Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Raised beds for vegetables

We'll be building new beds this weekend on some unused driveway space up in the mountains.

I know I'll be a happier gardener to be tending more vegetables and herbs, away from my main spaces, which will benefit from a break, especially the main vegetable garden, which needs to be fallow, to reduce root-knot nematodes.

But there are gardening activities here to be done, too. The major task is freeing many mulched beds from their cloak of (weedy) winter annuals. Uh, and my gardening companion has yet to get the lawn mower out; I'm not a lawn person, but what's out there is getting pretty sizeable. He's had other distractions, certainly, but hopefully he'll crank up the riding mower soon.

I'm afraid I've only mowed a lawn a couple of times in my gardening life, and that with a push gasoline-powered mower back in Statesboro, GA in our first house and garden, in the last summer there, after my gardening companion (AKA my husband Tim) had already relocated to Clemson, SC.

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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Fresh cabbage

There are a lot of vegetables that we grow to store. Cabbage is one of them. But freshly-harvested cabbage is juicy and delicious. (As will be freshly harvested onions and garlic in early summer).

It was a revelation to me. An extra head from the kitchen garden, nibbled by an herbivore, trimmed, and stir-fried with fresh spinach trying to bolt - it made a totally delicious dinner with local shrimp, rice, and whole-wheat tortillas.

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Do my shrubs need fertilizer?

A participant in a perennial class today mentioned fertilizers. She'd found that the local Wal-Mart isn't selling 10-10-10 (NPK) anymore, only 10-0-10 (eliminating the phosphorus that can be problematic in streams, ponds, and lakes). She likes to apply 10-10-10 around her garden every spring, she said. Another participant said that she'd found 10-10-10 at Lowes.

And I'm thinking, goodness, why would you want to spread fertilizer around shrubs and trees in your garden every year?

Annuals and edibles certainly need fertilizer (I use organic time-release and compost), but most shrubs, and trees should be quite fine with regular organic mulches, since we don't harvest them. Some herbaceous perennials will benefit from a bit of (preferably organic) fertilizer in addition to mulch, since we often do cut their flowers or remove their spent foliage.

Soil tests provide the most accurate information, of course, about your soil nutrient levels and degraded urban and suburban soils may need building up, to be sure.

But the most important thing to do is to keep the organic matter produced by your garden plants (leaves, twigs, etc) IN your garden, recycling it as either as mulch, compost, or both. That's what happens in natural ecosystems, after all.

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Monday, March 29, 2010

Spring peepers

Leaving work late this afternoon, I heard spring peepers calling. Loudly. The small Cherokee Worldview Garden bog is filled with water now, and has clearly been repopulated.

It's a lovely sound. Now if I could just figure out how to upload audio files.... hhmrph.

But my favorite nature sound audiographer, Lang Elliot, doesn't seem to connect with the latest Real Player version on his site.

But just google spring peeper call, and you'll hear what I heard!

This is an image from Wikipedia, from a USGS site.


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Sunday, March 28, 2010

Planning for raised bed vegetables

Looking towards summer, I'm planning what will go in our new raised beds in the mountains.

They're yet to be built, but we've scouted out the right sort of stone, that will be easy (for me as well as my gardening companion) to stack, and we'll get to work next weekend.

Quite handsome large stone blocks, of hefty proportions, were available, and would have made seriously sturdy raised beds, but I could barely lift one stone (I think they weighed about 50 lbs. each), so I'm hardly going to be able to help build that sort of wall. I'm not gifted in the strong shoulders and arms department, but I have built a number of nice retaining walls and an excellent front path, so I do want to be part of this endeavor.

I spent some enjoyable time plotting out the beds -- basically they'll be four long beds, two horizontal and two perpendicular to the house, on what's currently unused 'driveway.'

It'll hopefully be fairly easy to lay out; there's gravel below the mulch on the 'driveway' -- so we'll dig down to prepare footings, put in a bit of builder's sand, and build the stone walls (at about 14 inches).

These beds will be devoted to summer vegetables and herbs: tomatoes, peppers, squash, beans, and basil.

The main vegetable garden in the Piedmont will be fallow this summer to reduce root-knot nematodes there. And the satellite vegetable garden, after the garlic and onions are harvested, will be devoted to winter squash, and cool season vegetables in the fall.

I've also just ordered some tough asparagus crowns (all male UC 157) to put in, to join the 'from seed' plants that I grew last year. (They struggled through the tough winter, so I'm thinking they need some reinforcements!)

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Saturday, March 27, 2010

Spring in the mountains

It's still early yet, in the Southern Appalachian mountains. But evidence of spring is everywhere, from the flowering daffodils to our native empheral wildflowers to the red maple fruits.

It was a long winter here in the mountains, too, and local (Asheville, NC) columnists have remarked on it.

Curiously, areas normally blasted by hard winters (the midwest) haven't been so bad this year. My friend Corrie says that it hasn't been so harsh this winter in Madison, WS -- I'm glad for them!

The northeastern states, however, had plenty of snow and late winter storms, not to mention the colder temperatures for the southeastern U.S.

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Friday, March 26, 2010

Bloodroot flowers

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) is a lovely spring wildflower in deciduous forests in the Eastern U.S.

The common name reflects its reddish sap, when the underground parts are bruised. The sap contains active phytochemicals, some potentially effective against less desirable bacteria and possibly some cancer cells.

Its flowers tell me that spring is definitely here.

This plant, transplanted from the side garden, is flourishing along the front pathway. (And note the young, seed-derived, plant on the left!)

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Thursday, March 25, 2010

Spring greens

It's hard to beat fresh spinach, cabbage, arugula, mache (corn salad), and lettuce straight from the garden.

Mache (corn salad)
Mache is a treat; the leaves never get very big (for me), even the so-called large-leaved varieties, but boy, are they tasty. These plants were especially robust.

Ditto with fresh arugula. This time of year, the hotness hasn't developed, and the delicious nuttiness is perfect. Yum. And the young freshly harvested cabbage -- nothing like a grocery-store cabbage, actually.

Do I sound like I enjoy salads and vegetables? I do, certainly. They're definitely tasty, with or without a nice vinaigrette!

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Overwintered vegetables

In normal years, I'd have kale of various sorts, spinach, and collards looking great after overwintering. Not this year. It was a hard winter (for us).

It's a pretty grim outlook in my own vegetable garden areas; the one exception is the protected (by a brick wall) kitchen garden next to the Visitor Center (at the botanical garden where I work). I take partial credit for encouraging a four-season garden there.

There, we have lovely nice lettuces, mustards ready to harvest, but a whole array of cole crops that are rapidly sending up flowering shoots (Tuscan kale and arugula among them) following a stressful winter.

In my home garden, they didn't survive winter frosts, so hooray for the protection of the brick wall.

But I have lettuce, and mesclun mix, and arugula coming up in flats, and in the garden, and the peas are FINALLY emerging. They'll probably be blasted by early summer heat, but we'll see!

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Tuesday, March 23, 2010


In some years, spring creeps in slowly and gradually, marked by an orderly progression of early flowering bulbs, Asian Prunus and Magnolia, followed by our native woodland wildflowers accompanied by native wind-pollinated maples, alders, and birches. More Asian species flower (quince, forsythia, winter jasmine...) and then our native forest trees release their pollen (achoo!) -- the oaks and hickories, in particular. Cedars and pines, although heavy pollen producers, aren't actually as allergenic as some of the other wind-pollinated species, I think because their pollen is larger, just like the pollen of insect and animal-pollinated flowers.

This year, however, spring is blasting in. Every day brings new evidence of buds swelling, shoots emerging, and flowers opening. The long cold winter has delayed progress of many herbaceous perennials, but they're emerging now.

And the overwintered greens -- kale, mustard, arugula, and spinach- after all the cold, they're primed to bolt, flower and produce seed pronto. Not in this year will they stay vegetative over a long cool spring. And the peas I sowed (optimistically some time ago) are finally emerging, too, to experience ??? hot weather, cool weather, rainy weather, or dry weather.

Gardening is fun because it's so unpredictable, I guess!

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Monday, March 22, 2010

A lone daffodil

A single daffodil in the middle of a (scruffy & unmowed) spring lawn piqued my interest.

Where did it come from?

I hadn't planted it, certainly, and there are other singles that have popped up elsewhere.

It didn't seem like squirrels would have moved a bulb (since daffodils are distasteful), but establishment from seed didn't seem obvious (in the middle of a lawn), either. Nor would having come in with leaf mulch make sense in this spot.

A bit of research revealed that some daffodils, especially the simpler-flowered ones, do set some viable seed. So, it's undoubtedly a reflection of an good year, weather-wise, for germination and establishment of several new daffodil plants in unlikely spots!

How the seeds were dispersed there in the first place is another question entirely.

Notice that there's another daffodil in front of the flowering one that's established, but not flowering...

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Sunday, March 21, 2010

Spring wildflowers

It was cool and rainy today, but spring's pace is steady. The early spring wildflowers are out at Station Cove, a premier wildflower site in Upstate South Carolina.

The latest include Trillium cuneatum (Little Sweet Betsy), Thalictrum thalictroides (Rue Anemone), and Podophyllum peltatum (Mayapple).

Hepatica flowers are already developing fruits and new leaves emerging.

The fiddleheads of one of the common ferns were also striking. It was a nice spring outing.

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Saturday, March 20, 2010

The first day of spring

This afternoon was the spring equinox, when the hours of daylight equal the hours of night. It was a good day here: highs in the mid-70°s (F), sunny, and clear.

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) is in flower along the front path. These were transplanted from the side garden last year, and are a welcome announcement of spring. I removed some of the leaves covering crested iris (Iris cristata) shoots under the old oak. Their flowers aren't too far off.

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Eastern Bluebirds

A joy in the Garden's meadows are Eastern bluebirds, who make use of the nestboxes and meadow-supported caterpillars to raise multiple broods each year.

The first breeding session is underway; this box is one of the most desirable, with a large expanse of meadow below.

I've been seeing a male bluebird perched on the top in recent weeks. I'll have to check if he's found a mate yet, and set up a nursery nest.

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Friday, March 19, 2010

Praying mantis egg cases

Near where we often start our walks on weekend mornings, I noticed LOTS of praying mantis egg cases, scattered on the Clethra alnifolia shrubs planted along the road.

There were at least fifteen, in a group of maybe 6-8 plants. A lot (I thought, and many more that I'd ever seen before in one place).

Each egg case will hatch between 100-200 young mantises in late spring. Remarkable!

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More goldfinches

Another flurry of goldfinches visited the feeders today, including some males that were a deep yellow.

It's nice to see them - I enjoy watching them all year, whether at the feeders or eating seeds from late summer and fall fruits. A literal bright spot in a glorious almost spring day!

The spring equinox tomorrow will be graced by perfect spring weather, a cool morning with afternoon highs in the 70°s (F). I'm grateful for the arrival of spring.

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Thursday, March 18, 2010

A goldfinch flock

A flurry of activity drew my attention this afternoon. Out the study window, I could see goldfinches on all three feeders (2 sunflowers and 1 thistle). There were at least three on each (I could see them better after picking up my binoculars!)

They were largely the dull color of winter, and this was the only shot I was able to get. Opening the door finds them scattering for cover, and a long view through the window is blurry at best.

Lots of people see large flocks at their feeders this time of year, but this is as many as I've seen before.

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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Digital images, color, and color printers

Most of us non-professional photographers trust our digital cameras to do the work for us, using the automatic settings for exposure, white balance, and color.

It works quite well; in my case, the algorithms that the Nikon photo engineers devised for my trusty D100 camera (now getting a bit weathered, but it's a workhorse) are excellent. Set on sRGB, I get realistic natural color in the images on my monitor, and hopefully on yours. I may crop an image or tweak an exposure, but otherwise don't do much aside from resizing before I upload and post photos..

But actually printing photos, at least in a non-professional way, is a whole different beast. I haven't printed many photos, but normally the home version of color printers coordinates well with my Mac, too. The old HP printer did, and the current Epson printer does, just fine, although both were/are slow. And, they chew up ink cartridges rapidly (and I mean rapidly) on high-quality settings.

But my foray into testing local print shops (to print out 150+ pages of photos arranged in pdf files) has been informative (for my gardening companion's final book ms submission). Who knew how color could vary among color printers (really color copiers) and the computers that drive the photo process? I had wildly varying results, from blown-out colors to yellowish tinges to dark images. Yikes.

I've had good success with image quality when I've produced interpretive signs with page layout programs on professional imagesetters, but obviously the color printing market is different.

I won't go through the comparisons or the vendors, but I'm returning to printing out the color proofs on the home Epson printer (a dinky home version, not a photo-quality one). I can at least print out realistic color for what I need. Even if it will take multiple cartridges!

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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

First spring wildflowers (and photo considerations)

After Hepatica, trout lilies (Erythronium spp.), violets (Viola spp.), and in our region, a rare and endangered wildflower, Oconee bells (Shortia galacifolia) are often the next to flower.

Photos by Tim Spira (copyrights reserved)

Foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia) and trillium (Trillium spp.) and all the rest aren't far behind.

I've been spending a lot of time in the digital darkroom this week, making sure the printed photo proofs of my gardening companion's excellent wildflower photos match what we see on the screen.

It's not actually as easy as you'd hope. The translation from digital image to printed image requires more of a universal language than his iMac speaks (with its bright, glossy extra-large screen) and the RGB to CMYK conversion, I'm leaving to the publications folks.

I've been using Adobe Lightroom 2 to standardize what we see, translating the bright screen images to similar print versions. So far, it's been fabulous, and it looks like the printed version (even on a home inkjet printer) are excellent. Tomorrow, we'll test them on a professional photographic image-setter printer.

I'm crossing my fingers -- these photos reflect SO many, many hours of work, getting to the places at the right times to take them, taking multiple shots of many species, and now making sure they reflect what Tim (my gardening companion aka my husband) saw... we want them to look right.

These are (reduced in size) images of Oconee bell and trout lily that will appear in his book.

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Monday, March 15, 2010

Emerging spring shoots

Lots of plants are expanding shoots, and showing plumped-up buds. Spring is definitely on its way.

This creeping jenny plant, in a very shallow terracotta dish, looked like a goner after going through our harsh (for us) winter. But here are new shoots emerging. Fabulous.

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Sunday, March 14, 2010

Late winter camellias

Camellias are a stalwart in Southern US gardens, and every old house has at least one.

We have four, one in front and three on the side.

I thought that this would be a wash-out camellia year because of the hard winter, but it hasn't turned out that way.

Apparently, the exceptionally cold temperatures delayed bud maturation, and many camellias are in full flower now, quite late compared to normal years, at least in my memory.

The camellia in the front is the only one that I know by name: Professor Sargent. A wonderful deep red, its frilly flowers resemble carnations, not individually attractive to me, but in masses, they're lovely against the gray granite of our 70+ year old house.

The corner camellia is white, with a faint pink striping. It usually gets zapped by winter freezes, but this year's buds, delayed by cold weather, are flowering now.

The camellias by the kitchen door are pink, and quite hardy. They're flowering now, too, and have many lovely flowers emerging between the frost-bitten buds.

Alas, camellias don't exactly 'work for a living' - one of my screens for a plant worthy of wildlife-friendly gardens, but they're tough, hardy, and long-lived, and illuminate winter landscapes and cheer the heart of the gardener. That works for me.

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Saturday, March 13, 2010

A rust fungus

On a walk this morning in the Garden, we came upon a striking fungus on a native juniper (Juniperus virginiana).

Being the knowing biologists that we are (ha!), we thought cedar-apple-rust fungus, took pictures, and noticed the same fungus on other junipers in the Garden.

But, it doesn't seem to be cedar-apple-rust at all, based on my Google-searches -- the images don't match at all.

It's a fungus, to be sure, maybe a Gymnosporangium spp. -- I'll need to have my friend Meg, who's the Plant Diagnostician at the CU Plant Problem Clinic take a look!

It's definitely striking!

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Friday, March 12, 2010

Soggy soil

After several days of wonderful spring-like weather, we're back to soggy soil and runoff. I'm quite sure that the groundwater supply is WELL recharged by now. Squishing across the lawn, getting muddy shoes in the trampled areas, and hearing a first 'spring' thunderstorm this afternoon are good signs, I suppose, for an amply wet spring.

I haven't even checked the long-term forecasts from the climate folks, as I would worriedly do during our recent drought years. The lakes are full pool, meaning our city water supply is ample, and the soil and subsoil is totally saturated.

It's time for more sun and warmth, and spring growth, even if it means concentrated pollen release from wind-pollinated trees and shrubs (achoo!)

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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Blogging about nature and gardens

Oh, my - the Blogger dashboard says this is my 700th post.

I certainly didn't imagine that as I started gingerly making posts about my gardening activities and nature observations 2 and 1/2 years ago.

As a stymied nature and garden journal writer in paper format, I've obviously enjoyed this format much more. On paper, I was always thinking about wanting to change what I'd written (much easier to revise online), fussy about my drawings and sketches (not bad, but not like photographs), and I'd forget to make notes about gardening activities or nature sightings.

The blogging format was a revelation.

I can sit down in the evening, reflect on the most interesting thing(s) I did or saw that day in the garden or in nature, and record it. Sometimes I have photos, sometimes not, but it's always a grounding experience, connecting me with where I live, garden, and experience nature.

I started out simply writing for my own records and enjoyment, and I still do. But, I'm glad if what I reflect on is of interest to others -- that is, you, too.

Thanks for being part of my nature and garden community.

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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A male cardinal

The rain returned today, but the birds were still singing. It was mild, with highs in the mid-50°s (F).

Male cardinals are holding forth, singing up a storm -- and establishing their territories. This was a post about another male cardinal in late February.

This male was up in the Yoshino cherry trees near the geology museum (in the garden where I work). He was singing loudly - check out this recording.

They have a wonderful song (or call) -- distinctive and recognizable.

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Tuesday, March 9, 2010

A Mourning Cloak sighting

On the warmest day of late winter so far, I saw two butterflies. One was orange, and I didn't get a good look at it.

The other was a mourning cloak, one of our few butterflies that overwinter as adults, emerging on warm days like this one.

This is an image of a pinned Mourning Cloak from MonarchWatch, an excellent organization that monitors monarch migrations and abundance.

The overwintering adults mate in spring, on warm afternoons like this one.

Some great photos and more information about butterflies are on Randy Emmitt's site -- here's a link to the mourning cloak page, but check out his other photos while you're there.

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Red-shouldered hawks in the Garden

A pair of red-shouldered hawks, their nest completed, were carrying on loudly in the botanical garden where I work this morning, chasing away a third hawk, and calling loudly. Here's a link to the post on the What's Happening in the Garden blog.

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Monday, March 8, 2010

Sustainable gardening

Jan, at Thanks for Today, initiated an Earth Day project for garden bloggers on sustainability, which I'm glad to take part in. Earth Day is on April 22, but is often celebrated on days surrounding that date.

I find gardening an act of stewardship and restoration. My gardening companion and I have created a garden that supports wildlife, mimics nature, and supports our spirit. The trajectory that we've had of converting our roughly 1 1/2 acres of lawn to woodland, meadow (borders), shrub borders and understory along with two intensively maintained vegetable garden areas has been deeply satisfying to us.

In our small mountain house, the mulched areas, with minimal planting, have quickly yielded to adding more native trees and shrubs below the house, ripping out invasives (English ivy, honeysuckle, etc.) in the ravine below, and adding shrubs, bog, sedums, and meadow garden in front, with part of the driveway scheduled for raised bed vegetables this spring.

But I know as an ecologist that we need to create sustainable systems on a community and regional scale, not just on a home scale. To be sustainable, we need to include not only home gardens, but neighborhoods and city landscapes, and regional food distribution networks, and include watersheds and foodsheds in the overall picture. Ecological systems aren't balanced on an acre or 1 and 1/2 acres, but multiples of thousands of acres. Our food system is literally global.

It's fundamental for the earth's stability and the long-term survival of humans as a species that we, as part of the world community, commit our hearts, minds, and actions to living as lightly as we can on Earth. When there were many fewer of us (humans), resource exploitation and extraction was manageable. Now that there are 6 billion plus of us, and we all want stuff, electricity, water on demand, and bigger houses, we've got a big problem.

When I was a graduate student, I read Limits to Growth, a visionary book about how we'd run out of essential resources if the world population kept growing, and everyone kept consuming (like Americans). Unfortunately, their predications were delayed by technological innovation, and folks who don't understand the limits of the ecological capacities of our planet started to talk about how we'd be able to invent our way out of the negative impacts of population growth, energy consumption, etc.

Today we're at a critical point. I was teaching a course called People and the Environment in 1990, when PBS aired an excellent series about 'Race to Save the Planet.' We were hopeful then, but now we’re definitely needing to face the end of cheap energy (peak oil) and a throwaway society. Each one of us in the developed world (and the affluent folks in the developing world, too) needs to reduce our consumption of stuff, from electricity to water to goods and services. We need to help people in the developing world to raise their standard of living without making the same mistakes we made in the U.S. - this means cutting dependence on fossil fuels in favor of sustainable energy sources such as solar and non-habitat-degrading biomass fuel production.

As a vegetable gardener, I know about the work it takes to grow even a part of one's own food, not to mention the calorie-dense grains or tubers that provide the sustenance for most diets world-wide. And I'm in awe of folks who are growing all of their vegetables, much less raising urban chickens for eggs and meat. In ‘my’ environmental generation, we had Love Canal, Three Mile Island, and countless other wake-up calls about the impact of human-created pollutants on humans and the rest of the natural world.

My husband (aka my gardening companion) and I heard Al Gore many years ago at a Georgia Conservancy meeting talking about how many signs did we did to have until the (environmental) message was clear. He was powerful in his message then, and thank goodness he's continued along that road. His book, Earth in the Balance, was one that more of us should have paid attention to.

I'm always trying, not always successfully, to reduce our impacts and use of resources -- recycling everything that we use, choosing products that are recyclable or biodegradable, and produced from renewal sources, conserving energy, composting, etc, and gardening naturally and restoring habitat in our garden -- it's a positive step that provides me with hope that we can turn things around, starting with our homes, actions, yards, and communities.

We’re total recyclers, buy things to keep, compost everything, never waste food, turn off the lights, yada, yada, but still rely on nuclear power for electricity, drive to work (even though it’s only a mile), travel widely (offset, of course), and still buy apples grown in Washington, bananas from Ecuador and Costa Rica. But I don’t buy fruits out of season in the northern hemisphere, or tomatoes and peppers grown in hothouses, and try to avoid anything that seems to have too much of a ecological footprint in its production. And, I’m planning to freeze even more vegetables in the coming season for use in the winter.

The looming impact of climate change and the disappearance of cheap energy is daunting, to be sure. But I derive sustenance from trying to be a good steward to the gardens that I’ve created and fostered, and the many children and adults that I’ve touched as an educator.

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Sunday, March 7, 2010

A first spring wildflower

Many garden flowers bloom early in the Southeastern US (cued to different climatic conditions).

Most of them are native to the Mediterranean region. Daffodils come from Spain and Portugal. Crocus are native to the mountains of Southern Europe (Greece, Turkey, Crete and elsewhere). Tulips are native in the mountains of Central Asia (Eastern Turkey and the foothills of the Himalayas). Flowering apricots come from Asia, too.

But our native woodland wildflowers start blooming in late February and early March.

The earliest are Hepatica. Hepatica americana is blooming now in the Garden. In the last couple of years, we saw the first flowers on Feb. 22 and Feb. 29. So it's delayed this year. My gardening companion had looked for flowers of Hepatica last week in his plant ecology lab.

And the trout lilies (Erythronia americana) are well along.

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Saturday, March 6, 2010

A lovely hellebore in Elizabeth Lawrence's garden

My friend (a retired horticulture professor and landscape architect) and I poked around a historic neighborhood (Myer's Park) in Charlotte, North Carolina this morning. Lovely houses reflecting a sense of place and solidity in their surroundings anchor this neighborhood (a pricey one, to be sure). The houses are large, but still fit their landscapes, which is nice to see.

Heading towards Wing Haven, a wonderful garden created by Elizabeth Clarkson and her husband, we enjoyed the neighborhood. The area, formerly eroded red clay left from cotton farming, is now a lovely neighborhood, with old trees creating a canopy.

A highpoint was a striking hellebore in Elizabeth Lawrence's Charlotte garden (now owned and managed by Wing Haven).

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A Spring Garden Show

Creating garden vignettes in the context of a huge exhibition center for a long weekend show is a challenging task. Most of this year's exhibits (in the Charlotte-based Southern Garden Show) relied on daffodils, tulips, redbuds, ornamental Prunus, and a who's who of standard landscaping plants, with a sprinkling of other landscape plants, spring-flowering bulbs, and greenhouse grown perennials.

The mixture of plants is often odd -- 'forcing' plants to be in flower creates strange bed companions. Azaleas next to tulips and daffodils doesn't happen in our climate, but it can in the world of garden show displays.

An otter and turtle sculpture was a whimsical sighting.

My favorite 'exhibit' was the Charlotte Council of Garden Clubs introduction to their member garden clubs entries- a delightful reflection of a real garden area, complete with chairs and inspiration.

But equally fun was exploring the grounds of the Duke Mansion (now run as a B&B).

An old dead tree trunk has been converted into a Peter Rabbit sculptural motif. Quite nice.

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Thursday, March 4, 2010

A garden visit

We (I was travelling with a friend and colleague) stopped at Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden on the way to the Spring Flower Show in Charlotte.

It was a treat. It's a very formal garden, not exactly what I envision for my own garden, but lovely, nontheless.

The Conservatory was remarkable, imaginative and innovative.

The Tillandsia arches are like nothing I've ever seen (nor my friend and colleague) -- and we've visited a LOT of gardens between us.

And the winter elements are lovely -- these Japanese pussy willows are just about perfect at this time of year.

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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Bird songs

It's been heartening to hear the songs of American Robins, Northern Cardinals, Tufted Titmice, and Carolina Wrens recently. It means spring is almost here.

And, according to Journey North, the spring migrants are on their way, including the Ruby-throated hummingbirds.

The changing seasons bring a delightful cycle of plant growth from vegetative growth to flowers, fruits, and seeds, the timing depending on the native origin of the plant. These plants provide cover and nesting habitat, food for caterpillars (great nestling food), and fruit and seeds, for fruit and seed-eating birds.

An excellent balance, to be sure.

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Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Native plants in the landscape

Every region of our planet has native plants, species that evolved in a particular place within a distinct plant community. These species are adapted to local climates, soils, and weather, and exhibit an array of ecological strategies, from germination patterns to growth and reproduction.

This is the stuff of plant ecological research. Folks who study the details of these processes spend a lot of time carefully monitoring plant behavior, with controlled experimental manipulations and lots of data collection. It's time-consuming, but revealing.

The reproductive habits of a plant are clues to whether it'll be invasive in a new habitat, or a well-behaved garden inhabitant. Many plants are highly adaptable moved from their native environments to new ones; they're often the stalwarts in our ornamental plant palettes.

We have plants from all over the world in our gardens and landscapes, wherever you might live. Often the same plants, though, appear over and over.

But a diversity of plants is always the key to a healthy and balanced garden, and the more natives the better.

Native plants support native insects that native birds and amphibians eat; their flowers, fruits, seeds, and leaves (not to mention their structure) provide food and habitat for birds, insects, mammals, etc. So in our gardens, emulating nature is a wonderful way to restore the often barren suburban, urban, or exurban landscapes that may face us.

Even though we weren't gardeners when we (my gardening companion and I) started on the journey of transforming our acre and a half of lawn to woodland, meadow, shrub borders, perennial gardens and vegetable gardens, we are now.

And we're grateful to feel like we're good stewards of our space for as long as we're here.

This is the transformation from lawn to woodland in our front yard - we're definitely appreciative of the power of plants.

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Monday, March 1, 2010

Gardening for nature

I gave a talk this evening for a group of Master Gardeners about 'Gardening in Tune with Nature.'

It's my stump speech, for sure, changed and honed over the last 15 years. I updated it again this morning. It's about gardening to support wildlife, restoring the ecology of your (back and front) yard, and attempts to inspire folks to think about planting more native plants as well as pollinator-friendly and wildlife-friendly non-natives.

I make the point that increased biodiversity in planting results in more wildlife diversity. But I'm beginning to think I also need to talk about what makes natural plant communities function well, too.

Hmm. I provide lists of great plants to add to gardens in our region, and hopefully was persuasive. What's good for restoring the ecology of your backyard (Noah's Garden) is not normally what horticulture marketing wants you to buy.

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