Posts Tagged Cornus mas ‘Spring Glow’

Staying Connected

Raindrops adorn an opening bud of Magnolia stellata ‘Royal Stars.’

I am a self-described crazy old plant lady. I am not ashamed of it. I’m not proud of it. It is simply who I am.

Prunus mume ‘Peggy Clarke’ has been blooming for several weeks.

My connection to the Green World began when I was very small. That world has been my through-line, the ever-present song in my heart and story in my head that prevented me from tumbling down the dark well of despair more times than I can count or remember.

Male catkins of native hazelnut (Corylus Americana). The female flowers are not quite open yet.

I am grateful beyond words for the privilege of being able to live on the same piece of land for over 30 years. This is my forever happy place. Years ago when I worked a desk job in an airless office building, I stayed sane by mentally walking around my yard, admiring a current bloomer, or reminding myself that the tomatoes would need picking when I got home. Every bit of effort I have expended on my land has been returned in beauty and story a million-fold.

Leaves of Abelia chinensis are emerging six weeks ahead of their “normal” schedule.

I start most week days standing outside after Wonder Spouse drives off to his airless office. I listen and smell and watch for the current stories unfolding around me as an ever-increasing parade of vehicles zooms down our once-quiet country road. That traffic noise today was not enough to prevent me from hearing frogs chorusing in the adjacent wetland. Spring peeper songs have grown loud of late, thanks to absurdly warm nighttime and daytime temperatures. A small flock of cedar waxwings, their distinctive whistling calls revealing their presence in a large southern magnolia, flew off when I greeted them; their tight flock formations always remind me of schooling fish.

As I stood watching the waxwings, thousands upon thousands of seagulls that winter on a nearby reservoir flew overhead in ragged vee formations for over five minutes. They scavenge county dumps for food by day and shelter on the lake at night until their internal clocks tell them it is time to return to their coastal summer homes. Today, low clouds that will bring rain by noon – I can smell it in the air – caused the seagulls to fly low enough that I could actually hear them calling to each other, conjuring a memory of the smell and taste of the sea.

Nest holes of pileated woodpeckers.

The pair of pileated woodpeckers nesting in a sycamore just on the other side of my creek called to each other loudly. They are mostly quiet these days, but when it is time to trade places on the nest, the returning parent calls to the other; the nesting parent replies immediately, sounding to my story-prone mind impatient to go off duty. Woodpecker species are early nesters. They, like the pair of barred owls calling to each other every late afternoon, are supposed to be in reproductive mode in late winter.

Red-shouldered Hawk with chicks from a previous year.

Red-shouldered hawks are also early-season nesters. I’ve lately spotted the pair that shares our land with us often sitting in a tall walnut beside my house, and today I was showed why. I stayed out so long watching seagulls and listening to frogs that they grew impatient with me. One flew right over my head calling, I think perhaps as a diversion, because shortly thereafter its mate flew soundlessly overhead beyond the walnut to a small group of towering loblolly pines, a long thin branch dangling from its sharp beak – nesting material! Not long after, the hawk that spoke to me also flew overhead. It stopped briefly in the walnut, I think to see if I was watching. When I pretended to be interested in something else, it joined its mate.

This location will be a tough one to observe – lots of camouflage to obscure their activities. But once over a decade ago, a pair nested just across the creek in a winter-bare sweet gum. Our elevated back deck gave us a perfect vantage point until the trees leafed out, and Wonder Spouse got some lovely photos of still-fuzzy nestlings as they began to move about and stretch their wings.

Strong, possibly dangerous storms are predicted for tomorrow, along with multiple inches of heavy rain. I thus decided to take advantage of this last bit of quiet before the storms to walk around the yard this morning with my camera. As is true for all of my region, many flowers are blooming weeks ahead of schedule. This early in February, a killing freeze is almost inevitable.

So today I walk, inhaling moisture-laden air perfumed by the fragrance of precocious flowers, grateful for my connection to this land and the time I have to appreciate it.

The rains begin…

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Hurtling into spring

This morning's sunrise featured more tangerine than rosy hues.

This morning’s sunrise featured more tangerine than rosy hues. Remember you can click on any photo to see a larger version.

I know the folks in the Northeast are cold, snow-plagued, and miserable. I know the folks in the Pacific Northwest who prayed for rain for most of a decade are desperately looking for the emergency shut-off valve to Heaven. And I’m sorry for your troubles, truly I am, which is why I feel a tad guilty complaining about the temperatures dominating the southeastern Piedmont region of the US.

Sure, it got down to 25 degrees Fahrenheit at my house this morning. I had to remove ice from the bird baths. But according to the forecasts, I probably won’t need to do that again for at least ten days. And the way things are going, maybe not until next November. My neck of the woods is hurtling full-tilt-willy-nilly into spring.

Crocuses are nearly done now.

Crocuses are nearly done now.

We’ve already zoomed through crocus season, the snowdrops opened yesterday and will likely be done in a few days. I planted a variety of daffodils that are supposed to provide me with an extended seasonal bloom period, but I’m starting to think that may not happen this year.

Ka-bloom!

Ka-bloom!

I started seeds of greens for my spring garden during the first few days of February; at the time, I wondered if I was overeager. Now I’m exhorting the seedlings to grow faster, fearing that if I don’t get them transplanted into their garden bed soon, summer temperatures arriving by early April will melt them before we’ve harvested more than a salad’s worth. This. Is. Not. Good.

Hurry, hurry, hurry!

Hurry, hurry, hurry!

I posted the above shot to my Facebook page the other day, and someone there asked me to list the varieties I’m growing, because she couldn’t read the scrawls on the labels in the photo.  So for her — and anyone else who might be interested — here are the spring salad varieties growing in my greenhouse right now.

  • Coastal Star — This is my go-to green romaine lettuce. It stands up to the early heat that hits my area in late April/early May. This is the third year I’m growing it.
  • Outredgeous — I grew this red romaine for the first time last season, and we loved it. It faded in the heat a little faster, but it stayed alive and productive this whole past winter for me beneath a row cover. I love this lettuce.
  • Cherokee — This is a red summer crisp lettuce that I’m trying for the first time, because Johnny’s Selected Seeds (the source of most of my veggie seeds) says it is more heat-tolerant (i.e., bolt-resistant) than most.
  • Ovation Greens Mix — I’ve grown this mix several years now. I get a nice assortment of fast-germinating speciality greens that give a nice tang or slightly bitter note to sweeter lettuces. They bolt very quickly in my heat. I direct-sow a few more when I transplant the starts in my greenhouse; sometimes that pays off, sometimes it doesn’t.
  • Seaside Spinach — This is a new smooth-leaf variety I’m trying this year, because it is touted as being bolt-resistant. I often have trouble persuading spinach to germinate for me in the greenhouse, but this variety is popping up and growing with enthusiasm — a promising start.
  • Rosaine — I grew this red bibb lettuce for the first time last year. It produces really lovely thick, buttery leaves. It is supposed to be bolt-resistant, but did not impress me last season. However, like Outredgeous, it produced all winter for me under a row cover. I’m thinking red lettuces may be more cold-tolerant.
  • Corvair Spinach — If Seaside remains as enthusiastic as it is starting, I won’t be growing Corvair again. This smooth-leaf variety is a downright temperamental germinator for me — and most everything germinates for me, so this is unusual. The plants that do show up, grow well enough, but I would rather grow a spinach that I can always count on.
  • Sparx — This is a new green romaine I decided to try, because it is supposed to be heat-tolerant and high-yielding. It is back-ordered until March 1. At the time I ordered, I figured this would not be a deal-breaker, timing-wise. The crazy weather may preclude a proper test of this variety, but I’ll give it a try when it shows up.

That’s it for the greens. Believe it or not, I really tried to keep down the number of varieties I’m trying this year. I also tried to contain myself when it came to tomato varieties, but I compensated with a new pepper variety, and an eggplant that intrigued me. Seed catalogs in deep winter are very, very hard to resist.

The absurd warmth caused my flowering apricots to zip through their bloom cycles much more quickly than usual. Only Peggy Clarke Senior is still perfuming the air, albeit faintly, with the magical cinnamon-sweet scent of her rosy blooms.

These flowers on Royal Star were just beginning to open two days ago.

These flowers on Royal Star were just beginning to open two days ago.

Our Magnolia stellata ‘Royal Stars’ has opened flowers at the top of the tree. The forecasted heat this weekend will no doubt cause most of the rest to explode into bloom.

Cornelian cherry flower explosion

Cornelian cherry flower explosion

Both of my Cornelian cherries (Cornus mas) are in full bloom. I’m hoping the warmth will encourage pollinators to cross-pollinate them to produce fruits this year.

Close-up of flowers of Cornus mas

Close-up of flowers of Cornus mas

This member of the dogwood family doesn’t naturally occur in North America, but it doesn’t seem to be invasive, so I decided to give it a try. If I start seeing seedlings popping up, I will yank it out pronto.

Golden ragwort makes a great ground cover for moist shade.

Golden Ragwort makes a great ground cover for moist shade.

My patch of Golden Ragwort grows larger every year. It does a great job of reducing erosion, and when it blooms, its bright yellow flowers make the ground glow.

I love the magenta flower buds and stems of Golden Ragwort.

I love the magenta flower buds and stems of Golden Ragwort.

The weekend is supposed to reach high temperatures in the mid-70s here, so Wonder Spouse and I will be outside preparing spring vegetable beds and hauling fallen branches knocked down by winter storm winds. I anticipate plenty of sore muscles and creaky joints. But it’s all worth it when we sit down to the first salad of the season.

I’ll leave you with one last photo. I posted this to my Facebook page, but I wanted to share it here for my non-Facebook followers. On February 10, we enjoyed a penumbral lunar eclipse. Just the left edge of the full moon in the photo below was obscured by the sun’s shadow, but it was discernible. The Amazing Wonder Spouse set up his tripod and took this shot. Enjoy!

eclipse2

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Opening Acts

Glamor close-up of Witch Hazel 'Amethyst'

Witch Hazel ‘Amethyst’

Tomorrow, we’ll be done with January. For me, this has been simultaneously a very long and a very short month. I have been doing more writing for other venues this month, which has diverted me from efforts here. Despite the schedule uptick, I have found time to wander my yard long enough to photograph the new growing season’s opening acts. Natives like the witch hazel cultivar above are among the early bloomers, but the showier acts are mostly non-native ornamental trees and shrubs that I added precisely because of their early-flowering proclivities. More than ever, I am merciless in eradicating any non-natives that show signs of potential invasiveness, but the plants in this post have been with me for over a decade, and so far, so good.

January Jasmine flower buds

January Jasmine flower buds

I first met January Jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum) on the campus of Duke University, where its arching evergreen branches cascaded down a rock wall, its winter flowers a welcome surprise on a dull gray day. I never forgot it, and when we moved to our five-acre paradise, I found a spot for it in the first few years.

jj-flowers-and-buds

New flowers after an unseasonably warm rain.

From a distance, the botanically unsophisticated mistake this beauty for forsythia. But forsythia is a much coarser, larger plant, and it usually blooms at least a month later than January Jasmine.

The individual flowers are much more delicate-looking than those of forsythia -- at least in this gardener's opinion.

The individual flowers are much more delicate-looking than those of forsythia — at least in this gardener’s opinion.

Before the January Jasmine got started, my pale pink-flowering Flowering Apricot (Prunus mume) opened for business. During a recent warm spell, it was covered in ecstatic honeybees from my neighbor’s hive.

A week later, my other two Flowering Apricots opened. Theoretically, both are the cultivar Peggy Clarke, but as I wrote here, the flowers are not the same, regardless of the name tags that came with them. As I wrote then, I think of them as Peggy Senior and Peggy Junior, because I acquired Junior later, after falling madly in love with the fragrance of Peggy Senior. I know my enthusiasm sounds extravagant, but trust me, on a cold — or warm — winter’s day no matter how blue you might be feeling, a few deep inhalations of Peggy Senior’s cinnamon-sweet perfume will lift your heart and hopes.

Peggy Senior branches

Peggy Senior branches

This syrphid fly was quite a surprise. I've never seen them out so early.

This syrphid fly was quite a surprise. I’ve never seen them out so early.

I didn't realize it wasn't a honeybee until I looked at it through the camera lens.

I didn’t realize it wasn’t a honeybee until I looked at it through the camera lens.

Most of Peggy Senior's pollinator visitors have been my neighbor's honeybees.

Most of Peggy Senior’s pollinator visitors have been my neighbor’s honeybees.

Peggy Senior is sited behind the south-facing wall of our garage, so she always begins to bloom about a week before Peggy Junior.  For comparison, here are a couple of shots of Junior. The differences in their perfume are profound; although pleasantly sweet, Junior’s fragrance entirely lacks the cinnamon undertone that makes Senior so heavenly. Junior’s flowers are also a paler pink.

The Green World is my source of solace these days more than ever before. When faced with national and international events over which I have little control — at least until the next election cycle — I have chosen to devote my efforts to where I feel I can be most effective. That’s why I’m stepping up my writing efforts.

I’m writing a bi-monthly gardening column for a small paper in Virginia in the hopes that I can persuade new readers to more deeply appreciate their native environments. I also recently finished an article for the next edition of Conservation Gardener, the magazine of the NC Botanical Garden that I’m hoping will motivate folks to get serious about eradicating invasive non-native species from urban natural areas in their neighborhoods.

Expanding male catkins of native American Hazelnut (Corylus americana).

Expanding male catkins of native American Hazelnut (Corylus americana).

I’m also deeply involved in helping a local church create a wildlife sanctuary on their property by enhancing it with diverse, abundant native plants. My dream is that all such public places — now mostly “landscaped” with resource-hogging, environmentally sterile lawns and a few struggling, mostly non-native trees and shrubs — can become healthy native havens for struggling wildlife, including vital pollinators. I’m hoping this project will inspire other churches to start their own native sanctuaries, and that as adults and children become familiar with these plants, they will want to plant them in their home landscapes. It’s a big dream, I know, but with so much darkness in our world right now, I feel obliged to think big — and very green.

Moon, Jupiter, and Spica

Moon, Jupiter, and Spica

A couple of weeks ago before dawn, we got quite a show just as the moon began to make her descent. The bright light below and to the moon’s right is the planet Jupiter, shining brighter than most stars. If you look carefully toward the bottom of the shot, you can see a blurry bit of gray light. That’s Spica, the brightest star in the constellation Virgo.

This conformation of heavenly lights was a lovely opening act for the sunrise that followed shortly thereafter, and reminded me that there’s more than one meaning to that term. Opening acts can be preludes to main shows, but they can also be behaviors. In this time when political darkness threatens to overwhelm us, I am looking to my early flowers and spectacular sunrises as reminders to keep my heart open despite the palpable fear in the air.

Love wins.

Love wins.

The only way to fight darkness is with light, and light comes from loving, open hearts. So I resolve to do my best to keep my heart open through the dark days ahead, drawing strength from the Green World, and praying that sharing it as widely as I can will inspire others to do the same.

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Horticultural Therapy

Iris cristata, cultivar forgotten

Iris cristata, cultivar forgotten, currently blooming in my yard

Most serious gardeners have long recognized the therapeutic effects of gardening — to their bodies, minds, and yes, their souls. These effects are well-recognized, and embodied in the discipline known as horticultural therapy. Where I live in central North Carolina, horticultural therapists work with an array of clients — from teenagers with eating disorders to folks recovering from brain damage to children enduring long-term hospitalizations, those suffering from mental illness, and those afflicted with memory disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease.

Swelling blueberry flower buds

Swelling blueberry flower buds

I don’t think this discipline gets enough recognition, so I’ve decided to feature articles about its therapeutic effects from time to time in this blog. Today’s entry features a description of a an upcoming two-day (March 18-19) conference led by several horticultural therapists working in Greensboro, NC. They are welcoming all horticultural therapists — and gardeners interested in learning more about this discipline and in visiting some of the beautiful gardens of their city — to attend this event. The conference is free, but they ask that you e-mail them a completed registration form, or call the organizer,  by next Friday, March 11.

Flowers of witch hazel 'Amethyst' currently blooming in my yard

Flowers of witch hazel ‘Amethyst’ currently blooming in my yard

Here are all the details from Sally Cobb, the horticultural therapist organizing this event:

Hello Horticultural Therapy Enthusiasts!

Fountains, statues, bridges, wandering pathways, fresh air, and plants of all descriptions: let’s spend time outdoors and honor the foundation of our profession’s source of power – NATURE!

Greensboro has four public gardens, eager to rejuvenate us through exploration and contemplation. Come join us Friday and/or Saturday to hear about the programs of the three Horticultural Therapists living in Greensboro and lose yourselves in the beauty of the Greensboro gardens!

Friday: March 18, 2016

3:30-4:00 — Meet at Gateway Gardens, at the Book Stage, East Gate City Boulevard,  Greensboro, for welcome and immersion in Greensboro’s newest public garden which integrates elements of history, movement, discovery and community into its landscape. Socialize between 3:30 and 4 and we will get started at 4:00.

6:00 — Reservations at Southern Lights Bistro and Bar, 2415 Lawndale Drive, Greensboro, NC 27408

Saturday: March 19, 2016

 8:30-9:00 — Gather at Hospice and Palliative Care of Greensboro, 2500 Summit Avenue, Greensboro 27405, for a light breakfast. Socialize between 8:30 and 9 and we will start at 9:00, hearing about the happenings of Greensboro’s three HT’s: Jennifer Manning, Catherine Crowder, and Sally Cobb.

11:00 — Meet at Tanger Family Bicentennial Garden, 1105 Hobbs Road, Greensboro 27410 to explore this popular and relaxing garden. Wander to the Bog Garden, directly across the street, to experience its elevated boardwalks and massive, recirculating waterfall feature.

12:30 — Lunch at one of the many offerings at Friendly Shopping Center, within walking distance, less than a quarter of a mile from these two gardens!

1:45 — Meet at the Greensboro Arboretum, 401 Ashland Drive, at the entrance. Then we will go to the outdoor circular seating area for sharing experiences and reflections. Afterwards, spend as much time as you like walking the paved and woodland paths of the Arboretum with its ten woody plants collections and fabulous structural features.

Information on one of Greensboro’s reasonable and centrally located hotels, the Battleground Inn:

  • Double — $79.00 ( $89.56 with tax)
  • King — $76.00 ($86.18 with tax)
  • Queen — $68.00 ( $77.16 with tax)

 

Continental Breakfast: No hot food. (Cereal, muffins,pastries etc coffee, tea, juice)

They have a total of 48 rooms. The website is www.battlegroundinngso.com. The phone number is 336-272-4737.

Please return the form below, if you will be joining us, by March 11, 2016.

Hope to see each of you here in March!!!

 Sally, Catherine and Jennifer

Sally Cobb

Horticultural Therapist
(336) 544-2289

scobb@hospicegso.org
http://www.hospicegso.org

Hospice and Palliative Care of Greensboro
Carolinas Horticultural Therapy Network

 

There is no fee to register for this networking meeting; however, please complete the form below so we can make dinner reservations and other preparations as necessary.

 

Name:                                                             

 

I will be attending the following session(s):

 

            Friday afternoon at Gateway Gardens

2924 E Lee Street, Greensboro, NC 27406

 

            Friday dinner at Southern Lights

http://www.southernlightsbistro.com/

2415 A Lawndale Dr.           Greensboro, NC 27408

 

            Saturday morning, Hospice and Palliative Care of Greensboro

2500 Summit Ave, Greensboro, NC 27405

 

Please help us by identifying your area of work in HT

 

  Yes No
Work in HT    
If yes where    
Volunteer in HT    
If yes where    

 

Please return the completed form to Sally Cobb at:
scobb@hospicegso.org or call 336-314-0931.

Accommodations: Battleground Inn www.battlegroundinngso.com 336-272-4737

Rapidly growing spring greens in my greenhouse

Rapidly growing spring greens in my greenhouse

I’m going to try to attend at least some of the meeting. I hope some of you gardeners — especially all you master gardeners out there — who live nearby will consider attending this event. You’ll never meet nicer people than those who practice horticultural therapy, be it formally or informally. And those of us who interact with the public regarding gardening will almost certainly pick up some useful tips from these experts.

Close view of flowers of Cornus mas 'Spring Glow blooming in my yard

Close view of flowers of Cornus mas ‘Spring Glow blooming in my yard

I can’t think of a better way to usher in the spring season. Can you?

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Late Winter Pluses and Minuses

Witchhazel 'Amethyst'

Witchhazel ‘Amethyst’

It’s been too long since I posted here. My apologies. Late winter in my corner of North Carolina has been a mostly soggy mess. And as I type this, yet more rain is pouring down upon my mushy landscape. I have been posting small items regularly on the Piedmont Gardener Facebook page; if you use that social media tool, you may want to check out the photos and announcements of relevant events that I post there.

They're baaack!

They’re back!

As I’ve noted on the PG Facebook page, beavers have once again moved into the wetland adjacent to my creek. They have built a dam downstream and off my property, which has raised the water level in the creek so that every rain event involving more than a half-inch is causing the creek to overflow in numerous places along my property, even cutting channels into what has been a stable, flat floodplain for over 25 years. It’s a real mess, and we’re not sure what, if anything, we can do about it.

Trunk of a Leyland Cypress

Trunk of a Leyland Cypress

The beavers are actively foraging all up and down the creek. In addition to harvesting a few saplings, they even “tasted” two of the Leyland Cypresses still standing beside the creek. To discourage them from returning, I sprayed the entire lower trunks of all the Leylands with a deer repellant spray in the hopes that it would make them taste bad enough for the beavers to ignore. So far <knock wood>, it’s working, but all this rain probably means I need to reapply the repellant.

pileated holes

The work of Pileated Woodpeckers.

But not all my landscape surprises are less than wonderful. Case in point: a pair of Pileated Woodpeckers appear to have chosen a sycamore just across the creek to raise this year’s brood. Until the forest leafs out, I can see this spot from my living room window and back deck. That’s a good thing, because when I try to walk near this tree, the woodpeckers make it clear that I am not the least bit welcome.

Red-shouldered hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

Another pair of late-winter nesters has settled in, as usual, in the wetland forest — Red-shouldered Hawks. They often lurk in the trees near our backyard bird feeders, but I haven’t seen them catch any songbirds. Frogs,  salamanders, and earthworms, on the other hand, seem to be dietary staples. Wonder Spouse took that spectacular hawk photo two days ago when it decided to hunt from a tree in our backyard. He actually took the shot from inside our house. He is a wizard with his camera — and his post-processing software.

Salad season can't come soon enough!

Salad season can’t come soon enough!

When we’ve gotten a few back-to-back days of sunshine, we’ve been hard at work preparing the vegetable garden for another season. All my seeds have arrived, and last Wednesday (2-16), I sowed my first batch of greens in my germination chamber. The ones in the above photo germinated in two days! I’ll enumerate the spring garden veggie varieties I’m trying in a new post soon. All the lettuces germinated instantly, along with baby kale and radicchio. The spinaches and parsley are only just now showing signs of germinating, which is entirely normal. When they are all well up and moved out of the germination chamber, I’ll sow another batch of spring veggies.

Onion starts -- planted!

Onion starts — planted!

The two varieties of onion plants I ordered arrived mid-week, and I managed to get them all planted in their garden bed yesterday. I know they don’t look like much now, but if the voles will leave them alone, we have big hopes for these.

onions close

It’s always amazing how these stubby little onion starts that arrive with shriveled roots plump up in just a few weeks. I was delighted to get them planted the same week they arrived. Usually I’m not this organized and they wait a week or more. I’m hoping my efficiency will pay off in bigger bulbs. Stay tuned.

Cold-singed Magnolia stellata 'Royal Star'

Cold-singed Magnolia stellata ‘Royal Star’

We’ve had a few bouts of deep cold and some ice — mostly freezing rain — which damaged my Magnolia stellata ‘Royal Star’ flowers. They opened too early, thanks to the absurdly warm December we had here. Fortunately, not all the buds opened before the cold, so I’m able to enjoy a round of new blooms during our current milder spell of weather.

In addition to the witch hazel ‘Amethyst’ blooming well in the first photo of this post, my Cornus mas ‘Spring Glow’ trees are bursting with bright golden flowers. I’m hoping they will cross-pollinate each other this year and produce some of the red berries that give them their common name: Cornelian Cherry. I was thus heartened to see a pollinator on these flowers yesterday.

Of course, spring bulbs are well up. My crocuses were eaten by deer before I remembered to spray them with repellent. Snow drops and myriad daffodils are all loaded with buds and will soon be glowing in the landscape as it wakens from its winter slumber. Meanwhile, the lushest, greenest parts of my yard are the lichens, soft and fluffy from abundant rains.

Soon spring leaves will match the greens of the lichens.

Soon spring leaves will match the greens of the lichens.

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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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Farewell, February!

Damaged Stewartia

Damaged Stewartia

Is is just me, or has February been a strange month? Folks in the Midwest are still covered in ice and snow. Here in the southeast, it was mostly rain — rain we really needed. But weather always seems to have pros and cons, doesn’t it? The Stewartia above — a lovely little non-native ornamental I adore — grows beneath giant, aging River Birches. River Birches usually only last about 100 years, and my enormous, gorgeous specimen trees are most decidedly declining. They drop small branches routinely. After the last rain, however, the giant nearest my Stewartia decided to blow its top.

Broken top of River Birch

Broken top of River Birch

Here’s a closer view of the topless branch.

We think the darker areas were rotten.

We think the darker areas were rotten.

And here’s more of the River Birch to provide a sense of scale.

This tree is part of a group of River Birches, all 80 feet or taller.

This tree is part of a group of River Birches, all 80 feet or taller.

Fortuitously for those growing beneath this forest giant, its top fragmented as it fell to the ground.

Clean-up will be fun -- not!

Clean-up will be fun — not!

The large piece in back partially crushed part of our deer fence, but Ace Wonder Spouse was able to roll away the large chunk enough to free the fence, which he then tacked back into position — at least well enough to thwart hungry deer, we hope.

The green shrub in front is a Titi -- a native that would be eaten to the ground if not for the fence inside which it grows.

The green shrub in front is a Titi — a native that would be eaten to the ground if not for the fence inside which it grows.

The poor Stewartia really got the worst of it. A number of branches were ripped from its trunk. Wonder Spouse will prune the damaged areas as much as possible soon.

A chunk of River Birch sits smugly in the crotch of the Stewartia -- just out of my reach.

A chunk of River Birch sits smugly in the crotch of the Stewartia — just out of my reach.

All in all, it could have been much worse, and I wouldn’t trade a drop of the rain that fell for the damage done. The rain had an immediate impact on plants and animals. Buds are swelling, birds and frogs sing more loudly every day. Despite below-normal temperatures and snow flurries promised for this weekend, Spring will have its way with us soon enough. I offer abundant proof:

Cornus mas in full bloom.

Cornus mas in full bloom.

Witch Hazel 'Aurora' smells even lovelier than it looks.

Witch Hazel ‘Aurora’ smells even lovelier than it looks.

More sunny daffodils open every day.

More sunny daffodils open every day.

Coming attractions: Abundant flowers on many deciduous azaleas.

Coming attractions: Abundant flowers on many deciduous azaleas.

Cardinals already battle for territory. The Purple Finch female with them must be very hungry to brave their grouchy company.

Cardinals already battle for territory. The Purple Finch female with them must be very hungry to brave their grouchy company.

The rain brought down many branches, but the creek never quite flooded. That’s how dry we’ve been. Today’s drought monitor update from the weather seers has FINALLY moved us from the Moderate Drought category to Abnormally Dry. Not great, but better.

Personally, I’m hoping March lives up to its advertised lion-like entrance, keeping us chilly and wet until I have time to clean up the yard, finish the pruning, weed and mulch the front beds, prepare the vegetable garden …  The list of chores grows exponentially with every passing hour.

So, February, bon voyage. It’s been — interesting. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

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Blooming Today

Nothing screams "Spring!" like sunny crocuses.

Nothing screams “Spring!” like sunny crocuses.

After returning home from errands today, I noticed quite a few flowers blooming among my five acres of green chaos. I thought of all the folks buried under feet of snow, and decided to offer them some hopeful signs of spring. It was approaching noon when I shot these, so apologies in advance for the less-than-stellar quality of some these pictures.

Long ago — over 20 years — I planted a number of traditional spring-flowering bulbs here and there in the yard. I haven’t done anything right by them since. I haven’t divided them, fed them, mulched them (on purpose — some get leaf mulch because they’re under trees), or given them any supplemental water. Despite total neglect, they brighten our late winter/early spring landscape every year.

The daffodils have mostly spread in place, making ever-larger clumps. However, the crocuses travel. I don’t know if birds, insects, or rodents are moving the seeds or corms, but somehow, I now find blooming crocuses in unexpected places. Take, for example, those bright yellow beauties in the top photo. They just appeared beside my pink flowering apricot a few years back, as if to keep it company. That tree has finished blooming, but the location continues its spring show, thanks to these sunny crocuses.

Another volunteer crocus is blooming in deep shade beneath the loropetalums. Every year, I mean to relocate it, but, of course, I forget it when the leaves disappear.

This volunteer is a deep magenta.

This volunteer is a deep magenta.

Some crocuses are still blooming where I planted them — more or less. I love the subtle striping on these paler lilac beauties.

Subtle and lovely.

Subtle and lovely.

I almost overlooked the blooming dwarf crested iris I planted some years back. These diminutive specimens are native to Piedmont floodplains, but horticulturalists have created a number of cultivars. I have long forgotten the name of this variety that continues to thrive among overgrown Verbena ‘Homestead Purple.’

Pale dwarf crested iris flowers almost disappear in this overgrown area.

Pale dwarf crested iris flowers almost disappear in this overgrown area.

I wrote some time ago about all the volunteer wildflowers — many non-native originally — that have naturalized and taken over much of my “lawn.” Blooming vigorously right now is this little Speedwell. I think it’s Veronica persica, but don’t hold me to that. This clump is growing in my gravel driveway with the rest of the weeds.

A lawn ornament: Veronica persica (maybe).

A lawn ornament: Veronica persica (maybe).

Both of my Prunus mume ‘Peggy Clarke’ specimens are still blooming. Peggy Junior is nearly done; she was more severely impacted by a recent bout of sub-freezing weather. Peggy Senior is protected from north winds by our garage. Her branch tops are still filled with fragrant rosy flowers; abundant honeybees enjoy this resource every sunny day now.

Prunus mume 'Peggy Clarke'

Prunus mume ‘Peggy Clarke’

As I mentioned previously, this is the first year that my non-native Parrotia persica has bloomed abundantly. It’s still doing so, but most of the flowers in this picture are spent. The brighter pops of magenta here and there are the currently blooming flowers.

Parrotia persica is finishing its blooming cycle.

Parrotia persica is finishing its blooming cycle.

The daffodils on the floodplain open first, because the area is a tad warmer than the hilltops. Ice Follies is always the first daffodil to defiantly declare spring’s arrival — sometimes in snow!

Daffodil 'Ice Follies'

Daffodil ‘Ice Follies’

The snow drops I showed you in the previous post are now fully open.

I think the open flower petals look a bit like little bird wings.

I think the open flower petals look a bit like little bird wings.

About 8, maybe 10 years ago, I planted a hybrid Hellebore. This clump of Lenten Roses grows more enormous every year, and, no, I haven’t gotten around to dividing it. As is usually the case, its flowers begin opening well before the onset of Lent most years.

Lenten Roses usually begin blooming before Lent in my yard.

Lenten Roses usually begin blooming before Lent in my yard.

Inside the deer fence on the north side of my yard, two recently planted specimens are showing their late winter flowers right on schedule. The Cornelian Cherry (Cornus mas) from last year is completely covered in bright yellow flowers. The new plant we added this year is blooming some, so I’m hoping we’ll get at least a couple of fruits, now that I’ve provided a source for cross pollination.

The small flowers of Cornus mas 'Spring Glow' are difficult to capture with my little camera.

The small flowers of Cornus mas ‘Spring Glow’ are difficult to capture with my little camera.

My hybrid witchhazel, Aurora, is just starting to show off its strappy yellow-and-orange petals. It should be more impressive after a few more years of growth.

All those fat buds will soon push out showy flowers.

All those fat buds will soon push out showy flowers.

Up front beneath the shelter of mature loblolly pines, Magnolia stellata ‘Royal Star’ is about to explode into snow-white star bursts of potently fragrant glory — assuming no freezes brown petals prematurely.

Fingers crossed that cold won't damage the early flowers of Magnolia stellata 'Royal Star.'

Fingers crossed that cold won’t damage the early flowers of Magnolia stellata ‘Royal Star.’

I can’t close before showing you a couple of native trees now in glorious full bloom throughout my yard. The Red Maples are heating up the forest canopy with their usual crimson display.

Acer rubrum is the first native tree in my yard to signal spring's imminent return.

Acer rubrum is the first native tree in my yard to signal spring’s imminent return.

Some feet below in the subcanopy, American Hazelnut trees are ornamented by numerous dangling male catkins. Every breeze makes them dance, releasing pollen onto the tiny female flowers scattered among them. These native shrubs/small trees disappear into the landscape when everything leafs out. But right now, they are quite conspicuous. As I wandered around my yard today, I discovered a large specimen growing in my backyard that I had never noticed before.

Male catkins blooming on a newly discovered American Hazelnut I found in my backyard today.

Male catkins blooming on a newly discovered American Hazelnut I found in my backyard today.

Then as I walked the creek line, I realized that at least a half dozen more specimens were blooming on my neighbor’s land across the creek. I spotted a very large tree over there so covered in catkins that I wondered how I’d never seen it before.

This large specimen is fuzzy from the long-distance shot, but still distinctive enough to be unmistakably an American Hazelnut.

This large specimen is fuzzy from the long-distance shot, but still distinctive enough to be unmistakably an American Hazelnut.

One final enthusiastic bloomer will close today’s post. This rosemary has been growing against my house for a number of years. I always intend to prune the branches away from the siding when the plant stops blooming, but I’ve discovered it doesn’t really ever stop blooming. I certainly can’t bear to cut it now, when every branch is covered in delicate blue flowers beloved by hungry foraging honeybees. I’ll try to remember to do this in summer, when bloom enthusiasm decreases, and the pollinators have myriad other options.

This rosemary blooms at least a bit every month of the year.

This rosemary blooms at least a bit every month of the year.

All of these early flowers are signaling me that it’s time to start some spring vegetable seeds in the greenhouse. When the weather moderates a bit, that will be my next task. Happy February, ya’ll.

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New Additions

Hamamelis x intermedia 'Aurora'

First, apologies to my handful of loyal readers who have been looking for a new post from me. My excuse is the fantastic mild fall weather my part of the southeastern Piedmont has been enjoying. Any self-respecting, self-professed obsessive gardener who does not get herself working outside on days like my region has been experiencing does not merit the aforementioned description.

I haven’t even started leaf redistribution yet, because the oaks in my yard are only just now starting to discard their recently yellowed leaves. No sense in raking twice, if you ask me. But that doesn’t stop other garden clean-up chores, and when you tend five acres of green chaos, there’s always something to do.

I intended to post updates at night. But after a hard day of yard work, my middle-aged body lacks enthusiasm for any effort beyond softly moaning on the couch with a heating pad. As the saying goes, what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, right?

As you know, fall is for planting in my region. Dormant plants focus on root growth, and our cooling temperatures allow new transplants to avoid heat stress. Water consumption drops, so even if rains don’t come, the water manually added doesn’t instantly disappear, allowing the roots of new plants to settle in and expand, thereby creating plants better able to withstand next summer’s heat and dry spells.

The plant in the photo above is one of my new additions. All my new arrivals were planted inside my deer-fenced north slope. After seeing the enthusiasm of plants not enclosed by wire cages, I’m having a hard time bringing myself to plant anything new outside on of our protected zones. Until I was able to remove the wire cages from the deciduous azaleas I had planted on our north slope, I didn’t realize that the presence of the cages was inhibiting the vegetative growth of the shrubs.

Although some plants will grow right through a wire cage (and get nibbled by deer), the azaleas just stopped growing  when their branches touched the edges of their wire enclosures. I know this to be true, because the first year after we enclosed them within deer fencing and freed them from their cages, every single azalea at least doubled in size.

Because I can’t predict which plants will be inhibited by wire enclosures, it seems prudent to plant all new additions within deer-fence-protected sections of my yard. So this summer, I wandered around my enclosed north slope and pondered possible spots for additions. Then I narrowed down my choices. I knew I wanted a Witchazel. I’ve always loved their late fall/early winter strappy flowers. The hard part was deciding on which cultivar to choose.

I settled on Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Aurora’ because its flowers are supposed to be extra large, showy, and fragrant — yellow with a red tinge at the bases of the flowers. The hybrid vigor of this beauty was evident as soon as I opened the box. Stocky, strong stems are well-branched, and the fall color on the still-attached leaves promised future spectacular autumn shows as the shrub nears its predicted maximum size of ten feet tall and wide. I planted it at the bottom of the hill, where it will receive the extra water it needs to flourish. I even saw a few flower buds, so I’ll be able to see the flowers for myself in a few months.

As I believe I’ve mentioned, I love exfoliating (peeling) bark on trees, and I’m always looking for new specimens with that trait to add to my collection. Cinnamon Bark Clethra (Clethra acuminata) has been on my list to acquire for some time. In fact, I tried it once about 15 years ago, but the deer got it when I foolishly removed its protective cage too soon. I gave it an ideal location on my shaded, moist slope, so I hope it will soon reach its predicted size of 8 feet tall and 5 feet wide. Its long white clusters of flowers (called racemes) will appear in July, and should add a touch of light to its shady site. I didn’t get a great shot of this new addition, but you can at least appreciate the soft yellow fall color of the leaves:

Clethra acuminata

The last new woody addition is a species of dogwood that I’ve been coveting for many years. Corneliancherry Dogwood (Cornus mas) is native to more northern regions of the eastern US, which is why I haven’t tried it before now.  But I’ve always been intrigued by it, because it produces small bright yellow flowers in late winter, and its ripe red olive-shaped fruits are reputed to be highly desirable to birds and other wildlife.  My research led me to a cultivar developed at the JC Raulston Arboretum in my home state of North Carolina. This cultivar — Spring Glow — reputedly can generate blooms without the prolonged cold period required by the species. That’s key in my part of the Piedmont, where winter temperatures rarely stay below 45 degrees for more than a few days at a time.

It took me a while to locate this cultivar at a mail-order nursery I trusted, but I succeeded, and I look forward to pops of bright yellow flowers during the winter months. This small tree should also produce striped barked that will enhance its winter appeal even further. If I can keep it happy, Cornus mas ‘Spring Glow’ should grow to a height of 25 feet, and a width of 12 feet. Here’s a shot of my newly transplanted specimen:

Corneliancherry Dogwood 'Spring Glow'

See the label to the right of the plant? For new arrivals, I add a permanent metal marker on which I write the name and cultivar on the front, and the source and planting date on the back. If the label from the nursery allows, I usually attach it to the metal label, just to make it easier to see the metal label, which can get buried during heavy leaf falls from surrounding canopy trees.

I tried keeping notebooks about plants in my yard, but I never kept them current. To avoid forgetting the names of the zillions of plants we’ve added to our five acres over the last 21 years, the permanent marker system has been the best solution for us.

Since I planted these beauties in late October, my yard has received a total of about 3.5 inches of wonderful rain. This unexpected blessing  could not have been better timed for the new arrivals. My area is still in a moderate drought, but the rains have provided a temporary respite from what could have been a very dry autumn.

Here’s hoping the rains keep finding my yard. But until they do, I’ve got plenty more work out there!

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