Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Wildflower Wednesday

Chokecherry (Aronia arbutifolia)

As a result of the warm weather we had earlier this month spring has definitely arrived! The
land has greened up seemingly overnight and the daffodils and several natives are blooming.

Aronia grows wild in my garden, most commonly by the ditch that runs beside the big bed. It's a tall very slender shrub that a very very bright red leaves late in the fall, scarlet berries in winter that nothing touches, and in spring these sweet clusters of flowers with stamens that range in color from russet to mauve.



The star, or anchor of the garden right now are the redbuds.

The beautiful pink purple flowers are a bee magnet. The
flyway to and from the redbuds are a veritable tornado of bees.

Today I am joining gail at clay and limestone for Wildflower Wednesday.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Winter Walk-off 2016

Each winter Les of A Tidewater Gardener hosts Winter Walk-off. in which he asks other posters to document a winter walk somewhere other than their own garden.

Each weekend after DH has tended to the horses, he takes a walk down to the creek. I don't usually go since I am usually spent by the weekend and it takes me all morning to get going. He would come back with tales of having seen wood ducks up close and flocks of turkey. Finally I thought, this is stupid. I am missing all of these opportunities to see what is arguably the most beautiful waterfowl on the face of the earth. So on March 1st I picked up my camera and headed down to the creek.

The trail to the creek is a loop, and if you bear left you come to the slough before the creek. The slough was created many years ago (before we moved here) by beavers damming drainage to the creek. Most of the large trees in the slough are water tupelo. The water appears brown due to tannins from fallen leaves,

although the water itself is crystal clear.

I walked to the edge of the slough to get a better look. When we spot wood ducks we usually see them here, although we've seen them in the creek too.

And score! There were two pairs of wood ducks on a branch spanning the slough. One pair flew off immediately but the other stayed, looking anxiously to see who or what was there.

I was able to get a few shots at the furthest range of my lens before they took off too.

Wood ducks usually pair up in January, months before the breeding season, but I thought I should look up when they start looking for nesting sites when I got back to the house. DH put up two wood duck houses in the slough last fall.

Thrilled that I had not only seen wood ducks but actually
gotten pictures of them, I continued down to the creek.

A lot of trees have fallen into the creek since we moved here. It's still beautiful on a clear day
when the sun sparkles on the water, but you couldn't easily canoe or kayak this stretch anymore.

The creek had recently overflowed its banks and the path was still underwater in several places.

Gene hadn't seen any turkey in a few weeks so I wasn't sure if they were still around on our farm. Turns out they are. Judging from the tracks a large flock had been through recently. In recent years wild turkey been nesting on our farm. Last year I saw a hen sitting on a nest right next to the main path between the floodway fields - I just happened to turn my head and there she was! Later on in the summer Gene saw a hen with 5 poults.

There were raccoon tracks everywhere too.

I hope you have enjoyed this winter's day walk. With the warm weather we've been having everything is a lot greener now!

When I got back to the house I read that wood ducks usually start searching for nesting sites in March. So we aren't going to go by the slough for a while in the hope that they will use the nest boxes.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Garden losses, or Voles Suck

Baptisia 'Purple Smoke', a hybrid of dwarf blue indigo (Baptisia minor var. aberrans)
and white indigo (Baptisia alba), introduced by the NC Botanical Garden in Chapel Hill.

There's a war being waged in the garden right now. Me vs voles.

For years I have used 3 gallon plastic pots with the bottoms cut out and gravel
on top for the baptisias and had very few losses, until recently. Last year I
had the most losses ever and the best baptisia show, all at the same time.

I had finally made sure that all of the seed-grown baby baptisias had all of the light and air they needed, rather than allow them to be crowded by the Brazilian blue sage and Monarda 'Raspberry Wine' that had taken over the big bed. I had also purchased some good-sized cultivars: 'Starlite Prairie Blues', 'Blueberry Sundae', 'Lunar Eclipse' and more 'Purple Smoke', because while the seedlings had a beautiful range of colors, they also came in a big range of habits, from dwarf to skinny to awkward to full. Only a small percentage of my seedlings had the same nice round habit as my established alba and 'Purple Smoke'.

Starlite prairie blues, which I first saw on gail's blog and
fell in love with the ageratum blue and white flowers.

clockwise from top: a seedling; 'Blueberry Sundae', 'Twilite Prairie
Blues' and alba; a closer look at 'Blueberry Sundae'; another seedling

The two below are more home-grown seedlings. Most of the seeds came from blue and white
baptisias that I purchased from Niche Gardens, but I think I got some seed in trades too.

'Blueberry Sundae', which like 'Purple Smoke' has B. minor heritage.
B. minor is basically a miniature blue baptisia with large flowers.

This year the voles went right into the middle of four of my largest baptisias. Two are large albas that I've had for years, the one in the foreground and the one in the background in the picture below. I don't think the voles got very far into the one in the foreground, so I covered the top with gravel and then placed a tent of metal hardware fabric over the top of the pot so the voles can't get in and the buds won't be crushed by the metal mesh when they start pushing up. The other alba was quite chewed up so I potted it up to try to save it.

I hope the alba I left in the ground is OK.

It's in the background of this picture and was beautiful last year. It took a few years to
get to that size. Hopefully the alba in the foreground will be that size too in a few years.

Glimpse of the chewed-up white baptisia with 'Hansa' and 'Foxi Pavement' in 2014. The 'Foxi
Pavement' is gone now as well, and can't help but what if the voles are responsible for that too.

The voles also got into 2 of my most prized garden plants, the 2 'Purple Smoke's I've
had for years. They still have buds but the main roots were gone. I potted them up but
I don't know if they will make it. The garden will not look like like it did last year.

'Cl. Old Blush' with 'Purple Smoke'

I don't know if I can save a large baptisia that has had the main roots chewed off.
I had an australis/alba hybrid grown from seed that bloomed as usual in spring 2014

and the next winter the voles demolished it. I was able to save two pieces of it, a large piece and a small piece. I noticed that the remnants did not grow new roots over the summer. In the fall a vole crawled up into the pot and finished off the large piece, so now all of the pots with baptisia in them are topped with gravel and I will have to wait and see if the small piece does anything next year.

I'm trying to figure out how to keep the voles from eating them, if that's possible. I tried mousetraps baited with bread, oatmeal, peanut butter, molasses and butter and only caught a couple of voles. I have put metal mesh over the pots, and while this will likely work over the winter, I'm still going to have to remove at least part of it so that the stems can come up. Most of the losses do seem to occur over the winter, but I still want to protect them as best I can all year. I just didn't want to have to work this much to do it. After putting down the gravel and metal mesh, my garden best resembled a construction site with some daffodils in it, so I spread a thin layer of compost over everything so that it looks like a garden again.

So I'll just have to hope the newer baptisias can make up for the loss of the oldest ones, and that my new labor-intensive strategy for dealing with the voles works.

Young Baptisia alba

Even with all of the newer baptisia, I am sad that I won't have those
big 'Purple Smoke' in my garden this year. They were really beautiful.

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