Category Archives: Day-to-Day

Ephemerals and not-so-Ephemerals

By | Day-to-Day, My Garden | 2 Comments

Very early spring is a great time to go away on vacation, because everything is happening so slowly in the garden that you barely see anything from day to day, but when you come back, stuff has actually happened! (Stuff! Glorious stuff!)

There are plenty of buds on the shrubs (although the Redbud That Looked Sad is still iffy) but they’re the same buds that were there a month ago. (Although I think my little painted buckeye is coming back! Woohoo! It had a rough time transplanting and I was skeptical.) And a lot of plants in the garden haven’t really gone that dormant in the first place—late summer heat killed them back, but they put out another flush of leaves at ground level, most of which weathered the winter and our multiple snows just fine. The mountain mint in particular is goin’ hog-wild. (I have Pycnanthemum incana in my garden–I just found a source of virgianium, so I’m hopefully gonna give that a try this spring.)  The black-eyed susans and giant coneflower are also going nuts, the hyssops are all plugging away, and the spread of the bergamot assumes moderately terrifying proportions already.  There’s also something I’m hoping is the sundrops I planted there and not some random weed. (If it IS sundrops, it’s spreading like crazy…)

The real excitement, however, upon coming back from New Orleans was the stuff that had gone dormant, but which is now returning.  The one that I’m really jazzed about is the bloodroot—one lonely red tuber, looking like a small ugly sweet potato, which the squirrels promptly dug up and I promptly re-buried. It did not look encouraging at the time. But when I got back and nervously peered at the little nook I’d planted it in, I see the top of the ugly sweet potato and a swollen green node to one side that means either A) green sweet potato cancer or more likely B) it’s actually gonna flower! Woohoo!

My other favored spring ephemeral, the celandine poppy, has thrown out a spray of teeny little leaves, which is exciting. And the chives apparently decided that it was Grow Time and are now six inches tall (they hadn’t even poked their heads out when I left!) as has the spiderwort.

My prairie planting is pretty unimpressive—the narrow-leaf mountain mint overwintered and is spreading, but the grasses won’t break dormancy for a long while, and I fear the cup plant, which was supposed to be indestructible, may have destructed. The pale coneflower has a tiny spray of dark purply-green crumpled leaves and isn’t sure about this whole thing yet while the prairie winecup displays the determined optimism of a botanical Anne of Green Gables and is going to bloom even if everything around it is deader than dirt. But I was ecstatic to find that the rattlesnake master and a yucca-like relative, which I had thought was a total long-shot, have set rosettes of fleshy little green leaves, and are gonna return this year! Yuccas! Dude! Those are desert plants! But here they are! Madness!

Ahem. Sorry, spring gets me a little worked up. As you can tell.

By | Birds, Day-to-Day | 47 Comments

Photo by B. Walker, Wikimedia Commons

I woke up, showered, ambled into the studio and plopped down into the chair–and a red-shouldered hawk went by the window about five feet away.

Scared the hell out of me for about two seconds–those are not small birds! Fortunately when he turned to go into the woods, I got a good look at the barred tail and the back for ID purposes.  Still. That’ll wake you up in the morning…

The garden is suffering a bit of a scheduling crisis at the moment–we had a very long, hot summer, which lasted well into fall, and it sufficiently confused the denizens that my strawberries decided to start flowering again.  Poor sods. And the leaf changes are completely erratic–some of the red maples have gone totally red, while others ten feet away are still green. But hopefully it’ll all sort itself out and the perennials are doing what they’re supposed to do in our mild fall climate–sending down roots, getting what amounts to an extra growing season before the frost hits.

The signs are hopeful–a lot of plants which died back severely in August or when transplanted to the new bed are now regrowing from their roots, so there’s a lot of black stems poking out of green mounds.  The cup plant, which sent up one spindly stalk this year and was not terribly impressive–“Aggressive grower? What do you mean, aggressive? You call this aggressive?” said Ursula–has suddenly put out a dinner-plate sized mound of leaves at the base and looks like it will be muttering about requiring secure borders at any moment. The Texas tarragon, which smells lovely, has put out a clump of cheery flowers and the deciduous holly is covered in shockingly red berries, which seems to indicate that the male holly “Southern Gentleman” was able to close the deal (ahem, ahem.)

So the garden pretty much looks like it’ll probably look until we finally get a hard frost that whomps everything, and then it’ll be all sparrows and juncos cavorting through the dead stalks until spring. And possibly the occasional red-shouldered hawk coming along to snack on them.

Clearly fall…

By | Birds, Day-to-Day | No Comments

Yesterday was a painfully glorious day in the garden–sunny, temperate, enough of a breeze to make it pleasant. I spent hours outside, finishing up construction of the last bed, a small island inset in the sunny part of the lawn, which finishes the job of breaking the front yard into a meandering grassy path rather than an expanse of wasted space.

Today is cool and sporadically cloudy, so the yard is shifting between sun and shade every minute or two. I had to wear a jacket to sit out front and drink my morning coffee, which means, I think, that it is finally and irrevocably fall.

The signs have been there. Some leaves are falling, but leaves are so sporadic and frankly drab here that I usually go more by animal signs than vegetable ones–none of my maples have turned, but I’ve found a couple of woolly bear caterpillars, the goldfinches have molted to their drab winter coats and are now gone entirely, and the trio of hummingbirds that used to squabble over the yard are gone. (All of which were female. I couldn’t figure that out. Never saw a male ruby-throat take up residence. Kevin saw one visit, but apparently I was running a hummingbird sorority out here.)

October is the tail end of the hummingbird migration through North Carolina. I’ve caught one or two stragglers grabbing a quick snack on the red trumpets of the pineapple sage, but they’re generally gone the next day. My garden is a gas station, not a hotel.  It’s the same for the monarchs, who migrate south in September and October. One will come in, hang around for a day or two, filling up on nectar from the hyssop and the zinnias, then head off. A few days later, another one will show up. We’re not high traffic, but I feel good about the handful of individuals that come by–can’t do a damn thing about Mexican habitat loss or global warming or any of the big things that threaten monarchs, but at least I can give them a good meal before they head back out into the world.

I like fall. It has a lot of things that I love–apple cider and pomegranates in the grocery stores, temperatures low enough that I can open up the house and get some air moving to sweep out the funk of four months of air conditioning, half-price perennials that garden shops can’t move because they’re done blooming and look ugly as hell. Weather suitable for fingerless gloves and long-sleeved shirts and awesome socks. And maybe this’ll be the year I finally learn how to wear a scarf in a way that looks sexy and sophisticated and debonair and not like someone anticipating sub-zero weather.

But I do miss the hummingbirds.

Rags and Tatters

By | Day-to-Day, My Garden | One Comment

Another quick iPhone shot in the garden!

The garden is at arguably its least attractive phase at the moment. If I were a garden club sort of gardener, I could spruce it up significantly by getting out there and deadheading and pruning and perhaps plugging mums into the holes, but I’m a wildlife gardener, so it doesn’t happen. The black-eyed susans and the coneflower are withered black balls on dried stalks, but they bring in the goldfinches, the zinnias have become a leggy tangle crawling across the lawn, but they’re covered in tiger swallowtails and occasional monarchs, and the milkweed hosts an absurd riot of beetles, aphids, and assassin bugs, even though they’re pretty much just stems.

I swear to god, next year the swamp sunflowers get a plant cage to try and keep them in one mass, but the hummingbirds like it, despite its fallen form. I spotted a camouflaged looper on one, an inchworm that covers itself in flower petals or bits of leaf. Wouldn’t have ID’d it at all, but there was an article over at Wildlife Gardens that mentioned it, and I was delighted to find one the very next day.

I did do a little pruning–I’ve got no desire to see the blue vervain set seed, so I cut it back severely, and I cleared a couple of the densest tangles and discovered surprising treasures underneath–hey, look! Texas firecracker plant! I forgot I planted that, and here it is under the zinnias, trucking along despite the shade! And dude! The Texas ageratum is kickin’ ass under the goldenrod!–and hacked a bit more on The Silk Tree That Will Not Die. And I deadheaded the pink catmint, which is one of the seriously awesome plant finds I made at Niche Gardens this year–non-native, alas, but catmint is one of those fabulous uncomplaining plants that just sits there and produces nectar and toughs it out through any weather, and it’s welcome in any garden of mine. And the pink kind’ll take part shade. I can ask no more of a plant.

In another month, it may cool enough to finally get cracking on the big flowerbed installation that I have planned for this fall. (Hopefully by then, I will finally have finished re-painting the living room…)

Crawling back to life…

By | Day-to-Day, Insects, My Garden | 2 Comments

I appear to have pulled through the Martian Death Plague, thanks to a diet of tea and hot and sour soup.  I’m still running at maybe 80%, but that’s enough to get me up and in the garden and then to work on Ghostbreath rewrites. (I must be healthy. The state of household clutter is offending me, and Ben has decided I no longer need a 24-hour feline escort and he can go back to making sure no ninjas take over the bed.)

Common Buckeye on Zinnias

My trip to Da U.P. went well. My folks have a nifty little garden there, although the infinitely shorter growing season is telling–theirs looks like a garden, mine looks like a jungle. (Of course, some of that is planting thickness, too…) But they have a truly lovely and very arty garden, full of sculpture and monarch butterflies. I am envious.

Also, I saw a fisher. It looked like a black raccoon. I don’t think I’m gonna get one of those in the garden, regardless of how many native plants I put in, although my buddy Eve suggested a porcupine-on-a-stick feeder as a possible attractant.

Meanwhile, my garden kept on keepin’ on in my absence. I went out this morning for some watering and general poking around, and saw that the milkweed assassin bugs are mating and there’s another bizarre yellow-and-lumpy assassin bug on the vervain. (My yard is Assassin Central. It’s a good thing, but since the guides on-line inform me that the gardener is likely to see only one or two a year, I am bemused.)  Saw my first Common Buckeye flitting around, and there’s a spicebush swallowtail lurking on the back deck that I hope means caterpillars for my potted spicebush.  The milkweed has been eaten down by aphids, the pink turtlehead bloomed and was promptly chewed on by something, and my Tennessee coneflowers all died. That’ll teach me to get plants on clearance…

Generally, however, the garden is good–scruffy, overgrown, not at all tidy, starting to die back in places from the heat, but definitely alive and well.

Never let the weeds get higher than the garden…

By | Birds, Day-to-Day, Insects | 3 Comments

…as Tom Waits sang, and if you don’t own a copy of “Mule Variations” or at least the song “Get Behind The Mule” hie thee to iTunes at once.

It’s finally been cool enough these last few days to do some gardening. Saturday was a rough morning here in the House of Squash, so I did what grumpy gardeners have done since time immemorial–I stomped out to the garden and did some savage weeding.  The corner of the bed that had been taken over by bermudagrass and millet is once again safe for democracy, or at least lavender. Later cool days allowed me to finish the foundation planting at last.

Frankly, the garden’s less than spectacular at the moment—I am very fond of it, but in the manner of a parent who thinks their child is beautiful even when it has chicken pox and is screaming its head off. Everything went dormant in the heat and then we got two days of torrential rain, whereupon everything grew six inches and fell over. The swamp sunflowers are laying across the black-eyed susans, the zinnias are making a break across the lawn, and the whorled milkweed got eaten down by the woodchuck again.

I am keeping a list of plants that I need to stake next year. This list has grown long enough that it may require staking itself.

Photo by Cody Hough, college student and photographer in the Michgian area, from Wikimedia Commons

The wildlife, however, has no qualms about the untidiness of the garden and continue to visit. The sprawling mass of hummingbird mint supports no less than three hummingbirds, none of whom can stand the sight of each other. (And all female, oddly enough. Haven’t seen a single male.)  Orange hummingbird mint–a type of hyssop–is native to the Southwest and Mexico, so I plant it with a twinge of guilt–nectar is cheap! I should use natives!–but it’s absolutely hands down the best hummingbird plant I’ve ever found.  It also attracts snowberry clearwing moths, so I feel a little better about it, and it’s related to giant blue hyssop, which IS native, so…y’know.  (The hummingbirds can’t stand the clearwings either. Or large bees. Or butterflies. Or anything in their airspace. Hummingbirds are jerks.)

Okay, now I KNOW it’s hot…

By | Day-to-Day, Insects | No Comments

Generally in this kind of heat, the only thing out is the bugs. The lizards are all lurking on the undersides of the logs, the birds have vanished into the undergrowth (although some still occasionally visit the birdbaths–although they prefer the shady puddles in the driveway) the frogs are soaking beneath the opaque green water of their tiny pond…but the bugs keep going. The cicadas do their rising chattery drone, the dragonflies do their garden patrols, the butterflies cling, flapping, to flowerheads, and all the teeny little nameless insects that probably do most of the heavy ecological lifting buzz and hop and flit and generally keeping calm and carrying on.

But today I watched a dragonfly exhibiting an odd little behavior–it was splashing in my tiny sunken-pot frogpond. It would bounce in the air, up and down, dragging its tailtip through the water, splashing droplets around. It looked like a self-propelled yo-yo.

Some quick googling would indicate that dragonflies “dip” when they’re hot and trying to regulate their body temperature.  So…yes. It’s hot enough that even the bugs are hitting the pool to cool off.

Too. Dam. Hot.

Too bloody hot…

By | Day-to-Day | 4 Comments

There is stuff that needs to be done! My garden needs me! (Well, I delude myself that it does. Honestly, it doesn’t need that much from me to maintain itself, but I keep wanting to make it better.) There are beds to be laid out and edging to install and the rest of the foundation planting and…

It’s also in the mid-nineties with killing humidity and the weather forecasters are issuing pronouncements that involve words like “heat exhaustion” and “death” and “checking on your elderly relatives.”

So I get a smidge done in the morning before eleven. Earlier in the season, I could get a solid hour of puttering around in the garden done every morning. Now, what with the death and all, I can maybe do twenty minutes.  Which sucks, both because I love my garden and because that was my major exercise–the artist’s life is a sedentary one–and my doctor has been yelling at me about that lately.

I could be ready for fall soon. And by soon I mean “Hey, is it fall yet?”

Hot Out There…

By | Day-to-Day, My Garden | No Comments

Hot and muggy in the garden these last few days, which has limited my yard work. I managed to complete my hugulkulter bed on Saturday, thereby creating The World’s Ugliest Bed. (Seriously, it’s a bunch of branches with 300lbs of composted cow manure and an unspecified quantity of fill dirt from the frog pond heaped on top. There are branches sticking out of the edges and through the dirt. All my instincts tell me that there is no world in which this can possibly support life above the weed stage, but I plugged two raspberries and a serviceberry into it in the interests of science. I suspect they will either die immediately or grow twelve feet tall and eat the house.)

Spotted a widow skimmer dragonfly cruising the flowerbed. I cannot figure out where all these dragonflies are coming from–everything you read hammers home that they live near water, and the nearest pond/stream/whatever is, to my knowledge, several miles away. Even the usually soggy drainage area in our trees has turned to cracked mud in the heat. Yet the dragonflies keep appearing. Go figure.

Lowes is selling Tennessee coneflower, which is endangered in the wild, but propagated widely in the nursery trade. I had been holding off–if an endangered plant died in my yard, I would be wracked with guilt–but if they’re common enough to be sold en masse at Lowes…I bought four and plunked them into holes in the bed. We’ll see if any of them like it here.

Supposed to hit over a hundred degrees the next few days, so I’m not anticipating much yardwork beyond keeping the birdbaths filled and giving the occasional drink to some of the swamp plants and the new transplants.

Scarily Productive

By | Day-to-Day, Insects | One Comment

It is not yet noon and we have accomplished all kinds of stuff, including blueberry pancakes and nailing up a trellis for the Hairy Dutchman’s Pipe (which I would grow just for the name, I suspect, although the fact that it’s a fast-growing native vine that hosts the pipevine swallowtail doesn’t hurt.) The trellis did a lot to stabilize the railing on the back deck, which has gotten a trifle wobbly. If we were meticulous carpenters, we would disassemble the railing and re-nail it to be absolutely solid, but we’re actual humans, so y’know.

I also staked up the blue vervain, which had gotten distinctly fall-over-y. The vervain is a lot bigger than the stakes, though, so I kinda suspect that the first good rain that comes through will knock it down again, and I will come out to discover the vervain sulking sideways with uprooted bamboo stakes clinging valiantly to their stems.

This was too much productivity. I think I need to play video games for the next few hours to make sure I don’t sprain something.

The cup plant has finally flowered, though, as has the hyssop, and the black-eyed susans are juuuuust about to pop. So is the liatris and the pepperbush. There are even flowerbuds on the swamp milkweed and the various hibiscus (and the fact that I can grow forms of hibiscus directly in the garden still strikes me as demented.)  The zinnias are completely crazy. I am sold on zinnias. I will grow zinnias from seed forever. They are wonderfully absurd.

Photo by Christopher Jones, Wikimedia Commons

The caterpillars on the fennel vanished yesterday. I suspect some passing bird had a good nosh. (Ah, well…maybe next year I’ll put some in an aquarium and hatch ’em out by hand.) I suppose that still counts as “making a difference,” if slightly less romantically. There was a great crested flycatcher hanging out in the yard right before they vanished, so I have my suspicions, although the cardinals are also on the list.

There are woolly-bears out and about though, and damn, those things can MOVE! I saw one cruise by and thought it was some kind of mammal at first because it was bookin’ along at a speed one does not associate with caterpillars.

So a good day all around. And now to go play video games.