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Like an eccentric, I’m still checking up on my favorite goose. I was able to get out early this morning, which was really nice. I’m just going to throw up the pictures without much commentary, but if anyone has questions about what’s in the pictures, feel free to ask.

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I mentioned the other day that I had been gardening. The back of my sister’s yard has been a puzzle. First of all, the rocks there are very close to the surface and it’s difficult to dig more than half an inch in much of it. Secondly, people drive over it all the time. A few years ago, we tried to plant some bushes to conceal the neighbor’s garbage pails. Between the deer and the cars, they did not survive. I’ve been a bit puzzled about what to do with the area since then.

a shady area with lots of weeds

 

I decided that the only real solution was building a raised bed. They’ve been taking down abandoned row houses in Baltimore. We were able to get some of the bricks and I used this to build a bed. There’s no mortar, so it’s not really very sturdy, but it doesn’t have to be.

A rectangle of bricks.

We planted plants that we thought might appeal to butterflies, birds and other wildlife, Chelone glabra, Rudbeckia hirta and Monarda.

completed-perrenial-bed

It will take a few years to fill in.

In the meantime, I haven’t named this little fellow yet. Actually, I suspect it’s female, but it’s hard to be sure.

chipmunk

 

I’ve spent much of the last week at my sister’s gardening. It’s not really surprising that I’m alone because so many of the things I enjoy doing are more or less solitary pursuits.

After spending much of my adult life in New York City I can’t say that I knew much of anything about gardening. I moved down here and my sister, who’s allergic to just about everything on earth, has a huge backyard, by suburban standards. When I arrived, there was a greenhouse in the back. My brother-in-law, who doesn’t really enjoy gardening, kept up the flower beds in front of the house, but the back yard, which is long and narrow and reaches back towards an alleyway that terminates in a patch of woods, had long been neglected. Once, many years earlier, someone had planned and planted a nice garden, but that had since become overgrown.

Most gardening books I read had advice that started with planning a garden that seemed to assume that whatever you did you were going to start from scratch. I had neither the money nor the manpower, or womanpower in my case, to do that, nor would I have had the inclination to do that if I had. So, I had to make up my own gardening ideas.

The first year, I didn’t do anything at all. The main effort was to keep other people from trampling everything. It was a year of learning to identify a great many plants. I waited for things to come up, took pictures and ran to the internet to try to identify things. There were some tall white plants with pretty little white flowers on top which turned out to be garlic mustard, a rather nasty invasive weed. I started ripping it up when I saw it. That was how much of the first year went. Identifying what was in the garden and deciding whether it would stay or go. Unfortunately, since the overall image was one of a big, abandoned mess, people would walk all over everything thinking that everything was a weed. We have primroses, Polygonatum, Epimedium, Galium odoratum. These things were quite obviously planted. I have also found several native North American wildflowers which, while occasionally cultivated, have probably grown there themselves. There’s Claytonia virginica, Chimaphila maculata and some sort of Trillium that I have not identified properly. There had been a large patch of foxglove near the alley, but people have trampled it so many times there’s almost nothing left.

From the green house to a large old beech tree there is a stone path. I noticed a tall gangly plant growing up between the stone. I was about to pull it up when I decided I would wait to find out what it was. A month or two later it finally bloomed. It had rather funky looking brownish pink flowers. I was hoping it wasn’t anything noxious because I like the way it looked. I had quite a difficult time identifying it. I took some photos and tried again. Then suddenly, I remembered a little detail. There’s quite a lot of fungus growing under the beech trees because I see the squirrels dig them up and eat them. (I’ve nicknamed them “squirrel truffles.” I’m not the only person who’s observed this.) I had a vague recollection that there was a relationship between trees, fungi and orchids. On a hunch, I started looking up information about native orchids that might grow among beech trees. I will confess that I got rather excited about the thought of finding something rare, although intellectually I knew it was unlikely. Finally, I decided that it was Helleborine, probably Epipactis helleborine. I found it on a British site and it seems to be common there. It does appear in North America, but it’s not considered invasive or otherwise problematic, so I thought it was rather interesting and I left it. That’s a good example of the idiosyncratic “gardening” that I’ve been doing.

Slowly, I’ve been adding to the garden, favoring plants that encourage the local wildlife. This frequently means native plants, but there’s nothing ideological about it. I’m happy to have non-native plants as well. We have hummingbirds and I’ve planted Lonicera semperviens, Lobelia cardinalis and Spigelia marilandica for them. The Lobelia was planted next to a fern that didn’t thrive, so I thought that I would add to it and make a larger patch of Lobelia. Nearby, was a bit of Chelone glabra. So, my sister offered to help and she started clearing the weeds from near where we were going to plant the Lobelia. She pulled up the Chelone glabra along with the weeds.

A couple of days later, my mother offered to help. I showed her a weed, I’m forgetting the name at the moment, that I wanted pulled up. It was growing off to the side of the stone path. It was a broad leafed plant about half a meter high with pale green leaves with serrated edges. I thought this was a safe instruction to for her because it looked nothing like the Galium among which it was growing. I went to another area of the garden. Later I came by to see how she was doing. She didn’t do what I asked because she was afraid of poison ivy, although I told her there was no poison ivy in that portion of the yard. Instead, she pulled up some “grass” growing among the “flowers.” What she pulled up was Sisyrinchium angustifolium, a flower I’d found amongst some Hosta the first year and which I’d been slowly encouraging and had since become a sizable patch. Well, there’s a couple of examples she missed, so I guess I can start again.

I took a deep breath and told her to stop apologizing. I went into the garbage. Some of the Sisyrinchium she pulled up still had some roots on them, so I started putting them in pots to see if we can save them. Then, when I was going through the garbage, I found what looked like the orchid. I ran to the stone path were it had been, and indeed it was gone. I just sat on the ground and sobbed.

There are days I can’t do anything right.

A couple weeks earlier, one of the neighbors had come by and mentioned that her husband wouldn’t mind picking up a little extra cash if we wanted him to come by with a weed wacker. It’s so damn frustrating. I have a somewhat odd idea. I don’t want to clear everything and plant neat little rows of petunias and dump a bunch of fertilizer and pesticides. In fact, I’ve intentionally planted plants that bugs will eat, specifically I’ve been slowly planting the host plants favored by butterflies. I’m still trying to get my hands on a Pipevine for the pipevine swallowtail, but we’ve planted Milkweed and a Spicebush and we’ve seen Monarch caterpillers on the Milkweed, and, no, we do not want any help in getting those bugs off our flowers.

Sisyrinchium angustifolium, aka Blue-eyed grass. This flower is perhaps one and a half centimeters. It's a pretty little thing if you stop long enough to look.

Sisyrinchium angustifolium, aka Blue-eyed grass. This flower is perhaps one and a half centimeters. It’s a pretty little thing if you stop long enough to look.

Ouch, it’s almost midnight, so I better put something up soon. I’ve been going through my photos and trying to get some sort of identification on some of the insects and flowers I saw. I’m no naturalist, so if I’ve misidentified anything, please let me know.

Agalinis acuta, also known as Sandplain Gerardia, is a rare flower.

Agalinis acuta, also known as Sandplain Gerardia, is a rare flower.

This is a Red-banded Hairstreak.

This is a Red-banded Hairstreak.

One of the many little brownish skippers. I find them hard to identify, but I have tentative identified this one as a Zabulon Skipper.

One of the many little brownish skippers. I find them hard to identify, but I have tentative identified this one as a Zabulon Skipper.

A mantid.

A mantid.

partridge pea

partridge pea

This is a Pearl Crescent. There were dozens of these butterflies in one spot.

This is a Pearl Crescent. There were dozens of these butterflies in one spot.

A Blue-fronted Dancer.

A Blue-fronted Dancer.

I got so many photos, so I guess I might as well stop here. If you want to see more, I just posted some others on my French language blog.

Last year, we had almost no flowers in our garden. The squirrels are bad enough. They dig up everything. I planted some Assarum canadense because I’m trying to find a more ecologically sound ground cover to replace the english ivy I’ve been tearing up. As it happens, squirrels think wild ginger root is a tasty snack. Of course, I’m replacing the invasive plants with native plants specifically because they provide food and shelter. The problem lies in getting this stuff established in the first place. The loose soil around a new planting makes the new plant especially easy pickings. One of the things that makes invasives so invasive to begin with is that few things eat them.*

As bad as the squirrels are, they prefer a varied diet with a strong emphasis on nuts and berries. The bunnies on the other hand, are little eating machines. Who needs a lawn mower. Worse yet, I found that the bunnies have a special taste for flower buds. Last year, we had a blueberry bush that we were going to plant in a butterfly garden on the other side of town. After a few days, the bush started to look like a topiary. I said to my sister, can it be deer? The next day, I looked out the window and there was the world’s biggest bunny was up on his hind legs nipping off the last little flower bud clinging to the sad looking blueberry stick. I realized that while the rabbits sit around and eat the clover and the grass all day, they have some special love for flower buds.

So, I run outside. Rabbits are supposed to be scared of people, right?Bunny among ferns.

“I’ll cook you with capers, you bud munching beast.”

Bunny among weeds.

Is that a face that says, “I know you’re bluffing bitch?”

Last year we found a Chimaphila maculata growing in the yard. I felt so lucky. I watched and watched hoping to get some good photos when it was blooming. Just when there was a little bud looking like it was a couple days away from opening, the bunny got it.

Fortunately, it’s a perennial and it spreads by rhizomes. The patch is bigger this year. Maybe one day I can show you a photo of something other than leaves and this.

A tint flower bud of a chimaphila maculata hanging down.

The neighbor told us the she saw the rabbit’s babies earlier this year. I’m open to rabbit recipes.

* Whenever I’ve mentioned invasives on a forum on the internet I’ve gotten into some weird discussions. So, my definition of an invasive species comes from our state’s invasive species list. North America is a big place with very different ecological niches. What’s invasive here might not be invasive by you even if we’re on the same continent. I’m removing things in stages because, if I don’t have something to replace it with, I’ll just get erosion and another bunch weeds, perhaps the same ones, will appear in their place. Right now, my particular bêtes noires are English ivy, daylilies and garlic mustard. As I said, it’s not ideological. We have primroses, foxglove and others that are staying.

One of my favorite flowers, Spigelia, started blooming a couple of weeks ago. They’re a woodland flower native the much of the eastern U.S. I am puzzled why they are not more popular in gardens. People are always looking for something with showy blooms for the shade. If you have the right spot, these are easy to grow.DSC_0010_111

Spigelia

Also, they attract hummingbirds.

We’ve been trying to incorporate more native plants into the garden. It’s not a big ideological thing, but to encourage the wildlife.

The mechanical system in the building received some major updates this week, so there was no electricity here for a good part of the day. Consequently, today’s post is somewhat late and will be an easy one. I spent a good part of the day outside today taking photographs. The weather was beautiful in the afternoon and within the past couple of days the tulips have opened up. I’ve always found that tulips were wonderful candidates for macro shots. I’ve always been fascinated by macro photography and always wanted to try it but was prevented by the cost of the lenses. Then, one day, I read a reference to “extension tubes.” I looked it up and for a pretty reasonable amount of money you can do macro photography. So I bought a set of inexpensive ones and I think they work pretty well. You have to focus manually, but that’s not too hard.

I was so inspired by the letters that Meme used to spell out “Spring Fever” on her blog today, that I decided to try making a letter of my own using one of my favorite flowers, Spigelia. This isn’t exactly a sketch. It was made with Adobe Illustrator.An illustration of the letter S combined with Spigelia.