A Sea of Yellow

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Sometimes in gardening the best results are happy accidents. Both these plants–the golden creeping Jenny and the viola odorata ‘Freckles’ were not planted here. The creeping Jenny came from a container that I had here years ago and the violet has been naturalized all over my yard, most likely by ants, which like the eliaosome that violets have. Since I like the combination, I leave it.

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A few warm days have finally coaxed my ‘Elizabeth’ magnolia into bloom.

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And my kerria japonica is also blooming. It’s a little late this year. It often blooms about the same time as the forsythia.

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This is the close-up of the flowers. For some reason, the single flowered variety is less popular than the double flowered variety. But as I always say, we can’t all like the same thing.

A Tree Popular with Wildlife

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You might remember this photo from Wednesday. It’s a Japanese maple tree leafing out. It’s an unnamed variety that I bought on closeout at a box store in 1995. I had originally planned to turn it into a bonsai because it was so stunted and misshapen.

Fast forward a year or two and my best intentions never happened and it turned out to be an okay tree. So I planted it–I was trying to replace a cornus florida that was dying.

Once again, nature has a way of saying “oh really?” when you least expect it. The dogwood is still hanging on–who knows? Perhaps the Japanese maple protects it from prevailing winds?

And each of them is sitting on rock ledge in only about 4″of soil so the fact that either grows–and stands up at all–is amazing.

But as the maple is leafing out, I am seeing all sorts of bumblebees and small birds–goldfinch, pine siskins and other small finches and sparrows–in it, plucking at the flowers.

I don’t recall noticing this before. Of course, I have rarely had this much time to look out my windows!

Suspended Animation

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This is my later blooming magnolia, Elizabeth. I got it from the Brooklyn Botanic Garden in a one quart pot in the year 2000. It’s done quite nicely for me, despite being topped in 2011 by an ice storm.

This year, however, it’s in a state of suspension. Its beautiful yellow buds are swelling but they refuse to open. Here’s why.

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This was a week ago. Despite this, the following day, it was 60 degrees.

And then, 2 days later, there was thunder, lightning and hail.

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The rest of the week has been in the low 40s. We should be in the 60s at least. Ah well. This is why I always say we only have winter and July in this state!

Spring’s Trying

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Despite the snow a few days ago–and despite the fact that it can snow here for another 6 weeks or so–spring is doing its best to cheer us up.

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The rose foliage is fairly far along for this time of year. Traditional planting for bare root roses–and pruning of traditional types–would be about the first week of April.

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This is a crabapple leafing out. All the fruit from last season hasn’t even been consumed by returning migratory birds yet.

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This is the bud of a dwarf Korean lilac. This usually blooms for me at the end of May. It seems as if it will be earlier this year.

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Finally this is my weeping cherry. It normally blooms before the crabapple. This year, who knows? It is always gorgeous when it does bloom.

Spring clearly is trying to help keep our spirits up!

Managing a Woodland for Wildlife

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I’ve talked before about how a small portion of my property is wooded. It’s between 1/8-1/4 of an acre so very small–but in the heavily developed suburbs, that is the size of a building lot–and indeed, it is part of a second lot that we own.

Because it is wooded, we try to leave it in as natural state as possible. That means if a tree dies, and it’s not near enough to endanger our neighbor’s home, it stays.

What does this accomplish? Several nice things. Many birds nest in dead trees, which can be difficult to find, particularly in the suburbs. I have an abundance of woodpeckers on my property because I manage it in this way and woodpeckers are one of the birds that nest in dead trees.

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It also brings insects that digest such materials–and keeps them where they belong, in the woods and not in our home.

One drawback is that I am constantly scouting for invasives. I had just about gotten rid of garlic mustard out of here–after a decade of hand pulling–and I now see it’s in all my neighbors yards so it will be back here shortly.

Oriental Bittersweet is a constant issue. I try to find the seedlings when they are small. If all else fails, I cut the vines before they fruit–but of course, I will have twice as many vines the following year. At least, without the birds eating the berries, I won’t have multitudes more and I won’t have spread it to my neighbors.

But the fact that I do have a place for birds and wildlife is important to me. It makes the work worth it.

Ugliness is in the Eyes of the Beholder

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This is a juniper. At least the evergreen on the right is–on the left is a weeping Norway spruce. But for the purposes of this post, I am talking about the juniper.

When this garden was put in back in 1993 (before I married the house and gardens, as I say), the juniper was one of those crazy ornamental things with 5 or 6 pom-poms at the end of branches.

Time, heavy wet snows, ice storms and other things have caused it to revert to its natural shape. Several times the Spoiler and I have discussed removing it. And always, just about the time when we decided it needed to go, something would happen like a neighbor who planted their swingset on our property line. It’s amazing how much this big shrub blocks.

The final “it stays, and as it is,” decision came one February as I looked out my second story den window in a snowstorm. I pretty much overlook this garden from my den.

In this juniper, in the snow, I counted 14 American robins–and there could have been more. They were feasting on the berries.

So that was all I needed to see. The shrub stays–and of course the more shrub there is, the more berries there are.

Bring on the robins!

Persistent Fruit?

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Back when I worked in retail gardening, there were certain plants that everyone wanted–until they understood what was required for fruiting. Hollies (the genus ilex) was one of these. Everyone wanted the red berrying hollies.

No one wanted to plant a male plant (in other words, one without berries) so that they could get the red berries. If you knew how many times I answered the question about “but my neighbor has a holly. Can’t I just use theirs for the male?”

So we sold far fewer hollies than we should because they are lovely, deer resistant native plants for New England and they have persistent fruit (meaning their berries stay on the shrub and don’t fall off and make a mess) until they ripen after the winter. That’s why the birds harvest them in the spring and why they’re available if you choose to cut them for winter decorations.

Since my retail gardening days, hollies have come a long way as well. Breeders are making smaller shrubs and more heavily berrying shrubs. You still need plants of both sexes for most kinds of hollies to get berries–but now at least, the sizes of the shrubs are a bit more manageable for home gardens!

Another small tree that was a near impossible sell was the crab apple. Crab apples have come a long way and they too have persistent fruit. But many folks remember the older variety that dropped messy “apples” and so won’t even consider them.

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Crabapples are another fruit that remains on the tree throughout the winter and is available for returning migratory birds in early spring so it’s a valuable resource.

Take a little time to learn about our new and improved plants the next time you are shopping for a small tree or evergreen shrub. You might be pleasantly surprised.