Friday, April 29, 2011

Growing your own food

To grow everything you eat (or drink) would be (and is) a formidable task, and we've got centuries of world trade routes to underscore the interest in tea, coffee, sugar, and spices for centuries, as well as the currently active shipping of produce, meat, seafood, and frozen goods around the world, in a global marketplace.

Not to mention bananas, the cheapest fruit available in my supermarket today, but certainly not local or necessarily sustainably grown. 

But, my gardening companion enjoys having a banana each morning with his cereal, and it's hard to think of a reason (in the grand scheme of things) why I shouldn't indulge his habit.  OK, maybe I shouldn't support the small-scale (or big scale companies) that produce bananas throughout the tropical world, but ...

I had a delightful time at a Locavore potluck yesterday evening, but was amazed at how few folks had homegrown veggies in their dishes -- for example, lettuce, greens, or peas (or early strawberries) to offer as their dish to share. 

There was quite a bit of asparagus, which I hope (mostly) came from backyard beds, but one dish was labeled Chinese asparagus.  Hmm.  What I've seen in the markets lately has been from Mexico, before that Peru.

And it was a bit disappointing to see contributions of cantaloupe and blueberries and an attractive pepper, onion, and tomato salad --NOT local, or regional around here at this time of the year.

My vegetable garden (and the gardens I monitor) are overflowing with lettuces, mature purple mustards, overwintered chard, spinach, arugula, sugar snap peas, snow peas, newly sown chard, etc. 

Geez, I'm in a greens glut currently.  It's a good thing that they're good for you, and stir-fried with onions and garlic, are quite delicious.  And good as leftovers for breakfast (with local eggs) and with lunch, too!

My message was to start growing more veggies!  They're easy, delicious, and good to eat.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

A fragrant climbing rose

Climbing roses in the Children's Garden, SCBG













I've been enjoying the climbing roses in the Ethnobotany Garden (part of the Children's Garden at the SC Botanical Garden).  

They're wonderfully fragrant, and trigger childhood memories of the Rose Garden in Berkeley, CA, when I was young, maybe seven (and was reminded of later, as a graduate student returning, serendipitously, perhaps, to where I was born.)

These roses are lovely, and largely disease-free -- they're not supposed to get black spot, but have a few minor signs, with our normally wet spring.

Such a great memory plant, associated with a long ago time.

(Hmm.  I'm stuck in blogspot issues with this post.  But enjoy the images, nonetheless).
a closer look in the Ethnobotany Garden




























































Monday, April 25, 2011

A whimsical gate

I love this gate, created of mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) branches.  I have wonderfully talented colleagues and our Children's Garden manager has a special creative streak.
gate to the Food for Thought Garden at the SC Botanical Garden
Doesn't a gate like this invite you to a special place?

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Spring and eggs

Spring is a time of rebirth, so eggs, whether designated as 'Easter' eggs, or not, are a symbol of that.  A colleague of mine created these lovely eggs naturally-dyed with plants from the garden.

Blown eggs with natural dyes

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Woodland paths

The path to our front door is finally taking on the feel of a woodland path, happily.  In the second year after planting, the Christmas ferns, bloodroot, wild gingers, crested iris, and other (tough) woodland wildflowers are looking good.

The rhododendrons are in flower now, so it feels a bit like being in the mountains.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

A late Wildflower Wednesday

Spring is SUCH a busy time at work, I forgot about Wildflower Wednesday, in spite of a sticky note reminding me.

This is a PEAK time for wildflowers in the Southeastern US  -- many of the early spring ephemerals are past, but there's still plenty in flower.

Hmm, can I count a introduced winter annual? Chickweed?  Yikes.  Here's a photo of a squirrel munching away....

Eastern Gray Squirrel foraging on Chickweed (Stellaria media)

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Connecting with nature

I don't always have as much of a chance to visit our wonderful natural areas in the Blue Ridge Escarpment and Western North Carolina as much as I'd like in spring.  It's a busy time for programs, classes, and school field trips.

But our botanical gardens, parks, and close-by 'semi-wild' places have a lot to offer, too.  There's usually a lot of nature in your neighborhood, if you look for it.

The Children and Nature Network (an offshoot of Richard Louv's Last Child in the Woods and just now featuring his recent book The Nature Principle) has been promoting activities for folks to get out there and be involved with nature.   There's a lot of good to be had in being outside and connecting with the natural world.

Let's get out there and play.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Sources of native plants

Collinsonia verticillata (Horse-balm) -- a rare native plant
I did a presentation today about creating a native woodland garden for folks that live in the midst of a wonderful mountain forest community.  They were a great group of gardeners.

My talk was filled with encouragement about growing the native trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants that grace our Eastern U.S. plant communities.  We live in a species-rich and biodiverse region that I hope that more folks will appreciate, conserve, and recreate in their gardens.

But it takes effort to find the native plants that so many of us take for granted in the special natural places we visit.

It's well worth seeking out the regional native plant nurseries and native plant societies in the regions that you live (here are some for mine).

And learning more about YOUR native plants (wherever you live in the world) is also a way to ground yourself in understanding your part of the world.

It's been a wonderful part of my life.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Tiarella cordifolia

Foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia) is a wonderful spring ephemeral in our native woodlands.  But it's also an excellent addition to woodland shade gardens, too, and happily is fairly available 'in the trade.'

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Little Sweet Betsy (Trillium cuneatum)

Trillium cuneatum (Little Sweet Betsy) is a delightful spring ephemeral in rich eastern woodlands.  This photo (taken by my gardening companion) shows both the usual purple-flowered plants, along with a relatively-common yellow color morph. He describes this in his new blog Wildflower Ecology.

Trillium cuneatum
These are flowers normally enjoyed in 'gardens' in nature;  nursery-propagated plants are available, although pricey, as they take 5-6 yrs to become large enough to flower, when grown from seed.  If you see cheap (large) plants, they're likely to have been poached from the wild.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Spring wildflowers

It's spring wildflower time in the Eastern U.S.

In our (relatively undisturbed) woodlands (rich cove forests, acidic cove forests, oak-hickory forests, alluvial forests, and others), spring empherals are striking this time of year from late February through May.

It's a peak time in the Woodland Wildflower Garden (at the South Carolina Botanical Garden, where I work).  It's a lovely tapestry of Trillium spp., Hexastylis spp. (wild ginger), Podophyllum peltatum (Mayapple), foam flower (Tiarella cordifolia), a variety of ferns, and Atamasco lily.

Cinnamon fern (Osmunda cinnamomea)

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Coral honeysuckle

Coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens)
Our native honeysuckle, Lonicera sempervirens, is a great plant.  All four of ours are looking exceptionally good this year.

This one, the most robust, is next to the kitchen door leading out to the main vegetable garden.

Morning sun seems to suit it just fine, as it increases in size every year.

Ruby-throated hummingbirds are a frequent visitor, although I haven't seen any of the early scouts visiting this one so far this year.

It often re-flowers a bit in the fall - providing welcome nectar for the hummingbirds heading south.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Eastern Columbine

Aquilegia canadensis (Eastern Columbine)
We seeded Aquilegia canadensis (Eastern Columbine) around the house some years ago, and it's repaid that effort abundantly.
Aquilegia canadensis flower

Even though a perennial, it self-sows prolifically, so we've had lots of plants pop up nearby.  They're easy to manage, however, so their fecundity isn't really a problem.

They're in flower now in the Piedmont.  Who knows, maybe a hummingbird or two has dropped by when I wasn't watching!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Monarchs and milkweed

Journey North map (4/10/11)
I was delighted to watch two monarchs flying around our front meadow garden at home this afternoon.

It surprised me, even though I knew they'd all left Mexico and were streaming up through the Central U.S., thanks to email reports from Journey North, a great citizen science/classroom participation site.  Check out the map above.

One female was diligently seeking out the common milkweed plants that are abundant in the front meadow, and apparently laying eggs (although I didn't actually find any - I was distracted by fetching my camera).

Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)


 Monarch investigating young milkweed shoot

She (I think) was quite thorough in investigating the young shoots  -- certainly she exhibited ovipositing behavior!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Fresh basil and local growers

This bunch of fresh basil caught my eye in the supermarket late this afternoon.  It was accompanied by similar fresh bunches of parsley, dill, and thyme, but most were basil.

It was a brilliant offering for spring, when I'm trying to get a first round of basil started on a germination mat under lights.  And for $2.48, it seemed like a excellent exchange of dollars for value.

hydroponically-grown fresh basil

These herbs were produced by a Georgia hydroponic grower, who can certainly be considered regional, if not local.  

Basil can obviously be easily grown here in the Southeast in spring, in hoop-houses, whether hydroponic or not, pushing the season at a reasonable price.  I hope more folks start doing this.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Wildflower Wednesday

Uvularia perfoliata (Perfoliate bellwort)
This is an excellent woodland wildflower and it's spreading in areas that we've cleared of invasive ivy, vinca, and privet, in the botanical garden where I work!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Morels and golden mice

Last weekend's excursion in the Garden was great -- not only did we get to learn and hear all sorts of birds (I'm learning more as fast as I can) but we discovered all sorts of other things.

Calycanthus (Sweet shrub) fruit (seeds eaten by Golden Mice)
Calycanthus fruits, predated by Golden Mice, were totally cool -- in my home landscape, we don't have Golden Mice, so have intact fruits.

A good friend who was also part of the Saturday group was able to pass on this 'ecological story' to a group of OLLI (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute) folks in a hiking group this week. How nice.

We even saw a morel!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

First ruby-throated hummingbird

My gardening companion first spotted a male ruby-throated hummingbird on the feeder on Friday evening (April 1).  We saw him yesterday visiting the feeder, too. 

Today, I saw him (I'm assuming it was the same bird) 'hawking' insects from a perch on the big Southern Red Oak near the house.

It's hard not to think that somehow this is a fellow that remembers our feeder.  But he's probably taking a rest and fueling up for more traveling north.  (Hummingbirds often return the same site, but it's pretty early for that -- this is normally early male scout time).

We have red buckeyes (Aesculus pavia) and coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) in full flower now, so there's nectar available, too.

I just saw a swallowtail (probably a black morph tiger swallowtail) visiting the Carolina Jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens) out my study window.  Lots of Tiger Swallowtails are out now.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Getting out in nature

I've been having a blast in my CU Field Ornithology labs (it's great to not have the id quizzes count for a grade).  But it's also been great to go out in the Garden with Patrick McMillan, the new director at the South Carolina Botanical Garden.

It's so valuable to be able to focus on learning about birds (and listening to their songs and calls) with folks who can help you distinguish between the Chipping Sparrows, Pine Warblers, etc. that are tough to figure out, without practice.  I'm practicing!

We're picking up new migrants in the Garden everyday, as well as departing winter residents, singing their songs (ruby-crowned kinglets are a good example).

It's well worth taking advantage of birding excursions, botanical forays, or any other excuse to get out there to connect with nature.

Friday, April 1, 2011

An interesting spring

It's been an unusual spring for us, with flowering foreshortened with overlap from normally early-flowering species flowering late because of the exceptionally cold winter, with later flowering species accelerated because of our warm February.  This is true of natives as well as ornamentals, interestingly.  Early flowers such as Hepatica are overlapping with mid-to-late spring species.  Odd.  An ornamental example is the Camellia Trail (at the South Carolina Botanical Garden, where I work); it's in full flower right now  -- normally, we'd see this in late February.

out the bedroom window
Flowering dogwood (Cornus florida), though, is right on time. It's been a glorious year, and the trees outside are luminous in the morning. 

The surrounding white bracts (modified leaves) are the showy feature of dogwoods in 'flower' - the actual flowers are small and green, and borne in clusters surrounded by those bracts.
study view
I'm afraid my photos don't do justice to the wonderfully white appearance of these old dogwoods!
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