Saturday, February 25, 2017

Backyard Birds, First Blooms and Blog's Birthday

Last weekend's Great Backyard Bird Count was less successful than previous years because the pesky squirrels kept many birds away from my backyard. H.H. filled the bird feeders; he cleaned out and topped up the heated water dish. I charged the battery in my camera and washed the French windows so I'd have a clear view.  Our so-called squirrel-proof feeder proved worthless and I spent much of the weekend screaming at the bad actors. One squirrel even managed to remove the roof ...

Pesky squirrel scared away the birds

Here are pictures of some of the birds brave enough to come near in spite of the squirrels:

Male house finches

Sparrows are our most prolific visitors. We have several types including the white throated sparrow and song sparrow.  The house sparrow, pictured here, is not really a sparrow but a member of the weaver finch family. There are so many sparrows again this year. I know that when spring arrives, I must protect the seeds I sow in the kitchen garden.

House sparrow left; female house finch above

During the bird count I saw only two of my adorable bluebirds at the heated water dish. I think bluebirds are my best loved  ...


                                 ... or maybe my favorite is the cheeky, titmouse.  It's so difficult to choose.

Male cardinal
Female cardinal

H.H. hangs a block of suet in a cage that is really squirrel proof so we are blessed to see several downy woodpeckers and red-bellied woodpeckers. The nutchatch and wren like the suet also. Sorry, I didn't take pictures of all of them.

Downy woodpecker waiting for his turn at the suet block

The American goldfinch loves sunflower seeds. I believe the male goldfinches are getting their summer yellow feathers very early this year. Maybe it's the unusually warm and sunny weather. Looking back over my previous GBBC postings, this year's event is unusual because there is no snow. Yesterday, the temperature hit 72 degrees  -- unheard of for February! A plunge in temperature and a storm, however, are on their way.

American goldfinch

On the last day of the count, a flock of red-winged blackbirds flew down into the lower field. One obligingly came near enough for a photograph.

Red-winged blackbird

My most unusual sighting this year: A hawk perching in the pear tree watching the little birds at the feeder. Usually, hawks don't come so close to the house. We see many red-tailed hawks flying overhead, but this one was different. His cinnamon colored breast and the bold white spots on his wings when he flew away makes me think this may be a red-shouldered hawk.


How was the 2017 GBBD for you? Did you spot anything unusual?

The warm weather has me checking for early blooms. I see so many hellebores on other garden blogs and on Instagram, but no luck here. There are some nice fat buds waiting to burst open though.

Hellebore buds

Daffodil and crocus shoots abound in every flower bed -- early for February. I'm joining the National Garden Bureau's Daffodil Watch. They have declared 2017 'The Year of the Daffodil." Click on the link to join in the fun.

Bottom left crocus shoots, bottom right and top are daffodil shoots

Now for my first flowers of the year: Snowdrop Galanthus 'Atkinsii'. I purchased it from Carolyn's Shade Garden several years ago. It didn't bloom last year, so I'm very happy today!

Snowdrop Galanthus 'Atkinsii'.

This week marks my blog's 9th birthday. My first posting, February 21, 2008, was on the Mac platform. I switched to Blogger two years later because the links were more reliable. I have written more than 220 postings -- not as prolific as some, but a steady two or three each month. I find them invaluable to mark the progress of my gardens. Click on last year's birthday link here, or check out the featured post in the sidebar, to see the changes over the years. The best reason to keep blogging, however, is the wonderful like-minded friends I have made all over the world. Because you keep reading and commenting, I keep blogging.

Thank you dear friends!

Pamela x

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Thursday, February 16, 2017

Wildflowers at Mt. Cuba

I visited the Mt. Cuba Center near Wilmington, Delaware, to attend one of their fascinating winter lectures, my first botanical garden event this year. Upon arrival, I fell in love with the location, the verdant acreage and the magnificent Colonial Revival style house.  Here, horticulturists conduct research in trial gardens, home to more than 1,000 species of native plants, many threatened by extinction. No blooms today, but a compelling lecture titled "Wildflower Ecology: A Naturalist's Perspective." Carol Gracie, the speaker, worked for the Nature Conservancy and the New York Botanical Gardens before retiring. With her husband she spent many years studying plants in the South American rain forests. Today, Carol talked about spring ephemerals, our native woodland wildflowers, a perfect topic for this gardener on a cold winter's day.  She illustrated her talk with photographs from her latest book, Spring Wildflowers of the Northeast.

Carol started the presentation with a photograph of herpatica Anemone americana
Carol Gracie, acclaimed naturalist, photographer and writer.

Of course, I bought the book and now treasure my signed copy.

Carol exquisitely illustrated this unique book with more than 500 beautiful colored photos. Going far beyond a field guide, Carol provides insights into the plant world, discussing the latest science, the cultural uses of plants and personal observations. She highlighted some ephemerals from her book in her lecture. I was fascinated to learn that skunk cabbage Symplocarpus foetidus is the first wildflower to bloom in the Northeast. It grows in abundance in a swampy area near my house but, aware only of its unpleasant smell, I never really looked at it. Now I'm anxious to visit the location and see if it really is a harbinger of spring; to see if it has flowers already.

-- beautiful photographs and easy-to-read information --

The book signing took place in the conservatory of the main house. What a beautiful room with large windows giving views of the terrace.

Mt. Cuba main house conservatory
Hallway with lovely Chinese prints on the walls
View from the house of Mt. Cuba's formal garden.

I encourage you to take a virtual tour of the botanical garden by clicking here. I look forward to returning at the end of April to see the wildflowers in bloom. 

Mt. Cuba is one of many public gardens within 100 miles of my home. We are fortunate to have so many, such as those in and around Philadelphia, just a few hours away. I visited a handful of them over the years, but my goal is to tour several new ones in 2017, as well as revisit old favorites -- especially  Longwood and Chanticleer.

My own garden was hit by an ice storm. I wish I could capture the bright sparkle of the shrubs behind the 'naked lady', as my grandchildren call her.

The ice and wind bowed my beloved white pine into the paddock. Upon closer inspection, we see the trunk is split. I think it is lost.

The snow and wind continue, but I'm content to relax by the fire with a cup of coffee and a wonderful new book.

Dreaming of springtime and wildflowers.
Pamela x

Don't forget the Great Backyard Bird Count

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Wednesday, February 1, 2017

What Worked and What Didn't In My 2016 Gardens

On this snowy day, I'm spending an enjoyable few hours browsing photographs of my 2016 gardens. I need to decide what to keep, what to change, and any new projects for the next garden year. I've consulted my journal, which is invaluable, to see where my gardens were and where they need to go, but photographs are even more helpful. As the idiom says, 'A picture is a thousand words.' Here's a partial list of what worked and what didn't:

1. Glorious April daffodils
The Daffodil Walk that takes visitors to the front porch was glorious. Unfortunately, by June it was a mess; the perennial geraniums I planted in each bed failed to hide the bedraggled, dying daffodil leaves. As a result, I probably cut the daffodil leaves back too soon, so I'll have a weaker crop next spring. I'm thinking of adding petunias. They wont be tall enough to hide the dying leaves but maybe their bright colors will detract from them. I grow petunias in window boxes but not in the ground. I was motivated by a blog posting written by my friend Karen who blogs at Quarry Garden Stained Glass. Her petunias are stunning every year as you will see if you click on the link here. I am going to follow Karen's advice, buy seed and give it a try.

The Daffodil Walk

2.  May Blossoms on the Weeping Cherry.
The weeping cherry I planted in honor/memory of my mother thickened out and bloomed beautifully last year. I need to do some judicial pruning before the end of March while the tree is dormant.

May blossoms on Snow fountain cherry Prunus x 'Snofozam'

3. The Cottage Garden in June
I believe June is my favorite month in my garden: roses, peonies, viburnum, mock orange all bloom profusely. (Compare the next photo taken in June with the first picture above taken today. This is why I enjoy browsing my albums at this time of year.) I'm not so fond of the downtime occurring end-of-June/beginning-of-July when less is blooming. At that point,  giant allium 'Globemaster' fill the void ... they always work.

Roses, peonies and alliums
Allium -- always a success

4. Fourth of July: Red, White and Blue Garden
I can't take much credit for the glorious July Fourth display in the Picket-fence Garden (my grandson calls this garden Strawberry Fields.) The delphiniums self-seeded to make the show work. I wonder what 2017 will bring to this spot.

Bee Balm Monarda 'Jacob Cline,' Larkspur Delphinium 'Bellamosum,' and Yarrow Achillea 'The Pearl.'

In the same bed the plant I thought was goat's beard began to give off a disgusting, rotten-meat odor. Research showed I had planted fleece flower not goat's beard. It had to go. I made changes in the fall that you can read about here.

Fleece flower Persicaria polymorpha -- STINKS.

5. The Shade Garden in July 
 In early summer, the Shade Garden came into its own with a mix of foliage plants of various greens and multiple textures. I loved my shade garden and named it Serenity. Notice the past tense. When we had to remove the very large, dangerous silver maple tree, the shade garden became bathed in sunlight while receiving minimal shade from the catalpa tree. Hostas scorched and ferns disappeared.

Early summer in the shade garden before we removed the tree.
Some of these foliage plants were trampled by the workmen and others were sun-damaged
The silver maple had shaded the southern end of the Shade Garden

I am thinking of relocating the hostas, ferns, brunnera and helebores from the southern end of the (former) shade garden and planting a moon garden with sun/part shade plants there. I've already planted a 'Pee Gee' hydrangea and I'm considering 'Summer Snowflake' viburnum, lambs ears, montauk daisy, snow in summer and allium 'Mount Everest.' In the fall I may plant some white crocuses. A moon garden would be tranquil and I could keep the name Serenity. It's exciting to plan a new garden, but I'm still feeling sick at losing shade.

6. The Kitchen Garden
The kitchen garden provided a steady supply of produce all summer and fall. There was a glut of cucumbers resulting in a cache of freezer pickles. Today there are several jars of pickled red beets in the jelly cupboard. We have pounds of onions still to be eaten. We left parsnips in the ground to enjoy when it thaws. This was a good year for herbs, too, in the garden trug on the patio. I will sow tried and true seed varieties again this year.

A productive kitchen garden

A part-failure in the kitchen garden was the sunflower -- I forget which variety. The blossoms were gorgeous, then each stem began to fall over. I thought it was caused by the weight of the sparrows eating the seeds. My dear friend Katharine told me she believed the damage was caused by a stem borer. Looking inside a stem, I found she was right. Thank you, Katharine. H.H. burned the plant and removed the soil from the raised box so the infestation doesn't remain over winter. I have yet to decide what I will plant there this year.

Beautiful sunflower blossoms; deadly stem borer
Sunflower Stem Borer (internet photo)

7. Container Plantings, August/September
 The five widow boxes along the tractor shed worked. I over-filled them with petunias that spilled over effectively. The petunias covered the bacoba, so I wont plant it next time.

Supertunia 'Bordeaux', Supertunia 'Flamingo', purple fountain grass, (bacoba hidden.)

The four containers of canna lilies on the patio were stunning. However, I'm not sure the tropical look is right for my cottage garden -- what do you think? The canna corms are over-wintering in the basement. What should I do this year? Any advice, dear friends?

8. Plant Markers
One of my favorite successes was the beautiful hand-painted plant markers my friends at Bryant Park made. I'll be purchasing more of them for my 2017 garden.

 9. Bulb Forcing in October/November
Amaryllis 'Picottee' is the last of the bulbs to bloom. Don't you love its delicate white petals edged in red? My amaryllis project was definitely a success. I'm going to try to keep them for next year.

Amaryllis Hippeastrum 'Ferrari'
Amaryllis 'Picotee' and Amaryllis 'Clown'

That's a brief summary of some of my year's successes and failures plus some ideas for my 2017 gardens. What changes are you planning for the new gardening season? Or, if you live in the Southern Hemisphere, what changes are you making now?

Pamela x

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