Thursday, April 30, 2009

Visiting greenhouses and garden centers

and helping the local economy;)

I love visiting the greenhouses, garden centers and even the box store's garden sections. It's fun looking for new things and finding old favorites to bring home.

Yesterday afternoon I made the rounds. Starting at Menards, which is closest, I found a couple good buys. First a tiny hosta named Blue Mouse Ears. Who wouldn't love a plant named mouse ears? I haven't added a hosta to my garden in years because of the virus problem but I decided to put this little fellow in an isolated spot where it has no contact with my other hostas.

Next I found purple garden phlox, two for $3, can't beat that. Finishing up with a few annuals and I was off to my next stop.

Home Depot, their plant selection was disappointing but I did pick up a new pair of pruners. Pruners are more or less disposable items to me. I lose them. Last year John Deere found two of my pruning saws. What a mess. I haven't seen my bypass pruners in quite a while. Maybe John will find them too. I need to paint these new pruners 'dayglo' orange before I ever take them out of the house.

(In the box phlox, caladium, sweet potato vine, annual geranium 'Jewel')

Didier Greenhouse has been here since before I was born. It's always been my favorite and it never disappoints. They have both the usual and the unusual and their plants are in top condition. My best find at Didiers was Victoria salvia, huge pots blooming and extremely healthy. I set the pots out in my garden to judge their impact in several locations.

(Victoria salvia in big pots)

I haven't tried Victoria before but they look like they could become a favorite. Lots of you bloggers have mentioned them favorably on your sites.

Next I found some deliciously colored petunias for ever blooming accents in pots and between perennials. I passed the Lady in Red salvia which was a mistake. I will definitely go back for that one.

They had lots of tomato plants , even a few heirlooms so I added two Mortgage Lifters and a Rutgers.

Feeling very pleased with myself I loaded up the trunk and headed home. I have several other garden centers to visit but that will be another day.

Now comes the hard part. Except for the phlox and the hosta, none of these plants can be put into the garden or even into heavy containers until after the last frost date, May 15. That means constant watering and tending. I also foresee a lot of dragging them into and out of the garage on cold nights. It will be worth the extra effort to finally have some color even if it's only sitting in a box on the driveway;)

It's been a pretty good season for daffodils. The temperatures have been low and the rain plentiful. The plants below have kept their color for quite a long period but are starting to fade.

Most of the daffodil bulbs were added to the garden last fall. Next fall I hope to find a wider variety to include for next spring's bloom.

Monday, April 27, 2009

It was a soggy weekend here but the rain was much needed. None of my garden chores got done but I did have a wonderful time watching the birds. I saw some new ones and identified some migrants passing through on their way to Canada. More about them in a future post.

I snapped a few photos Friday evening before the rain began. I'm so pleased a few things are finally blooming here, it was a very long winter.

A drift of false rue anemones blooming at the feet of a lilac hedge.

Lovely Virginia Bluebells just opening.

Trillium showing off their pretty dappled foliage.

I was happy to see this feathered visitor. The Brown Thrasher is really more cinnamon than brown. This large, handsome bird spent the day moving leaf mulch looking for snails and insects. A welcome friend in anyones garden. ( Sorry for the poor quality photo. It was a really bad angle through a barn window, that's why it's so hazy. )

Some interesting facts. These birds are very shy but can sometimes be seen on farms and in hedgerows. They are excellent parents and defend their nests bravely. Thrashers are related to the Mocking Bird and mimic the songs of other birds repeating each note twice. In this area Brown Thrashers are summer visitors arriving just as the insects begin moving about in the spring.

NOTE: The first photo is of False Rue Anemone and not Wood Anemone as stated. False Rue Anemone Enemion biternatum is being over run with garlic mustard in most of it's natural habitats. Thank you Trout Birder for pointing that out on your site.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

We have short time to stay, as you, we have as short a spring. ~ Robert Herrick

(Narcissus Delibes)

And then my heart with pleasure fills
And dances with the daffodils.
~ William Wordsworth

We all know William Wordsworth's famous poem Daffodils, but did you know this and many of his poems had their source in the lovely writings of his younger sister Dorothy? This is her journal entry said to be the inspiration of the poem.

I never saw daffodils so beautiful they grew among the mossy stones about and about them, some rested their heads upon these stones as on a pillow for weariness and the rest tossed and reeled and danced and seemed as if they verily laughed with the wind that blew upon them over the lake, they looked so gay ever dancing ever changing.

(Narcissus - Double Fun)

One more interesting item in the early spring garden. No blooms yet but this hard working little foliage plant deserves some mention. Without a lot of notice it goes about its business of covering every inch of bare soil with soft, fuzzy silver leaves.

(Lamb's Ear Stachys Byzantina)

Thursday, April 16, 2009

War of the Roses

(Tamora, a David Austin Rose with May Night salvia)

Roses are so beautiful, who doesn't love them? Gardeners devote inordinate amounts of time and money feeding, watering and grooming them. Many people paint and spray their roses with everything from manure tea to napalm trying to combat the 1001 insects and diseases that plague them.

Now the forsythia are blooming. It's time. I suit up in my body armor, grab two pruners and the loppers and go bravely forth to prune the roses. This is my least favorite garden chore because it always involves blood and pain.

This year I escaped with minor wounds. Abe Darby managed to sink three wicked thorns into the top of my head as I bent to reach the base. Note to self: Wear helmet. Even if I somehow escape blood loss while pruning, the roses will eventually win. They leave many vicious thorns behind on top of the soil just waiting for the gardener to pull a weed wearing only light weight summer gloves. Every one of those thorns will eventually find my fingers.

This year in my far northern climate, the rose canes had to be cut all the way back to the soil line. Even my Canadian roses lost most all of their cane to winter damage. They do bounce back amazingly well. By the end of May they will be about two feet tall and blooming. The thing that frustrates me most about growing roses in this hostile climate is that they will never reach any height. Wonderful ramblers and climbers that cover walls and roofs in the south will barely reach eight feet here before another harsh winter sets them back to ground zero.

A note to new gardeners: There are some heirloom roses that don't have thorns. Just wanted to mention that so you wouldn't decide all roses aren't worth the suffering they inflict. These heirlooms don't require toxic weapons to prevent disease and insects either.


My very first bloom of the 2009 season.

Just a common daffodil, nothing unusual. We've all seen a million of them on blogs since February when they began blooming in far southern gardens. This one is special to me because it means spring is finally here in northern Illinois. Before the grass is green, before the leaves cover the bare branches, here is the first spot of color in my garden.

Everyone have a wonderful weekend and enjoy whatever is blooming in your garden.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Dancing with the dogs

My sister called me Friday with a sad story. An acquaintance of hers had died and left Cloe, his German Shepherd homeless. A local shelter had the dog temporarily. Would I take her?

I certainly would have loved to. She is a handsome animal. I called the shelter and talked with them about her.

"How is she with cats?" was one of my first questions.

Long pause. "She is good with other dogs but aggressive toward cats," was the answer.

It wasn't meant to be. If I wasn't away all day every day, we could have worked through her problem with cats. With me gone so much, a large aggressive dog simply could not be trusted not to somehow hurt a kitty.

I called the shelter today and she has a home, I hope it's a good one.


While we're on the subject of dogs... This is a You Tube clip from the British talent search program, Britain's Got Talent. Dog Geek, this BC looks like your B all grown up.

See what wonderful dogs Border Collies can be when they are not bent on destruction. Really, if you have a Border Collie you must have an endless amount of time to devote to them. They just don't do well left to their own devices but they do amazingly well when they have a lot of supervision.

Enjoy the dance;)

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Cats rule and dogs drool

You might remember me, I'm Toby the Tabby. Today I'm blogging about our dog, Aggie. Spring is coming and with spring comes terrible thunderstorms. Thunder and gunshots are the two things that make Aggie go insane. When she goes nuts, she changes into a creature of super strength and no brains. The Woman is already getting worried wondering what crazy thing Aggie might do when the first big storm hits.

In my opinion, Aggie is usually a very dull dog. She won't play with cats, she's such a sissy. One little claw prick and you'd think we stabbed her with a sword. We can't even sleep on top of her because when we stretch and stick our claws into her she jumps up and runs. But to give her credit, she never eats our food. The Woman says 'no' and she won't touch it. Pretty silly dog, huh? I'd eat her food if she didn't inhale it in three seconds flat. Aggie never gets on the furniture, never chews things, and she comes like a streak when the Woman calls her. In fact she has lots of silly tricks she does for the Woman. All symptoms of the brainwashed obedience of dogs. Dogs are so needy they will do anything for a pat on the head. When the Woman tells us cats 'no' we pretend we don't understand.

When the storms come and the Woman is home, Aggie slinks around after her in a most cowardly manner but she does maintain some self control. On the other hand, when the Woman is gone Aggie changes from a dull dog to a demon creature. She jumps through windows, she broke through a screen door. One time during her storm-insanity she knocked over a TV trying to get under the table. She actually gnawed/dug her way through a chain link fence (not under but through). People don't believe that until we show them the hole she made by spreading the links of the fence--like the jaws-of-life. The Woman had to replace the weather stripping on the garage door because crazy dog ripped it off trying to dig between the door and the cement drive. The Woman is sure the idiot dog will jump out of the second floor window sooner or later. Personally, I don't think a fifteen foot fall would hurt her. She goes through glass with never a cut so why would a little dropoff do her any harm?

The Woman finally found a big cage with bars that Aggie cannot bend. Poor, silly dog will be spending her days in the cage. I heard the Woman telling her there will be no jumping through windows anymore. We cats cannot understand why sounds change our usually dull dog into a Tasmanian Devil determined to do herself harm. Guess it all comes down to the superior intelligence of cats.


Meanwhile, I've been busy conducting scientific studies. I'm trying to find the purpose for all the stuff the Woman has laying around the house. Taking things apart is the best way to figure them out.

The Woman doesn't understand my scientific interest. She has lots of stuff but she isn't interested in learning what things are made of. I can't believe she has a leather purse and shoes she's never even tasted. She is only somewhat smarter than the dog. So far I've determined that these two things are not edible.

Monday, April 6, 2009

An infrequent visitor

Saturday was a pleasant day with sunny skies and temperatures in the mid 50's. There was a lot of work to do in the garden but distractions kept pulling me away from cutting old flower stalks and replacing mulch.

This little guy visited me last spring on his way farther north. Of course I can't be sure it was the same bird but it's actually a reasonable guess to think my maple tree is a landmark he navigates for every year. I dropped my spade and ran for the camera. For the next hour we played ring around the maple tree. He was just a little shy making it a point to always be on the opposite side of the tree trunk from my camera.

This is a yellow bellied sapsucker. I know, it sounds like a name some cartoon characters use to trade insults. We don't see them often in this area, they just pass through on their way from Panama and Mexico to the forests of far northern US states and Canada. This little woodpecker is considered a keystone bird, one whose existence is vital for other birds in the community. Bats, squirrels, porcupines, and many types of birds including warblers, hummingbirds, nuthatches, and other woodpeckers are among the throngs that will eat sap made available by the sapsuckers. Most of these animals will also eat the many insects that are attracted to the sap as well.

It is thought that ruby-throats, and possibly rufous hummingbirds time their springtime arrival in Canada to coincide with peak sapsucker activity, and that the northern limit of their breeding ranges is determined by the presence of this woodpecker.

The male sapsucker is an idea family man. He selects the breeding territory, chooses the nest site, and does most of the nest cavity excavation. He also shares equally in the incubation of the developing eggs and nestlings (even taking the entire night shift) and does most of the nest cleaning. He actually does the lion’s share of feeding the young. In fact, males are more apt to succeed at single parenting. If one parent dies while young are in the nest, the young are more likely to survive to fledging if raised by the father.

I've read that during migration they seldom stay in any area longer than 48-hours which is a good thing for my poor trees. In reality the holes they drill won't hurt a mature, healthy tree.

Later in the fall when the sapsuckers migrate south again the males and females are very modern. They take separate vacations, the females traveling farther south.


After my visit with the woodpecker it was time to put away the tools and go inside to watch the Santa Anita Derby. I'm the worst when it comes to picking winners. I always go for the handsome ones and ignore their track records. It was a slow race but the finish was exciting when four horses made a strong run for the wire. My number 3 pick, Pioneer of the Nile, won and my number 1 pick finished dead last;)

(Photo from the Los Angeles Times. Click on the photo for the story.)

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Ecologist of the year

Tuesday evening we attended the Sinnissippi Audubon annual meeting and banquet. This year my father received an award for his lifetime contributions to numerous ecological organizations. No one has worked more tirelessly to preserve natural places and bring a harmony between people, birds and wildlife. I'm so proud of all the achievements he's made and he stands as a example to everyone. One person can make a difference.

My Dad is 86 and blind now. Up until a few years ago he was active in many wildlife organizations, the Ornithological Society, the National Land Institute wetland restoration projects, river clean up projects, and was a frequent lecturer on creating habitat for birds, butterflies, and wildlife. He helped a lot of homeowners build safe havens in their own backyards where nature could coexist peacefully with people.

Well done, Dad.

Another keen observer of nature was Robert Frost. His poems about simple, rural life in America have always touched my heart. The following poem is one of my favorites and beautifully describes spring in the northern United States.

Two Tramps in Mud Time

The sun was warm but the wind was chill.
You know how it is with an April day
When the sun is out and the wind is still,
You're one month on in the middle of May.
But if you so much as dare to speak,
A cloud comes over the sunlit arch,
A wind comes off a frozen peak,
And you're two months back in the middle of March.

A bluebird comes tenderly up to alight
And turns to the wind to unruffle a plume,
His song so pitched as not to excite
A single flower as yet to bloom.
It is snowing a flake; and he half knew
Winter was only playing possum.
Except in color he isn't blue,
But he wouldn't advise a thing to blossom.

The water for which we may have to look
In summertime with a witching wand,
In every wheelrut's now a brook,
In every print of a hoof a pond.
Be glad of water, but don't forget
The lurking frost in the earth beneath
That will steal forth after the sun is set
And show on the water its crystal teeth.