Saturday, February 21, 2015

Winter Flowers

I've been spending time this winter cutting down privet trees. They've been growing and seeding in at the wood's edge since we moved the house and I can't stand it anymore. I hate Chinese privet. There are about a dozen heaps of limbs with fruit piled up next to the woods.
I meant to burn the branches with the fruit but most of the berries will probably drop off before I get around to it. That's a good thing though. I can just toss most of the branches into the brush pile and burn a few sticks along with the fruit on the ground.

We've been putting a lot of mulch around the trees up top. The dirt up there is poor and those trees aren't growing very fast. We put hay on top of the mulch and I spread Bidens seeds to help hide some of all of that mulch come summer.

I planted a winter honeysuckle by the drive (one of several propagated from the one in the big bed) so that I could pass by it on my way to take up the trash and get the mail. The flowers are so sweet and lemony.
Most of the flowers look like they were finished off by the recent cold but the flower buds still look OK.

A couple of weeks ago we took a last minute day trip to Chapel Hill and finally visited Camellia Forest Nursery. We bought two camellias and two Japanese flowering apricots (Prunus mume). This even though I have several apricot seedlings in pots. lol It's going to be a while before those seedlings are ready to go into the ground though, if they survive. Deer or rabbits ate them almost down to the ground earlier this winter. I moved them up to the porch to salvage what was left. This week they've been in the house so they wouldn't freeze. We got sleet and freezing rain earlier this week (and were so thankful we didn't get enough freezing rain to lose power). It's supposed to get back above freezing today and the remaining ice should melt this weekend.

One of the camellias is 'Yume', a C. sasanqua 'Shishigashira' X C. yuhsienensis hybrid.

The other is Camellia sasanqua 'Mine-no-yuki'. Sasanquas are fall-blooming and typically fragrant. I have coveted this cultivar for years, after seeing it outside of the old Johnston County Ag Extension Building in Smithfield. It was covered in beautiful white fragrant flowers, growing next to a lovely pink sasanqua cultivar whose name escapes me now. The camellias were labelled, probably because so many people asked what they were. I planted it on the east side of the house after moving out all of the azaleas except for one Florida azalea and the coast azaleas from Sunlight Gardens. It was just too dry for them there. I moved them to the edge of the woods behind the house and paddock. Now the camellia's in the house since we expected a low of 5 degrees Thursday night. 0-5 degrees is about the limit of cold hardiness for C. sasanqua.

Prunus mume 'Usuiro Chirimen'

'Hokkai Bungo'. The nursery owner told us that everyone wants a red Prunus mume.

I love these new cultivars but I'm not sure I'll ever find one that I love more than the tree near the mailbox, grown from windfall fruit from the JC Raulston Arboretum. I gathered the fruit from underneath two old gorgeous unlabelled trees and my tree looks a lot like them. The fragrance is wonderful: cotton candy with warm overtones of clove and nutmeg. I've noticed that the fragrance of some cultivars like 'Peggy Clarke' goes a little "off" as the flowers age or gets frozen, but that's never the case with this one.

I grew other apricots from seed at the same time as the tree near the mailbox. One went into the big perennial bed and then died a few years later (borers?), and three went to my MIL.

One of her trees is small tree, with white flowers. From a distance the tree can appear sort of a dirty white because of the brown petals of the spent flowers, but up close it is glorious. The fragrance is similar to that of our new white tree, more perfume-y and less like spicy cotton candy.

The other two trees are almost like twins, and much like the tree I planted in the big bed, with cupped dark pink flowers. There was a 'Matsubara Red' at the Arboretum whose fruit I also gathered and so these are probably offspring of that tree. Like our new red apricot, the flowers smell like sweet cinnamon. They are bigger than both my tree and her white tree.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Raptors and Winter Flowers

Our resident red-shouldered hawks sometimes hunt for small birds feeding in the garden beds in front of the house. The activity of so many birds can be irresistible to them.

I saw a Cooper's hawk hunting on the farm earlier this winter, and the front gardens was one of its favorite places to hunt. It had rounded tail feathers, which is why I think it was a Cooper's. I got a good look as it flew up from the ground into one of the nearby trees as I led the horses by. It even began to preen. This one was about the size of a crow so it was probably a female. Usually when I see an accipiter of an ambiguous size -- larger than a blue jay (average size of a Sharp-shinned) but smaller than a crow (average size of a Cooper's) -- I have to settle for "either a female Sharp-shinned or a male Cooper's". Male raptors are often smaller than females and the size differences are marked in accipiters and falcons. Female Cooper's hawks may be one third larger than males. I saw this bird flying over the pastures too, looking just like a tiny military aircraft.

And yesterday I saw a Sharp-Shinned up close! I had just turned the horses out, heard some frantic twittering in the holly tree, and then saw a bird which at first I thought was a mockingbird. Then I realized that it was a little bit bigger than a mockingbird and brown, not gray. I got an excellent look at him as he flew across the grass drive towards the woods. Must have been a he because he was absolutely no larger than a blue jay.

With less cover winter is a great time to observe hawks. DH saw a marsh harrier last week and the red-shouldered hawks commenced with their courtship rituals at the beginning of the year.

The first wave of flowers and half opened buds of the Prunus mume -- about a third of the tree's total -- were swiped by the cold spell in early January, but since then buds have started opening again.

The witch hazel wasn't affected by >15 degree temperatures at all,
and I catch the fragrance every time I walk by. The scent is clean
and like Fruit Loops at the same time.

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