The Dead Plant Section

I have mentioned the “dead plant” section at Lowes several times but it is time that I elaborate on this.  At my local Lowes there is a section at the very back of the Garden Center to the left which contains plants that the local nurseries have determined to be lost hopes.  These for the most part are perennials that have already bloomed and are therefore no longer attractive, or annuals that are looking a bit tired and therefore unsellable.  For the most part they are discounted to 50 cents or less.

This is an absolute gold mine for the dedicated gardener, especially when it comes to the perennials that have already bloomed.  Sure they have done their stuff for the year, but that doesn’t mean they are done for their life.  It is also a gold mine for things that are sold as annuals but actually perennialize in your area.  Here in my area Dianthus is a reliable perennial, five out of ten plants come back year after year, even in baskets and containers.  So true with Lantanta, particularly the Ms. Huff (I cannot describe it better than it being a confetti looking flower with pink, yellow, red, and orange petals all on the same flower).   I bought a Ms. Huff lantana about ten years ago, it was a four inch pot, and it cost me 25 cents.  I stuck it in the ground in the circular bed by the side of my patio and it has just exploded into the most magnificent plant I have ever known.

Every year it comes back larger and larger, to the extent that it is now six feet tall and at least six feet wide.  I have to admit that this year, due to our extreme ice storms I thought I had lost it, but sure enough, when I checked the base of the dead stalks there were the shoots, coming up from the frozen earth.  She is again going to be magnificent, feeding every butterfly and humming bird within miles.  All for 25 cents and a tiny bit of work.

I cannot express to you how much I recommend the dead plant section at Lowes.

 

 

 

Girly Gardening

Today we went to the garden center (Lowes) and picked up some plants so that I could indulge in some girly gardening.  Of course I headed back to the “dead plant section” of Lowes which I love, some of my greatest finds have been found there, and I picked up lots of flowers to fill my containers which edge my driveway.  I also found citrus trees, loaded with fruit at half price, from $29.99 to $15.00.  I got a lemon, a grapefruit, a mandarin and an orange.  I know I am going to have to crowd them into the greenhouse for the winter but just the idea of a fresh grapefruit in the morning it was worth it.

So when I got home I did my girly gardening.   For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, girly gardening involves container planting, while wearing pink gloves, and a jaunty pink hat, and, depending on the time of day (late in the afternoon) sipping a glass of cold white wine while gardening.   I got all my containers sorted out, with my usual color schemes, red, white and blue, and purple and gold.  The Red and White Dianthus in the containers from last year have returned and are currently in full bloom, I only had to add some blue lobelia to complete the color scheme.

I replaced the weeds and grass that had taken over the other containers with purple Angelonia, gold Marigolds, and gold Portucalaca.   The large containers were planted with purple Angelonia, purple Pentas, and gold marigolds and portucalaca.

I love girly gardening, it gives me to the opportunity to be the uber gentile English woman.  Yes the backbreaking work of planting the vegetable garden begins next week but for this week, I can wear pink gloves, and a pink hat, and drink a glass of wine while I sort out my containers.  It was a good day.

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?

Okay Now Things Are Just Getting Creepy

As I stood on the patio checking on the wrestling status of the dogs and to make sure they were not scaling the fence to escape into the swamp, I noticed something out of the corner of my eye that I didn’t quite truly believe.   To make sure I wasn’t seeing things I put on my glasses and confirmed my initial thought.  It was not a pleasant sight.

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I have seen many strange things in my garden in the twenty years I have lived here but I have to admit I have never seen anything like this.  In case it is not clear, that is a large female garden spider dead in the web of a large female garden spider. At first I suspected that the spider had shed her skin and what I was seeing was the shell, but on closer inspection it became obvious that that was not the case.   I honestly have never heard of this happening.  I understand from research that quite often the female garden spider will eat the dead male garden spider after mating but I cannot find anything to indicate that they actually prey on each other.  I am not sure how this came about, perhaps it was a territory war in which the dead spider lost the battle, as the web is in a prime piece of real estate as far as a spider is concerned, that being attached to the Mexican Sunflowers and Lantana both of which attract a large amount of prey that the spider would be interested in.   In any event I found it distinctly creepy.

As I returned to the house I could hear what appeared to be a crunching sound.  I looked to where the sound was coming from and saw another bizarre sight.

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In this case the garden spider had obviously caught something large and powerful in her web and was attempting to subdue it.  Whatever it was (it was impossible to tell) it had powerful enough jaws that it was eating its way out of the shroud that she was building for it.  It was also obviously tough enough that the venom that she had injected it with was having no effect, because it was clearly moving its legs inside the shroud no matter how many layers of silk she spun around it.   She kept spinning and spinning and spinning attempting to subdue it, but every time she moved away from the mouth area in an attempt to keep the legs from bursting free, it again began to eat away at the top of the shroud with its powerful jaws.   When I checked on it later, she had obviously managed to get enough venom into it that it gave up the struggle and she had her prize neatly stored in her pantry.

I am constantly surprised by my garden’s ability to constantly surprise me, even after all these years.

The best laid plans etc.,

As I mentioned previously my Elderberry Tree has been spectacular this year and was covered with blooms and is now covered with very quickly ripening fruit.  As I also mentioned that I always plan to harvest some berries and make some home-made Elderberry jam but invariably I feel sorry for the birds who love the fruit and end up letting them have all of it.   Well obviously this year it was not to be.  We have had several days of absolutely drenching rain and the rain hitting the fruit and weighing down the branches caused two of the most fruit laden branches to snap spectacularly from the central trunk and crash to the ground.

While I am happy to allow the birds to harvest the fruit I certainly didn’t want the bounty to rot on the ground or simply be eaten by bugs.  My other concern was that with the ripe fruit laying so close to the ground I would be putting the birds feeding on it at risk from my cats, and it didn’t seem to be worth it.  With all those things in mind I decided to harvest the fruit from the two broken branches.

After harvesting and stripping from the stems I have ended up with approximately ten pounds of fruit which I will be turning into jam tomorrow.  I am now grateful that I kept all those glass mason jars and lids that my preferred pasta sauce comes in because I am going to need them.   I am assuming that I am going to be giving some away to friends and neighbors because it is going to yield many jars of jam that I will not be able to eat on my own.

Luckily only a small portion of the Elderberry Tree was affected by the rain so there is more than enough fruit remaining to keep the Mockingbirds and Blue Jays happy, and of course they are going to eat all of the grapes, so there is that.   I am sure their pet name for me is “sucker”.