Posts Tagged Plumleaf Azalea
For the last few days, I’ve been outdoors grabbing photos. The fall color has been wonderful this year, but a strong cold front is moving in and plans to stay quite a while. We won’t get the snow and below-zero temperatures that Denver got slammed with, but lows in the low 20s will most definitely put an end to autumn color here.
Nature’s last blaze of glory is all the sweeter for its impermanence. After the leaves fall, the landscape will go quiet while flora and fauna slumber through winter’s chill.
Our native spring wildflowers don’t last long either. But their departure makes way for a continuous display of leaves, blooms, and fruits from so many other species that I don’t feel their loss as much as I do the disappearance of Nature’s rainbow autumn cloak.
I’ve been watching my non-native Parrotia persica, hoping that it would have time to don its golden glow before the first hard freeze. It just barely managed it. A few more days would deepen its color, but I think it’s stop-in-your-tracks glorious right now.
As much as I’ll miss autumn’s spectacular display, I welcome winter’s coming embrace. While the trees sleep, deepening their connection to earth with spreading roots, I will turn my attention to internal tasks. While it is too cold for weeding, mulching, pruning, and other winter yard work, I will ponder the next growing season. The first seed catalogs have already appeared in my mailbox. Now is the time to dream of future flowers and fruits.
Soon enough, the earth will warm, and I will be back out there covered in rich loam, surrounded by fragrance and bird song, ready for another turn of Nature’s wheel.
About now most late summers I am moaning about the dog days. Anyone who has lived in my region for long knows exactly what I’m talking about. High temperatures, higher humidities, stagnant air so thick you need scuba gear to get from your air-conditioned house to your air-conditioned car. But not this year. At least not in my part of North Carolina.
We’ve had a few hot spells — afternoons when only the jewel-colored dragonflies move with alacrity. But as soon as we are well hunkered down to endure the swelters, a Canadian air mass comes swooshing down, bringing us unusually low high temperatures and several days in a row of steady, off-and-on rain. As I squish around my yard during non-rainy moments, I wonder if this is what it’s like to live in the Pacific Northwest.
Of course, this interlude from our typical late summer weather has a price — fungus. I don’t begrudge the toadstools sprouting everywhere. They usually wait until late September/October to appear, but this is their kind of weather.
The fungus I’m not so fond of afflicts my vegetable garden. The zucchinis have all surrendered to a combination of fungus and squash vine borer attacks. The tomatoes are losing their lower branches to fungus. Fruits are growing ugly black spots. Unless we get a dry heat wave, they won’t hang on much longer. The biggest surprise are the beans. Both Fortex (pole) and Jade (bush) are still astonishingly productive. The cosmos flowers are on the verge of surrender. But the Berry Basket zinnias party on.
Plants and animals proceed with their life cycles as best they can, obeying the calendar more than the weather. Seed production is in full evidence.
Our two months of unusually dry weather reduced seed cone production among my deciduous magnolias, but they still sport some reddening cones.
Late-summer wildflowers are starting to show off in earnest. Early goldenrods brighten the edges of woodlands, and Monkey Flowers adorn the floodplain.
Some flowers are fruiting and flowering together, like my native coral honeysuckle variety, ‘Major Wheeler.’ The berries are actually brighter red than the flowers.
The tadpoles metamorphosing in our little front water feature decided last weekend’s prolonged damp, cool weather was ideal for emergence to full-time air-breathing status. Monday morning, we spotted about a dozen froglets nestled on plants adjacent to the water, most sporting bits of tadpole tail not yet fully resorbed.
The Copes Gray Tree Frogs laid their eggs in late spring. But the ensuing dry spell deprived us of their nightly serenades — a lullaby I enjoy most summers. But with the return of rain, they are back, at least on warmer nights. Perhaps the crop of newly hatched tadpoles helped to encourage the large ones to leave their birth pond.
Plants and animals seem to be using these interludes to gather themselves toward the push to autumn. The froglets meditated on their leafy perches for about two days before disappearing deeper into the vegetation when the sun returned.
The Ruby-throated Hummingbirds used the rainy interludes to chug down as much sugar water from my feeder as they could.
The flowers they prefer to dine on were mostly closed for business during the cool rains. All the newly fledged birds from this year and their parents crowd the feeder from dawn to full darkness. I count six to eight birds jockeying for feeding slots all day long.
Male birds are especially intent on fattening up. They’ll be the first to head south to their tropical winter nesting sites, so they can claim the best territories before the females return. I usually notice they are gone by mid-September. The last stragglers generally stop visiting my feeder in early October.
All the natives — hummingbirds, froglets, praying mantises, writing spiders, magnolias, milkweeds, dogwoods — feel the summer slipping ever more quickly past. Whether we see more rainy interludes or swelter through late summer, they know time grows short.
Now is the time to hunker down and finish summer projects, plan fall gardens, and anticipate winter seed catalog dreaming sessions nestled by a crackling fire with a hot cup of cocoa.
Like the natural world surrounding me, I am using these unusual rainy, cool interludes to rest and recharge, knowing that every time the sun returns, weed explosions will add to my nearly infinite gardening to-do list.
Perhaps you’ve heard? It’s been raining a lot in my area for the past several weeks. Actually, it’s been pouring — veritable waterfalls from the sky cascading in fat droplets the size of marbles. I’ve lived in this part of North Carolina for well over 50 years. It has never rained like this. Not ever.
The local meteorologists back me up on this. They’ve noted record rainfall amounts that triple our “normal” accumulations. Talk about your mixed blessings. The photo above was taken about 9:00 a.m. after a day and night of rain. I’ve lost track of how many inches fell, but it was more than enough to push the creek that forms one of our property boundaries out of its banks — in at least a half dozen spots — and onto our floodplain.
It looks a lot like a raging river, doesn’t it? Muddy water tears by in multiple interweaving currents. But it’s not even the sights you notice when you step outside. The smell assaults you first — mucky, decaying, fungus-filled deep humidity. Then you notice the roar of the water as it leaps over the bank of the creek onto the floodplain, currents scouring paths in the silt, carrying fish, driftwood, and assorted bits of trash deep into the swamp, where the currents finally weaken, morphing into a murky pond.
The floodplain is on the south side of our property. The creek banks on the north side are higher. The only time the creek ever leapt out of its banks there was during Hurricane Fran, when fallen trees forced the water sideways. This time, the water backed up a bit on the north side:
The water in the foreground covers the trail beside the creek, where we usually walk. The creek breached the bank further downstream, then back-filled itself up the path, right up to our back fence line.
We count ourselves deeply fortunate. Our power was never off for more than a few hours at a time, and we experienced no strong wind gusts during the unrelenting downpour. Our completely saturated ground could not have held the large canopy trees upright, if strong winds had bullied them. We did lose one canopy tree on the floodplain: a large Ash. Its root ball was completely undercut by rushing water.
Alas, the Ash fell smack onto my Sweet Bay Magnolia (Magnolia virginiana), which was covered in swelling white flower buds. The Ash sheared off one of the two main branches of the Magnolia. If the mud on the floodplain ever dries up enough for us to walk on, we’ll try to clean up the damage to the Sweet Bay. For now, all we can do is share our sympathies with the maimed Magnolia.
By about 2:00 p.m. on the day I took the above photos, the creek had grudgingly retreated — mostly — back to within its banks, leaving only a few thin streams running across the far southern end of our property beside the swamp. I took a picture to show how it looked.
That’s the creek in back, just barely where it’s supposed to be. The foreground shows one of the spots where it overflowed with rushing current, hence the flattened vegetation and the abundant fresh sand/silt deposits. I gave up walking pretty quickly. I was sinking past my ankles in my boots, and it was very difficult to pull myself out — one foot at a time — to move anywhere. I knew if I fell over, the mud might swallow me whole, so I retreated.
We’ve had two whole days without rain now, maybe three, but the floodplain is still nothing but mud. Too muddy for Wonder Spouse to try to cut up the fallen Ash and trim up the wounded Sweet Bay Magnolia. He was able to cut up the other tree we lost — a dying Black Cherry at the top of our hill. It simply fell over, pulling down some of our deer fencing that encloses the north side of our yard. The root system was weakened by disease and the ground was wetter than it may have ever been before. Eerily, Wonder Spouse had mentioned to me the week before that he wanted to take down that tree anyway, noting its sickliness. I guess the tree wanted to save him the trouble.
The most astonishing thing to me through this crazy wet summer is how the plants and animals have responded. I knew we had been living in varying states of drought for the last 17 or so years, but I hadn’t realized how thirsty the plants were — until I’ve seen how they’ve responded to basically unlimited water. I am almost afraid.
Don’t get me wrong, the trees look great. Instead of the raggedy brown look they’ve been sporting most summers by this time, they look nearly as freshly green as they did when they leafed out in April. In recent years, the Tulip Poplar leaves have been turning yellow and dropping by now, their response to insufficient water. Not this year.
And, good golly, the weeds. Have mercy, the weeds! As I walk from my front door to the vegetable garden at the top of the hill, I try to look straight ahead, focusing only on the path before me. Because if I look anywhere else, I see flowers struggling in a jungle of Japanese Stilt Grass approaching four feet tall, Pokeweed the height of pro basketball players, Poison Ivy plotting to grab me by the ankles and pull me into the overgrown areas full of ripening blackberries and volunteer tree saplings. The green areas I call lawn are requiring me to mow them (weather permitting) weekly. Usually by now I’m mowing every 6-8 weeks, as the drought forces lawn plants into slow-growing survival mode.
The birds are deliriously happy over the abundant wild blackberry supply. And the bugs. Gnats form sky-blackening clouds. Biting flies slam into my hat-covered head like bullets as I traverse the path to the garden. Mosquitoes bite me through my clothes. Ticks dangle hungrily from every blade and branch. It is a bona fide jungle out there, folks. And I am completely outnumbered.
Despite the plagues of weeds and bugs, my garden is hanging tough. The tomatoes are finally thinking about ripening. They needed sunlight — a commodity in very short supply these last few weeks. Now it’s a race between the moisture-loving fungal diseases and the ripening of the fruits. I’m not sure which will win yet. I’m still picking squashes daily.
Despite the usual bug attacks, the plants are still producing. I think the abundant soil moisture is allowing them to hang tough longer than usual. Ditto for the Fortex pole beans. Never have they produced so abundantly for so long. The pepper plants grow heavier with fruit daily, but no signs of ripening yet.
In short, for the first time in my gardening life, my vegetables have all the water they could possibly want.
As usual, the Sweet Treats cherry tomatoes are ripening first, but we have eaten a few wonderful Bella Rosas, a couple of seed-grown Early Goliath fruits, and a couple of Viva Italias.
Despite competition from out-of-control weeds, the later blooming daylilies have looked lovely. Case in point:
I can’t close this too-lengthy post without showing you how my Plumleaf Azalea responded to the abundant water. This summer-blooming deciduous azalea is always the Grand Finale to my procession of beautiful azaleas, the effect of its flowers somewhat muted by the presence of leaves. All the others bloom before the leaves emerge in spring.
I took these photos last week early in the morning. We had received another three-quarters of an inch of rain the night before, so it was misty outside.
Here’s a closer view of the flowers. The leaves are a bit damaged, but the flowers more than compensate as far as I’m concerned.
Finally, I’ll leave you with a fuzzy Monet-esque shot of the Plumleaf Azalea in my landscape. If I had skill with watercolors, I would try to paint this.
Here’s hoping the meteorologists are over-estimating the amount of rainfall predicted for this weekend.