Little Mouse’s Ears
This is more or less an annual post for me now–the only thing that changes is the photo of the oak leaves (yes, that’s what you are looking at–tiny oak leaves, and off to the bottom of the stem, unopened tiny unopened tiny oak flowers) and the date of my post.
So what the heck is this about? There’s an old farmer’s saying that when the oak leaves are the size of little mouse’s ears, you have had your last frost.
It’s a type of phenology, which I think all gardeners do in some form or other, even if we don’t do so formally. We have a favorite tree that we look to before we know that it’s safe to plant tender veggies. Or we know that when the lilacs bloom, we can put geraniums out–pick your tree or shrub for your own climate.
So I have my oak leaves bigger than little mouse’s ears–and this year, they are on my oak tree earlier than they have ever been.
Then again, record breaking 90 degree days in April will do that. I just hope that the trees–and the rest of nature–haven’t been tricked somehow. But I am not ready anyway to put anything tender out. I remember the May snows we can have. Sigh.
The Sounds of Autumn
I am not sure why, but this year, in addition to noticing the lovely fall colors, I am hearing the changing of the seasons as well in a way that I have never noticed quite so much before.
I always associate summer with the dog day cicadas and the songs of the katydids. But I have never quite noticed how vocal the crickets become in the fall. In late afternoon and early evening, their song is so vocal that it rivals the early spring peepers. It’s really something!
And there is the change in the birdsong as well. Spring of course brings the cacophony of bird song as every bird tries to outdo all the others for mates and territory.
In fall, it’s a different thing. For one thing, there are fewer birds and different birds. I no longer hear the robins and wrens calling and singing–but the blue jays are outdoing them with their strident calls.
The chickadees–one of the first birds to start singing in the spring–are singing again now, but it’s different now. I can’t tell you how. Perhaps it just sounds different because it’s now blended with the nuthatches and the titmice.
And while the red-bellied woodpecker is still scolding me every time I walk too close with the dog, now I see the downy and hairy woodpeckers back from their summer sojourn up north (or up higher in the leafy canopy out of my eyesight!)
And finally, there’s the sharp “crack” when the acorns clatter off the oak trees hit the hard driveway, roof or something else solid.
There is a beauty to every season–we just need to slow down a bit to appreciate it!
Thinking About Shade…
Because I have been thinking so much about trees, I have also been thinking about shade. So many of us garden under trees here in New England, so we are very familiar with shade gardening. In fact, I remember distinctly a couple of decades back now (although it seems like almost yesterday) when my Mom bought a house, she asked for me to help with the landscaping.
Well, she was blessed with full sun. And I had been gardening in shade for almost a decade by that point. I had to completely reverse my thinking to pick out trees, shrubs and perennials for her. In addition, she was at the beach and had very sandy soil–not my heavy clay. It was really a total switch for me. Luckily we found some good garden centers where we could choose some plants.
But it always shocks me when I start thinking about shade–and how I might describe shade, for example–for a lecture I am giving. You come across the descriptions of “part-shade” as 4 hours of sun. That’s totally shocking to me because there are areas which get 4 hours of sun in my yard and I call that “full sun!”
For the record, “full sun,” is described as at least 6 hours of continuous sun. There are very few places in my yard that I have that–in fact, I think the only place that I do have 6 hours of sun is around my mailbox where I grow my roses.
But shade has its own advantages. The houseplants–even those that normally sit in my south windows all winter–prefer a partially shaded site once they’re outside and getting the benefit of true sunlight. And those that like less light prefer it under the shade of my dogwood, which actually throws quite a bit of shade, but still permits some early morning sunlight to get to the plants (before they roast on these midsummer days!)
True shade houseplants actually sit on my front stoop where the shade from the house protects them. Shade from a building is of course total shade–all light is blocked. Some ambient light filters to them from the front, but nothing gets to them from the rear–and they are completely happy and growing like that.
So all shade is not created equal–it helps to remember that whether you are gardening in containers or in the ground!
Lately I Have Been Thinking About Trees
This lovely image, above, is from the office park where I see my retina specialist. But really, it could be just about anywhere in Connecticut. We are a heavily forested state.
I am sure that that comes as a shock to many of you reading this. For those of you who know your geography, you know that Connecticut is a relatively small state–the third smallest in fact–and that it is located along the east coast roughly equidistant between New York and Boston.
So to hear that it is heavily forested must come as a shock. How is this possible?
Of course this wasn’t always the case.
When Dutch and other European settlers arrived, the land was already being farmed by our indigenous peoples. The European settlers further cleared the existing forests and piled up the rocks that they found in our soil to form the stone walls that still exist today. Hiking trails in our woods occasionally follow the stone walls of the old farmsteads. Our local roads will also wind along these beautifully constructed walls that have stood for hundreds of years.
But as we abandoned agriculture for manufacturing, the forests began to regrow. It is estimated that Connecticut has 80% more trees now than it did when it was settled in the 1600s.
So just about everywhere you look, you will see trees, and mature trees as well. But lately, within the mature trees, I am seeing a disturbing number of dead trees–not dying trees, but dead ones. What has happened? Several things, unfortunately.
We have had several summers of drought–and this summer is turning into another of those. We have had several winters of unusual weather, with periods of warmth followed by abrupt cold and no insulating snow on the ground. Woody plants and larger plants like trees struggle with these sorts of changes. They might be able to endure a year or two of this, but they cannot endure it forever. The stress takes a toll on them and they die.
It’s always upsetting to lose a tree. Unfortunately, I think it’s going to be something to get used to.
Make Your Summer Exotic
I am famous for saying that Connecticut doesn’t have seasons–just Winter and July. So needless to say, when “July” arrives–or whatever passes for warm weather here–I am very anxious to make the most of it! I suspect that’s why I grow all manner of tropical plants that really have no business growing here in Connecticut.
Of course, I grow lemons so that when winter really gets bad (as in this past winter, which was so icy that I had to park at a neighbor’s at the bottom of the hill and hike up my lawn!) I can say that I will just make lemonade!
And something else that I grow, which is a very fun and undemanding plant is a little olive tree. I am probably stunting its growth horribly by keeping it in this tiny pot, but as you can see, it even fruited for me last year!
Here’s a great infographic all about olive trees if you would like to know more from the folks at Trees.com
I also love these croton plants–nothing exotic for most people, but here in the frozen north, their color is like a tropical party, especially when they are inside in the winter and the snow is falling behind them outside!
Even this flowering maple (abutilon) which I over-wintered for the first time last winter is really colorful with its drooping yellow bells. A warning to those of you who don’t like “messy” plants, however–this one drops leaves and flowers quite a bit. Some people don’t want to put up with that!
So these are just a few common–but “fun”–choices to liven up your summer. Try one–or all of them!