And so it begins

We woke up to snow on Friday morning, totally unexpected, even to the weather guys who were blindsided by it.  By mid afternoon the snow had melted, and it was if it had never happened.  This morning I woke up to this

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It begins.  Despite the snow and the cold, Mother Nature is shoving her way out of the ground, shaking the cold of winter out of her hair,  and shrugging the chill of winter off her shoulders and defying every convention out there.

Crocuses are the first signal of spring, their cousins the hyacinths are already out of the ground and setting buds.  The daffodils have pushed their heads above the snow and are setting flowers.  In just a few weeks there is going to be a fireworks display of spring flowers overrunning the garden.  It has begun, and my heart cannot be more glad.

Hanging Out the Laundry

One of the many nice things about hanging laundry outside to dry is that you get to notice little things that perhaps you would miss otherwise.  Certainly you are not going to see anything interesting on the inside of a dryer unless it is that missing sock that you have been looking for.

Today on my way out I noticed that one of the garden spiders had caught herself a Cicada, which I thought was a pretty impressive feat, considering their size and strength.

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One of the Golden Orb Weavers had also caught herself one.

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It would appear that Cicada season is all-you-can-eat buffet season for the spiders.  I also noticed this small, but incredibly beautiful spider. SONY DSC

The photograph doesn’t do it justice, the yellow and orange spots were really iridescent  in the sun.  I also noticed another type of Orb Weaver, not quite as large as the other females that I have seen and with slightly different coloring.

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What wonderfully hairy legs it has.  I also discovered that the web worms are at it again.  SONY DSC

This is the second time this year that they have been cloaking the trees with their tents.  While hanging up socks I noticed out of the corner of my eye that the Wandering Jew, considered somewhat of a weed around here, was blooming, and despite the flowers being tiny what a wonderful true blue, rather than a purple they are. SONY DSC

I also noticed that in the dark bottom of the yard the sun shone through the trees onto our little SONY DSCcemetery where St. Francis and all of our long gone pets reside.

It amused to me discover that the pink Morning Glory flowers remain in bloom well into the afternoon

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while their blue cousins have already closed their flowers up tight for the day.

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So not only is hanging laundry out to dry both economical and eco-friendly, it is also educational.  Not only that but your clothes last longer, whites are whiter, and there is nothing better in the world than sliding into bed between freshly washed sheets that have been line dried.   There isn’t a fabric softener or drier sheet out there that can replicate that smell.

 

Where have all the butterflies gone?

In normal circumstance at this time in my garden with the Lantana blooming, and various other nectar rich flowers around, my patio would look like the butterfly house at Kew Gardens but without the glass roof.  I would have swallowtails, skippers, fritilliaries, you name it.  This year nothing.  I have seen perhaps one Tiger Swallowtail, and one Black Swallowtail.  Today there were a couple of Silver Spotted Skippers out there feeding on the Milk Vine and the Pentas.

SONY DSC  It is Sulfer season so a couple of Sulfers were out on the Mexican Sunflower

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But other than that?  Nothing.  I am beginning to think that while I plant specifically to attract butterflies the fact that because I do not use any type of pesticide my garden contains a lot of butterfly predators that they are avoiding my yard as a matter of survival.

To begin with I have a large population of dragonflies thanks to my small working pond where the adults can lay eggs and the naiads can thrive.  Also as I have said before I have a healthy population of Garden Spiders and more recently Golden Orb Weavers, as well as a healthy population of Preying Mantids.  The spiders tend to build their webs where there is a constant supply of prey, in that case it tends to be in and around my flower beds where the butterflies are more likely to fly into their webs.  But the question remains, does that account for the lack of butterflies in my garden or is there something else afoot?

To be sure, my predators take advantage of the all you can eat buffet aspect of my landscape, case in point, this young lady munching on a moth that was visiting the milk vine and obviously didn’t see the heavily camouflaged hunter waiting for her.

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Even one of the dragonflies fell pray to a garden spider web.

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Although I am happy to report that after taking that photo I noticed that the dragonfly was not dead, but was simply trapped in the web and I managed to unstick him and he flew away unscathed.  At what point though do we intervene?  At what point do I make the decision that there are simply too many predators in my garden to enable my butterflies to survive?

This is the first year that I have not had a single Black Swallowtail caterpillar in my garden.  I purposely plant Bronze Fennel as well as copious amounts of parsley and dill in order to feed them, and yet this year the parsley, dill and fennel have gone uneaten.  Unheard of in my garden.

Has anyone else noticed a severe butterfly shortage this year or is it just me?  I know that there is a crisis when it comes to bees but is there perhaps another crisis which involves our prettier pollinators that is not being so extensively reported?

Weed of The Week – Violets

I have never understood the almost visceral hatred that some people have of violets.  They were my Grandmother’s favorite flower and I have always adored them.  It amazes me that the same people who will dig them up and discard them when they pop up in their lawn (or worse spray them with weedkiller) will happily go to the garden center and pay big bucks for their more gaudy cousins the Pansies.  SONY DSC

Whenever it is time for my husband to mow the lawn I go out early that morning with my trowel and rescue the violets and other natives that I like to move out of the way of his mower.  To be honest, I really don’t have to do that because they think nothing of having a haircut every two weeks and seem to thrive.  Nevertheless I dutifully dig them up and place them in a bed in a shady spot where they can do without the haircut and bloom.   They begin to bloom early in the Spring with their delightful deep purple flowers and also quickly form neat little colonies that no only brighten a shady spot with their heart shaped leaves but also serve as an excellent ground cover crowding out any weeds that I don’t like.  Another bonus is that Violets are the host plant for some of the Lepidoptera butterflies (Fritillaries).

So the next time you see Violets popping up in your lawn, don’t curse at them and reach for the weed killer, do yourself and the Violets a favor, grab your trowel and find a shady spot for them.  You’ll be glad you did.

Weed of the Week – English Plantain

Another plant that I regularly rescue from the lawn is English Plantain.  I know many consider it a noxious weed but I have a fondness for it.  It reminds me of home, and its neat little clumps of sword shaped leaves and dainty pollen laden flowers that dance on the slightest breeze makes it an attractive alternative to ornamental grasses in the garden.

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It is reliably perennial and also has medicinal uses, one of the main ones being a tea brewed from the leaves being a highly effective cough medicine apparently (I have to admit I have never tried it).

Flowers, flowers, flowers galore!

My husband’s school’s FFA chapter held another plant sale this week and they had reduced their prices yet again and now a 36 plant flat was only $3.00. Well what is a girl to do? I ordered a flat of red Marigolds, a flat of purple Salvia and a flat of Ruellia.  Today I spent most of the day getting the plants in the ground or in my containers.  They didn’t have a full flat of Ruellia so they made it up with three quart pots of Lantana “Buttercup” which really worked with my purple and gold theme.  Anyway when I counted up the empty flats today I calculated that between veggies and flowers I have planted 650 plants.  Methinks it is time to sit back and watch it grow.

First up the containers are filling in nicely.  First up Purple and Gold

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Next Red, White and Blue

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Next front bird bath bed

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The shade bed

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The bed on the far edge of the patio

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A couple of small beds in the patioSONY DSC

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Finally the bed the other side of the patio

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Flowers, flowers and more flowers if this doesn’t keep the bees and butterflies happy then I don’t know what will.

Here Come the Roses

This week the roses began blooming in my garden.  While they tend not to do well here in Eastern North Carolina you can find some species that will, or if you are lucky enough the expensive hybrid grafted rose that you bought and planted gets taken over by the root stock that it has been grafted onto.  I know this sounds like an utter contradiction but the common old root stock rose does really well here, and is not subject to any of the diseases that tend to plague hybrids in the humid south.

This beauty actually began life as a white tree rose, but the root stock was having none of that namby pamby tree rose business and quickly escaped from the ground and is now a delightful specimen that surrounds my bird feeders on the patio and keeps the birds safe from the cats.

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This one is actually a species that also does very well here, a delightful pink bloomer that is called “Nearly Wild”.   This one sits in the bed at the edge of the patio, I also have one in a pot on the driveway which I have been meaning to plant for years but haven’t quite got round to it.

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Soon the Carpet Roses and Fairy Roses out front will be a riot of blooms which will continue throughout the summer.   I have a couple of hybrids that have managed to hang on but I have found that as far as roses go in this climate your best bet is with the carpet varieties.   I have heard from other gardeners that Knock Out roses also do well here but I have to admit that the one sample that I do have in my landscape has not proven that theory as yet.

In any event, should you be growing roses in this area and you notice bright red flowers on a rose that is supposed to be any other color, don’t worry about it, let the root stock rose do its thing, and go with the flow.  Sometimes it doesn’t do any good to fight Mother Nature.

Weed of The Week – Oxalis (Wood-Sorrell)

As you all know I am a bit of a skinflint so when it comes to plants I do so love to take advantage of the free ones that Mother Nature gifts me with.  In the next couple of months I will be recommending those “weeds” (or native plants as I prefer to call them) that I enjoy and that I find do very well in my Eastern North Carolina garden.

When I first moved to this house I found a lovely patch of pink Oxalis growing in the woods at the bottom of the garden and all of the plants that now grace my landscape originated from this one plant.

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This photograph was taken after a heavy rain and the flower stalks have fallen over due to the weight of the rain drops.

The plant forms bulbs underground and these can easily be divided and transplanted pretty much any time of the year.  I now have plants all over the landscape, some in full shade, some in full sun and they reliably form tidy mounds of four-leaf clover like leaves with jaunty pink flower heads on delicate stalks that sit above the leaf mound.

This one is in my front flower bed underneath the living room window sharing the bed with some daylilies.

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They are a very hardy perennial and remain green over the winter even under a heavy blanket of snow.   Another of its delightful attributes is it does not have a narrow bloom time and will reliably bloom from Spring and all through the Summer and into the Autumn.  To say that it is a carefree plant is an understatement.  I have never had a problem with it doing anything other than being a little treasure and I cannot think of a single pest that pays attention to it.    You can buy a version of the plant (generally white ones) and there are hybrid types with purple leaves and flowers, but I have found that these are nowhere near as vigorous as their wild cousins.

So there you go, if you happen to live in the woods and come across some pink Oxalis on your property divide it and use it all over your landscape.  You will be glad you did I promise.

Overwintering

Last Autumn I decided to experiment with overwintering some of my favorite plants so that I would not have to replace them come Spring.  If they were in the ground I dug them up  and put them in pots in the greenhouse (as with the Angelonia) or if they were already in pots I just moved them into the greenhouse.  So far the experiment has worked well.

The Gazania that overwintered has just put out its first bloom.

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SONY DSCMy hanging basket ferns also survived as did the tender patio Hibiscus trees that I kept warm all winter.  The Hibiscus  are right now putting on buds.

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I believe that with the cost of the plants saved as well as the savings in starting things from seed rather than having to buy plants from the garden center the greenhouse has already paid for itself.

Hiding in Plain Sight Part II

One of the nicest parts about gardening is many  a gardener’s tendency to forget planting things and therefore being pleasantly surprised when the garden awakes to find a bloom that one had forgotten about.    I have to admit that this particular trait happens to me frequently and the annoying part is that it happens with the same plants every year.  Many moons ago I found a poor Clematis plant growing out of its plastic bag at Lowes, it was on sale for 75% off so rescuing it was relatively easy.  I planted it at the base of the large tree in the front garden and promptly forgot about it until it sent out a couple of small blooms the next year and I proceed to forget about it every single year until it comes into bloom.  It has grown over the years and this year the blooms are truly spectacular.

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Of course there are many times where the “I don’t remember planting that” theme is because you actually didn’t plant it, but Mother Nature has gifted you with one of her native plants in this case the Cross Vine which is this week coming into bloom,  just in time for the arrival of the Humming Birds.

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These trumpet like blooms must be full of nectar because I have also noticed many ant species traveling up the vines and deep into the flowers to collect its sweet treasure, I am not sure what the nectar tastes like because the blooms have an almost spicy, curry like scent, perhaps the ants like Indian food?

Of course  in my case the things that I am more than likely to forget about are the bulbs that I buy on sale as Winter approaches.  Generally in the big box stores at 50-75% off to get them off their hands I usually end up filling a cart with goodies and then having to get them in the ground before it gets too cold.  This invariably results in me wandering the yard with a bag of bulbs in one hand and a trowel in the other muttering to myself while seizing upon any scrap of dirt that doesn’t already have something planted in it.    This led me last year to having a full on argument with myself in front of the heavily discounted bulb section of Lowes.  Me “but they’re 75% off!, I can’t pass up that bargain!”  Me “but you don’t have anywhere to put them, remember last year you ended up having to put them in containers?”  As it turned out the “sensible” me won out over the “can’t pass up a bargain” me and I walked away bulb free and saved myself the weeks of angst trying to find somewhere to put them.  Still it is nice to be surprised as I was this weekend when this particular Dutch Iris greeted me one morning.

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Once I saw it I even remembered it’s name, Lion King (that is a rare occurrence to be sure, unless I keep bags or labels I rarely remember the name of a plant other than it’s general species) and with it’s colors it was even in keeping with my purple and gold theme.  Sometimes having a rotten memory has its advantages.