About Me

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

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

More progress

Almost exactly a year ago, I wrote of the decision to kill one entire side of the front lawn and put in what I am calling a savannah garden. The early look was not impressive. 
(You can read that post and see more early pictures here.) 
And while the garden is still a long way from filled in, I am happy with how it's shaping up.This is the same view today. (The old saying about perennials is true: the first year they sleep, the second they creep, the third they leap. These are at the barely creeping stage.) The "Zagreb" coreopsis in the foreground is doing well, as is the creeping sedum along the walkway. The blue fescue was spectacular in early summer but is fading now, and while the switchgrass is blooming, it hasn't yet filled in as much as it will in a year or two. They're not visible in this photo, but this garden is now home to plugs of butterfly weed, wild lupine, and blue aster, and lots of little bluestem and rudbeckia seedlings have been transplanted from other parts of the yard.
Mexican feather grass (Nasella tenuissima) and aromatic aster ( Aster oblongifolius) are doing particularly well.
Feather grass has a thuggish reputation in the desert Southwest, but it has behaved itself for three years on our property. In this setting the aster-that-wants-to-colonize-the-world is likely to keep it in check. (If anyone needs starts of this shale barren native aster, I may soon have to start composting clumps of it--we are literally running out of room for this exceedingly enthusiastic plant.) The switchgrass (Panicum virgatum "Prairie Sky")  we just planted may help as well.

Never one to resist plant sales, I came home from Lowe's with an agastache "Blue Fortune" and two agastache with tricolor blossoms. These pollinator magnets have definitely improved the view from the front door.

Stay tuned for further developments as the Sorghastrum nutans hedge eventually gets tall enough to be distinguishable from weeds.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Another perfect plant

Perfect plants keep turning up. My current enthusiasm is for clethra alnifolia, sometimes called summersweet. I planted two of the straight species and one of the cultivar "Ruby Spice" a couple of years ago, and they have finally come into their own, especially "Ruby Spice."
 Those pink bottlebrushes are magnets for hummingbirds and butterflies, as are the white blossoms of the wild form. Right now, though, I'd mad about this outrageous cotton-candy pink, which makes a ridiculously girly bouquet paired with pink gladioli knocked down by the rains we've been having.
Sometimes too much of a good thing is just fine.

Summersweet gets its name from its scent, which I can't quite describe. It's sweet like lilac, but spicier. The plant deserves to be placed near a window or outdoor seating area, or brought into the house for frequent sniffing.

The shrub seems fairly indestructible, always a good thing. We planted the wild forms in a partly shaded area of the side yard, where they are not terribly happy with the competition from tree roots but are blooming nonetheless. "Ruby Spice," however, is in what seems to be an optimal spot: near the dining room:  in partial shade, with plenty of water from gutter overflows and the condensate from an air conditioning unit. She is rewarding us by covering herself top to bottom with her bottlebrush blooms and attracting hordes of hummingbirds. And of course, providing scent and long-lasting flowers for arrangements.
Summersweet is cold and heat-tolerant and has good fall color, a clear yellow.

Is it possible that another shrub is as perfect as physocarpus?

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Not so foolish gold

Who doesn't love goldfinches? Even their swooping flight is cheerful, but when the males put on their breeding plumage in late spring, these common birds are like hyperactive bits of sunshine flitting through the yard. Luckily, they occasionally hold still long enough to be photographed.
My favorite goldfinch sightings, though, are those when the birds decide to get their seeds directly from the source. They seem to have a preference for blossoms the same color as their feathers, so I've never been able to get a decent photo of a finch dismembering a silphium or riding a clump of ratibida to the ground (and how strange for an activity not to find its way into a Facebook photo album). Those of us lucky enough to live where these golden birds are found will just need to take time to stop and watch the free show when it happens.

 Thoughts on goldfinches

  Twitching leaves reveal
goldfinch on golden daisy--
flash of wing--he's gone.

Dark day, golden bird
outshines miser's gold hidden
deep in the dark earth.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Slowing down

Wandering my favorite Wildwood Metropark today (it's hard to believe that I hadn't visited since early December), I was struck by the number of people running in the 85-degree heat (at 9 AM!) and what felt like 85% humidity. One energetic young thing in Spandex was running while pushing a baby carriage. This is not an energy level that I have ever had.

Besides, moving slowly has its advantages (though I suspect that running would have allowed me to outrun some of the mosquito hordes that had invaded the meadow and prairie trails, with my excellent homemade insect repellent left behind in Parkersburg). Runners don't seem to be caught up short by the details along the way. One of my favorite details today was a plant that I am calling the "Mystery Pink Flower" as it is not yet showing up in my online searches.
Each blossom is smaller than my pinky fingernail.

It would have been difficult not to notice the clumps of monarda fistulosa blooming everywhere, but stopping for a moment reveals not only the plant's incredibly detailed blooms 

 but the life it supports.

Insects weren't the only wildlife out this morning. This lovely doe seemed to be enjoying her meal of meadow plants
until I got too close to her chosen part of the meadow.

Taking a trail into the woods, I got to see this gorgeous butterfly (a black form red-spotted purple, maybe?) puddling in a sunbeam.

 And I had never seen a squirrel sacked out on a tree limb until I stopped for a water break at the prairie trail overlook.
Being old and slow does have its advantages.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Fungus amung us

The almost-daily (it seems) rain of the last few weeks has brought out lots of mushrooms and other fungi. Until recently, I didn't know that mushrooms are the above-ground fruiting bodies of fungi that often live underground; in other words, any time we see a fairy ring of mushrooms like the one I saw in Toledo last fall, there's an orgy going on somewhere. We've not had any fairy rings at our place, but oh, my, have we had fungi.
 Here we have two varieties growing in a very small area next to a young spicebush.

 Until this summer, I'd not paid much attention to the variety of shapes in a single species, never mind the different types.
 Some look almost like the flowers they (sort of) are
while others resemble coral or stone--or maybe elephant skin.
 Then  there is the charming "dog-vomit fungus" that grows on mulch. Its other common name is "Scrambled egg slime mold," which at least represents its actual biological classification while at the same time ruining one's breakfast.
 My favorite fungi of the year so far, though, were in a neighbor's yard. All I could think was that either tiny aliens had landed,
 or some very tipsy fairies had put up patio umbrellas.
The day after these pictures were taken, the neighbor mowed the lawn, so the alien fairies have taken their party elsewhere.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Birth of Ferngully

 No, not the movie, but a new garden that never occurred to me until this afternoon. Like many stories with happy endings, this one begins with a Tale of Woe.

Some of our sixty-plus-year-old house's gutters are sagging, leaking, not draining properly, and generally contributing to excess humidity in parts of the building. Obviously, we need a gutter expert to solve our problem, and one will be here eventually. Right now, though, the tiny strip of earth between the music room and the driveway is pretty soggy. Said strip contained a fern and daylily bed when we bought the house, though the ferns have proven to be wildly aggressive and are attempting to Take Over the Known Universe, helped by the aforementioned water source. Waist-high ferns were attempting to enter the screened porch, and the meter reader hasn't seen our gas meter in months. Obviously, something had to be done, and a brainstorm occurred. (I was frustrated with learning a new online course system at work, and garden time is always a good tonic.) The sweet woodruff generously donated by a neighbor got planted on the other side of the driveway, but since it stays short, and these ferns do not, why not switch their places? The woodruff will stay below the gas meter and within the bounds of the concrete, while on the other side of the driveway, the ferns will have room to spread their fronds around.

Plans, of course, are generally more complicated in the execution than in the planning, especially when the planning is of the spur-of-the-moment variety. Discovery of the day: we have WAY too many ferns, which seem to have eaten most of the daylilies, which were of the ditch variety, anyway. So--what to do with the extras? (Composting native plants that want to live is not one of the choices unless the plant is pokeweed or one of the approximately five hundred black cherry seedlings that we get every spring.) Then--a solution. The slope running down to the back street has been a problem area--heavy shade, lots of tree seedlings, and a large decaying stump, Given that water runs downhill, what better place for a fern gully than a shady, damp area with humusy soil? Stay tuned for pictures if the plants decide to live.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Almost perfect

While we are waiting to see if the Mid-Ohio Valley beats Noah's record for rain this year, the long-suffering spouse and I have been getting to enjoy what may be one of our region's most perfect vines, lonicera sempervirens, the native red trumpet honeysuckle. As the name indicates, the plant retains its leaves for all or most of the year, a good thing in our application as one of the places we planted it is in front of the outdoor portion of an air conditioning unit. In just two summers, the vine has covered its trellis, hidden the unit, and given us babies to plant in other parts of the yard. Besides being enthusiastic, the plant is also beautiful. Here are the young leaves and buds of late April.
 I am particularly fond of the pink of the flowers just before they open,
but the red of the mature blossoms of midsummer is more attractive to hummingbirds, who dart among the blossoms outside our dining room window every day the plant is in bloom.
This honeysuckle is no prima donna: it asks for nothing but sunshine (it will grow in partial shade--we have it on a chain link fence underneath white pine--but is more prone to powdery mildew in that setting), a little water, and something around which to twine. While the plant stems can reach twenty feet in length and appreciate a sturdy support, they don't demand it. At our old house, the front porch was screened by lonicera climbing jute twine in the manner of old-fashioned morning glories. The stems stayed thin, did fine, and didn't pull down the twine--and the plant bloomed and bloomed and bloomed, causing the neighborhood hummingbirds to decide that the porch was theirs and dive-bomb unwary humans.

As if its attractiveness to hummingbirds and humans weren't reason enough to grow this plant, it also bears  small red berries enjoyed by finches and robins (and supposedly quail, if we had any on our block).  Native Americans used the leaves to treat coughs, asthma, and bee stings. And while I've never noticed any leaf damage, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center notes that the plant is a larval host (read: caterpillar food) for spring azure butterflies and snowberry clearwings that we're always called "hummingbird moths." Given that the hummingbird moths have found their way to the plant, I'll be watching for the next generation. It may hatch right outside our dining room window.

Who needs television when you have a plant as entertaining as this one? If it only had the scent of its invasive Asian cousin, the Japanese honeysuckle, lonicera sempervirens would be totally perfect.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Life happens. . .

And it certainly has around here. This is our fourth summer at Chipmunk Ridge, and a lot has changed. When we bought the house, the front yard contained one rhododendron less than thrilled to be in full sun (still there), a driveway hedge of Japanese yew (gone), and the evil Bermuda grass (mostly gone).
The yard is a much livelier place now. The young crabapple to the far right of the photo below currently holds a nest of baby robins, too high off the ground for me to photograph them without a ladder. 
We have flocks of finchlets, engaging in the annoying (in humans), endearing (in avians) adolescent behavior of standing next to a full larder (in this case, on the bird feeder pole) asking to be fed.
Squirrels and chipmunks take probably more than their fair share of sunflower seed, but hey--rodents have to eat, too.

And when one of the squirrels is Stumpy the Survivor, who can begrudge a few seeds?

The goldfinches have arrived in great numbers, always a source of delight--but their propensity for preferring their food on the stem rather than in the feeder has its drawbacks. I wasn't quick enough with the camera, but here's what's left of a rudbeckia blossom following a goldfinch lunch.

At least more blossoms will follow--and probably more goldfinches, rodents, butterflies, and who knows what else. Life happens around here.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Only in America

Well, okay, only in the Americas. Looking out our dining room window today, we got to enjoy a ruby-throated hummingbird working the lonicera sempervirens on the trellis. For anyone unfamiliar with the plant, it is a red honeysuckle native to North America that is an absolute hummingbird magnet. Unfortunately for the fragrance-obsessed gardener, it has no scent, but nobody's perfect.
Also unfortunately, the hummingbird kept moving too fast for me to focus my camera on it.

Hummingbirds, for anyone who didn't know, exist only in the Americas. We in the Mid-Ohio Valley only get to enjoy one species, but people in Florida, Arizona, and South America have a variety of hummers enlivening their yards (when it's not too hot to be outside, that is). Knowing how many of us are delighted by these tiny dynamos, I can only imagine how magical they must have seemed to the first Europeans who encountered them (or who noticed them--I don't see the conquistadores taking time off from looting, pillaging, and searching for gold to appreciate a green bird the size of a coin.) Hummingbirds, the smallest of all birds, have wingbeats faster than those of any other avian and are alone in having figure-eight wing movements, the reason why they can hover and fly backwards. Their hearts beat over a thousand times a minute when they are in full flight, but they can slow the rate to 50 bpm when cold temperatures send them into torpor.  Our local rubythroats may spend the winter in southern Mexico or Panama, where they get most of their calories from insects and spiders, though plant nectar is always a welcome source of carbs.

On this Fourth of July, I am grateful that we were paid a visit by this all-American bird.

And while it's not the same thing, I was able to photograph a hummingbird moth species that exists only in North America.

Happy Fourth, everyone! I hope you find time to enjoy some of our natural riches.