About Me

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

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Tough stuff

Life perseveres under the least promising circumstances. Toledo, like a lot of places, has seen its share of business failures and urban blight in the last few decades. Our pleasant neighborhood is no exception. The residential streets are green and lively, but the main thoroughfares show a number of  vacant and vanished buildings and lots of rusted chain-link fence. Today, taking an unofficial pedestrian shortcut from the commercial area, I noticed insect sounds coming from the asphalt expanse of what seems once to have been the parking lot of some business but is today a vacant lot used for equipment storage. I am worse with insect calls than birdcalls, so the singer was never identified, but insects need food and cover, so I took a closer look at the tiny greenspace between the former business site and the former access road. What I saw was gratifying.

The area boasts the remnants of a planting strip--the standard burning bush, juniper, and a dying yew, but also a circle of native yucca under a maple. The uncared-for grass is hanging on but has been invaded by white clover, native plantain, and something with tallish stems and dandelion-like blooms. The last plant was happily going to seed, as was the spotted spurge growing out of every available crack in the decrepit pavement. A mulberry had sprouted at the edge of the burning bush hedge, no doubt planted by a bird. And then, an unexpected addition to this wild non-garden: an American linden, nearly three feet tall, had come up through a break in the pavement. While the tree isn't likely to get to live to adulthood in its current site, the fact that it was there made my day.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

An entertaining interlude

We made a quick run home this weekend as my musical spouse had a gig, and of course there was time for a bout of dead-heading, weed-pulling, and hose-dragging. There was even time for a brief sit in what, in my fantasies, will one day be a grotto garden but is now a resin chair under a sugar maple, facing the backyard meadow bed. The evening sun had not yet passed over the house, and the switchgrass was backlit. 
The time was well-spent. A hummingbird decided to nectar at the New England aster and sample the eupatorium, which did not meet with its approval, then swooped up to a maple branch and perched for a few moments. Then the wind picked up and provided a most gratifying show of grass blades waving in the breeze, and a chipmunk decided to run from the mini-meadow to its burrow by the back fence. Never a dull moment around here.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The love of weeds

I'm not talking about real weeds, things like garlic mustard, purple loosestrife, or Japanese barberry (sorry, most landscape nurseries), but the things commonly considered weeds: you know, plants like dandelion or goldenrod. Despite its non-nativity to North America, the first dandelion of spring always cheers me up, especially when it appears with a sprinkling of violets. The ground-feeding sparrows always seem glad to see it, too, given its enthusiastic seed production. And goldenrods always attract lots of attention, including that of one of my favorite bloggers, Jim McCormac at Ohio Birds and Biodiversity. His post today on goldenrod (http://jimmccormac.blogspot.com/2012/09/canada-goldenrod-harbinger-of-winter.html) got me thinking about weeds and their uses and functions, and I noticed that I seem to have taken lots of pictures of them.

Bouncing bet really is a weed, introduced from Europe, but the plant was used in the making of soap.

Flowering spurge (euphorbia corollata) is a native plant that tolerates drought,attracts hordes of small pollinators, and has seeds popular with wild turkeys.I also like the look of the green seed pod, visible forming on a couple of the blossoms in the photo.


I've always enjoyed evening primrose for its clear yellow blossoms, lemony scent, and indestructible nature, but it, too, attracts pollinators. (Note the little something on one of the lower petals.)

Bees love the dreadful, weedy thistle, as do goldfinches, which not only eat the seed (yes, the expensive niger that some of us buy for our birdfeeders is a type of thistle) but use the thistledown to build their nests.

 Wiingstem was for me an acquired taste, but I have come to love the way it lights up late-summer woods.
 And besides, the intricate flower structure is really cool.
As are a lot of weeds.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The eastern comma

You have to love a butterfly named after a punctuation mark. The other day, I was lucky enough to see an Eastern comma perched on the edge of a woodland path (though not the underwing marking that gives it its common name).
I've not been able to ID the young tree on which this handsome specimen was resting (those pointed, elongated leaves all look the same to me after a while), but the comma is unusual among butterflies in feeding on tree sap rather than flower nectar.

Before the season's over, I hope to see a question mark, another orange butterfly in the same genus.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Susan's Meadow

I love meadows (which should come as no surprise to anyone who spends time with this blog). This morning I had a pleasant ramble through Susan's Meadow, part of the Toledo Metropark system.
Now I will admit that meadows tend to be a little unkempt,

but for those of us who love them, that's part of their appeal. Poet Marge Piercy writes "My garden's a chapel, but a meadow gone wild in grass and flower is a cathedral," and while it's possible that not everyone will appreciate her religious metaphor, meadows are certainly among the liveliest of places. Even Susan's meadow, only a few hundred feet from a busy highway and part of a park visited by hundreds (if not thousands--it's a popular place) of people every day, was humming with insect life and brimming with birds.

Meadows also have their own beauty, especially when they abut woods, allowing the wanderer to experience the contrast of light and shade.
 Light on grass has become one of my favorite sights, and this was a good morning for it as the fields of purpletop were in full bloom.

If a person can take time with a meadow, the tangled mess of "grass and weeds" (as a relative once described a meadow garden) can reveal surprises.

heliopsis in bloom

a male black swallowtail nectaring on thistle

and a flash of blue that turned out to be

fringed gentian, a plant I knew from William Cullen Bryant's poem but had never actually seen.

Saturday, September 8, 2012


Given that I'm spending the fall semester some 175 miles north of where I generally am, there should be no surprise about signs of fall showing up earlier than I'm used to. When I left Parkersburg a week ago, most asters were barely budding (except for the enthusiastic "Purple Dome" and "Wild Romance"), and the "Fireworks" goldenrod was showing no color at all (and I know, because I kept waiting to see it blooming between the "Black Knight" buddleia and the "Dart's Gold" physocarpus, one of the rare planned color combinations in the driveway border). Our dogwood was still in full summer foliage, with no discernible color in the berries. Such is not the case in Toledo.

The weather most of last week was hot, but today feels like fall. We woke to temperatures in the fifties and enjoyed an afternoon in which the high never quite reached seventy. Wandering the parks the last few days revealed surer signs of the changing season than Ohio's notoriously varying temperatures.

The purple lovegrass photographed on August 17th has given up its purple sheen, and the little bluestem has started to show its autumn orange. Some young sassafrass trees (probably drought-stressed, but still) are shifting to their multi-color fall attire. Goldenrod is in full bloom everywhere

while at least the earlyish asters are putting on a show with the berries of the shrub dogwoods. And that invasive but unmistakable sign of fall was clambering over a fence in the Toledo Botanical Gardens' herb garden:
sweet autumn clematis, in all its undisciplined glory.
I love fall.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Will they make it?

Something you have to love about West Toledo: nearly everyone gardens to some degree or other, and the place is tree-crazy. The apartment complex across the street left a pocket woodland screening its tennis court, so there are always birds (and a FINE specimen of poison ivy clambering fifteen feet up a silver maple), and the Catholic elementary school on the corner has put in a butterfly garden near its playground. Even some of the businesses on the busy commercial street at the end of our block have put in streetside gardens. One of those caught my eye this morning with what seemed at first like an anomaly: perfect specimens of milkweed at the beginning of September.

By now, all varieties of milkweed at our place in Parkersburg (those that have survived the drought, anyway), are thoroughly caterpillar-nibbled. This year has brought nothing like the total monarch-caused defoliation of 2010, but I'm happy to say that our plants are pretty scruffy-looking. These, on the other hand, were perfect: big, fat, gorgeous leaves of asclepias syriaca with not a bug-chomped edge anywhere. Being the worrying kind, I couldn't help but wonder if this milkweed perfection this late in the season signalled a shortage of monarchs, but then I noticed the eggs, small, whitish deposits on many of the leaves. Given that the time from egg to adult monarch is around a month, bringing us into October, I hope that this generation hatches and gets on its way to Mexico before the first frost.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

The beauty of bark

Some days it doesn't take much to amuse me. The other day, tired from dragging hoses around to our dozens of drought-stricken trees and shrubs (and getting ready for the house-sitter, who is even now babysitting the cats and plants so I can enjoy my sabbatical in Toledo), I happened to notice the slant evening light on a backyard white oak.
A little later, the sunset actually turned the bark red: 
Being a longtime treehugger (sometimes literally), I had to see what was happening with the bark of some of the other tree species inhabiting the yard and discovered the following:

the skinlike bark of holly
and the wonderful cragginess of white pine.

A further meander revealed that red maple bark
sometimes grows its own ecosystem.
Being easily amused isn't such a bad thing.