Saturday, October 30, 2010

Pumpkins and gourds

I've spent more time lately in other people's gardens than my own, it seems to me (that includes my workplace garden, but not necessarily being IN the garden).  Normally, there's plenty to record and remember, but if I haven't been out there much, there isn't much to write about, alas.

But I'm reminded, being in the mountains for a long Fall Break weekend, that this is Halloween weekend, too  -- not a holiday that we particularly celebrate now, but that we remember enjoying as kids.

Gourds, winter squashes, and pumpkins of all sorts are a wonderful reflection of the harvest time that it is.  And the farmer's markets here are full of delicious varieties, including the sugar pumpkins that I nabbed, and stuck out on the front porch.

I even bought some candy, in case we have some young visitors tomorrow evening  (we're in a much more compact family-friendly sort of street in Asheville than in Clemson, SC).  But, my gardening companion will enjoy any 'leftovers' --so we're set.

I was reminded of this delightful squash vignette from the Dallas Arboretum that I saw in September.

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Thursday, October 28, 2010

Children's gardens

There's been an explosion in recent years in children's gardens -- it's definitely a good thing, when these gardens encourage exploration of the world of plants and nature. 

I visited a delightful Children's Garden at Phipps Conservatory this summer (in Pittsburgh, PA).

Children's gardens that are full of fabricated stuff don't appeal to me, but the small pocket garden adjoining the conservatories at Phipps  was totally appealing.

These boys were using the water feature to fill up their buckets (one of them actually watered my feet, hmm).  But they were exploring the environment of perennials, a nicely done concrete tree (with informative nooks), and various other exploratory venues.

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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Mexican oregano

I'd never heard of Mexican oregano, but a caller on our Your Day public radio gardening call-in show mentioned it.  She said it was a great plant, and tasty, too, with a delightful sweetness.

Hmm.  I meant to look it up, but didn't.

While cleaning up my office recently (I'm prone to stacks, piles, and unorganized folders of interesting things), I found a clipping about Mexican oregano (Lippia graveolens) from the Brooklyn Botanical Garden's Plants and Gardens News, which I receive as a member. (Their publications are wonderful).

It's easy to grow, liking heat, full sun, and fertile soil.  It's not apparently hardy in the Piedmont, being hardy only to Zone 10, but we can apparently overwinter it inside on a south-facing windowsill. The author, Scott Appell, says it's easy to propagate, too, from tip-cuttings, another way to keep it going.

He mentions its culinary qualities, too, and suggests that many cooks prefer it to 'regular' oregano (Origanum spp.)

Lippia isn't even in the Mint family (Lamiaceae), but in the Verbena family (Verbenaceae), but must be chemical cousins in terms of their leaf compounds.

Definitely something to try!

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Monday, October 25, 2010

Garlic planting time

I've managed to tuck garlic into 3 beds now, separating their cloves and poking them into deep, compost-amended soil.  I've had no trouble growing garlic, and we've enjoying eating it.  Perhaps I haven't grown giant heads, due to my parsimonious watering and fertilizing, but last year's harvest was a bumper crop.

I've used homegrown garlic to replant this year for the first time.  It's fun to continue that cycle, although some of the cloves aren't as large as I'd like.

a bed ready to be planted
The asparagus has flourished through the growing season, too, and is looking robust and vigorous.  After it goes dormant, I'm planning to consolidate two primary growing beds, to accommodate a couple of outliers that I stuck in place as an afterthought.

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Friday, October 22, 2010

Fall color

We usually think about fall color in leaves; in Eastern North America, we have an abundance of deciduous trees that illuminate our landscapes with colors varying from yellow to red.

But on a 'fall color walk' today, I pointed out many more 'fall colors' -- those of flowers and fruits, especially, but also of foliage of annuals and perennials that we don't normally think about as 'fall color.'

It was interesting -- fall color (in terms of leaves) is just now coming on.

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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Saffron crocus

Looking out the kitchen window this morning, I noticed that the saffron crocus has suddenly appeared, in flower.  I had thought the bulbs would have succumbed to the exceptionally cold winter last year, followed by extreme heat.

But there they were.  Some of the clumps looked flourishing, actually.

I'll collect the stigmas from open flowers tomorrow to dry  - it was wet today.

I noticed that I'd made a post on Oct. 26 a couple of years ago about the saffron crocus being in flower!

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Monday, October 18, 2010

Blue Ridge Parkway views

Fall color in the North Carolina mountains is becoming apparent.  At mid-elevations along the Blue Ridge Parkway, the color is spectacular.  Higher up, it's still early; lower down, drought stress may diminish the usual clear yellows, defaulting to brown.

Hemlocks are gray ghosts, felled by woolly adelgids
But yesterday, it was spectacular north of Devil's Courthouse and Graveyard Fields.

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Friday, October 15, 2010

Natural gardening and garden visits

I enjoy encouraging the folks in programs that I do to think about gardening for nature and creating a natural garden. 

A Master Naturalist/Master Gardener friend in the Low Country of South Carolina calls her similar program  'Gardening as if life mattered.' It's a much more powerful title, and compelling. Her journey as a gardener,  from understanding how to develop spectacular perennial borders to creating a sanctuary garden (as a survivor of a life-challenging illness) to wildlife gardener is inspirational.

We can all plant more plants 'that matter' -- that is, plants that work for a living, wherever we live in the world. 

It's a joy to have plants whose flowers are visited by butterflies and bees, whose leaves are eaten by caterpillars, and whose fruits are enjoyed by birds, mammals, and others.

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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Question Mark butterflies visiting sap

Question Mark butterflies collecting sap (Thanks, Randy!)

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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Sap-visiting butterflies

I was surprised when my fellow butterfly enthusiasts and Garden volunteers told me today about butterflies visiting oozing sap on an oak near the Caboose Parking area and showed me some remarkable photos. Wow.

There were Red Admirals, and Commas, and others taking advantage of the fresh sap, perhaps as a consequence of Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers drilling into the bark.

One of our garden horticulturists had alerted them to this, having just observed the masses of butterflies.

Hopefully, I'll be able to post a few of their photos!

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Monday, October 11, 2010

Last signs of summer

We saw a female ruby-throated hummingbird visiting cypress vine flowers yesterday in the Children's Garden.  She was a late straggler, to be sure. 

October 18th is the last date we're seen hummingbirds in the Upstate of South Carolina, a couple of years ago.

And there were monarchs flitting by, as well.

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Saturday, October 9, 2010

A luminous meadow

I spent some time this afternoon cleaning up and 'editing' the front meadow. 

It needed to be freed of the weedy annuals that had popped up in late summer, the remnants of vines that had clambered around (including the passionvine, Passiflora incarnata), and generally tidied up -- the Helianthus hirsutus (Rough-stemmed Sunflower) was downright ugly, even to a wildlife-friendly gardener, and I'm confident the goldfinches have long since eaten its seeds.  And the Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), which is such a great host for monarch caterpillars, is in decline as well, and most monarchs are well south at this point, too, and any stragglers are not going to be successful in reproducing here, before the first frost.

Front meadow in evening
It was satisfying work, even if driven by thinking I might have the Osher Lifelong Learning class come visit next after the Gardening for Nature class that I like doing for them.  I think I'll describe what our next projects are, and our real-life challenges as natural gardeners (hmm, full-time work, two gardens at the moment, we have other things to do, etc.)

Actually, our garden in the Upstate is a testament to the toughness of natives and well-adapted plants over a summer of brutal heat and no rain in the last third of the summer, with minimal 'care' on a couple of short visits and supplemental water only to recently planted things.

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Friday, October 8, 2010

Butterflies and more butterflies

Our warm, early fall temperatures, at least by late morning, are wonderful for watching butterflies.  On the purple lantana near my office, there were pipevine swallowtails, monarchs, skippers of all sorts, sulphur butterflies, and fritillaries.


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Thursday, October 7, 2010

Gulf fritillary butterflies

I've always enjoyed the late summer rush of fritillaries.  We have Gulf as well as Variegated Fritillaries and probably others that I haven't noticed; Gulf Fritillary adults visit a variety of nectar plants, but their caterpillars specialize on passion vines (in our area, the native Passiflora incarnata or Maypops).

The bright orange caterpillars are fun to watch, and the adults are a striking orange, with silvery undersides.

Gulf Fritillary chrysalis
A sharp-eyed third grader spotted this chrysalis hanging from an Opuntia pad, near one of the passion vines in the Children's Garden.  Way cool!  Gulf Fritillaries are one of the few butterflies that migrate;  they move south as adults towards frost-free areas in fall, and recolonize north with successive broods in late spring and early summer.

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Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Squirrel herbivory

We think about Eastern gray squirrels eating nuts, mushrooms, and berries.  But I wouldn't put them on the top of my 'eating greens' list.

But, first the collard transplants disappeared, then the broccoli, and then the red cabbage.  Hmmrph....  I was thinking an errant woodchuck might be selectively browsing, but s/he skipped the cilantro in one of my containers (a woodchuck favorite), so I was puzzled.

A greens-loving squirrel
At home for lunch, I caught the culprit in action.  First, s/he investigated the (sorry) remnants of the collards and broccoli, and then started investigating the adjoining mustard bed.  And, s/he started chewing.  Hmmrph.  My Mr. McGregor instincts had me snapping a quick couple of shots, before I ran out to show him/her away!

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Saturday, October 2, 2010

Swiss chard and green tomatoes

I harvested most of the tomatoes in the mountains today, both big and small.  The weather for tomorrow is a low in the high 30's, and a high in the 60's (°F), so  tomato ripening is not in the forecast.  I cleaned up the spent plants, sowed some collard, mesclun, and kale seeds, thinking optimistically, and about bed protections (row covers), and started work preserving the harvest.  I roasted about half of the green tomatoes (large and small),  froze them, but also put bags of fresh green cherry tomatoes directly in freezer bags, too.

I'm still left with a (quite) large container full of green tomatoes along with a biggish one full of green cherry tomatoes, in addition a number of half-ripe large tomatoes, and a bowlful of red cherry tomatoes.

Swiss chard and green cherry tomatoes
We had chard tonight, fresh from the garden, along with wahoo from the NC coast.  A lovely dinner.  There wasn't a reason to buy greens at the farmer's market this morning; it basically was an enjoyable stroll, picking up some winter squash and fresh eggs. Both are delicious.

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Friday, October 1, 2010

Cloudless sulphur caterpillars

It's been great fun (as well as rewarding) to have a new butterfly garden (that emphasizes host plants as well as nectar plants) at the Botanical Garden where I work.  Two of our long-term volunteers and I came up with a list of our essential plants for a butterfly garden, as we were relocating ours from a less hospitable site (windy and rocky).

Most of the plants were then rounded up with the help of Garden staff, purchased with support from the Carolina Butterfly Society, or donated (largely from our home gardens).

Cloudless Sulphur caterpillar on Cassia
It's been magical through summer and fall.  The garden has flourished beyond expectations, and has been full of caterpillars and butterflies.

The sulphur butterfly caterpillars taking advantage of the Cassia obtusifolia (Sicklepod) plants were excellent to see, along with monarch caterpillars munching common milkweed, gulf fritillary caterpillars on passion vine, black swallowtails decimating the fennel and dill, and sleepy orange caterpillars on the Cassia plants.  Not to mention the Giant Swallowtails that have appeared, apparently because Rue and other herbs are around.

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