Interesting Times

Interesting Times

May you live in interesting times seems to stick in what remains of my mind. I had understood it to be an ancient Chinese curse, but recently read it was neither Chinese nor ancient, but Western in origin. Where ever it originated, it sure seems to describe the last couple of years in my gardens.

A mature red elm located in the lower center of my hillside garden leafed out in spring as usual and then died. This important tree provided shade for a large portion of my garden. By late summer of the first year many of the existing shrubs and perennials were under stress due to the sudden shift from shade to sun. I made the decision to leave the dead tree as a woodpeckers breakfast nook, using climbing hydrangea as a decoration. By the end of the first year major limbs were ripped out by winds to fall upon my plants and break sections out of a smaller tree nearby.  This major limb removal hit twice and then the tree itself fell from root wad. I considered myself lucky for the tree fell upon a path and not upon the garden.

The upper level of my garden had, (notice the past tense) a tall hedge of trees and shrubs reached up into the power lines providing heavy shade for over 150 feet of my garden. Last fall every tree and shrub was removed to the soil line. In early spring I scrambled to erect a board fence and began transplanting trees and shrubs, but one cannot transplant instant maturity into a garden. It will be many years before shade returns to that section of my gardens. Adding insult to injury our record heat and drought almost instantly turned my perennials into crispy dormant/dead.

In the very center, the heart, of my garden stand 3 mature trees. An ancient eastern cedar, a wild cherry and mature walnut. One third of the cedar was sliced by lightening and now lays across the upper level of my garden. As the cedar was damaged a major section took a large limb of the  walnut. Wind drove limbs from the cherry tree, along with another large limb from the walnut into a conifer at the bottom front of my garden. That mess has not been cleaned up and notes are being made salvaging the situation.

On the western side of my garden a mature hybrid horse chestnut I transplanted when I first began gardening gave up the ghost and no longer provides shade from afternoon sun. Among the first conifers I transplanted a mature blue Alberta spruce looks like last years Christmas tree.

It would seem I stand in the midst of another old proverb. Now that I  have arrived in interesting times, I must remember it is the willow that bends with the winds and does not break.

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Garden Lessons Learned Under Stress

Garden Lessons Learned Under Stress

I am observing both myself and my gardens as we deal with these record high temperatures with no rain. Both of us are under stress and the stress is related. We are both dealing with the effects of the drought and how to handle the stress. However, we have different options in seeking solutions.

Most of the stress I experience related to my gardens is eighty percent psychological, twenty percent physical. I am concerned with the health, wellbeing and appearance of my gardens so that pushes on me to do something. When and just how much of the do is optional. I can work early mornings, perhaps late afternoons, or early evenings moving hoses and sprinklers. When it gets too hot for my comfort level, I can come inside to air conditioning and a cold drink, perhaps catch up on some office work. Maybe even take a nap. The plants in my gardens are not mobile in the same sense as I, so they stand there and take what is dealt, day in and day out. And, of course, some plants do not, cannot, take the heat.

I am watching the ones that are holding up well under the heat and drought with minimal watering, the ones looking good in foliage and/or bloom. A pattern seems to be emerging for some winning this beauty pageant. The foliage and blooms coming from bulbs, tubers and corms, large rhizomes are prominent, All Arisaema are looking good, including the ones that emerged early and are now going into seed production. Some of their relatives from the Arum family are providing great rich-green exotic foliage from tubers. The Lilium bulbs are in flower and continue to come into bloom. Corms such as Cyclamen purpurascens are in full bloom under root competition as well as drought and heat and will still be in bloom come October. Favorite rhizomes are almost any Polygonatum, or Solomons Seal, especially the variegated. They are all using today what they stored up last year, so they only need minimal attention.

So, guess what I will be adding to my garden this fall? It is only logical (as Spock would say) to expect these weather patterns to continue. If this heat and drought does not continue in the years to come, then I am selecting tough plants requiring little attention from me. Adding more tubers, rhizomes, bulbs and corms, I am taking stress off my myself and my gardens.

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Focus on Photos

Sometimes life gets downright spooky. Over a year ago I had made a decision to purchase a new camera system. But, lots of reasons presented themselves on why I should procrastinate (other than my usual just put things off). The biggest reason not to make the move was learning a new system of camera and lenses. After all, todays cameras are more computer than camera. There was also the cost factor, for one of the lens I use most, cost as much as the entire system. My system I had been using for some years was still taking good photos.

Over the past year I kept receiving little signs in photography magazines, Sunday supplements in the newspaper and internet. The same camera system kept bobbing up like a floater on a fish line. Canon Rebel T3i. Then came the final sign. The camera was sitting at the top of the tripod with my heaviest lens attached when it was accidentally knocked over with a loud bang on the hardwood floor. The camera body suffered a concussion it could not recover from. The minor gods had spoken and provided their final sign.

The cash was there, so there was no reason to put it off any longer. With the Canon Rebel T3i there were lots of geeky reasons to make the move, but mostly it was the new image stabilization lens. Even with a tripod I found myself getting more shaky over time. So, a lighter body, more compact, better balance. HD video thrown in, enough computer controls that I will never learn them all in my lifetime. But they are there as I learn, as I need them.

I am fully aware that it is not the camera that actually makes a good photo. Mostly it is the photographer. I have seen that one proven time and time again. However, there is a kind of confidence that comes with all that technical assistance.

Perhaps there is also damn, but it sure does feel good hanging around my neck.

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choices

Choices

Pick a category. Pick any product. Pick a concept. Just let it pop into you head. Then look around you. There it is! Not only the one you envisioned, whatever the vision, but several choices are available. Not only available, but promoted and pushed no matter where you go in your day. Right along with all the products you had not envisioned.

A Multitude

There is a multitude of choices presented on not just a minute-to-minute, but in second to second blocks, when you listen to the radio while traveling. All flowing by right along with the huge sign boards lining the highways. When you arrive home the choices are on TV. Turn on the computer and there is a flood of choices you were aware of because you did a search earlier and you now have a cookie on your tail. There is no escaping all the choices that continually bombard us during a 24 hour period.

Way of Life

All that continual promoting and pushing to catch our attention throughout the day has pretty much become background noise to our lives. While we may think we are tuning it out, that is not completely true. If a visual or sound catches the corner of our vision or hearing, and is repeated often enough, we will remember and react. Perhaps not even on a fully conscious level.

You are worth Money

You must be worth a lot of money for companies spend millions on research and development, advertising to get your attention, then have you react so you will make a purchase of their product. But, don’t let that perceived value go to your head. You may be of value to yourself and your ego, but it is the dollars you carry they seek.

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Birdhouse Care

Birdhouse Care

Spring Cleaning

Raccoon damage to birdhouse. She was looking for eggs or young

I realize there are better times to clean birdhouses, but like most homeowners and gardeners I do what I can when I remember to do it. The wisdom on bird house cleaning seems to be after each family raises its young and they all leave the nest. If your remember to inspect each house for vacancy and then clean, then you are a far more attentive birder than I.

Store and Supplies

My reminder to clean birdhouses here is to watch for sales at department stores for spring cleaning supplies. When I see all the brand names of bleach, window cleaners, disinfector sprays,and paper towels, I know it is time to go into action. Hopefully this will happen before the local bird population begins to have sex on the brain.

Diseases

Why clean the houses? Simple answer is more birds are attracted to clean, empty houses than ones filled with last years nests. We all want to see more birds using the houses we put up for their use and our enjoyment. Also, but cleaning the houses we prevent pests and diseases. A good cleaning usually removes any mice that may have moved in over winter along with insects. Bacteria can breed in the house long with fungus, and feather mites are deadly to the young hatchlings.

Cleaning

First up I recommend a pair of gloves and a trash bag for the debris. Take down the house, open and remove all loose nest material into the trash bag for disposal. Any crusted material can be scraped into the bag. I use a spray bottle of bleach and water mix (1 part bleach, 10 parts water) to thoroughly spray inside every nook and cranny of the house. Set the house in the sun to dry and later return to put the house back up for occupancy.

Slumlords

Dont risk your birds walking your driveway with picket signs saying Slum Lord! Below Standard Housing. Unfair to Birds. And that is a lot for them to carry on a sign. Remove any houses that have seen their day and usefulness. If pests such as raccoons have accessed the nest box, then perhaps a higher mounting would  be best for protection of the eggs and young. If the wrong birds are using the box, perhaps a move before nesting begins would be in order. To be an equal housing landlord you need to have the right housing in the right locations.

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Bloom Where You Are

Bloom Where You Are

It is the last few days of July and my gardens have been under stress from heat and drought since the last week of May. That is a long time experiencing consistent record high temperatures topped off by little or no rainfall. Mornings and evenings have been spent dragging hoses and sprinklers from one section to the next attempting to keep plants from dying. Some things simply gave up and went dormant early. There is success keeping plants from passing away on me, but they sure look ragged around the edges.

I did my part to help all I could, and the garden has responded as best it can. After all, my gardens have no choice but to bloom where they are, as best they can. Two plants, of exceptional note, are in full bloom in spite of drought, record high temperatures, and it being late July when blooms can be a bit scarce in a woodland garden.

Hymenocallis occidentalis, or Spider Lily, is my favorite native lily bulb. It behaves much like the resurrection lily, or naked lady, in that long strap-like foliage has pretty much disappeared by mid-July. Then a nude scape rapidly rises from the soil topped with large pristine-white blooms. Long narrow petals are connected with what appears to be spider webbing at their base, thus the common name. This lily reaches about two feet in height. In nature, spider lily is found along stream banks and seepage. I have grown spider lily in my garden for 12 years or more and can relate that extra moisture is not a demand. While it may prefer a moist spot, it will do just fine with compost and mulch. Mine is located in the root system of a conifer.

Lilium specisoum rubrum, Red Showy Lily, is not only attractive to me, it is also a butterfly magnet. Stout stems reach about 4 feet in height. Blooms are crimson-rose with white edged petals. Over the crimson are rough spots of magenta, contrasted by the pinkish-white centers. A true show stopper especially under present gardening conditions. Plenty of light is required for good flower production. Too much shade and they will lean toward the source of most light.

Just looking at these two lilies in bloom makes me feel better about all the time and effort spent gardening in spite of less than perfect weather.

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Change

Change

There is good change and there is “bad” change. Either way, change usually requires a bit of an effort, for one must change how they think as well. Changing the how of our thinking can be more difficult than actually making a change.

Intentional Change

One would think we gardeners would be the worlds’ best at change. After all, we seek to change our gardens almost daily. We intentionally set out to change our gardens and our view. We are always adding, taking away, nipping and tucking, digging and transplanting.

Unintentional Change

Then there is nature and the changes it brings to our gardens without our prior approval. Plants die from lack of rain, or too much rain. It can be too hot or too cold. A beautiful plant and much-desired plant turns into a thug and strangles its lovely little neighbor. These are the changes that are “bad” for they destroy our illusion of control, forcing us react to change.

Change Comes Calling

Change came calling to my gardens this year as it does to all gardens. But, when it happens to me and mine it feels different.

Dying Tree

A native species clematis

Being a shade gardener, when a shrub or tree dies, it is a threat to the very nature of the way I garden. This year I had one of three dogwoods I transplanted 20 years ago die after leafing out. It provided a canopy for perennials and shrubs as well as a major focal point. The shade is sorely missed.

But, I am trying to see it as an opportunity. I have transplanted 2 clematis to scramble up into the dead limbs, adding bloom and foliage. Now that I do not have to be concerned with its root system, more perennials can find a home along a path. Space opened up for a new shrub. I wanted some new space to work in Primula, Heuchera and ferns.

Fall Blooming Anemone

For some years my Fall Blooming Anemone in 4 different locations have had the foliage completely stripped by blister beetles. I have sprayed in the past, but gave up for they just keep on coming back. The plants do go on to bloom, but lacking leaves. New foliage does form just in time to get hit by fall frosts. I am giving up on them, digging them out and replacing with blooming shrubs. Another opportunity to do research and visit garden centers.

Limb fell in yard

In the last storm wind and rain caused a large limb to fall on the lawn. Close inspection showed the limb was hollow and had several holes made by birds. Saved me the trouble of climbing the tree and cutting out the limb. Turns out it was a piece of a puzzle. The piece that fit perfectly along the edge of a path lined by flat stones where rains were washing soil where I walked. I dug a shallow trench and dropped the limb in among existing perennials and ferns.

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Conference group meeting

Conference group meeting

A conference is defined as a meeting for the interchange of views. Symposium is a conference where various speakers discuss a particular topic. Meeting is a coming together. At one time it was understood that conference, symposium, and meeting meant a physical presence at a particular date, place and time. Today, of course, there are ways too numerous to mention on how to meet without ever leaving ones home physically. Many avenues exist to collectively meet in the digital world. And, if you cannot meet digitally by coming together at a date and time then I can stream live to individuals who want to listen, watch. I used emphasis on the word live as an indicator that I am scratching my head on this term. Think about it for a few seconds. How can I be live all over the world whenever you get around to listening/watching my talk?

I am aware that not everyone can travel at the same time to physically be present at an event. Schedules in life, the cost of travel and admittance, are a few more reasons to prevent attendance. So, some who really want to attend will not be able to be there when the first speaker steps up to the podium. There, you say, is where virtual reality, live streaming, enters the picture. There, I say, is where a point is missed.

As convenient, as inclusive, as live steaming can be, it does not replace face-to-face reality. When traveling to give a presentation, I am not exactly thrilled to be on the road, or sleeping in a motel room, no matter how great. But, once I get there all the inconveniences are forgiven and forgotten. There is nothing like the experience of a crowd of gardeners in one room.

Rhetorical questions: Can you handshake a fellow gardener you have not seen in 5 years finding how pleasing it is to see that person once more? Can you be warmly pleased to have gardeners give you a hug and very large, warm, smile? You could ask me question while I am on live streaming and I could answer them. But, could you stop me at the refreshment table and ask your question with your hand on my arm? There is no replacement for standing inside the 3 foot circle with another gardener and trying to chat over the background noise of 175 other gardeners talking at the same time. Can you go out to dinner after the event with special gardening friends you do not get to see often?

Digital conferences are great tools to augment, but certainly not replace, the reality of physically being there.

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Receipt

 Receipt

When the box arrives there is a second form of anticipation I call the Christmas rush… the rush of feelings of anticipation while carefully cutting the box open to see the new arrivals. Gently unwrapping each roll of paper to see the condition and health, the size, of the new prize. Standing the containers up and arranging the new perennials on a table to be admired, and have one’s feeling of anticipation relieved. They arrived, they are safe, and they are mine.

Next an afternoon to give each arrival a permanent home in the garden, hopefully matching the conceived arrangement. Safely in their new bed, a blanket of mulch is pulled over them while they sleep off the stress of travel and transplant.

Rewards

The third form of anticipation is the quiet and long-suffering wait until next spring arrives and green noses begin to pop through the blanket of mulch. I know I will begin my pacing paths in the garden come late winter, not able to wait until spring, watching to see my labors and anticipation rewarded.

Finally the Plants

This fall my mind’s eye has a vignette of 1 2