Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Spring-like winter storms and another look back

Yesterday was like heaven on earth. 70 degrees, light breeze, bright sunshine dimming to a more gentle milky light in the afternoon so it didn't get too hot. Today was still very warm but even early in the day the threat of storms pushing our way was evident, with a lot of wind and clouds. The horses kept spooking at imaginary things. As they do every year the chorus frogs have set up camp in the low area below the paddock and when I step outside onto the back porch their song is almost deafening. It almost sounds as though they've taken over the paddock too. lol Tommy, who hates thunderstorms, wanted in at 12:30 pm even though the main line of storms still isn't here at 11:30 pm.

Prince had a re-check ultrasound on the 12th and the injured tendons are healing, with good alignment of the fibers. Check ligament looked enlarged though, (probably as a result of the secondary injury at the end of November) but with no tears. The horses are still up behind the house full time. I hand walk them twice a day whenever the weather allows. Prince is up to 20 minutes per session now, to the creek and back, so 2 miles total per day. The slough near the creek has filled back up and we've seen wood ducks a few times.

I haven't seen the turkeys since I last posted about them. I think they moved on after the coyotes showed up. At least the coyotes were only here about a month. At that time I saw a covey of about three dozen bobwhite quail too, and then none until today. They were at the edge of the woods ~ there's a place where I stash old Bidens stems and they were in that "trash" pile. They flew up in all different directions into the woods. There looked to be roughly a dozen. I think their groups are fluid and fracture and come back together often. When I've flushed them (always by walking right by, not knowing they were there until they took off) they often call to locate each other as their escape flight is scattershot and they end up all over the place.

On the other hand, I see one of the Red-shouldered Hawks every day. They hunt from the neighbor's fence or persimmon tree, or our apple trees, or at the edge of the woods, or from our pasture fences. They've become so used to us now that they don't fly off unless we get close. For the past two years they've nested within view of the house.

I haven't cleared many of the old Bidens stems in the gardens yet, except where I've planted bulbs, because as I've said before the birds love them so much. Song Sparrows, White-Throated Sparrows, Chipping Sparrows, Field Sparrows, Goldfinches, Cardinals, Dark-Eyed Juncos, Carolina Wrens, Hermit Thrushes, and Yellow-Rumped Warblers are always foraging in these areas or using them for cover. I will have to start tackling them at some point though, as they aren't going to magically go away when spring gets here.

While the garden is still withered and brown, here is another set of pictures of the garden next to the house, this time in 2011 and 2012. The majority of woody plants in this part of the garden are roses and in May they put on a good show.

Most are rugosas, not by plan, but by survival of the fittest and most rambunctious. Of the rugosas only Hansa was purchased for this part of the garden. I bought two 'Foxi Pavement' in 2004 and put them in the big perennial bed, and when they started suckering I dug up division and brought it up here. All of the ruguosa albas and rubras were grown from seed.

'Foxi Pavement' looking toward paddock, 2011. R. rugosa rubra is on the right.'Renae' is on the horse shelter in the background.

'Sir Thomas Lipton', a hybrid of the polyantha 'Clotilde Soupert' and Rugosa alba, grown from a cutting. The original was a rose I bought for my MIL for her birthday or Mother's Day and I figured she wouldn't mind sharing. ;)


Sadly, this possible-'Madame Ernest Calvat' was eaten by the bee balm. I say possible because the tag didn't match the rose at all and MEC is a guess.

'Archduke Charles' has been moved to a spot west of the front lawn, where I hope its absence of foliage in the summer won't be as noticeable. It doesn't get much blackspot, but like 'Cl. Old Blush' some sort of caterpillar eats its leaves from June through August.

Rugosas may be dominant here, but there are a few others that have done well here too, such as the purple China/gallica nicknamed "Delia's Purple" pictured below. I'd like to have a bed with just purple roses but I have enough roses already. Still doesn't mean I can't covet more though. ;) Vintage Gardens in California has an amazing collection of purple old garden roses and if they stay open I may order some of those. The NC Botanical Garden has a beautiful purple no-name China/gallica in the medicinal plant section that has flowers that are even more of a true blue purple (rather than the pink/wine highlights of Delia's Purple), a sweet spicy scent and a more wispy stoloniferous habit than my passalong. After seeing the rose in Chapel Hill in full bloom for the first time I was strongly tempted to order more, in the hopes of getting something like that one.

Delia's Purple cons: she gets large, doesn't have any extremely high bud count, and is once-blooming. Pros: she's purple, fragrant, and mostly thornless. Pros way outweigh cons.

Clockwise from top left, Delia's Purple, 'Foxi Pavement, delightful pink sorrel, and that I got in a trade.

Clematis 'CF Young' with the rose 'Aloha'.

'Aloha' is the only hybrid tea I have, and was obtained as a rooted cutting in a trade, just like Delia's Purple. I've tried some of the old tried and true hybrid teas like 'Radiance' roses and they died almost immediately. 'Aloha' has done very well. Probably because of its climber genes. One of its parents is 'New Dawn', which explains everything. From what I've seen in real life and read about 'New Dawn', owners spend time hacking this rose back, not coaxing it along. I've had 'Aloha' for about five years and it's a perfect balance of vigor and manners.

More later. I still have a lot of pictures left over!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

A real winter's day yesterday

This morning too. Everything is still covered in ice.

Central NC, like much of the country, is experiencing a spell of real winter weather this week. I am rejoicing in the cold because I am hoping it will kill the ticks, as they had become active again in the mild December and January temps. Obviously there were advantages to the relatively dry warm winter we had in 2011/2012 ~ nice footing, an overall easy winter, and in the spring, an unprecedented crop of figs and a magnificent display from the 'Climbing Old Blush' as it didn't experience any dieback. But, (and why is there always a but? Why can't we just have advantages without disadvantages??) the ticks over the spring and summer were horrendous. In every other year but last year the garden was a tick free zone. Ticks were only a problem in wild unmown places in May and perhaps June, and therefore easy to avoid, and then as the summer got dry and hot as it often does they'd die out completely. Not last year. It got hot all right ~ very very hot ~ but we had rain too, so the ticks kept on thriving, right through the first freeze. I rather like spiders and snakes but ticks ~ blech. At least none of us got any tick-borne illnesses. Yes, horses can get those too.

Now, everything is reassuringly frozen and yesterday sleezing rain was ticking down steadily. We had a beautiful sunny if cold week before today. Is there anything more beautiful than a sunny winter's day? No doubt part of the appeal is the contrast to the depth-of-despair gray doldrums of an overcast day in January, but when the sun comes out a magical transformation occurs. Light floods the world with beauty and makes it a masterpiece. Golden light fills the spaces between old stems and blades of grass and there is a dance of light and shadow in the air and on the ground. Difficult to photograph though. What I get on camera usually looks like overexposed patches of bare ground where I have cleared and a jungle of falling over brown stalks where I haven't.

I wouldn't be clearing anything at all but I want to start getting the daff bulbs into the ground.

I ordered 350 daffodil bulbs from Van Engelen last year, consisting of 'Curlew', 'Hillstar', 'Sweet Love' and 'Thalia'. I need something to help fill in under the bare knees of the baptisia when they bloom, and it needs to be ephemeral since 'Purple Smoke' in particular casts such deep shade.

Northern river oats near the creek

Typical of NC, temps will be back up to 70 by Tuesday and Wednesday. Currently the sun is back out and ice is falling like rain.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

A Look Back

Lately in the evenings I have been going through my old garden photos, not just this year's, but photos from previous years as well. I have a big backlog of pictures from the last two years that hadn't been weeded through. It's been rather cheery to look back at the garden during growing season. The daylilies especially look so sunny and colorful on days that are damp and gray.

All of the pictures below are from 2010.

From mid-April, 2010. The garden between the house and the drive was so much smaller then! Monarda 'Raspberry Wine'and rugosa roses have taken over the area where the iris was then and stand a good 6' high in the middle of summer.

Early May, 2010. The white rose to the right is the tiny princess 'Clotilde Soupert', whose flowers are packed with petals and fragrance, and the rose peeking out from the left is 'Hansa'.

'Blush Noisette' has now been moved to a spot on the far side of the front sidewalk.
In this location her long thorny canes were always reaching out to grab as one edged past.

Rugosa alba

This European wood anemone is gone now (voles?), but I really enjoyed it when it returned and bloomed for 3-4 years. I love anemones and they always remind me of the Sisters' Garden in Chapel Hill.

Monarda 'Raspberry Wine' just getting started.


2010 was a stellar day for daylilies. Then I did a butcher's job of dividing them too late in the fall of that year and some are still in the process of recovering.

'Ada May Musick'

'Ada May Musick', with 'Moonlight Masquerade' behind and 'Jedi Blue Note' in front.

'Lemon Berry Frost'. I even love the name.

'Lemon Berry Frost' and 'Ah Youth'

'Ah Youth'

'Lion in Winter'

H. citrina

Yellow daylily from a trade and probably my favorite yellow. Vigorous, elegant, and sweetly fragrant.

The daylily at the top is my favorite yellow (also pictured above), the bottom left is H. citrina, and the bottom right is not 'Hyperion' (although the picture makes it look a lot like it), but a very tall and very fragrant yellow that pales to a light butter yellow by the end of the day. I may still find the tag for that one.

'Smuggler's Gold'

'Lavender Deal'

clockwise from top left: commuter daylily (Hemerocallis citrina), mystery pink
daylily from Wayside, 'Tupac Amaru', and 'Lavender Deal'

'Lavender Stardust'

'Bleu Celeste'

Not sure of the parentage of this one, but I believe it may be a
'Strawberry Candy' seedling. The pink color is outstanding.

The daylily at the top right is an unnamed Bachman seedling. The
other pictures feature a lot of H. citrina and 'Bleu Celeste'.

I don't have many red daylilies, but I love them anyway even if they don't really fit into the overall "cool" palette of white/cream/lavender/blue/pink that I have here. I think the red can work out as exclamation points in a sea of other colors.

The warm burgundy of 'Chocolate Splash' doesn't really fit in either, so it's been moved elsewhere where its rich coloring can be set off by other hot-colored daylilies: 'Sparkling Orange', 'Spellbinder', 'Kwanso', and orange ditch lilies (H. fulva). It is a beautiful daylily, with petals like velvet.

Friday, January 11, 2013


Hay. Those three little letters add up to some complicated stuff. Especially horse quality hay. Difficult to make and difficult to store. It must be clean and dry, free of poisonous weeds or bugs or mold. If hay is baled while it's still damp mold grows inside the day. Even keeping moisture from getting to hay during storage can be a problem, especially in a humid climate.

We feed coastal bermudagrass because it's grown locally, affordable, and most importantly because it tends to have low sugar levels. Our pony is insulin resistant, a common problem among many ponies and horse breeds such as Arabians and Morgans. Our pony is half Shetland and half Arabian. Coastal is harvested from June to October and getting good coastal hay during the winter can be problematic. I've had to throw out hay every month of the year but by far the most during winter. Believe me, the hay not worth the mileage on the truck or the hassle of returning it to the feed store. I use it as mulch even if doesn't make a very pretty mulch. Along the driveway, around the trees up above the house, and on beds that are still developing.

The bed next to the neighbor's pasture in the spring of 2010.

At that time Bidens were the main thing growing at the front of the bed and I couldn't face weeding the entire bank (it's a looong bed), so I put down hay on the bank to feed the roses and hardy ginger and Hubricht's Amsonia seedlings there. Mirrors the broomsedge in the neighbor's pasture nicely, don't you think? ;) Until the Bidens start getting height, which may be May, June, July or August, depending on rainfall and temperature in a particular year, I mow high with the tractor, or, if I'm feeling particularly masochistic, weed by hand. I tried to add various perennials to the Bidens over the past few years, but in a hot dry year that place is surprisingly brutal. So far only a clump of Joe Pye, a Swamp sunflower, and a couple of seashore mallows have stuck. I've added a few swamp roses and they are sizing up nicely. I'm going to add more Amsonia seedlings next fall, and some wild blueberries. I'd love to add some winterberry too, but so far I've only managed to grow one plant from cuttings. I've had a remarkable lack of success propagating hollies of any sort from cuttings or seeds, be it American holly (Ilex opaca), winterberry (Ilex verticillata), or Possamhaw (Ilex decidua). It's a shame too because the wild winterberries are spectacular.

The bed beside the backyard paddock, April 2012. See the sleeping kitty?

The long bed beside the paddock is only about 3 years old and mostly planted with young Baptisia seedlings which are taking their own sweet time maturing. So I also mulch that bed with hay. Only two of the baptisias are of good size ~ 'Carolina Moonlight', shown above, and 'Twilite Prairie Blues' ~ and they were purchased as 2 or 3 gallon plants. 'TP Blues' has been very vigorous, this despite the machinery-compacted soil that results in the roots going down through the cut-out bottom of the pot (used to protect the baptisias from voles) and then sideways instead of continuing down as baptisia usually do. The ground underneath the soft mulch layer is still too hard.

Two big clumps of Verbena bonariensis and some Siberian iris provided some color to the bed along with the baptisias. Bidens later came up through that hay layer and filled the bed this year, thank goodness, because that really helped it out.

Two butterfly bushes in a small bed by the back porch door are gone, so I added a couple of spare blue mist shrubs and mulched with hay to encourage the catmint to grow more. If the blue mist shrubs don't make it through the winter I need to come up with a sturdy woody plant on the small side that can cover the view of the hardpan underneath the back porch. As much as I love blue mist shrub it is a bit fragile. After the house was moved I tried a 'Victor Velidan' at the back of the house, a beautiful fragrant ivory tea rose that fried its first summer. That was sad, because tea roses are so beautiful here in winter. Anyway the cats enjoy napping in the sun on the hay. This fall I threw caution to the wind and planted some starts of showy pink primrose to the beds next to the back porch and beside the paddock as a ground cover. I really, really need something on the ground under the baptisias besides hay.

Last year we tried converting the front half of the bed beside the paddock to a tomato garden. The tomatoes were a major failure but we enjoyed Tommy's company while prepping the site.

I also put down hay to edge the beds and later regretted it because it really stuck out! I've resolved to put it on the compost pile and let it break down from now on.

Looking through flowers of Baptisia 'Twilite Prairie Blues'

Eventually we're going to have a lot of compost with the horses being in the paddock full time with Prince's injury.

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