A Walk on the Wild Side

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Through a series of unfortunate events, we are dog sitting for this cute little guy while his owner is in the hospital (not Covid related, but his owner will likely be there awhile. We have already had the dog 10 days). He is as unlike our current dog as is possible so we ramble around the yard.

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It gives me the time to see lovely little nature pairings like this, which I might ordinarily miss.

We also hear lots of lovely bird song. And just yesterday we startled a large rabbit just outside the door. That’s trouble (but it was still nice to see so close up).

The “resident” dog and I have had a few wildlife encounters this week as well, but less pleasant. She and I encountered a coyote so close that even she was able to see it (normally she ignores the coyote and bear that cross our path when we’re walking). Luckily it scampered into some woods instead of making a stand.

We also came home one afternoon to a good sized garter snake sunning itself on our walk. She was oblivious so I just took her inside through another door and tried to return for a photo but as is usually the case, the snake was camera shy.

Ah well. It’s always good to respect the wildlife.

“Holiday” Gardening

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I am not sure that I have ever talked about this before but this is an idea that I used when I worked in retail gardening and I still use it for myself as a handy “marker” to remember important things. I often talk about it in my lectures.

What am I talking about? Well, I key important things in the garden to regional or national holidays. And of course, this is not original to me.

The famous fertilizer company “4-step plan” is based on something similar–the concept of phenology, of when plants bloom.

I found, however, that folks had no idea when plants bloom (or in some instances, what the blooming plants referenced by the fertilizer company were!)

So I changed it up a bit. Here in the United States, everyone knows when Income Tax day is (April 15) or that Mother’s Day is the second weekend in May. Memorial Day is the last weekend in May.

For us here in Connecticut, the lilacs (above) bloom at Mother’s Day. It’s true even in this exceptionally cold spring. So that’s a good marker for folks.

There are some particularly nasty sawfly larva that come out some time between Mother’s Day and Memorial Day, depending on temperatures. One skelatonizes rose leaves; the other attacks mugo pine. If I were to say “watch for these in May,” that’s pretty vague. But to say, “keep your eyes open between Mother’s Day and Memorial Day,” now folks have some idea of the timeframe to check their plants.

I even use it to remember that one of my favorite migratory birds, the catbird, usually returns around Mother’s Day. This year it returned May 6.

So “holiday gardening” can be helpful for reminders. And who doesn’t need reminders now and again?

You’re Not Allergic to Goldenrod

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Remember this photo from Friday of the oak leaves and flowers? You may wonder what this has to do with goldenrod.

Spring and fall are primarily the two times that folks have allergies here (at least to plants–there are other allergies to pets, dust, etc that I am not going to discuss in a gardening blog).

Those with fall allergies quite often think they are allergic to goldenrod because that’s what’s in bloom when they are symptomatic. But the real culprit is an unassuming plant called ragweed that has dull buff colored flowers and tons of pollen.

I have spring allergies. And for years, I thought that I was allergic to flowering trees, meaning dogwood, magnolias, flowering cherries and things like that. But no!

The true spring allergens are caused by things like oaks, maples, birches, junipers–things where if you were not looking closely you might never see a flower!

So it suddenly dawned on me that if I was confused for years, maybe others were too.

And no wonder goldenrod gets unfairly blamed in the fall.

Little Mouse’s Ears

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This rather unappealing photo is a cluster of small oak leaves and flowers. Why is it important?

Every year I post some sort of similar photo with the same caption. The saying is an old farmer’s saying an it goes “when the oak leaves are the size of little mouse’s ears, you have had the last frost.”

This year will be quite the test because the forecast for this evening is for rain, changing to snow before it ends.

Interestingly enough, the last time we got snow, the temperature was 39 degrees Fahrenheit (which is why we weren’t buried in it, thank goodness!). So perhaps the oaks are correct. They have never steered me wrong yet.

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!

Old versus New Plants

I am old enough to remember–and to have been gardening since before– the first house plant craze in the mid-1970s. If you can believe it, house plants were popular back in the age of disco! Somehow we don’t associate them with the Bee Gees and Donna Summer, though.

One of the fun things that I usually do when I lecture on house plants is to bring “old” and “new” versions of the same genus:the old plant would have been popular in the 1970s and the new plant is popular today.

So here’s what that looks like.

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We all know this one–in fact, we still see it occasionally in commercial settings. This is ficus benjaminii, or the weeping fig. Most folks gave up on them at home because they’re so finicky.

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So they decided on this trendy thing, ficus lyrica, the fiddle leaf fig, which is just slightly less demanding. But at least it doesn’t drop its leaves every time you look at it cross eyed (and believe me, with my double vision issue, I should know!)

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Here’s a plant you may not be familiar with. This is pilea involucrata moon valley. It’s just starting to get its color after a dismal winter of too little light.

This was a hugely popular plant back in “the old days,” particularly for terrariums. Now it’s just retro and old school (and still good for terrariums).

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This, of course, is the hugely popular pilea of today. It’s pilea peperomioides, which has about 10 common names or so.

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Finally there is the spider plant, chlorophytum comosum. I don’t even have a photo of that 1970s version because I don’t think they sell them anymore. Suffice it to say that they were all green, with no variegation. Today’s variety are all variegated.

So it’s easy to say that a lot of things have changed, but they haven’t really. I am as crazy about plants as I was in the 70s. And if the plants look a little different, that’s fine. That just gives me new reasons to seek them out!