Saturday, October 31, 2009

Poison ivy

A beautiful native plant, poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) is a wicked plant (at least for those of us allergic to it - and that's about 85% of us).

The fruits are excellent for birds ~ check.
Fall color is fabulous ~ check.
It's native ~ check.

But.... its oils are not a happy combination with human skin and we react badly with rashes and itching.

Happy Halloween!

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Friday, October 30, 2009

A waste-free conference

I went to a Georgia Environmental Educators conference today focused on Outdoor Classrooms. What a cool conference! I tagged along with two of my best buddies (they're both nature and garden lovers, too).

I was totally inspired by a couple of the presentations -- one in particular about and the interactions between citizen science, researchers, and people of all ages literally around the world and the other about certifying pollinator habitats (a Monarchs across Georgia initiative). I'd heard about both organizations before, but not about these projects, so I was delighted to learn about them.

But, the highlight of participating in this conference was the focus on having a waste-free conference. Remarkable. From being able to put our banana peels and apple cores in compost buckets, to using washable plates and cutlery in the school cafeteria, and no excess paper conference printing (uh, they actually relied on us to remember which programs we signed up for and print it out, so they sort of cheated), it was quite the most progressively green conference that I've ever been to.

The school where we met was a remarkably green school, too, with interesting gardens, from vegetables to butterfly gardens to a secret native garden/backyard wildlife habitat). Their cafeteria is not only relying on washable plates, but is recycling everything else, including the composting operation for organic waste.

It was an old school, but one has been totally rebuilt recently, and just reopened a year ago. It was impressive, and the classrooms where the sessions met (at least in the sessions I attended) were full of great materials, and interesting connections to the natural world.

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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Out in the woods

It was a lovely and mild fall day (exceptionally mild, to be sure, for the end of October). My morning 'work' involved taking new SC Master Naturalists around the Garden for a couple of hours. Woo-hoo! I wasn't behind my computer in the office (darn), and I was delighted with the opportunity to share the Garden with these folks.

Gardens are wonderful places for people to connect with nature in a friendly place (ours is almost 300 acres and includes not only managed gardens, but also woods, streams and ponds, meadows, and an arboretum). And gardening is more often than not a portal into an expanding interest in nature and wildlife. Birds, butterflies, bees, toads, garter snakes, woodchucks (hmm), rabbits, beneficial insects, other insects, etc., etc. visit a wildlife-friendly garden.

Natural habitats have become more and more fragmented and disturbed, so our wildlife-oriented gardens, especially those that are full of native plants, become important connections between patches of natural diversity here and there.

We're stewards of an old house, but I'm so pleased that we've been able to restore the landscape to something that's hospitable to wildlife. That's what's important.

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Magnolia grandiflora

Southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) is one of our best-traveled Southeastern U.S. natives. I've seen it planted almost everywhere we've traveled (in Europe, Asia, South America, and Africa).

The fruits and seeds are quite interesting. They're an 'aggregrate' fruit, which means that the seeds are produced in a cluster of scale-like structures encasing the fleshy seeds, which are relished by songbirds.

The fleshy fruit is rich in lipids.

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Blogging and copyright issues

I enjoy writing posts on my blog because it connects me with my garden, hones my observation skills, and is an online journal that not only serves as my reflections at that point in time, but also is a record of what I'm noticing in the garden and beyond.

It's also been a delightful way to interact with other bloggers, other gardeners, and other nature lovers.

So I was surprised today to receive both a comment and a direct email alerting me to a "blog" that's taking posts from legitimate sites, and re-posting them, using a convoluted English to English translation to repackage the text (quite oddly and humorously, actually), but using the same titles and the photographs. They'd noticed that some of my posts were among them.

Kathy, at Skippy's Vegetable Garden, posted about these folks on Monday Oct. 26, who are probably located abroad somewhere. She's had a number of recent posts snagged; in a quick search, I found seven of my posts.

At first, I thought it was inconsequential, since the text of the posts is totally strange post-translation. But then, after reading the comments on Kathy's blog, and seeing my photographs on this other blog, including a post that included views from the windows in my house, and another post that included a photo of me showing dogwood berries to a group of intent young girls (taken by a local newspaper reporter and published in the print version of her paper), it does strike me as a bit much.

And thanks to a net-savvy reader, we know who to complain to about this particular blog. I couldn't figure out why someone would steal content in this strange format, but she suggested that it was to increase the Google rank of their site. Perhaps they think their domain will become some ad-revenue source?

In a quick web search, I found some excellent information at this site about copyright issues.

Perhaps it'll be helpful to some of you!

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Fall color walk

Fall color, red berries, and seasonal change were the themes of a fall color walk last week. Family groups, surprisingly, made up most of the audience.

I was totally delighted to see this photo, from photographer Jessica Nelms from (Seneca Journal/Daily Messenger) on the front page of the print version of Friday's local paper last week.

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Monday, October 26, 2009

Mockingbird song

There's been a mockingbird singing loudly lately near my office. S/he likes to perch on top of a tall conifer between the Carriage House (where my office is) and the Geology Museum, and hold forth for some time.

Mockingbirds are unusual because they sing practically all year-round, not just in breeding season, and their song cycles mimic so many other bird songs as well as other sounds that they've heard.

Sometimes I'm easily able to pick out the songs that are mimicked (in the sound clip in this link, listen for Carolina Wren, Tufted Titmouse, and Eastern Towhee!)

In fall, both males and females sing, staking claim to feeding territories rich with berries and other fruits.

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Sunday, October 25, 2009

Creative gardening and gardens

On a long return loop through an unfamiliar neighborhood after a Farmer's Market visit, I noticed an unexpected gem of a garden.

Asheville, North Carolina is full of interesting home gardens in the older neighborhoods downtown, maybe because they have limited space, but this one was a standout.

I need pictures of this garden, I thought.

Returning in early afternoon, I was fortunate enough to chat with the gardener, who was doing some clipping in a lovely shrub border.

She said they'd been there 18 years, and started with a blank slate (lawn, no doubt) around a lovely historic house.

Her early inclinations towards flowers and cutting gardens have now focused on foliage textures and colors; her combinations of conifers, other evergreens, and herbaceous plants were really lovely.

I loved the red-stemmed dogwood that highlighted the entrance to a old-brick path.

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Garden magic

Sometimes the light is just right and the plants are spectacular.

I was a bit late (in terms of photography) in capturing the magic of the Children's Garden this morning, but take a look. It still was beautiful.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Radicchio and squirrels

It was a lovely day today, and as I returned home from work, I made the rounds, checking on everything (that I've got behind on).

I've been enjoying radicchio becoming red and colorful. I sowed seeds (of heading radicchio) sometime in mid-summer, and transplanted some of the seedlings to the main vegetable garden in early fall. They're coloring up beautifully, and I've just been thinking about what I should 'do' with them. High-heat roasting. Grilling? Probably not, since it involves charcoal lighting in our grill.

But much to my amazement (I guess I shouldn't be surprised based on the radicchio-loving herbivorous tendencies that I've previously observed), there were leaves gone from one of the clumps that I've been observing. Bah, humbug.

I was looking forward to enjoying their winter color for some time, until (much) colder weather (in the future) had mellowed bitterness in the leaves.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Mexican hyssop

A new plant (to me) appeared this summer in local plant sales: Mexican hyssop.

Agastache mexicana
belongs to a large, widespread genus, with species native to a variety of habitats, predominately in dry hilly areas of the Southwestern U.S., Mexico, Japan, and China.

There are already lots of selections, but I'm quite keen on the one that I obtained from a vendor at the Botanical Gardens of Asheville and the similar one that we had at our Garden plant sale this fall.

I thought I had a image of it sprawling out of the oak-half barrel, but apparently only kept this one, of a overnighting carpenter bee on a flower.

Bees and hummingbirds favor its large, nectar-rich flowers -- and, it has a long flowering time, so there's not much NOT to like about that.

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Monday, October 19, 2009

A fall view

I like to repeat this story in programs I do.

When I was a new Garden staff member here (over 15 years ago now), one of our wise volunteers talked about how she'd thought about the view from the windows as she (and her husband), another Garden volunteer, created their extraordinary garden from the shell of the original front and back lawn surrounding their house.

What a wonderful inspiration for novice gardeners (at the time)!

We never tire of the view from our living room window, created by initial plantings that we made soon after moving into our old house, and now expanded by a front pathway and woodland plantings.

View of path and forest from an earlier post

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Sunday, October 18, 2009

Two more hummingbirds

A late fall view from my study

Goodness, I saw two ruby-throated hummingbirds yesterday, and two again this afternoon, much to my surprise. I topped off the feeders with more sugar water to help them on their way. They were visiting the Mexican bush sage (Salvia leucantha) and the Mexican hyssop (Agastache mexicana) when I saw them, but we still have flowers of Salvia guaranitica, Salvia coccinea, and Buddleia.

Bill Hilton, of Hilton Pond, reported their record last sighting of a ruby-throated hummingbird as Oct. 18 (at least as of last year).

Last year, we saw our last on Oct. 12 (thanks to the discipline of blog-posting, I have a record of this).

There were a few monarchs still coming through.

And, there was lovely fall light to enjoy.

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Friday, October 16, 2009

Maybe a really last hummingbird

My gardening companion saw a ruby-throated hummingbird on one of our feeders this evening. Perhaps she was the last of the season. We'll see.

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Gardening and thankfulness

I love being out in the garden, listening to birds, working the soil, and connecting with nature. I'm totally grateful, and perhaps (in the developed world) we need to be a LOT more mindful of what it means to produce food, grow flowers, and give back when we can.

I have a freezer full of bounty from our garden over the last growing season, but it's not enough to sustain us for the rest of the year. That's where farmers come in.

Those bags of lovely 'Green Giant' Yellow Gold Rush potatoes (from somewhere in the Northwest?), the fresh shitake mushrooms (from the mountains where my favorite local grocery chain is based), the fire-roasted canned tomatoes from Muir Glen, the rice from Lundberg Farms and Texmati; these aren't the work of 'small' farmers, to be sure, but farm-based companies that produce quality products.

I've been re-reading Barbara Kingsolver's amazing book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and been quite impressed (awed, actually) at how much she and her family could depend on their local food shed, in addition to ALL that they grew on their Appalachian farm of 25 acres or so.

In recent years, I've been trying to focus my buying efforts towards local and sustainably-produced foods, paying attention towards source and production. It's an exercise in both awareness and being grateful!

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Blog Action Day - A Changing Climate

As a long-term nature observer and gardener, there are many signs of climate change. The most striking are extreme weather patterns. Predicted by a number of climate change models, variability in rainfall and temperatures may be the most telling indicators. In my part of the world, we've seen warmer winters (in night-time lows), drought and deluge (definitely yes), and drier summers (certainly in the recent decade of drought).

Is this 'normal'?

Maybe, but it seems to indicate that increasingly, human-induced inputs are affecting global climatic patterns in unprecedented ways.

I'm glad to lend a voice to Blog Action Day efforts to promote awareness on this issue.

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Maybe a last hummingbird?

The rain poured down today. It was chilly, windy, and wet. STILL convalescing from a nasty bronchitis following the flu, I was at home, on a brief sojourn to the computer, when I noticed her (a female hummingbird) -- checking out the (currently) flowerless arbor of pipevine and jessamine outside my study window.

Yikes, time to refresh the feeders!

Fortunately I had some previously prepared nectar (aka sugar water) in the fridge. I ventured forth in the rain (hey, I'm not feeling so great, but there are hummingbirds needing sustenance out there), scrubbed the feeders, filled them up, and was happy to see her drinking deeply later in the morning.

There are a lot of flowers still open, though, so I really didn't need to be so diligent. There's Salvia guaranitica in the border, Salvia leucantha near the feeders, Mexican hyssop in the oak barrel, and some late flowers of Lonicera sempervirens outside the mudroom door. Not to mention the Buddleia, and Salvia coccinea that's reseeded here and there.

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Fall color

The signs of fall are everywhere. The yellows, reds, and browns have appeared, at least in their beginning stages.

In the mountains, it's ahead, but in the piedmont, it's not far behind.

These are photos from the mountains, though, into the ravine behind our small house there.

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Sunday, October 11, 2009

A young nuthatch

In the mountains, we like to leave the front and 'back' doors open. The back doors open into a view of a lovely ravine forest (my gardening companion was hard at work adding more natives today and yesterday).

Leaving the front door open, on the still mild fall days, brings freshness to the air. I'm still ailing from some crummy secondary infection after H1N1, so I have to be content with gazing out the door. But how nice, and how totally fortunate we are.

Very late this afternoon, a young bird flew in, bumped against one of the doors, and was still on the floor. We nabbed Mocha, and let him/her rest for a bit. Then I gathered the nuthatch fledgling (its markings were quite distinguishable) up in a towel, transported it to the bench on the balcony, where it flew off quite vigorously.


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Saturday, October 10, 2009

Feeder birds

After we filled up the feeders, the parade started soon.

Groups of 2 & 3 visitors at a time nabbed a few seeds and gave their place to the waiting multitudes, who arrived from surrounding trees. This was not entirely peaceful, including disagreements about the 'pecking order.'

I wouldn't have thought that we'd have so many Carolina Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, White-breasted Nuthatches, Northern Cardinals, and who knows what else living in the woods behind our small mountain house.

It was definitely a parade.

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Thursday, October 8, 2009

More butterfly gardening

I'm so pleased with the new site of the butterfly garden at the South Carolina Botanical Garden (where I work), and all of the efforts that volunteers and staff made planting today, I can't really think of a 'personal' post today. Check out my post on our unofficial garden blog for more details.

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Wednesday, October 7, 2009

A new butterfly garden

I find work and home gardening and garden outreach intertwined often. But I'm totally enthused about our new Butterfly Garden site (an expansion of the Children's Garden) at the botanical garden where I work.

We've had a Butterfly Garden for many years, but it was not a good site (on a hill, windy, and in poor soil). So relocating it in a sheltered site below established Children's Garden plantings (the Ethnobotany Garden, the Peter Rabbit Garden, and the Food for Thought Garden), makes a lot of sense.

We'll be putting plants in the ground tomorrow, hooray! I'm totally thrilled about it. This was my post on our not-official garden blog.

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Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Strawberry bush or Heart's a Bustin'

We've planted a number of things in front of the house. Some have flourished, others not. But my gardening companion was quite brilliant in his placement of a rescued native Euonymus americana, (Strawberry Bush).

The fall-produced fruits are striking against the granite stone of our house.

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Monday, October 5, 2009

Newly-sown flats

I'm hoping I'll get some transplantable seedlings out of these newly sown flats. I seeded Even Star arugula and collards, spinach, mache (very cold hardy), Siberian kale, and winter hardy lettuces.

It's nuts, of course. We could get a frost any time (on average Oct. 15), or it could be above freezing through late November or early December.

I've got my cold frame ready, though, for these flats.

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Sunday, October 4, 2009

A herbivorous squirrel

Squirrels are (pesky) herbivores for North American gardeners at times. They dig (often in our flower pots), but also all over the garden; they scamper along fences, visit porches, and (in the bad old days, prior to the expensive gutter system, ran around in our attic).

I've been bemused by their radicchio-eating habits (at least by females), and there are current signs of interest, based on evidence, but I was amazed by this porch-visiting Eastern Gray Squirrel. We've had plenty of munching evidence in the past, but this was flagrant.

S/he was snagging leaves of a Boston fern on the porch, and sitting on the railing, as s/he enjoying eating it. A Boston fern? Who knew?

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Fall vegetable gardening

It was a good day in the garden. Feeling much better today after a nasty bout with H1N1 last week, my gardening companion and I puttered happily doing (relatively) small garden projects. Tiring, of course, and it required a bit of rest on both of our parts, but it was delightful to be outside.

I cleaned up the rest of the satellite (vegetable) garden, and transplanted some asparagus seedlings that I'd grown from seed (a European variety called Precoce d' Argenteuil) which I'd purchased in an enthusiastic buying session last winter. They clearly must have been described in a evocative way. They were nice hefty young seedlings and I tucked them into a bed rich with organic matter.

I covered other beds with nicely decomposed straw, thanks to my hay bale experiment last spring. I didn't actually end up with crops from the hay bales (uh, woodchucks can climb, I guess), but the compost planting holes stimulated decomposition much more rapidly than usual. One of the double bales is still in good shape, so I'm going to leave it for a spring planting experiment. We'll see.

My plan is to plant garlic and shallots in some of the satellite garden beds this fall, but let the others get ready for spring greens. Other garlic cloves will be planted in the main vegetable garden, which I'm planning to cover in spring with a crab/shrimp shell fertilizer product that will encourage chitin-consuming micro-organisms. (The idea is that they will also yum up the root-knot nematode larvae, which have chitin in their composition). Hmm.

But letting the main vegetable garden beds be largely fallow over the summer growing season next year may be the most effective 'rotation' to decrease the populations of nematodes.

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Friday, October 2, 2009

Juvenile American Goldfinches

'Our' goldfinch family is out there chowing down on thistle seeds from the feeder right now. Maybe this was dad, from early in the summer.

I've filled the thistle feeder numerous times over the last couple of months, as the parents, and then the youngsters were loading up. They were eating a LOT of niger thistle seed, in addition to foraging for Rudbeckia, Echinacea, and other seeds in the front meadow.

There were three of them getting water from the smallest birdbath right outside my study window this morning. The juveniles are comical-looking with the scruffy mottled feathers growing out.

I didn't manage to get a photo, but in looking for one to include or link to, found this nice post about a papa goldfinch and a fledgling foraging in a meadow, with fabulous photos.

American goldfinches are among the last birds to breed in our warm season, being almost totally seed-eaters; late nesting coincides with abundant composite and grass seed production in late summer and fall. This is an excellent account about American Goldfinches from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

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Thursday, October 1, 2009

More views

We've had glorious fall weather this week. Monarchs and other butterflies are mobbing nectar-producing plants.

Unfortunately, I've been inside (mostly) nursing my gardening companion (aka my husband) who's been quite sick with what's probably H1N1 flu. I haven't felt so great myself, but so far my symptoms are mild.

A joy, however, is to sit out in our white chairs and watch the butterflies, listen to the birds, and enjoy the last visits of the migrating ruby-throated hummingbirds coming through.

The views from our windows continue to be lovely.

A solace to be sure, when we're not up to being out there in the garden.