All Signs Point to Spring

birdbath

Blossoms abound, bird song delights ears from dawn to dark, pollen is ubiquitous — yup, I’d say spring is most definitively here. Those are petals from a redbud tree floating in that little birdbath. Here’s one of the native redbud trees adorning our landscape at the moment:

Redbud bloom color really pops against a background of red cedars.

Redbud bloom color really pops against a background of red cedars.

Along with all the flowers, native wildlife is suddenly more evident everywhere, especially the water-loving birds. In addition to the Wood Ducks that nest along our creek every spring, this year, a pair of Canada Geese has moved in. I see them paddling up and down the creek at dawn most mornings. They seem to have claimed the downstream end, while the Wood Ducks dabble in the waters upstream. The geese will leave as soon as their young are adept fliers. But I’ll likely see the family patrolling the floodplain for about a month before they leave.

More exciting than these waterfowl is the return of the Belted Kingfishers. Every day now, I see and hear one flying the length of our adjacent creek, calling raucously before it settles on a good fishing perch.

The water birds are here because the creek is healthier than it has been in recent springs. Water levels are back to optimal levels, thanks to abundant rains. The surrounding wetlands are very, very wet, dissected by many water-filled channels, where crayfish and frogs thrive. The cinnamon ferns have unfurled their fiddleheads, the glossy green leaves of Atamasco Lilies promise imminent flower shoots, and any day now I expect to spot Jack-in-the-Pulpits poking up out of the mud.

My two gorgeous early-blooming Magnolia acuminata varieties have been perfuming the air and delighting the eye for several weeks now. ‘Butterflies,’ as usual, was the first variety to bloom, its 25-foot tall frame covered in deep yellow blossoms.

One of the last Magnolia 'Butterflies' blossoms.

One of the last Magnolia ‘Butterflies’ blossoms.

Magnolia ‘Elizabeth,’ now 50 feet tall, started opening her paler yellow blossoms about a week after Butterflies started.  She still sports many gorgeous blooms, but I fear the mini-heat wave we’re getting this weekend will finish off the display all too quickly.

Magnolia 'Elizabeth' -- 50 feet of spectacular!

Magnolia ‘Elizabeth’ — 50 feet of spectacular!

In the last few days, my three Serviceberry trees have begun opening abundant pure white flower clusters. I think last summer’s rains were good for them. They’ve never been more covered in flowers. Maybe this will be the year they produce enough fruits for both the birds and me.

Apple Serviceberry blossoms. Pollinators adore them.

Apple Serviceberry blossoms. Pollinators adore them.

Over the years, I have no idea how many different kinds of daffodils I’ve added to our five acres, nor do I remember most of their names. But I do know that I made a point of planting varieties that would bloom from late winter through late spring. This succession of increasingly abundant blossoms every spring never seems too adversely affected by whimsical weather patterns. In fact, whenever spring cool spells and/or rainy weather is predicted this time of year, I routinely cut a quick bouquet of beauteous blooms to keep me company indoors until the sun returns. These varieties started blooming about the middle of last week:

The pink centers get bleached out a bit by sunlight, but they are lovely.

The pink centers get bleached out a bit by sunlight, but they are lovely.

These pure white, ruffled blossoms are especially elegant.

These pure white, ruffled blossoms are especially elegant.

These bloom in tight clusters for an instant bouquet effect, and their fragrance is super sweet.

These bloom in tight clusters for an instant bouquet effect, and their fragrance is super sweet.

The previous owner had planted forsythia, a ubiquitous southeastern spring landscape shrub. I relocated the bushes from my front door to an area near my road. Their abundant blooms seem to indicate they had no objections.

It isn't spring in the southeast without sunny forsythia flowers.

It isn’t spring in the southeast without sunny forsythia flowers.

The Golden Ragwort is just starting its own parade of yellow blossoms:

Golden ragwort is an easy wildflower to add to southeastern landscapes.

Golden Ragwort is an easy wildflower to add to southeastern landscapes.

The earliest blooming native deciduous azalea on the north side of my yard is about to burst into bloom. The other species/varieties are full of swelling flower bud clusters.

Pinxterbloom Azalea will be the first native azalea to bloom, as usual.

Pinxterbloom Azalea will be the first native azalea to bloom, as usual.

The spring ephemeral wildflowers I showed you in my previous post are zooming through their life cycles as promised.

Bloodroots now sport point seed capsules, their lovely white flowers gone with the wind.

Bloodroots now sport pointy seed capsules, their lovely white flowers gone with the wind.

See the swelling round flower bud between the two Mayapple leaves? It will be open any second now.

See the swelling round flower bud between the two Mayapple leaves? It will be open any second now.

In short, my five acres of green chaos is busting out all over. Alas, it’s not just the invited plants reproducing so enthusiastically right now.  I am walking like a bent-over granny on evenings preceded by a day of weeding. The winter weeds got light years ahead of me in the vegetable garden area this year. Before I can plant, they must go, and that work isn’t nearly as much fun as it once was (hah!)

But the spring veggies are looking good, despite mini heat waves, heavy rains, and occasional frosts. And the summer vegetables, herbs, and flowers are growing tall and eager safely tucked in the greenhouse, waiting for more stable weather and weed-free beds.

Aye, there’s the rub — weed-free beds. I see many pollen-filled, sweaty days of joint-punishing work in front of me. But all the hard work pays off times ten when we dine on fresh-picked salads, juicy tomato-and-basil sandwiches, and green beans the likes of which you’ll never taste unless you grow them yourself.

And when I need a break from the veggie garden, I renew my resolve with a flower-filled walk around the landscape. Nothing puts a fresh spring in my step better than Spring!

Even my "lawn" is adorned with many wildflowers, including gazillions of violets.

Even my “lawn” is adorned with many wildflowers, including gazillions of violets.

 

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Ephemeral Explosions

Bloodroot army on the move

Bloodroot army on the move

They are here — the spring ephemerals — our native spring wildflowers that pop out of the forest floor, bloom, set fruit, then vanish as the forest canopy leafs out above them.

Judging by the features of my landscape and the natives that were still on it when I moved in, I suspect that most of the really lovely native ephemerals once thrived on my land — trout lilies, hepaticas, spring beauties. Two species persist. Actually, they thrive. Consider the impressive spread of bloodroots in the above photo. That’s just a small subsection of the hill overlooking my creek that they cover annually.

They brighten this neglected bit of landscape every spring.

They brighten this neglected bit of landscape every spring.

In the 25 years I’ve lived here, I would estimate that my bloodroot population has quadrupled in size, with no help from me, I might add. I’ve always wanted to clean up this boulder-covered slope, remove all the invasive plants, add some additional wildflower species. But, so far, I haven’t managed to do so. Luckily for me, the bloodroots don’t seem to mind that I’ve neglected them. I am treated to their glorious, pure white, many-petaled flowers for a week or two every spring.

The flowers fully opened about an hour later when the sun grew stronger.

The flowers fully opened about an hour later when the sun grew stronger.

Looking up at them from the bottom of the hill this morning, I could easily imagine them as an invading army of fairies, the still unfurled leaves as shields protecting the flower warriors.

No corner of the hill escapes the ephemeral invasion.

No corner of the hill escapes the ephemeral invasion.

And the best news, of course, is that these wildflowers are so poisonous that the deer never even nibble on them. Native Americans used the red roots for dyes and as medicines, but I never touch them without gloved hands. I did move a few of these to my deer-fence-enclosed north slope two years ago. They have adapted well, expanding their numbers. As you can see in the photo below, I actually take care of this group, weeding and mulching the patch every year.

Pampered bloodroots.

Pampered bloodroots.

Down on the floodplain, another horde of spring ephemerals rules — mayapples.

Mayapples on the march!

Mayapples on the march!

While bloodroots occur naturally on rocky, cool slopes, mayapples are inhabitants of wetlands. They welcome intermittent floods, spreading their two-leaved umbrellas in wide swaths in wetlands not overtaken by invasive exotic plant species that outcompete these petite beauties.

The first year we moved to this five-acre patch of piedmont landscape, I spied a large group of mayapples thriving on the other side of the creek that serves as the eastern boundary of our property. No mayapples lived on my land, probably because the previous owner seemed to have treated the floodplain as pasture.

I love the variegation on their leaves.

I love the variegation on their leaves.

So I liberated a few of these beauties and planted them on the upper reaches of our south-facing active floodplain. They only get submerged during major floods, but the mucky soil remains moist most of the year. I think perhaps they like it there.

The closer you approach, the lovelier they appear.

The closer you approach, the lovelier they appear.

I imagine my large patch of miniature umbrellas as a fairy recreation area. It looks ideal for fairy picnics, or perhaps a nice nap beneath the shade of these sturdy leaves. Eventually, a single white flower will appear in the notch between the two leaves. But not just yet.

The leaves are surprisingly thick between two fingers, and very smooth.

The leaves are surprisingly thick between two fingers, and very smooth.

The single flowers produce a little green fruit that someone decided looked apple-like. I’ve read that one can make a tart jam from the fruits, and that they are a favorite meal of turtles. But this is the only part of a mayapple that is not poisonous. Like the bloodroots on the hill, mayapples multiply unimpeded because the deer do not eat them. One year sometime back, a deer did eat about half of my patch. I always wondered if it staggered off somewhere and died, because no one came back to finish the rest, and they haven’t been nibbled on since.

Both bloodroots and mayapples are good reminders that beauty can be deadly. By all means, seek out and admire these spring ephemeral wildflowers during their brief moments in the sun. But don’t touch, and never nibble. They thrive because these hordes are well-armed indeed.

Hummingbird Alert!

Hummingbird Alert!

This is a note to my fellow southeastern piedmont dwellers. If you feed the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, please put out your feeders now. As my Red Buckeye demonstrates above, the native flowers the early-arriving males depend on are two weeks behind schedule. Nevertheless, the hummingbirds are arriving at their usual time — now! Until the flowers catch up, these winged jewels of our summer skies need our help. Thanks!

 

 

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Ready or not…

Eager lettuces.

Eager lettuces and friends.

I am not a gambler by nature — except for gardening, of course. Anyone who tells you gardening is a science is kidding you, or themselves perhaps. Science can help a gardener, to be sure. Understanding the environmental microclimates on your property, the species that naturally occur on it, and the geology of your land will absolutely contribute to your gardening successes. But wild cards abound — weather fluctuations, animal predation, neighborhood vandalism. Stuff happens; gardens suffer. Sometimes.

As a gardener for over five decades now, I weigh all the variables as best I can, then I go with my gut. Experience should count for something more than wrinkles, right? It should help me make the right gardening calls when my options are not absolutely obvious.

Thus is the dilemma of spring vegetable gardening in my region of North Carolina. Some years, spring has come so reliably early and warm that I’ve planted out tomato plants in early April. Then there are years like this one. For most of last week, weather forecasters were calling for snow for my region today. Measurable snow is not unheard of around here this time of year, but it is unusual — and entirely unwelcome.

As last weekend approached, the weather seers began to vacillate. Perhaps the snow would miss my area and pound the northeastern US instead. Perhaps. But is perhaps enough to gamble my spring vegetable garden on?

Surveying the size of the greens thriving in my greenhouse, and knowing that I wouldn’t be able to plant them out for at least another week if I waited, I decided to gamble.

Greens basking in Saturday sunshine before being transplanted.

Greens basking in Saturday sunshine before being transplanted.

On Friday, I planted the onion plants that had been patiently waiting for me since Monday when they arrived in the mail. Onion plants are remarkably forgiving. Even though they look a bit shriveled and worse for wear when you make them wait, experience has taught me that they’ll plump up in no time, sending up green shoots, putting out fresh roots, and fattening sweet bulbs for later harvest.

They don't look like much now, but give them a few weeks.

They don’t look like much now, but give them a few weeks.

I mulched the newly planted onions with mushroom compost from my favorite local supplier. This material is used by local mushroom growers once, then recycled into compost after harvest. It makes my local earthworms deliriously happy, and it protects the onions from heavy rains. I planted onions at either end of one of the long beds. In between, I’ll sow seeds of beets and carrots as soon as this latest round of wintry weather passes and the following warm rains end.

On Saturday, Wonder Spouse focused on his beloved potatoes, while I tucked in all the greens I described in my previous post. As I mentioned in that post, I did acquire a flat of broccoli seedlings to plant with the greens. They’re in the back on the left in the top photo.

After his success with potato bags last year, Wonder Spouse was eager to use them again, with a few variations, of course. Instead of placing the bags on top of the soil of a bed, this year, he dug out shallow holes for the bags before he filled them.  He has three bags, so he’s growing one variety per bag. Here’s what his supplier had to say about the varieties he’s growing this year:

  • Viking Red – Bright red skin, holds well in storage. Full-bodied flavor for baking and boiling that is extraordinary. Grows great in Texas and hot climates as it has ability to withstand heat. Rapid sizing, can grow from golf ball to baseball size overnight.
  • Purple Viking – Has all the characteristics of its parent Viking Red, but it has a true purple skin with pink-red splashes. Perhaps its most remarkable attribute is its waxy snow-white flesh. Drought-resistant and a yielder of large tubers. Its unique taste is loved by many and will get sweeter with time.
  • Marris Piper – This favorite from the British Isles never disappoints! Producing high yields of large, cream-skinned, cream-fleshed oblong tubers, Marris Piper makes awesome French fries and mashed potatoes that are out of this world. It’s very similar in taste and texture to the Kerr’s Pink and Yukon Gold potatoes with higher yields.

Here’s the first bag just before he buried the seed potatoes:

He'll use the pile of shredded leaves and compost to fill in the bags as the potato plants grow.

He’ll use the pile of shredded leaves and compost to fill in the bags as the potato plants grow.

At the back of this photo, you can see my bed full of newly transplanted greens. Here’s what the bed looked like before I started.

The metal hoops will support a garden fabric tent that I hope will protect the greens.

The metal hoops will support a garden fabric tent that I hope will protect the greens.

Here they are newly planted and fully mulched with more of that lovely mushroom compost:

Broccoli plants are in the center of the bed where the hoops attain maximum height.

Broccoli plants are in the center of the bed where the hoops attain maximum height.

The garden fabric we used is heavy enough to protect from heavy frosts, but probably not out-and-out prolonged freezes. And what we had on hand was not exactly the right size, so Wonder Spouse performed his usual magic to make it work for us. Here’s the final result:

Wonder Spouse is tucking in the final bits into the bed, using metal stakes designed for this purpose.

Wonder Spouse is tucking in the final bits into the bed, using metal stakes designed for this purpose.

Although the snow now heading for the northeastern US missed us, the cold will visit for about 48 hours. Lows are forecast to be in the mid-twenties, which at my house usually means low twenties. But one night will be windy, which is actually a good thing, as long as the hoop fabric holds.

The next night, however, will be flat-out colder than normal for this time of year. Will my transplants survive? See my first paragraph above. Sometimes, a gardener just has to go for it.

I carefully weighed the pros and cons. Experience has taught me that spring temperatures don’t last long in my area. Spring greens are only happy when the air is cool. Thus, I made the call to not wait another week to get them in the ground. I’ve done all I could. They’re well mulched and watered, and they are covered securely by their fabric shelter. They are also still small, which makes them a bit more resilient, at least, that’s usually the case.

I’ve got about three nervous days in front of me before the weather warms and turns rainy for the weekend. Will my garden gamble pay off? Stay tuned, my gardening friends. Whichever way it turns out, I’ll be sure to share the outcome.

I confess I am hopeful. After all, we’ve already dodged the accumulating snow once forecast for my region today. Here’s hoping fresh-picked spring salads are just a few weeks away!

 

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It’s all about temperature

If the soil temperature is too cold, forget about it.

If the soil temperature is too cold, forget about it.

Some decades back, I remember an experienced gardener telling me that it’s time to plant corn when emerging oak leaves are the size of squirrels’ ears.  Being of a more scientific bent, I did a bit of research and discovered that corn likes a minimum soil temperature of 50 degrees Fahrenheit. I’ve since found that corn germinates better for me when the soil is closer to 60 degrees.

But there’s truth to that old gardener’s advice. Over the years, I have observed that my soil temperatures reach 55-60 degrees just about the time the leaves of my tall oaks reach the size of squirrels’ ears. It varies a bit, depending on which species of oak and whether the oak is growing anywhere near the garden plot, but, in truth, oak leaf size and soil temperatures do seem to reliably correlate, proving once again that a gardener always fares better when she pays attention to the environmental cues surrounding her.

Especially in late winter/early spring (I can’t tell them apart this year), soil temperatures are critical to the success of my spring vegetable garden. Spring vegetables have a lot going against them in my region most years. Winters are often very wet, making for soils too wet to work. Or, like this year, repeated blasts of icy precipitation keep the soil not only too wet, but also too cold for planting. The sun is supposed to return with warmer temperatures just in time for tomorrow’s vernal equinox, and I know I speak for all frustrated southeastern gardeners when I say, Hallelujah!

But that’s the other tricky part of southeastern springs. Most years, they don’t last very long, instead morphing into summer by late April. Spring vegetables dislike summer heat as much as they are averse to freezing rain. It’s a flat-out gamble whether I reap much edible at all most years. But to be without the crisp freshness of just-picked greens or carrots, or the earthy sweetness of a red beet or onion — that’s too cruel a fate for my winter-worn green-craving palate to contemplate. And so I gamble/plant.

My lettuce and spinach seedlings in the greenhouse were mostly large enough for transplanting a week ago, but another round of freezing rain forced yet another delay. I am determined to plant them out in the next few days. I’ll pray that the row cover I enclose the transplants in will protect them from any last-minute jokes from wintry weather. Here’s what they looked like last Friday:

Eager greens ready for transplanting.

Eager greens ready for transplanting.

The local agricultural college near me publishes all kinds of useful information about gardening, including this handy chart of vegetable varieties and the minimum soil temperatures required for germination. From it, I see that lettuce and spinach seeds need 45 degrees. If you look at the top photo in this post, you’ll see that the soil temperature in my future lettuce bed was hovering at around 50 degrees last Friday. The ice storm of yesterday may have dropped it a bit, but for transplants, I’m not worried. In a couple of weeks, I’ll direct-sow additional seeds into this bed for what I hope will be a more prolonged harvest — if summer temperatures delay their arrival long enough.

This year, I’m growing a few varieties that I’ve had success with before, and a few new ones. I’m always looking for more heat-resistant varieties of greens. Here’s what I’m trying this year, all from Johnny’s Selected Seeds:

  • Red Cross — A heat-tolerant butter head lettuce that produced spectacularly for me last year. It was also delicious and really handled the heat well. As the name hints, its leaves are a beautiful red, which I love.
  • Buttercrunch — Really tasty and sweet, and reasonably slow to bolt. Leaves have enough body to work well as lettuce wraps, but are tender and sweet enough to eat by themselves. Yes, I’ve grown it before.
  • Annapolis — This is new for me this year. I couldn’t resist the description of what is supposed to be their darkest red romaine lettuce. Who doesn’t love romaine lettuce?
  • Coastal Star — Another romaine, one I’ve grown several times now because it is reliable and wonderful. Sweet, dark green leaves that stand up to warming springs better than I could have ever hoped.  I love this lettuce!
  • Corvair — Spinach comes in two forms. Some are smooth-leaved, and Corvair is one of those. This is a new variety for me. It is purported to be a slow-bolter and resistant to mildews. Less wrinkled spinach leaves means less washing required, so I’m giving this one a try.
  • Tyee — This is a savoy spinach — the wrinkled-leaf kind. I’ve grown it for years because it is tasty and vigorous. Its rapid leaf production compensates for its tendency to bolt when temperatures begin to warm.
  • Arugula — The standard salad arugula. I’ve grown all sorts of mesclun greens in past years, including this arugula. They all bolt at the first hint of 80 degrees. Despite my fondness for these tangy greens in my spring salads, I confined myself to just this type this year. I’ve composted way too many bolted mesclun greens in past seasons. This year, the arugula will have to suffice to provide that contrasting zing to the sweetness of the lettuces and spinaches in my salads.

Earlier this week, my onion plants arrived. The Yellow Granex plants will get tucked in at the same time I transplant the greens. Again, I would have popped them in before now, but all was ice again just yesterday.

According to that chart link above, carrots only need 40 degrees to germinate, while beets need 50 degrees. I’ve found that when I plant carrots when my soil is 40 degrees, they sit and wait until the soil is warm enough for the beets to germinate. I’ll use my handy dandy soil thermometer to check their future beds this weekend. If I’m at 50 degrees or better, I’ll try to get those seeds in the ground too. This year, I’m trying:

  • Romance — This is a new carrot variety for me, advertised as delicious, high-yielding, and uniform. I couldn’t resist.
  • Nelson — This consistently sweet early carrot (Romance should mature later) is a reliable old friend in my garden.
  • Red Ace — I’ve tried other beet varieties, but this is the one we love. Always productive, magnificently sweet and tender. We love these beets!

That’s it for the spring garden. If I see any healthy broccoli plants at the local agricultural supply store, I may grab a few, per Wonder Spouse’s request. I rarely have great success with spring broccoli — that summer heat problem again. But it will be easy to add a few beneath the tented lettuce bed, where cabbage moths can’t reach them to deposit eggs.

I’ve also given up on spring peas. They are so very heat sensitive, and our winters are so up and down that I rarely get a crop worth my effort. If we have a craving for spring peas, we can always grab a few at the local farmers’ market.

The greenhouse is getting full of seedlings. All my tomatoes and peppers are well up, but still small, of course.

Tomato seedlings and friends

Tomato seedlings and friends

I’ll tell you about them another time. I’ve got lots of flower seedlings growing too. Some kinds take almost two months to reach transplanting size, so I must start them early.

flower transplants

Wonder Spouse will be creating his potato bags this weekend. He would have planted them sooner, but that pesky ice slowed him too.

Every year, my blog view count increases as people search on things like, “When can I plant spring vegetables?” You will find charts of average last frost and freeze dates, but I consider those rough ballpark estimates. Every yard is different, thanks to variations in microclimate. The best way to know when to plant your spring vegetables is to pay attention to what your garden area looks like during late frosts. Is it snowy white? Then you’re in a cold spot. Err on the later side of the planting range.

To be much more confident, invest in a soil thermometer and use it. They are not expensive. Mine even comes with its own little case with a clip for attaching it securely to a pocket.

If the soil is too cold, forget about it.

Every gardener needs one of these.

I know that the wildlife in my yard is even more ready for spring than I am. Two days ago, as a cold rain began morphing into freezing rain, a frustrated Red-shouldered hawk actually parked itself on top of my bird feeder for about ten minutes. It looked so hungry and frustrated that if I had had something to feed it, I would have tried.

Hold on, Hawk. Spring arrives tomorrow!

Hold on, Hawk. Spring arrives tomorrow!

We’ll make it, friends. Spring is tantalizingly close now!

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Winter’s Last Laugh (We hope!)

We were very lucky on our five-acre patch of piedmont last week. Over the course of about 36 hours, our gauge measured a total of 2.90 inches of rain. And at our house, it was almost all rain, instead of the freezing rain that plagued our neighbors no more than half a mile on either side of us. Although it’d be comforting to believe that Divine Intervention saved us from the ice, I think it was actually a microclimate that protected our trees from bending and breaking, as so many trees did in my area.

We live beside a wetland — at the moment, a very wet wetland — at the base of two ridges and adjacent to a creek. All that surrounding water had been warmed just the day before by balmy sunshine, and I think that warmed water was just enough to prevent the ambient air temperature from dropping low enough to make the rain freeze on the trees. Neighbors not far from me lost power due to fallen trees on power lines, and folks just north of me in the next county were hammered hard. Some still don’t have their power back, and schools remained closed today. They’re continuing to clean up the hundreds of trees pulled down by the ice, so that they can restore electricity to everyone.

As I heard the reports of nearby icy chaos, I began to feel downright grateful as the rain continued to fall, and my floodplain experienced what I would describe as a flood worthy of making our top 5 all-time deluges in the 25 years we’ve lived here. Of course, I attempted to record the event.

By last Friday morning, we’d already received over half an inch of rain. A few hours after sunrise as the rain continued unabated, the creek began sending out watery pseudopods across parts of the floodplain.

Water began to escape the creek boundaries.

Water began to escape the creek boundaries.

By mid-afternoon, as the rain continued — sometimes heavy, sometimes less so — the floodwaters stretched completely across the floodplain and as far as my eyes could see on that side. Lake-front property, if only for a few hours. This shot was taken at about the same angle, so you can appreciate the differences:

Water, water everywhere...

Water, water everywhere…

The birds sat soggy on branches, looking befuddled after they had emptied the feeders.

What's a cardinal to do?

What’s a cardinal to do?

The red-shouldered hawk sat nearby glowering at the water, no doubt frustrated that its hunting grounds had disappeared.

No meals in sight.

No meals in sight.

Before nightfall on Friday, the sun actually peaked out as it began sinking below the western horizon. The water had already begun to recede a bit.

This western sunlight glints on the waters beginning to retreat.

Western sunlight glints on the waters beginning to retreat.

Saturday dawned clear and remarkably warmer. The floodplain was visible again, but covered by newly cut channels, debris piles, and many, many puddles of ugly brown water.

Saturday morning and the creek is back where it belongs -- mostly.

Saturday morning and the creek is back where it belongs — mostly.

Wonder Spouse and I didn’t even try to survey the mess on Saturday. We’ve learned the hard way that it takes another 24 hours or so for the water to drain enough for safe walking. Try it too soon, and you can sink up to your knees in soft, stinky mud.

Sunday afternoon, we took a closer look.

Most of the floodplain looked like this.

Most of the floodplain looked like this.

It was easy to see where the creek had attempted to cut new channels across our floodplain.

Fast-moving water -- even when it's shallow -- has astonishing powers.

Fast-moving water — even when it’s shallow — has astonishing powers.

Wonder Spouse is standing near the creek’s edge in this one:

Note the channel where the water poured out of the creek onto our floodplain.

Note the channel where the water poured out of the creek onto our floodplain.

In past floods, we’ve occasionally found stranded dead fish. But this time, only man-made castaways were found:

It was fully inflated and still bouncy.

It was fully inflated and still bouncy.

We found plenty of evidence that we were not the first creatures to venture back out onto the mucky floodplain.

That's a deer footprint at the top left. We think the lower ones are likely from one of our large raccoons. And the squiggly lines are worm tracks.

That’s a deer footprint at the top left. We think the lower ones are likely from one of our large raccoons. And the squiggly lines are worm tracks.

Despite the mess, Sunday was a day we counted our blessings. The ice somehow detoured around us, our power stayed on, and the spring bulbs seem to have taken the abundant rainfall as a signal to simultaneously explode into bloom. And the vegetable seedlings are progressing well, sheltered safely in the greenhouse. I’ll write more about them soon.

Meanwhile, for my neighbors recovering from what we all hope is Winter’s last little joke, I’ll leave you with some of those enthusiastic spring flowers popping up everywhere out of the mud.

Spring will not be denied!

Spring will not be denied!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Spring Today — Ice Tomorrow!

Enjoying their moment in the sun.

Enjoying their moment in the sun.

It was 71 degrees Fahrenheit at my house this afternoon. Frogs chorused, birds rejoiced, and flowers bloomed with abandon. This happy gardener was out sowing more seeds in her little greenhouse, weeding the spring vegetable beds in preparation for spring crops, and planting two new woody additions to the landscape. It was heavenly. I’ll be clinging to the memory of this lovely day this week, as Winter comes roaring back at me.

Freezing rain and sleet tomorrow, then snow?! Really? Nature does love her little practical jokes this transitional time of year. At least I had today, as did the pretty crocuses above. I hope they enjoyed their moment in the sun as much as I did.

Also blooming today were my dwarf crested iris. Five pale lavender beauties were open for business. Alas, they too will be but a memory after the ice is done with them.

I'm so glad I was able to appreciate them today!

I’m so glad I was able to appreciate them today!

I am grateful I had this break in the weather to plant my latest additions to the landscape. I was recently showing some folks around my garden and mentioned that I was growing all the native big leaf magnolia species except M. pyramidata, because my specimen had failed to thrive, then died.

This, of course, prompted me to check and see if my favorite source for native woodies — Woodlanders — happened to have this tree in stock. They did! I ordered it on Feb. 22. They shipped it on Feb. 25, and it arrived in perfect condition on Feb. 27. Major props to Woodlanders! These folks were hammered by a recent ice storm, but managed to get their operation back up and running quickly, just in time for their rush season. They ship only bare-rooted plants, so they stop shipping at the end of March.

They do have a minimum order requirement, so I was forced — forced, I say (ahem) — to purchase another plant to meet that requirement. My eyes went straight to their fantastic array of native deciduous azaleas, the source of most of my plants that are thriving and blooming so well. After a careful perusal of my options, I settled on Rhododendron canescens ‘Camilla’s Blush.’ This species is often called Piedmont Azalea and is well-adapted to my region. This cultivar is described as producing especially lovely, abundant, fragrant pink flowers. I think it will fit in very nicely with the rest of my native azalea collection.

Woodlanders wraps the moist roots of the plants they ship in plastic bags held tightly together by rubber bands. Branches are protected during shipping by balled-up paper snugly tucked in all around them. As always, these two newbies were fully dormant and undamaged when I opened their box.

Because I didn’t plant them for a couple of days, I opened up the plastic bags to let the roots breathe and kept the plants in my cool garage until planting time. Here they are leaning against my garage before I carried them to their new permanent homes.

Camilla's Blush on the left, Magnolia pyramidata on the right

Camilla’s Blush on the left, Magnolia pyramidata on the right

I was delighted to see that Camilla’s Blush actually had three flower buds on it. Usually I have to wait at least a year to see the flowers from a new azalea from Woodlanders, because they do ship small plants, so this is a bonus.  If my past experience with other big leaf Magnolia species from Woodlanders holds true for this new species, it will likely be seven or so years before I see a flower on it. That’s OK; they are totally worth the wait.

I had already picked out perfect spots for the two new arrivals inside the deer-fenced area on the north-facing side of my yard. This is where all my big leaf Magnolias and most of my deciduous azaleas are thriving. Abundant winter rains and naturally wonderful soil made for easy digging. The new plants were both tucked in and mulched in half an hour.

Wonder Spouse insists that I label all new arrivals. I concede that this is a good idea, given the number of specimens we've accrued.

Wonder Spouse insists that I label all new arrivals. I concede that this is a good idea, given the number of specimens we’ve accrued.

Rhododendron canescens 'Camilla's Blush' is tucked under a mature dogwood and a lofty loblolly pine. I think she'll be very happy there.

Rhododendron canescens ‘Camilla’s Blush’ is tucked under a mature dogwood and a lofty loblolly pine. I think she’ll be very happy there.

I am hoping that the new arrivals will forgive me for the icy coating they will receive tomorrow. They should, because they are still fully dormant, I mulched them well, and they are sheltered from the worst of the weather by tall pines to their north. Still, I wish their welcome could have been a bit less brutal.

I know I’ve no grounds for complaint. My area is only getting a glancing blow from this latest blast of Winter. Folks to my north and west are getting deeper cold and much more icy precipitation. I think I speak for most of the US when I say, “Enough already!”

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Fast forwarding into Spring

Red Maple flowers brighten the canopy.

Red Maple flowers brighten the canopy.

OK, there’s still a pile of snow in my back yard. Really. It was a huge pile from cleaning our back deck, and it’s still not quite gone. But don’t tell that to the Spring Peepers or the Red-shouldered Hawks nesting on the floodplain, or the Red Maples throughout my yard. They all seem to be persuaded that Spring has arrived. It hasn’t, of course — not quite yet. But it seems as if the plants and animals in my yard have been biding their time, waiting for the frigid air to exit so they could explode into Spring Mode.

Most of the early-flowering plants had impressed me with their patience, not showing a hint of bud break as the arctic air ruled my region. The flowering apricots were hit pretty hard, of course. Many just-opening buds were browned by freezing temperatures. But the unopened ones still tightly shut have now opened with enthusiasm. The air around my front yard is fragrant with their perfume. I am delighted, and so are the honeybees finally making their appearance during recent warm afternoons.

The Cornus mas trees burst into spectacular bloom, yellow spotlights in a mostly brown landscape.

 

Cornus mas 'Spring Glow'

Cornus mas ‘Spring Glow’

The Magnolia stellata ‘Royal Star’ had been exhibiting unprecedented patience with the weather, but recent 70-degree days have caused its flowers to begin opening.

Magnolia stellata 'Royal Star'

Magnolia stellata ‘Royal Star’

The snow drops survived being buried by six inches of snow and ice and are in full bloom.

Resilient Snow Drops

Resilient Snow Drops

And the Witch Hazel ‘Amethyst’ is scenting the breezes with the fragrance of gorgeous purple flowers.

Amethyst lives up to its name.

Amethyst lives up to its name.

The warmer temperatures have all the early-nesting birds displaying territorial behavior as they pair off and claim nesting sites. Woodpecker drumming punctuates the air from dawn to dusk.

A Downy Woodpecker male refuels between bouts of territorial drumming.

A Downy Woodpecker male refuels between bouts of territorial drumming.

And the salamanders somehow managed to complete their late winter mating activities despite the cold and ice, as evidenced by this glob of eggs in our tiny pond.

Those black dots are developing embryonic salamanders.

Those black dots are developing embryonic salamanders.

Of course, my gardening fingers got itchy the minute the weather warmed and the frogs began chorusing 24/7. I got out the seeds that I’d ordered and contemplated my strategy.

Decisions, decisions...

Decisions, decisions…

Because I can’t expect the spring-like temperatures to last just yet (They’re on their way out as I type this), I can only start as many containers as will fit at one time in the germination chamber in my greenhouse. I settled on starting a few of all of the greens I’m trying this year (4 lettuces, 2 spinaches, and an arugula) plus the four flower varieties that require the greatest amount of time to reach blooming size. I sowed the seeds last Thursday, and here’s what they looked like this morning:

Seedlings in the germination chamber

Seedlings in the germination chamber

The nonpelleted lettuce seeds are well up. The coated lettuce seeds are still meditating on the merits of germination. One Tyee spinach has emerged; spinach is always slower than lettuce. All the arugulas are up and growing. And the dahlia seeds I sowed have begun to emerge — the first of the flowers, and a bit of an early surprise.

Now that I’ve got seeds going, it was time during our first warm weekend in forever to return to the vegetable garden and begin to prepare the early spring garden beds. I’ve got one weeded and ready to go for the greens. I’ll do more as weather and my aging joints permit.

Greeting me with enthusiasm were the chives I grew from seed two years ago. I was a bit worried that our prolonged freezing winter temperatures might have killed them. I worried for naught. These beautiful, delicious herbs are well on their way to growing tall enough to once again season salads, eggs, and whatever else can use a light taste of oniony goodness.

Chives showing they can handle Winter's worst.

Chives showing they can handle Winter’s worst.

This week’s return to winter temperatures will be harder on me than the plants and animals, I imagine. It felt so wonderful to be back in the dirt, pulling weeds, cleaning up old flower stalks, discovering sudden flowers tucked into various parts of the yard.

On the other hand, my creaky joints could use a day or two — OK, maybe three or four — to recover from my pent-up gardening enthusiasm.  Perhaps I’ll even feel a bit nostalgic toward this latest round of wintry temperatures. Because now I’m sure — Spring really is almost here!

 

 

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