About Me

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

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Enjoying it while it lasts

The title here isn't a bad motto for most aspects of mortal life, but this evening I want to write about scent, possibly the most ephemeral of our senses, though hearing may run a close second. Some years ago I began reacting negatively to most artificial scents and had to banish perfumes and items like scented candles from my home in order to continue breathing without assistance. Luckily, the perfumes of actual flowers are generally fine, though I learned the hard way not to put a bowl of peonies on my bedside table. Ditto Oriental lilies. Some things are best enjoyed outside.

These last few weeks have been (that overused but accurate word) intoxicating around here. My walk-and-sniff tours of the area began with the "Miss Kim" lilac in a neighbor's yard. The plant of course had to be visited every day. (And surely no one could object to someone stopping and enjoying a noseful of lilac.) Then came the discovery of the giant linden on Juliana Street, with its scent that always reminds me of long summer days with friends in Bulgaria. Since then, I have found two other lindens on streets in Marietta, and there are probably others waiting to be discovered.

Scent isn't reliable, which is part of its charm. Atmospheric conditions have to be right for scent to carry, and some plants need several hours of warmth before their floral aromas are noticeable. On warm afternoons, the lavender walk to our front door fills a large area with that distinctive scent, but early in the morning, the plants almost have to be brought to nose-level. This evening, the front-yard floral perfumes were too mixed for all the players to be identified: between the buddleia, the daisies, the santolina, the daylilies, the flowering thyme, and who knows what else, I just sat for a while and enjoyed.

Because this feast for the olfactory sense won't last. Of the plants currently casting their aromatic oils into the air, only the buddleia will continue for long. The others will be replaced by later-blooming delights, but the mix is never the same from one day to the next. We need to enjoy the scents of summer while they're with us.
Given that daylilies need to be deadheaded every evening, I am perfectly willing to bring some of the day's harvest of hemerocallis into the house to enjoy the blossoms' last few hours before they collapse. Who needs Glade air fresheners when these beauties are waiting outside the door?

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Lawn Care Rant

WHY are there no noise ordinances regarding lawn equipment? Teenagers are expected to quiet their cars in certain neighborhoods (a good idea, given some of the cars driven by some teenagers and others I have known); barking dogs are discouraged (though not all of them have gotten the memo); loud parties can bring visits from the police. But any peaceful day can be interrupted by the roar and pollution of lawn care equipment, with no recourse for the poor sufferer who has just finished the morning's chores and is sitting down to enjoy coffee among the blossoms and birdsong when along comes the local variant of Noise-R-Us to manicure the neighbor's chemical-laden turfgrass and damage the air quality at the same time.

It boggles the mind that in many locales in our fair country, tall grass and front-yard vegetable gardens are illegal, but toxic chemicals and ear-damaging equipment are encouraged because they make the (alien, invasive, generally useless-to-wildlife) grass look pretty.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Oh, the unfairness of it all

For someone who has always been a news junkie, I find myself these days paying less and less attention to news of the larger world. It's not that massive flooding in Alberta or the possibility that the US may blunder into yet another war lacks importance; it's just that the world around here is so beautiful right now that not spending lots of time appreciating it seems downright ungrateful. Unfair as the situation is, the universe is sending (probably) inordinate amounts of delight my way.

My nephew recently completed an informal (is there any other kind around here?) front-yard seating area for us, after which the long-suffering spouse and I refurbished the cedar chairs a friend made a number of years ago. The results please me. Given that the sun doesn't reach that part of the yard until well after 10:00, it has become a favorite breakfast area.
The unmistakable signs of my presence: plant catalogs and a coffee mug
The seating area is tucked behind the physocarpus hedge and is only a few feet away from what has become rather a large clump of penstemon "Red Rocks," which has become a favorite plant (until the next indestructible and gorgeous something reaches its peak). This native cultivar is also a favorite with the local bumblebees, who flock in their dozens to crawl inside the fat, bumble-sized tubes in search of what must be really great nectar. Some stubborn bees were even working the spent blossoms that had fallen to the ground. Unfortunately, none would cooperate in having their picture taken.
The plant, however, did cooperate, allowing me to get up close and personal with the patterns that are the pollinator equivalent of a flashing neon sign saying "Eat Here."  
And while I've not yet figured out how to tweak the shutter speed on my camera to capture grasses blowing in the breeze, the view from my chair of the grass garden-to-be is most satisfying. 

As if waving grasses and happy bumblebees weren't enough excitement for one morning, there was a goldfinch pair at the birdfeeder, making return trips to the crabapple tree. Is it possible that we will have baby goldfinches in the front yard? 

 Then, right in our own yard was heard the Woody-the-Woodpecker call of a pileated woodpecker. I only caught the briefest glimpse of our visitor winging its way out of a backyard oak, but knowing that these largest of West Virginia woodpeckers are here makes me happy.

Bursting from sheer joy is probably not possible, but the universe is definitely testing me these days.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Color Extravaganza

June is busting out all over, and it's too hot to be outside right now, so it's time to celebrate some of the garden's more colorful characters. First, of course, is my beloved physocarpus, in this case "Summer Wine" fronted with "Zagreb" coreopsis and assorted not-yet-blooming perennials.

In front of physocarpus "Coppertina" is "Sunset" coneflower, the first fancy one I've managed not to kill.

The front stoop sports a pot of "Honeysong Pink" salvia and a burgundy petunia whose name I can't remember.

"Honeysong Pink" close-up

A supposedly annual salvia that keeps coming back is salvia guarantica "Black and Blue," which would be a perfect plant if the spikes were just a little taller.
Of course, for sheer exuberant color, it's hard to beat the old-fashioned ditch lily
although the "Nosferatu" daylily purchased on sale last week is certainly trying.

It's official: I love summer in the Valley.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Magic on Juliana Street

I've always had a fondness for Juliana Street and the downtown historic district, and not just because my husband used the street name as the title of one of my favorite of his songs. (And yes, he threw in an extra "n.") Rambling Victorian houses set in rose gardens generally set me to dreaming, even though I have made peace with the fact that I will almost certainly never live in such a place, the thought of dusting all that woodwork holding no appeal, and there being such a shortage of reliable servants these days. (For some reason, the four cats are no help with the housework.) But today, Juliana Street outdid itself.

My long-suffering spouse and I were celebrating our wedding anniversary and opted to walk the district to walk off our excellent lunch. Wandering past a lovely front-yard garden, I was stopped by a scent, which I at first credited to something blooming in the yard but eventually identified as linden, a tree I fell in love with in Bulgaria and which has an American cousin. (If you have never smelled linden, imagine honeysuckle crossed with lily of the valley with undertones of citrus--yes, such a scent exists for a few glorious weeks every year.)

All the lindens I had ever seen were street trees, none more than twenty feet tall, but there were no lindens visible anywhere despite the scent that followed us for most of the block. Abandoning the mystery, we continued our walk, but when we finished our loop, I looked up, and there it was:

the biggest linden I have ever seen, towering over the Methodist church. This tree is a comparative youngster, though, as American linden can live for several hundred years and reach 100 feet in height. This one only reaches a little more than the height of a three-story church bell tower.
We hadn't seen the tree because it was too tall. We were looking for blossoms at eye level, which these definitely were not, even though the scent was everywhere.

Thoreau wrote that "Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads," and while I generally agree with Henry David, sometimes heaven, or at least magic, is over our heads--and we have to remember to look.

The Wetland at Williamstown

Today I am going to delight in another of our area's free treasures, the Williamstown Wetland Trail. Leased to the Williamstown Women's Club by the owners of DaVinci's restaurant (who also allow parking behind their building), the wetland is a natural sanctuary right off of a busy street and a popular business.
Unlike some natural areas, this one is accessible to the mobility-impaired, with a ramped entrance from the parking lot and a wide, generally flat, boardwalk punctuated with benches (and while the trail is short enough for even the marginally fit to navigate it without resting, the benches provide great places for appreciative viewing and listening).

Unfortunately, invasives have found their way here, including Japanese knotweed and the poster child for invasive plants, the balefully beautiful purple loosestrife.

The good news is that so far, native plants seem to be holding their own. The wetlands are full of cattails and marsh grasses, along with such wildlife-friendly plants as duck potato (sagittaria latifolia)

and shrub dogwoods. (I think this may be cornus sericea, also known as kinnikinick.) 
I am pleased to report that the critters seemed to be going about their business totally untroubled by the vehicle traffic on Highland Avenue and Route 14. Birds I couldn't identify were calling, red-winged blackbirds were being their usual cranky selves, and at least two species of frogs were croaking from the waters just beyond the boardwalk. This thoroughly satisfying nature experience was tucked into a fifteen-minute break between errands. Life as it should be.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Good Doers

I first heard the phrase "a good doer" on Erica Glasener's much-missed program, A Gardener's Diary. (HGTV's cancellation of this and of Kathy Renwald's Gardener's Journal are the primary reason why I no longer have anything but basic cable, there being nothing worth watching but PBS. Hmm...maybe even the basic can go. Suddenlink gets quite enough of my money for internet.) The term refers to plants that do well without special attention, and as I move into old age, such plants are the only ones I want to grow.

Good doers came to my mind this morning while thinning my clumps of "Fireworks" goldenrod. This cultivar of our native solidago rugosa ( shown below blooming last September with agastache "Tutti Frutti" in our driveway bed) is better-behaved than common goldenrod but seems to be just as tough and just as attractive to butterflies and songbirds. Ours is growing in the company of New England aster, "Black Knight" buddleia, and "Dart's Gold" physocarpus and is holding its own even against the shrubs.
Alas, "Tutti Frutti" is not as tough. While the plants  in the streetside bed survived and are about to bloom, this specimen broke ground in March but expired in our wet spring, probably due to runoff from a downspout (appreciated by everything else in that spot). My suspicion is that TF's parent is a Western species that requires dryness. Sigh. However, another agastache, the hybrid "Blue Fortune," is putting on quite a show in the bed on the other side of the driveway, so I won't be grieving its cousin too much. (Correction: this plant was purchased as agastache, but some more-knowledgeable wildlife gardeners have pegged it as anchusa azurea, which is, alas not native.)
Besides, the spot where TF died has been colonized by a coneflower, which will be equally gorgeous next to the goldenrod. This specimen is "White Swan," blooming next to the blue agastache--no idea what color the volunteer will be, as we grow several. 
Just about anything in the daisy family meets my definition of a good doer. Plants that take care of themselves, look cheerful, and attract butterflies make me happy. Aromatic aster is maybe a little too enthusiastic, but when it's blooming in October (nearly the last plant in our garden to finish), this shale barren native is a lovely sight.
But the happiest good doer in the June gardens on our block is rudbeckia hirta, one of our native black-eyed Susans. This short-lived daisy reproduces with abandon, creates its own color variations, and seeds itself even into bermuda grass. What's not to like?
And of course, no mention of perfect plants is complete without physocarpus, finally photographed in its fruiting phase. (English offers so many possibilities for alliteration.)
I wonder if maybe we need some "Fireworks" in front of "Summer Wine."

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Insect illumination

Fireflies have returned to Chipmunk Ridge, the name we have lately given to our little ranch in the burbs. Chasing fireflies was one of the joys of my long-ago youth, so having them around is a vital part of the summer experience for me. The flashy little insects have frequented my yard for the last twenty years or so (basically as long as I've been paying attention in my adult life), but I learned recently that not everyone is so lucky and that firefly populations are declining in the United States, depriving large numbers of our children (and adults, of course) of one of summer's free delights.

Fireflies are vanishing because of our excessive tidiness and fear of the dark. Fireflies communicate with light, and the amount of outdoor nightlighting these days seems to confuse them. Since these little insects live only a few weeks in their luminescent stage, they have very little time to shine their light and find a mate. No mate=no baby fireflies.

As if finding Mr. or Ms. Right weren't enough of a challenge (whatever one's species, if poets and novelists are to be believed), fireflies these days have difficulty finding habitat. They need rotting wood or leaf litter on which to lay their eggs as firefly larvae are carnivorous and feed on the small invertebrates such things attract. Unfortunately for the fireflies-to-be, most American yards have a shortage of fallen leaves and decaying twigs, leading to a shortage of delicacies like baby slugs. Most neighborhoods are starving their fireflies. Worse yet, fireflies are beetles, not flies, so the chemicals we dump on our yards to kill the grubs of Japanese beetles kill firefly larvae--but beetle-damaged turfgrass is un-American, isn't it?

The larvae that survive to adult fireflyhood need daytime shelter. They like hiding under poison ivy vines on trees (and I certainly wouldn't go looking under an enormous hairy poison ivy stem for fireflies or anything else) and, fortunately for those of us sensitive to uroshiol, in tallish grass. But--of course--the grass so carefully protected from beetles is then cut short, forcing our poor fireflies to waste their limited time looking for someplace to spend the day.

It's a miracle that we have any fireflies at all. Luckily, we humans have the option of helping these tiny miracles to become more common. We just need to back off a little and leave a few patches of wildness in our neighborhoods. And turn off the lights sometimes, at least during breeding season. We can see the firefly show better then, anyway.

Friday, June 14, 2013

True Confessions

Some gardeners have discipline. Their beds are edged. The edgings all match. Their paths are easy to find and all of the same materials. Their plantings are carefully color-coordinated. They specialize in only a few types of plants and stick to one garden style. I am not one of those gardeners. What I am, I have discovered, is a plant slut.

There are very few plants that I actively dislike and (probably way too) many that I love. Even when there is a theme in mind, like a meadow garden, the results are often a little wilder than anticipated.Of course, meadow gardens are supposed to be wild, and I am still enjoying a long love affair with the native plants of our area. After all, what is there not to love about something as exuberantly gorgeous as butterfly weed, especially when it invites so many pollinators to the party, including lightning bugs?

But I can't restrict myself to only pure natives, like some of my colleagues on the Wildlife Gardeners forum. I love a lot of cultivars, like "Fireworks" goldenrod and "Tutti Frutti" hummingbird mint. 

And I totally can't resist the allure of "Sunset" (I think it was) echinacea with "Coppertina" physocarpus, a shrub that is my current passion (or one of them).
I am not even a gardener who can be satisfied with the hundreds of natives and thousands of cultivars available for our region. Part of our front walkway is edged with lavender and thyme because scent makes me happy, and plants that waft when brushed against or stepped on are among the delights of life, and  lavender is the essence of June (along with roses, which came along from the old house). I even planted buddleia next to the front door so that the scent comes into the dining room in the evening. I'm hopeless.

If I had any garden discipline, it might be possible to make the front yard an old-fashioned cottage garden, but no. We have the thyme and lavender walk and a small rose garden, but the front is home to the wild promiscuity of the driveway garden and hell strip along the street, and this spring has seen the expansion of the (mostly) native grass and wildflower garden in front of the guest room. One large open area, at least four different personalities. We did, however, move most of the daylilies into a single area, where we can enjoy their lusciousness and have some chance of protecting them from becoming deer dessert.
The condition is serious: I even like the alien punk rocker look of cardoon.
Is there a twelve-step program for plant sluts?

Thursday, June 6, 2013

This month's success story

Our native plant success story for this spring is ruellia (whether humilis or caroliniensis, I'm not sure), commonly known as wild petunia, even though the plants aren't all that closely related. But while petunias generally languish for me (probably because they want things like regular watering and feeding), ruellia has taken off. The single plant given to me in the spring of 2011, allowed to go to seed, has now colonized both sides of our front walkway, but it's so delicate-looking that no one (probably) could call it invasive. (As much as I like blue-eyed grass, I am beginning to lose my enthusiasm for a plant that pops up everywhere, looks good for a month, and then proceeds to get depressingly tatty. I am actually cutting off and disposing of the seed heads of this native plant.)

Ruellia, however, blooms for a much longer period, and besides being lovely and low-maintenance, is pollinator-friendly. As low to the ground as my plants are (probably because they are grown in pebbly sand next to a concrete walk and rarely watered), they attract hummingbirds, and they are listed as hosts for the the larvae of Buckeye butterflies, among my favorites. Some ruellia are endangered in the wild in neighboring states, but nobody gave that depressing news to the plants in our yard.