Thursday, February 26, 2015

Creating a natural garden

As my gardening companion and I prepare to leave a garden (really a low-maintenance native plant-dominated landscape) that we've created over the last 22 years, it's interesting to reflect on the changes that we've made -- all to the good, certainly, from the perspective of being good stewards of our space in the world.

We've converted 1.44 acres of what was largely lawn, punctuated by a few large hardwood trees (oaks and hickories), to a native-plant rich diverse landscape,

devoted to woodland in front

with the side yard screened by a diversity of shrubs and trees, not all native, so including Deodar cedar, gingko, and Asian viburnums.

The theme was adding plants that work for a living - native plants that Tim could use for Plant Ecology and Field Botany labs, and adding plants that supported pollinators, herbivores, and providing habitats for birds, and other wildlife.

The front meadow and informal perennial borders have been about supporting pollinators.

And the vegetable garden spaces have been about nourishing us, and our table.

It's been a privilege to be a steward of our historic house (built in 1929), but even more importantly, I'm glad to be leaving a more nature-vibrant landscape, too.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Hmm, snow....

 Waking up to a lovely snowy scene is not what I usually expect to see in late February, but that's what I saw out the windows this morning. 

Cool-season greens and window boxes will still have to wait for warmer weather.

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Sunday, February 22, 2015

A warmer day (and vegetable musings)

Finally, the last bit of accumulated ice has melted and it was a "normal" temperature day, with highs ~ 58°F.

I'm itching to plant cool-season greens - I've missed having homegrown greens (kale, collards, mustard, etc.) over the last two winters, even though I've felt we've eaten nothing but homegrown greens in years past.

So, we're enjoying broccoli, collards, red cabbage, and kale from the grocery store -- cooked with garlic, red onions, and a bit of balsamic vinegar -- they're quite nice.

But a restaurant meal out at a local Mexican place yesterday evening was telling -- the "vegetables" were shredded carrots, broccoli bits, and some onions, clearly from a regional veggie warehouse somewhere, and delivered through the commercial food system.  They all tasted the same.

Geez, I sound like a total food snob, but homegrown veggies are really good. Vegetables from local markets, ditto.

Freshly-harvested vegetables, even if industrial, quickly frozen, are good, too, as are their organic equivalents.

I don't like to buy fruits and vegetables with a super long distance pedigree, so certainly "fresh" fruits and vegetables from the Southern Hemisphere this time of year are not normally in my cart  (berries, peaches and nectarines, grapes, asparagus, and the like).

The exception --bananas -- my hubbie's breakfast staple fruit. And coffee. And broccoli and lettuce from California, well, I suppose so, too...So I'm hardly a purist.

Hmm, soon it will be warm enough to sow at least a quick crop of cool-season greens, I hope.

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Saturday, February 21, 2015

Brown thrashers and cardinals

Even if the weather doesn't seem like spring, and is unusual for late February, plants and animals mark and take notice of lengthening days.

The male cardinals are singing now, the robins are flocking, and a brown thrasher is pronouncing loudly (very early in the morning) that his territory consists of the hollies outside the kitchen door.  (We've had thrashers nesting there for years).

We've had snowdrops in flower, and daffodils trying to open.  And there are native trout lily and iris leaves emerging, too.

It's been too cold to poke around out in the front woodland border, but I imagine there are fiddleheads of Christmas fern ready to unfurl, too.  Their normally evergreen above-ground leaves are looking pretty battered right now.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Global weirding

I wrote a piece ~ seven years ago about what North American gardeners (and botanists) thought about climate change for The Public Garden (at that time, the journal of the American Association of Public Gardens and Arboreta --AABGA, now APGA). It didn't end up being published, probably because it was too telling. 

American botanical gardens are in denial about what they need to do around conservation and promoting sustainable gardening practices to the public, etc.  This is true of American horticulture associations, too, I'm sorry to say, from Garden Writers Association to our network of Master Gardeners across the country.

At the time I wrote, we'd just emerged from a decade of severe drought in the Southeastern US, and there were significant floods in the west at that time, too.  It was telling to hear from knowledgeable folks (from a number of different scientific backgrounds) across North America what they thought about this topic.

Since then, we've just continued to experience what I was thinking about and posted about in 2010 -- global weirding. The link is to a post from Feb. 19, 2010.

Normal is just getting more extreme than ever, it seems to me.

We're going to experience record lows for February here in the Southeastern U.S over the next couple of days.  And record lows for the "high" temperatures, too, thanks to the strong polar air that's flowing down our way.

Hmm, isn't there something to learn about polar melting and a flood of cold air (aka polar vortex) down our way?

We've got a lot of adaptations to make as gardeners -- whether with native plants that support pollinators or in our vegetable gardens. 

Personally, I'm ready to plant cool-season vegetables this spring.  I've missed my winter kale and collards over the last two years, and I'd normally have started planted some early greens and peas by now.  Not this year.

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Tuesday, February 17, 2015


This morning, icicles hung from the curled-up rhododendron leaves in front of the house and ice weighted down the hemlock branches.

The dogwood beyond the porch was coated with ice, too, with a silvery shimmer in the dull wintry light.

 Outside my study window, the ice on the Carolina jessamine is dripping, as the temperatures rise.


Monday, February 16, 2015

Sleet and ice

There's sleet falling outside the window, and when it was still light, evidence of significant accumulation.  Strange weather, to be sure. 

It's mid-February.  In the Southeast.  Daffodils have popped up, with flowers, blueberry buds are swelling, and the quince has a few tentative flowers, too.

But we're presented with another blast of frigid arctic air this week -- on Wednesday night, temperatures are predicted to be ~ 11°F  here in the Piedmont -- definitely cold for this time of the year.

The cold air flowing down from the northern Polar realms seems to be pushing out the warmer, humid air -- as the predictions keep getting colder -- for overnights.

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Sunday, February 15, 2015

Queulat National Park (another hike)

A magical park in Chilean Patagonia, along the Carretera Austral, is Queulat National Park.  

The hikes, views, etc. were all wonderful: the link takes you to previous posts.

Here are a few images and thoughts around our last hike before we moved south.

We had looked for this trail before, and hadn't found the trailhead (the road was REALLY challenging), and our lodging was at the base of the road. It climbed up over the pass, full of gravel, deep ruts, and slippery patches -- a bit daunting, actually. We'd been glad to go back downhill the previous day.

But, after a young park ranger told us, yes, the Enchanted Forest trail is still open, we measured mileage carefully (again) and finally found the trail head, amid the rubble of road construction.

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Friday, February 13, 2015

A lovely Ozark witch hazel

 Our Ozark witch hazel, planted by the previous owner, is lovely right now.

The flowers are luminous towards sunset, as the light filters through the flowers.

I had thought originally that it was a Chinese witch hazel, but thanks to my blogging friend Janet (and now friend in person), have corrected that!

Ozark witch hazel --backlit by the setting sun
A closer view
And close up
 What a great plant!


Thursday, February 12, 2015

Howling winds and cold

We've had a lovely roll of pre-spring-like conditions, normal for us this time of the year.

But a huge cold front, bringing arctic air down into the Carolinas, has changed that.  It's now really cold -- into the teens (F°) tonight, with a high in the 30° F zone.  That's cold for February.

I'm glad I didn't think that last weekend's weather meant it was time to plant peas.  It definitely would have been too early.

I wish I'd snagged the spinach and creasy greens this afternoon in my raised beds.  The creasy greens will be fine -- not sure about the spinach.  It was a very small patch, so that's OK.

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Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Spring is coming

Another spell of warm weather always reminds me that, here, in the Southern U.S., spring comes early.

February often brings lovely bright days -- we've have a row of them -- with temperatures up in the mid 60°'s F.  Balmy, really.

So spring is just around the corner.  Even the native plants are starting to show signs of buds swelling.

Our Carolina Jessamine has flower buds close to opening.  It's a good sign.
Carolina Jessamine (some years ago)

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