their loveliest.

But after sulking through all of 2016 and the spring and summer of 2017, the shrimp plant on the back patio finally decided to bloom.

I had been about to give the thing away--or compost it--but it has now been forgiven.

Some of the annuals are hanging on, like salvia, snapdragons, and a potted verbena bonariensis that is still doing its part to feed the bees.

The centaurea montana not in an optimal setting has decided to bloom again, and its ridiculous blue fireworks are popular with both pollinators and people.

But the real surprise was today's opening of an old-fashioned red canna, which had languished as a naked rhizome in a friend's garage since last November and has been in the ground here only a little over a month.

Plants--they do keep on keeping on.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Fields of gold

September is a good month for prairies, even though the year is winding down. The summer flowers and grasses are going to seed, making lots of creatures very happy, but this was the highlight of a recent walk at Blue Creek in Whitehouse, Ohio:

a knock-your-socks-off swath of goldenrod. Further along, there were acres of solidago of various species, including at least one that was wafting an absolutely delicious scent along a mile or more of trail. In my seventh decade, I had never before noticed that goldenrod has scent.

My wanderings had taken me to the nursery fields of the Toledo Metroparks, from which some 2500 pounds of native plant seeds are harvested each year to be added to the various sites the park system is restoring.

Serendipitously, my walk coincided with a royal visit. The monarch was surveying the fields of gold.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Have to believe we are magic

A true confession: I was one of those kids who wanted fairies to be real. I would have loved to communicate with the spirits of the flowers and talk to the dryads when they decided to come out of their trees. Didn't happen.

But looking at some landscapes, it is not hard to understand why our ancestors felt spirits there. Forests in particular have this effect on me.

Sometimes I half-expect to see magical beings rising up from the woodland floor.

And who wouldn't love to hear the conversations these polypores are having with the lichens?

A few days ago, an old, not particularly impressive-looking field, now part of a northwestern Ohio park,

was alive with tiny creatures whose wings flashed silver in the sunlight. Could they be--fairies? Alas, no; they turned out to be small grasshoppers. Today, when of course I had no camera, I came face-to-face with one as it munched on a blossom of weedy Canada thistle. When not in flight, these grasshoppers are a very ordinary-looking gray or green. But--a tiny, green and silver flying thing that dines on thistlebloom--isn't that a kind of magic?

Saturday, September 9, 2017

End of Summer Extravaganza

Early September is not quite fall in our part of the world, but the seasonal signals are showing up--not yet the full fall foliage extravaganza, but some reminders that the most colorful of seasons is nearly here.

Yesterday found me in Lucas County's Blue Creek Metropark, where the various goldenrods are coming on strong, and the shrub dogwoods have decided that fall is already here.

Goldenrod, in case there is anyone left who is still unaware of the facts about this much-maligned genus of plants, is not responsible for hay fever (the culprit is ragweed, in a different plant family).

Solidago is also the most important genus of herbaceous plants for fall pollinators, according to no less an expert than University of Delaware entomologist Doug Tallamy, author of the wildlife gardening bible, Bringing Nature Home. (You can check out his wonderfully useful website here.)

Some lovely white thing (possibly a eupatorium species) was blooming along rocky outcroppings in this former limestone quarry,

while a few late thistles were still putting out their ridiculous purple puffballs on those wicked stems.

Despite the hanging-on of a few summer flowers like the thistles, evening primrose, and a few annual sunflowers that somehow found their way to the edge of the porta-potty area, hints of fall were everywhere.

The shrub dogwoods were fruiting, as were LOTS of sumac, including this quarry-side lovely in which a spider (which refused to come out enough to be properly photographed) was setting up its hunting lair. (It is lurking in the dark opening among the red berries. If you look closely, you can see its front legs.)

And of course, no beginning-of-fall post would be complete without the obligatory foliage photo. Some tidy folk may consider sumac species weedy (and they are a tad enthusiastic), but the color combination and leaf veining are swoon-worthy, in my humble opinion.

A final fall note: some of the loveliest foliage is that found on poison ivy. If you happen across this beauty (and it is everywhere this year), step to the side.

Just a friendly warning.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Not the post I had planned to make

Today found me wandering Blue Creek Metropark in Whitehouse, Ohio, and at some point I will do justice to this lovely place, part of which consists of a walking path around an old limestone quarry.

But in the wake of what has happened in Charlottesville today, my takeaway from this park is the idea of the resilience and persistence of life. This part of Ohio was once under a tropical ocean, and I was walking on an ancient seabed that today is in the middle of a charming small town.

Many centuries after that sea vanished and all of its creatures died, the rock that formed the sea floor is home to other kinds of life, including this tiny orange lichen.

Perhaps the most surprising find, though: tiny cedar trees growing out of crevices in the stone of what had been the quarry walls.

Today, this little tree feels like an important reminder.

Thursday, July 20, 2017


All of the ash trees in our area have been infested by the emerald ash borer, according to a local tree service, and once enough of the larvae are present in a tree, there is no saving it. This morning the sound of chain saws in the park across the street let me know that another dead ash was being taken down, joining the ash allee that we lost last year.

The tree closest to us is still hanging on, having put out new leaves on its few still-living branches,

but a look at the whole tree shows that it will likely not be with us long.

The entrance wound looks so insignificant,

but this tree, and every other not-quite-dead ash I have seen is covered with these little holes. When the tree finally dies, and its bark falls off, this is what we will see:

almost uncountable swirls, tracks of the larvae of the borer.

This little insect is another invasive brought to this continent through human carelessness, most experts think from eggs in the wood of packing crates from Asia. Since 2002, it has eaten its way through twenty-two US states and two Canadian provinces.

Every time I see an ash that is still trying to live, I want to apologize. No one meant to doom this gorgeous tree, but in many places, doomed it is.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

If you plant it, they will come

At least, that seems to be true around here. As young as our garden is, it is definitely bringing in the wildlife, at least of the small variety. One particular echinacea seems to be a particular draw, with a single blossom sporting a bumblebee and a silver-spotted skipper (here choosing not to show its silver spots).

The same clump invited several visits from this little guy or gal (a sachem, I think), who visited every blossom on the plant in the few minutes I watched.

A potted rudbeckia hosted this moth caterpillar,

and while I have not been able to get pictures, the front wildflower bed has been attracting fritillaries and crescents.

The hummingbirds showed up a few weeks ago and are making use of the lonicera sempervirens and (much as it pains me to admit it) the rose of sharon hedge between us and the neighbors. Today one decided to buzz me while I sat on the patio contemplating possible garden modifications. Cardinals nested in the spruce tree this spring, and there is lots of bird activity in the lawn strip dogwoods.

But the biggest excitement has been the appearance of a female monarch, repeatedly nectaring at a swamp milkweed still in its pot. I have not noticed eggs but will be very happy if the plant ends up defoliated by monarch caterpillars. (Perhaps we wildlife gardeners are a tad eccentric.)