Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Almost-Dead Tree - Oh, How I Love Thee...

...let me count the ways!

In our neighbor's back yard, there lives an old shagbark hickory tree. It's so close to our yard, you might think the tree is ours, but it isn't. You also might wonder why it hasn't been cut down. In fact, our neighbor's wife had been begging her husband to cut it down for quite some time.

We were talking out in the yard one day when he mentioned this to me. I immediately said, "OH NO! Please don't cut it down!" While he was glad for an excuse to dismiss the task, he looked at me quizzically and said, "But why?"

The photo above is the tree, taken from its "good side".
But wait - is it really the good side?

I began to tell Tom about the things I'd witnessed concerning the almost-dead tree.  I've lost count of the number of times I watched and listened to downy and hairy woodpeckers rat-a-tat-tatting away on its bark, looking for insects within.  The nuthatches - both white-breasted and red-breasted - were looking, too.

Though the tree no longer produces fruit in the form of its edible nuts, the squirrels like to hide in its larger cavities, likely from its neighbor's cats. (Ours!)

I've seen many a bird take materials for nesting into those cavities and have heard the tiny chirps from baby birds within.

There are a couple of hiding places at ground level, too. Voles and mice have made their homes there, and while I can't vouch for how long they live once they've left the nest, it's proof that the tree provides a home for yet another living thing.

The open branches are a wonderful perch for the Baltimore Orioles that come here every spring. I've seen them singing to the heavens from there.

The tree was allowed to remain, and I thanked Tom for that, on behalf of the wildlife, but for myself, too. I selfishly love to watch the comings and goings at that almost-dead tree of his.

We are getting new neighbors at the end of next month. I have a feeling they'll want to take the tree down. Admittedly, it isn't very pretty. And I suppose it could eventually fall over onto the building near it or onto a person.  I'm prepared to see it go, but I hope it doesn't happen anytime soon.

There's a lot of life left in that tree, with more than its leaves to show for it.

A young robin sat preening himself in the almost-dead tree today.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Where Did September Go?

Romie and me, at the top of Clingman's Dome
September has been a busy month! That means it has simply flown right by without as many blog posts from me as usual. There was the Garden Writers Association Annual Symposium in Dallas that took up one week and we just returned last evening from a family vacation in The Great Smoky Mountains, after spending a week there.

View from Observation Deck at Clingman's Dome

Both weeks were incredible, though I'm beginning to get a little travel weary. This year has been one for the books, as far as travel is concerned! I can now say that no more trips are being planned for the rest of the year. (Planned, I said.)

I've got some catching up to do, as far as this blog is concerned, and I intend to get right at it.  I've got so many photos to share from Dallas, as well as from the Smokies trip. And...there is something else exciting going on here at Our Little Acre!

My dad and husband are in the process of constructing a conservatory that will be attached to the south side of our pool house. After thinking they'd hit solid rock at 30 inches when digging holes for the foundation, they discovered it was merely our wonderful clay, extremely dried out from the drought. They persevered and eventually made it down 36 inches, with the help of Jim Snyder and his power equipment!

The conservatory will be 10' by 12' when completed.

The drought has taken a toll on the garden as well, especially after an entire week without any supplemental watering from me. It will prove to be interesting, I think, when next spring gets here and we find out which plants have the wherewithall to survive winter after a summer like this one.

We came home to a very definite change in the weather, with it being much cooler and FINALLY, we got some rain today. No great amount - just a steady drizzle most of the afternoon and evening.  Hopefully, it will continue into tomorrow so that I won't have to do so much watering. Even the cats aren't bothered anymore by the water from the hose when I drag it around and use it; they're used to me having it in my hands and know I won't spray them.

We've noticed a slight change in the color of the leaves, but we don't expect the color to be very good this fall, due to the dry weather. Many of the trees have lost their leaves because of it and many of them have leaves that simply turned more brown than red or yellow.

In spite of it all, the garden lives on and I'm amazed at what has done well. This isn't the first dry summer we've ever had and I doubt it will be the last, so I will take note and love those plants that have hung in there!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - September 2010

Being The Queen of Procrastination carries with it much responsibility.  That never-ending chore of being late for everything can get wearisome for the people who wait on me. But someone's got to do it, right? This month, I've really outdone myself in being late for Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day. I may have accomplished this feat in the past, and if so, I must be perfecting my technique.
Yes, this is the actual color of the grass. No joke.

With the extreme dryness we've experienced in the last two months here at Our Little Acre, I began to wonder if any plants would be left standing by now, let alone be in bloom.  The grass is the color of wheat and leaves have begun to fall prematurely without turning their beautiful autumn hues.  The trees are losing them due to stress.

During a recent dig for a foundation, the ground was found to be bone dry at a depth of 36 inches. It was first thought, as the digging occurred, that they had hit rock. It was just our usual horrid clay with zero moisture content.

But life goes on, and incredibly, plants bloom...

What used to be known as Acidanthera bicolor is now been
renamed Gladiolus murielae. In any case, this late summer
bloomer emits the most lovely fragrance, especially in the
evening. It's commonly known as Peacock Orchid.

Hibiscus rosa-sinensis 'Sunshowers', which I overwinter
in the house every year. I purchased it in 2007.

Cosmos 'Rose Bon Bon'

This rare Short's goldenrod (Solidago shortii) is one I
received at the Cincinnati Zoo during the GWA Region III
meeting this spring. They're attempting to bring it back through
propagation and distribution. It's doing fine in my garden!

Everywhere I look, the bumblebees are sleepily gathering
nectar, then promptly settling down for a nap right in the
middle of the flower. Here, a bumblebee has chosen
Gaillardia 'Oranges & Lemons' for a bed. You can see the
effects of too little water in the incomplete bloom.

Globe thistle (Echinops ritro) seems to be another
bumblebee (and spotted cucumber beetle) favorite.
This is an unexpected rebloom.

I'm so happy to have found a delphinium that performs like a
champ in my garden. After trying several species and cultivars,
this Delphinium x elata 'Magic Fountain Series' returns each
year and blooms twice during the summer.

Cosmos bipinnatus 'Picotee'

I planted these Colchicum 'Water Lily' corms last September 
and they bloomed bigger and better this year. I want MORE!

This sweet autumn clematis (Clematis terniflora) is really
much too much for the small trellis it's on, but I cut it back all
summer long and it produces this fountain of bloom come fall.

A closer look at the sweet blooms on the clematis against the
backdrop of the corn field drenched in light from the setting sun.

Blooms on the Bougainvillea 'Imperial Garden' are
sporadic and elusive. I never know when I'm going to be
graced with their presence.

This sedum (Hylotelephium 'Herbstfreude'), also known
as 'Autumn Joy', is a huge favorite of the bumblebees and
other native large flies.
They're always here - it must have really good stuff!

The New England asters (Syphyotrichum novae-angliae)
are just beginning to put on a their usual flashy autumn show.
These are also known as the Michaelmas Daisy. signature plant. I adore toad lilies because they bloom
in full shade at a time when not much else is going on. Fall is
their season to shine! This one is Tricyrtis hirta 'Hatatogisa',
which apparently is the same as 'Seiryu'. It's simply been renamed.
Imagine that.

I've always liked Liriope, but I love the variegated version!

There are numerous other things blooming in the gardens now, and thank goodness. While I wouldn't want to wish summer away, I'll be happy when the consistently cool days of fall are in full swing. I imagine my gardens will be more comfortable, too.
Be sure to visit May Dreams Gardens, where you can find a big, long list of other gardeners that have blooms to show!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

A Week In Dallas

Goodness. Wednesday morning, I was sitting outside the Hyatt Regency in downtown Dallas, Texas, awaiting the car that would take me back to DFW and back to the home of cooler weather. The six days before that were filled with more fun than any one person should be allowed to have.

Hyatt Regency hotel on Reunion Boulevard in downtown Dallas
When Mom and I first considered flying to Dallas for the Garden Writers Association (GWA) annual symposium, costs had to be considered - airfare, hotel, symposium costs, among other incidentals. It wasn't cheap. But the return on investment was incalculable. We're both so glad we decided to bite the bullet and just do it.

First of all, there were so many people that I knew were going to be there that I'd wanted to meet for some time. Where else could I get to do that, all in one place, and get to spend quality time together with them, doing what we all love to do - visit gardens, talk about gardens, learn about gardening and garden writing, and party!

L-R: Susan Morrison, me, Rebecca Sweet, Jenny Peterson, Laura Schaub, Mom
I want to thank the event planners for doing an excellent job of incorporating so many fabulous elements into the symposium. I'm not sure I could ever do it justice in words or pictures. I took over 1000 photos over the course of six days and it will take me a long time to work my way through them. 1000 words can't possibly be enough to describe my thoughts, the ideas, nor the feelings I experienced as a result of spending time with so many wonderful, kind, smart, and charming people. But here is a brief glimpse of my experiences, in the form of a tag cloud:

pinky swear FLIP™ video camera!  free plants Eddie Deen's Ranch gourmet food beach ball pillows Angela's pink tutu crack-of-dawn breakfasts Billy Goodnick "I have a big idea" tweet-up Y'all first-timer's reception  podcasts average daily temperature of 95.7° Energizer bunny Shirley Bovshow rock star Jean Ann beautiful butterflies Channel 27 (!) box lunches Felder Rushing's truck social media Sprinkles cupcakes Corona garden tools foursquare a blue heron Beetnik Media the super-friendly GGWTV crew Dramm mini pruners Lindt Lindor Balls air-conditioned buses Cowboy Kirk crape myrtles an X in the street and the Sixth Floor Museum mirrored skyscrapers Karaoke night Monduel's creative packing Reunion Tower

I'll be editing the photos for inclusion in a photo album of the week in Dallas, and I'll post a link to it, so watch for that!

Yes, I'm exhausted, but it's a good tired.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The 4th of July Sunflower Project

This past July 4th, several gardeners on Twitter were lamenting the fact that they hadn't planted sunflowers yet this summer, and I was one of them.  After commiserating about our oversight, we decided we would plant them anyway and see what happened. What did we have to lose but a few seeds?

Never underestimate the power of Mother Nature to do her thing!  Those late-planted sunflower seeds have grown and are now blooming. They're short, but there's an advantage to being short.  No slouchy posture from these!

These were seeds I'd received as a free promotion from Natorp's Garden Stores at the Cincinnati Flower Show earlier this year. The seed packet had a coupon on the back of it, which I used, so I don't know which variety of sunflowers these are. (I'd emptied the seeds into a plastic bag for planting later.)

They don't have large flower heads, which may be normal for this variety, or it could be just another result of being planted late. I really don't know.  I could probably contact Natorp's and find out which type these are.

In any case, we're enjoying their beautiful sunny blooms and so are the insects - sometimes all of them at once!

A bumblebee, spotted cucumber beetle, and CabbageWhite butterfly
feast at the nectar table together.

The flower buds remind me of camera's aperture.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Seed GROW Project - September

About this time of the year, I want to chuck it all in the garden. Give up watering and tear out the uglies. We've had an especially hot and dry summer and even though it's cooled down in the last couple of days, the lack of rain has really taken its toll.  I've tried to keep things watered, just to help them make it through, but I can see that in spite of my best efforts, I will lose a few things.

The nasturtiums that we're growing as a part of the Seed GROW Project are hanging in there and I can honestly say hanging now! They finally grew to a length that officially means they've lived up to the title of "Climbing Nasturtium."

Because of the hot and dry weather - and in spite of my best watering efforts - the plants have had their lower leaves dry to a crisp.  However, they're still blooming at the top! 

I wonder what they'll do as autumn cools things down.  The rest of the garden will breathe a sigh of relief, if it's still breathing at all. The gardener will, too.

Planted (direct sow): April 18
First bloom: June 12
Days to bloom: 55

"I'm growing Nasturtium "Spitfire" for the GROW project.
Thanks to for the seeds."

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Case of the Wardian Case

When I was in college, my mom gave me a large fish bowl, planted as a terrarium. I don’t recall which plants were in it, but I still have the bowl and it’s now planted with some very nice artificial plants and sits on a table in our basement family room.

Growing plants in a bowl or any kind of enclosure is a look I like. So when I was visiting Longwood Gardens in 2006, while attending nearby GardenFair at Winterthur, and I spied a small Wardian case for sale in their gift shop, I didn’t hesitate in purchasing it. But there’s more to that story…

Mom and I were on one of our gardening adventures and while she had already been to Longwood Gardens when she attended the Philadelphia Flower Show a few years before, she wanted to go again and knew that I would want to see them, too. So before heading back home, we drove to Kennett Square, PA, to the gardens.

Our usual plan of action is to do a quick tour of the gift shop to see if there’s anything we can’t live without, and then tour the gardens. I saw the Wardian cases sitting on a table marked “Reduced.” There were five of them, but I only wanted one. The gift shop wasn’t busy and I asked the manager if I could buy one now and have him put it back for me while we toured the gardens. He convinced me to just wait to buy it before we left, since he’d not sold even one in a week.

We went on our way and spent a few hours walking through the beautiful grounds of the du Pont estate known as Longwood. When we returned to the gift shop to make our purchases, I walked over to the sale table and was shocked to see that all the Wardian cases were gone.

I walked over to the manager and asked if there really were none left and he told me that one person came in and bought them all. I just couldn’t believe it. Then one of the shopkeepers said, “I think there’s one in the back that’s got a broken glass pane in it. It’s not perfect, but maybe you’d want that one?” Of course, I wanted to see it, and when she brought it out and I saw the cracked pane was at the bottom of one side and not that conspicuous, AND she said, “You can have this one for $11,” I said, “Sold!”

These cases were used as table decorations in 2006, when Longwood Gardens celebrated the 100th anniversary of Pierre du Pont purchasing the property and turning it into the beautiful gardens there today. I’ve no idea how they had them planted for the dinner, but here’s what I’ve done with mine:

As I was walking through Lowe’s one day, I saw they had some small square plastic terrariums on sale for half-price - $7 each. I bought two. In each one was a beautiful jewel orchid, a fern, and an evergreen type of thing that I don’t recognize.

The Wardian case has a plastic liner in the bottom, where I placed a layer of potting medium. I then planted all the plants and filled in the gaps with more potting medium, then placed sphagnum moss as a top dressing because I like how it looks.

Just for fun, I added a couple of stones, put a turtle on top of one and placed a ladybug bulletin board tack near the base of one of the plants. It’s been planted for about eight months now and is doing well! I check the moisture level of the potting medium once a week and water if it needs it. If I can see a bit of moisture condensation on the inside of the case, I know it’s got plenty.

I did a little research and found that these Wardian cases are made by H. Potter Company, one of my favorite garden sites to visit. They’ve got beautiful garden accents and some of the most exquisite Wardian cases I’ve ever seen. Someday I’d like a larger one, but for now, I’m enjoying my tabletop version, which reminds me of a Victorian greenhouse.

Be sure to have a look at what else H. Potter has – I know you’ll find some things you’ll love, just like I did.

Shop Now!

H. Potter invited me to share this same story with them on their blog, which I was happy to do. You can read it here. Thank you for the opportunity!

I received no compensation from H. Potter for the writing of this blog post, nor for sharing the story with them, as published on their website. The links to the H. Potter site in this post may be affiliate links, however.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

A Tropical Goes Hardy

I don't know if Agapanthus is truly considered to be a tropical plant, but when you live in zone 5, it might as well be.  I've admired its indigo blue blooms for some time now and purchased the warm climate ones when Lowe's carried them one summer a few years ago.  I dug them each year in the fall and replanted them in the summer, then last year, they didn't do anything but sit in the ground. I forgot about them, then winter came know.

But it doesn't matter - not really - because two years ago, when my friend Marsha and I visited the Toledo Botanical Gardens that fall, they had some hardy agapanthus for sale.  When I see a plant like that tagged as hardy, I don't believe it until I do some checking on my own.  I questioned the manager in the nursery there and while he couldn't attest to it personally, he showed me in their plant catalog where it was listed as being hardy to zone 5. Since the price was right, I bought them.

They came up last spring and I had beautiful strappy foliage all summer, but no blooms. Hmmm...  Perhaps they were like some hydrangeas are - foliage hardy but not bloom hardy. Then this summer it happened. Flower stalks shot up and there were those beautiful blue blooms I fell in love with when I first saw Agapanthus.

I'm surprised at just how long the blooms last, too.  Several weeks after they first opened up, they still looked good.  I'm thrilled to have this perform as a perennial in my garden and I hope it multiplies in size as the years go by.  The more, the better!

*Disclaimer: I know in some zones and locations that Agapanthus are detested, much as 'Stella d'Oro' daylilies are here. But when you don't see them everywhere you go - heck, you don't really see them anywhere much here - they're exotic. Stop laughing in southern Cali...

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