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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.)

Friday, July 7, 2017

Another historical discovery

On my way to the Toledo Museum of Art this morning, my eyes were drawn to a National Park Service sign, in this case for Fort Miamis, a place of which I had never heard. I of course knew that northwest Ohio had figured in the War of 1812, as it is known in these parts, but not that the town of Maumee grew up around what had been a British military installation.

Fort Miamis, it turns out, was founded in reaction to the Northwest Ordinance, touted in my part of Ohio as a cornerstone of democracy in what is now the Midwest but was then the frontier. The Brits, of course, viewed the ordinance as American expansion and a threat to their interests in Canada, and the indigenous peoples were not consulted and were, shall we say, not pleased, leading to the Indian wars of the 1790s.

Fort Miamis was surrendered to US forces in a 1796 treaty but reoccupied by British and their native allies during the War of 1812. It is perhaps best known as the site of "Dudley's Defeat," an 1813 battle in which more than a hundred US troops, who had successfully completed their initial objective but then over-enthusiastically pursued some native stragglers, were captured by British and native forces. The native groups, perhaps a bit over-enthusiastic themselves, began making their prisoners run the gauntlet, resulting in a number of dead prisoners. Tecumseh, when he arrived, was horrified at the treatment of unarmed captives.

Most interesting to me is that a lone British soldier, Private Patrick Russell, attempted to intervene. No officers bothered. Private Russell was killed by his erstwhile allies; the Ohio Historical Society has erected a plaque in his memory.

Of this extensive military outpost, all that remains is the defensive trench. The sharpened stakes that served to hold off invaders are long gone.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Another public good

Simpson Garden Park is a city park in Bowling Green, Ohio, eleven acres of gardens and gardens in the making. This is a young park, first imagined in 2002, with the first plants going in the ground in 2009 after a major fundraising campaign that raised $750,000 to supplement public money. For a not-yet-mature garden, the results are quite satisfying.

Entry to the formal gardens

Of course, the "wow" factor this time of year is largely a result of the daylily walk, with a lineup of Stout Silver Medal winners and other flagrantly gorgeous daylilies and companions.

Yes, those colors are real and unretouched. The plant is called "Tigereye Spider" and has inspired serious plant lust (and me running out of sunny planting areas--sigh).

I am always gratified to see plantings by gardeners who share my sense of color--basically, the more, the better.

The Simpson Gardens, however, have something for everyone. A Children's Discovery Garden is located next to the Simpson Building, which contains meeting rooms. In addition to plants (including the biggest ironweed I have ever seen--move than six feet tall and not yet in bloom), the children's garden contains a water feature, bridge, artwork, and this whimsical cottage.

And for those who prefer their gardens a bit more restful, the park includes a Japanese garden and an impressive hosta collection, along with a native plant section, a sculpture garden, and a medicinal plant garden currently under development.

The Simpson is definitely worth a return visit.

Thursday, June 22, 2017


Those of you familiar with the Eighties version of Little Shop of Horrors will remember Audrey, the carnivorous alien plant with a taste for human blood. Checking out the pollinator garden this afternoon, I discovered that one of our echinacea is sporting a bud with something of a resemblance to the fictional plant.

My plant
Audrey from the 1982 film

Well, maybe not that much of a resemblance, but this emerging flower is not your typical coneflower. This is the standard young echinacea blossom.

Given the internet's penchant for paranoia, a search for "daisies with double centers" brings up speculation about radiation from Fukushima, and I have no doubt that radiation can indeed cause mutation in plants. The truth, however, is that plants in the composite family are prone to anomalies in seed and bloom development. I took this photo of a caterpillar-like rudbeckia in 2011, before any radiation would have reached Ohio, if indeed it ever got here.

The phenomenon is common enough that it even has a name: conjoined daisies, though I have not been able to get much information on its cause(s). One thing to worry about is the disease aster yellows, which causes malformed plants and can hit anything in the composite family. For now, the plant with the odd bud looks healthy,

but I will need to watch it for signs of disease.

In the meantime, I am looking forward to seeing what Audrey looks like when she grows up.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

A new beauty

Returning from an early-evening walk by way of the Marietta Arboretum, I had to swung by the bottlebrush buckeye, one of my favorite shrubs, especially in full bloom. The ridiculously extravagant bloom spikes were of course working with a variety of bees, but my eye was drawn to something I had never seen before, a small black butterfly with eight bright white spots, flitting from spike to spike. My first thought was that it might be a Southern visitor like the zebra longwing spotted on my front-yard monarda a few years ago. Research was necessary.

It turns out that this little jewel is a day-flying moth, the eight-spotted forester, supposedly fairly common throughout most of its range, which includes a fair chunk of the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic. (You can learn more about Alypia octomaculata here.) This photo comes from the unfortunately-no-longer active blog, Field Biology in Southeastern Ohio. Fortunately, its archive houses lots of good information and photographs.

This beautiful little moth has only one flight a year, and evidently it is peaking about now, at least in Ohio. Its caterpillars favor grape leaves as food, so if you are lucky (?) enough to live anywhere near some wild grape vines, you are in the forester's favored habitat. Anyone with a vineyard may not be so fond of these little moths.

I am going to hope to see more of them before their season ends.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Not quite an old haunt

This week finds me at the Advanced Placement test scoring in Tampa, staying at quite a nice hotel on the downtown Riverwalk. I lived mostly in Tampa from 1975-83, as a student, grad student, and bookstore management trainee (with an unfortunate six-week interlude attempting to sell hats and handbags at Montgomery Ward--not a good fit for my skills or interests). As a fortunately-not-quite-starving student and then a very junior employee, I lived in neighborhoods charitably described as "modest." Downtown Tampa these days is not modest. A new condo development near here sells two-bedroom units for a million dollars, not in our budget even now that we are not junior employees (just retirees on a fixed income). But the views from some of these apartments might have an appeal, even though I am not a big-city person.

From my perspective, the parks and gardens here on the Riverwalk are a bust--more concrete than plants, but lots of shady places to sit, watch the porpoises in the Hillsborough River, and enjoy the people-watching. This 3.5-mile motor-free path in the heart of downtown is a popular place with cyclists, walkers, runners, and dog walkers of all ages. The river itself is heavily traveled and has a certain romance (about which more in a later post), and its bridges are beautiful, particularly at night.

The tower on this one (a very workaday bridge which I crossed on my way to the grocery store, a most unromantic destination) reminds me of a medieval guard tower.

Tampa today is not the seedy, crime-ridden locale of my long-ago youth but rather an artsy, growing city attracting new residents and businesses all the time. But my favorite moment from this visit (thus far):

a snowy egret fishing under a bridge, using the white supports as camouflage.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Another guilty pleasure

Anyone who knows me knows that I try to avoid invasive plants whenever possible. Battling the English ivy, vinca, rose of sharon, and burning bush seedlings in our current inherited garden is an object lesson in why one might not wish to grow Plants That Escape. However, a confession: I truly love Mexican feather grass (Nassella tenuissima) and grow it both in pots and in the ground.

Any grass that is this lush, this early in the summer, in the generally-inhospitable space between two sidewalks, a street, and a driveway, sets my plant-lover's heart to fluttering. The fact that it requires no supplemental watering or pruning is a real plus for the lazy gardener.

And who could not love that sweet wispiness behind the gaudy assertiveness of verbena and geranium?

Feather grass, when happy, can even form a low hedge--and it plays well with others, like coreopsis,

butterfly weed, and dwarf goldenrod.

What's not to love?

A cautionary note is, unfortunately, required: Nassella's native range in the US is confined to parts of Texas and New Mexico, and it has become a serious invasive in portions of California and the Southwest, where conservation organizations are asking gardeners not to plant it. It is listed as not hardy in zone 6, but it has perennialized for me in two gardens; our warmer winters may eventually allow it to naturalize. Having grown the plant for the last eight years, I have yet to see volunteers but know that I will have to watch to make sure it doesn't escape and threaten any of our area's lovely but later-flourishing grasses.

For now, I make time most days to watch the sun light up this favorite grass.