Saturday, December 29, 2012

Backyard Birds in Winter

Red-bellied Woodpecker
We had a white Christmas with snow and ice and an even bigger snowstorm today. Winter winds are whistling around my house and the temperature remains below the freezing mark. With no flowers blooming in my garden I am thankful for the many birds that visit at this time of the year.

Birds that remain in Pennsylvania for the winter include many year-round residents such as the red-bellied and downy woodpeckers, the northern cardinal, tufted titmouse, bluejay, chickadee, white-breasted nuthatch, and Carolina wren. All these, and others, are frequent visitors to our bird feeders and heated water dish.

Downy Woodpecker at the Suet Feeder

Winter is a difficult time for Pennsylvania birds ...

"The natural food supply has been consumed or is hidden by snow. Most insects are dead or dormant. Water can be hard to find, and food needed to provide the energy to keep birds warm might be scarce. Finding shelter may not be easy. If there are limited natural evergreens or shelter, birds may seek manmade houses or habitats that can provide refuge from the winds, rains, ice or snow of winter."  Wildbirds Unlimited Educational Resources.

White-breasted Nuthatch at the Heated Water Dish

Tufted Titmouse
 H.H. takes good care of the birds' needs. He provides food, water and shelter for our winter visitors. I appreciate that he places the feeders in plain view of the French windows so I can sit in my favorite chair in the garden room and enjoy the show.

Chicadee and Carolina Wren
Some birds prefer to scavenge the seeds that drop from the feeder onto the ground.

Cardinal and Black-eyed Junco
Bluebird waiting for a turn at the seed feeder
Bluebirds are my favorite. Less preferred are the cheeky blue jays that steal food and bully the other birds.

Blue Jay
Much as I love watching winter birds, I can't help thinking ahead to spring flowers. My favorite, the hellebore, will bloom first. The hellebore has to be my final pick for the 'Dozen for Diana' meme I followed each month of 2012. 

Hellebore hybrid

Hellebore hybrid
This has been a fascinating meme; please visit Diana's wonderful blog, Elephants Eye, to learn all about it. In my next posting I will review the monthly picks for my virtual garden. Also, I will begin the planning process for my 2013 'actual' garden.

Wishing you a Happy New Year!

Pamela x

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Monday, December 17, 2012

Longwood Gardens - Then and Now

Christmas display of poinsettias at Longwood Gardens (Euphorbia pulcherrima)
When we visited beautiful Longwood Gardens for the first time in April this year, we vowed to return for the holiday display. We traveled there last weekend and what a wonderful experience it was to see the gardens decked out in half a million Christmas lights, thousands of poinsettias, and some unusual blooms for the time of year.  And how very different from the gardens in April. I took loads of photographs and here are a few to give you a taste of the two very different seasons at Longwood Gardens.

Spring tulips were everywhere in April ...

H.H. and tulips

The trees were bursting with leaves and blossoms ...

Trees (with bluebells) in April
Longwood's trees decked out for Christmas
The trees looked very different this time! We arrived after dark to fully experience the beautiful lights.  Lights were wrapped around or hanging from every trunk and branch. The hanging lights in the top right of the picture above are suspended from an enormous old elm tree.

Longwood Gardens has an enormous conservatory which was not short on lights either.
More decorated trees inside the Conservatory.
Inside and outside there are numerous water features at Longwood. In April I took this picture of the cascade garden inside the Conservatory where you can see plants found in a rain forest.

Cascade Garden

The most dramatic water feature in December is the dancing fountain area outdoors. We watched the fountains 'dance' to the music of The Nutcracker. As the waters rose and fell, the colors changed, and it was quite magical.

On my first visit, I was amazed to see roses in bloom (in the Conservatory of course) so early in the year ...

...  I was even more surprised to see them in December.

Roses of all colors in full bloom. Yellow is my favorite.

The orchids at Longwood Gardens are superb. I don't grow them myself, and I am always impressed with their beauty ...

The Orchid House in April

I was not disappointed with Longwood's December display.

Orchids Cymbidium Mixed cultivars



Herbs and Hydrangeas

Throughout the winter Conservatory you are aware of the heavy scent of lilies.

Lilies and Poinsettias

Finally, my favorite displays in the Conservatory. First, in April ...

The delphinium border.
... I've shown this picture before. Love those delphiniums!

Then in December, a table set for a wedding. With water on either side it seems to float ...

The wedding table is set with crystal candelabra, white roses, orchids, and twinkling white lights. So.o.o romantic!

A visit to Longwood Gardens is fabulous at any time of the year, but the Christmas display will surely put you in the holiday mood!

Merry Christmas everyone!
Pamela x

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Saturday, November 17, 2012

November Comes and November Goes

 Pumpkins -- the epitome of autumn.

 “November comes
And November goes,
With the last red berries
And the first white snows.

With night coming early,
And dawn coming late,
And ice in the bucket
And frost by the gate.

The fires burn
And the kettles sing,
And earth sinks to rest
Until next spring.”
Clyde Watson

November is more than half over and I have been busy with last minute garden maintenance. Hurricane Sandy left a mess to clean up, although mostly just downed branches and blown-over shrubs. We were without electricity for three days and I had to throw out all the contents of the refrigerator and freezer. The misery of no heat, water, lights, telephone or electronics was the worst of it. Now we have a generator on our wish list -- but they are so expensive. We borrowed a small one for the sump pump in the basement, so we avoided flooding there. I am not complaining because so many have lost everything, and thousands are still without power. We got off lightly in comparison.

A lot of debris to pick up.
Last weekend, H.H. emptied the compost bin; I sieved the 'black gold' and spread it on the vegetable beds. The weather was warm and sunny and I had pangs of spring fever as I worked, planning what vegetables to sow next year.

We have a new composter -- actually a 'different' one; not new. For a couple of years I have wanted a compost bin that can be rotated, as I find it very difficult to turn the compost with a fork. I just don't have the upper-body strength I once had. H.H. found a used compost bin for sale on Craig's list, and we decided to buy it. An important selling points was that the seller had put the item together, saving us a lot of work and anxiety. We are not very 'handy' people and there were a million screws, so this was probably a 'marriage saver'. I like the design -- it is insulated and has two compartments. I'm quite excited! (I know -- only an obsessive gardener would be excited about a compost bin!)

The 'new' compost bin.
The pond was winterized already, so after spreading compost on the kitchen-garden raised beds, I cut down many of the perennials in the cottage garden. The beds look much tidier, though boring ...

I didn't cut down the perennials loved by the birds, such as purple cone flower and black-eyed Susan.

I still have to put protective mulch on the less hardy and new plants, and straw on the strawberry bed, but they needed to go dormant first. The hard frosts of the last two nights have probably done it.

Every year at this time I lament that I don't have enough plants with winter interest in my garden. When I returned from my trip to England, a week before the storm, there were still a few interesting plants to enjoy.  I'm glad I captured some photographs of them ...

Clockwise from top left: stachys, vibernum, mini roses, fleabane, herbs, 'green lustre' holly.
Some leaves were still clinging to the maple trees
Now the trees are bare and the garden is looking rather desolate -- except for my grasses. I don't cut them down until the spring, so they do provide interest throughout the winter season. My favorite grass is Miscanthus sinensis 'Zebrinus' or Zebra Grass.  In midsummer this exotic foliage develops distinctive golden horizontal bands. In late summer silvery-white plumes appear and last through winter.

Zebra grass in summer 
Plumes develop in the fall.
My zebra grass today.
Delicate plume of the zebra grass.
You need plenty of space for this plant which can be aggressive. I am so happy I have room for it. I planted my first zebra grass near Bluebell Creek, next to Troll's Bridge (named by my grandsons after playing many games of "Three Billy Goats Gruff" there.)

 I am choosing zebra grass for November's Dozen for Diana.  I am off to visit Elephant's Eye to see what Diana chose this month for her wonderful meme. I am also linking (late) to GBBD at Carol's May Dreams Gardens to share what is blooming around the world.

November comes and November goes -- I am amazed how fast the months pass. I can't believe the holiday season is upon us.  H.H. and I are taking a short vacation to celebrate his birthday which happens to be on Thanksgiving Day. He says he is the Big Turkey this year.

To all of my USA friends I wish a very happy Thanksgiving!

Pamela x

PS. I seem to have lost the blogging habit lately, but I resolve to write more often.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Cherry Tree

Cherry tree Prunus pissardii nigra
I started writing this in a New York airport, while waiting for the shuttle to Pennsylvania, following a wonderful visit with my mother in England. My 93-year-old mum now lives in a sheltered-accommodation facility, or assisted-living as we say in USA. I moved Mum from her home last year when it became apparent that she could not live alone any more. It was a traumatic move for both of us, so I was happy to see that she has now settled, loves her new flat, and the wonderful staff who care for her. So what does this have to do with a cherry tree? Well, Mum's facility is called Cherry Tree Court, a beautiful new building with lovely landscaping, but not one cherry tree. My visit coincided with the first anniversary of Cherry Tree Court's opening, and I thought that donating a cherry tree would be an appropriate way to honor my mother, and show my appreciation of the loving care she is receiving from the Cherry Tree Court staff.

I emailed a local nursery, Hollybush Garden Center, to find out which cherry trees they had in stock. The operations manager sent me a comprehensive list that I used to research the varieties available. I also perused their website, and you can click on the name above to go there. Their home page says 'the Hollybush Garden Centre and Aquaria is the ideal location for a complete day out'. I couldn't wait to visit ...

I believe it would take me a whole day to explore this fabulous garden center, but I didn't have a lot of time, so I headed for the outdoor section where they have trees and shrubs for sale.

A very helpful manager showed me the stock, and I quickly decided on the Black cherry plum Nigra. Nigra is a medium-sized, round-headed deciduous tree with foliage that is black and dark purple in summer and dark red in spring.

I fell in love with the fall leaf color.

 In spring the tree has pale pink flowers and in autumn it bears dark red fruit.

 The single, pale pink flowers open from deep pink buds before the leaves.

Photograph -- Royal Horticultural Society
I ordered some soil ammendments  and fertilizer to be applied at planting. And I bought a strong stake for support, as England seems to have some strong winds lately.  Having made my purchases, I explored some of the other areas of the garden center.

The Christmas decorations were on display.

There was a wonderful selection of seeds.

I wanted to take this fellow home with me
I wish I had spent more time at Hollybush; they have so much for obsessive gardeners like me to enjoy. I arranged for their landscapers to plant the cherry tree, and the manager of Cherry Tree Court said she will send me a picture. I hope it wont be too long before I can return to see it for myself.

Now I am thinking I should have a cherry tree in my Pennsylvania garden. I have chosen a plant each month for the meme "A Dozen For Diana", and this is my pick for October. Do visit Elephant's Eye to see what Diana chose for her wonderful garden in South Africa.

It becomes harder and harder each time I say goodbye to my mother, and I miss her already, but I know while I am so far away, she is safe and happy, in her new home. Thank you, thank you, Cherry-Tree-Court staff. I hope you and the residents enjoy the cherry tree!

Pam x

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