Thursday, April 28, 2016

tiny marvels

Last June I attended the Town Library Plant and Bake Sale. It's a community event; contributors donate thinnings from their own gardens or flats of seedlings from their greenhouses.

One plant I chose was an epimedium.
I planted it at the base of a young oak tree surrounded by ferns, and by July it looked three times it's original size and seemed quite happy:

July 2015

In Autumn, it's leaves took on a semi-coppery sheen,
and when the "last" snow melted (quite recently, and possibly not the last at all), the remaining leaves looked like this:

As my world begins to green up, I've been keeping a close eye on the many, many places where I planted perennials last year, hoping for signs that the plants wintered well and will be back and thriving this year.

Last week, I was thrilled to find a glimpse of green at the base of that oak tree. A single stalk, elegantly arched over a cluster of deep pink buds:

And then another:

Just a few days later, there were more green stalks, unfurling, and many buds:

And now the first flower has opened!

I had to almost stand on my head for that picture, but I wanted you to get a sense of how threadlike these stems are, and how tiny the flowers. (In case it's not clear, those pink logs to the left are my fingertips.)

When I bought this plant, it was past flowering, so these flowers are a complete and wonderful surprise.

I have an illustrated list of many epimedium varieties, kindly given to me at a nursery last year. At some point, I will locate that list - probably when I am looking for a spool of thread or a screwdriver or a phone number - and then perhaps I can identify the plant with some certainty. Meanwhile, tentative identification: Epimedium alpinum 'Rubrum.'

Whatever it's botanical name, it's an unlikely-looking gem of a plant to appear and bloom at this changeable time of year. I'm thrilled to bits that it's back!

What happy returns have you found in your gardens this year?

Saturday, April 23, 2016

every day is earth day

(I started writing this "Earth Day" post last night and fell asleep with my hands on the keyboard. Fortunately for me, Earth Day comes around with each sunrise.)

Epigaea repens
Trailing Arbutus

When I was little, I learned that this Spring-flowering gem is the official flower of Massachusetts, and that "picking it is Against The Law!" But only when I was about to post this picture did I realize I don't know exactly what that means. Is it Rare? Protected? Endangered?
So I fell down the google rabbit-hole, and wasted a lot of time on found a lot of contradictory "facts" and "history." The way you do.

Then I smartened up a little bit and visited the Massachusetts Legislature website to find the number of the existing law. Then on to the State Archives, to find the history of the law. The original law written in 1918 simply designated the mayflower "the flower or floral emblem of the commonwealth." This law was amended alarmingly soon; in 1925 the following language was added "as an emergency law, to prevent the extinction of the mayflower": 

Any person who pulls up or digs up the plant of the mayflower or any part thereof, or injures such plant or any part thereof except in so far as is reasonably necessary in procuring the flower therefrom, within the limits of any state highway or any other public way or place, or upon the land of another person without written authority from him, shall be punished by a fine of not more than fifty dollars; but if a person does any of the aforesaid acts while in disguise or secretly in the nighttime he shall be punished by a fine of not more than one hundred dollars.

I wonder what was behind the law being written in that way, don't you? Very belated Boston Tea Party backlash? 

There was a further amendment in 1953, which spelled out who has the authority/responsibility to enforce the law. Making me wonder if the law had ever been - or will ever be - enforced. Anyone looking for a Term Paper project in botany/history/law? There you go. Please share a copy; I'd love to read it.

Meanwhile, I'll be over here, enjoying this lovely little patch of Epigaea repens I happened upon yesterday. I don't see it often, so finding it blooming was a special treat.

p.s. Trailing Arbutus is very unlikely to survive being transplanted, as it relies on the presence of a specific soil fungus. Even if I was tempted to be a villainous arbutus-thief, I wouldn't risk it. Not even without a disguise.

Monday, April 18, 2016

in the shade

It was a tad warmish today, even in the shade.
Even in the morning.
Half the herd couldn't be bothered coming up to the barn for their breakfast buckets! There's often one or two who dawdle, hoping for Room Service, but this was unprecedented.
So I fed the "energetic" group their buckets, then split a bale of hay into flakes and distributed it across the Upper West Side. I usually do this in late afternoon, but reasoned that the decision to skip breakfast might be regretted long before then. I didn't want anyone getting hungry. And cranky. And thuggish.

 Speaking of hungry...
 With only a little thistle seed left in the sack, these goldfinches were having a hard time remembering to share. I added more seed, and soon there were three of four finches all eating together.

Here's a newcomer, who was not interested in the feeders
but was very interested in the handfuls of mixed seed I scatter on the ground:
I think this is a dark-eyed junco.
But I'm open to suggestions!

Now, here's one I know!
(Because I looked it up.)
It's a (rather stunning) white-throated sparrow:

In the picture below, the white-throated sparrow is atop the stump, way over on the right side. Can you see it? (Left-click to embiggen.)

But, look again!
On the ground, way in back.
Peeping around the root of the stump.
Can you see it?

It's this little bird: 

 Which is a chipping sparrow.
(Looked that one up also.)

I apologize for the quality of these images; they were taken from 10 - 15 feet away, with two layers of not-very-clean glass midway between the camera and the birds. But I decided to post them anyway, so I'll have a record of which birds are appearing, and when, this year.

These birdfeeders are attracting a lot of high-quality entertainment and I'm going to enjoy it as long as I can.
It won't be much longer, because with this warmer weather, will come the black bears. They never seem to forget where they once - and only once! - found a jackpot of sunflower seeds. I think they have a database.

This is the print of a bear who visited years after I stopped keeping a birdfeeder up in summer:

In case you can't make it out, here's the same picture with arrows pointing to the claw marks and a line at the base of the paw pad, in line with my own paw pad:

It wasn't a very big bear. But a bear doesn't have to be very big to get into trouble, and I like bears. I don't want to be part of the problem of bears - or any other wildlife - interacting with humans.

So I'll continue to feed the birds after the feeders come down, but only by scattering seed that will be eaten up quickly. Not so much leisurely snacking for the birds, or leisurely viewing for me.

On the brighter side, it will soon be time to put up the hummingbird feeders! Those stay up til autumn.

Gosh, I'm talking about birds and bears.
Spring. Definitely. Spring.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

sock interruptus

The latest pair of socks is taking quite a while.
Mostly because there have been entire weeks when I haven't picked up the needles. But now that the cashmere harvest is gradually beginning to wind down, other fiber-based endeavors can get some attention.

The past two days were warm enough that I could sit in the sun for a couple of hours (!) and savor every moment. A little knitting, a little reading, and enjoying the many birds calling and singing and tapping and hammering. They were so busy! Imagine if birds could knit. I'll bet their socks wouldn't sit, unfinished, for weeks. Not very likely.

Toward the end of Winter, when I came up with a possible way to deter squirrels from taking all the birdseed, I added a second birdfeeder outside the porch. It's the one in the picture below. The squirrel deterrent plan has been 90% successful, so this week I added a third feeder; just a little net bag full of thistle seed. With more types of feeder and seed available, there are more birds - and also more kinds of birds - visiting this Spring than I've ever had here before. It is wonderfully exciting!

Yesterday in one hour I saw chickadees, goldfinches, tufted titmice, nuthatches, purple finches, mourning doves, downy woodpeckers, phoebes, and a robin!

This is, I think, a pair of Purple Finches.

Why they are called "purple finches" is a mystery to me.
They are finches. But when the sun hits the male, he seems to light up with the dazzling color of pomegranate seeds.

Beautiful! But purple? They ain't.
Let's think of a more suitable name, shall we?

While you are thinking about it, here's a chickadee:

And here's sunlight making a momentary rainbow on a chickadee's wing:

And here's the heel of the second sock, well underway.
I decided to experiment in picking up the stitches for the gusset.
Sometimes it's tricky (for me) to be sure I'm picking up all the stitches in exactly the same way, because the edges of the heel flap curl in a bit.
So this time I ran a strand of purple yarn (THIS is purple!) through each stitch I would be picking up, before actually picking them up. Like a guideline. A path to follow. I will recommend this little experiment to any sock-knitters who feel uncertain about how to pick up their stitches for the gusset.

It's kind of fun to take a step back from something I've been doing for years, and figure out exactly how I am doing it. And maybe do it more consistently in the future as a result.

Or not! We'll see. These socks already have so many little weirdnesses, I will be forced to keep them for myself.

I hope you are having a perfectly lovely Saturday, and the birds are singing wherever you are!

Sunday, April 10, 2016

the week past

The first thing I do when I step outside in the morning:
open the Poultry Palace, greet the flock, and give them a bowl of clean water. Nearly every day this past week, including today, that has meant first thawing the ice from their water bowl so I can clean and refill it. Winter is certainly tarrying this year.

The snowfall lasted a few days, gradually melting.

From way across the paddock,
Fern and Tansy saw me give Betula a peanut.
They came a-running! Ears flying!

When the snow was almost gone, we had hail.
Twice in one day.
But between the hail showers, there was a bit of blue sky:

I've been making an effort to get out in the woods with Piper on as many days as possible. With the cashmere combing on top of regular chores, most of my "upright and active" time is spent in the barn and paddocks every day. The rest of the time I am, to be honest, quite tired, but I feel it's important that Piper has an interesting life. I don't want her to have to snooze her days away on what she now believes is Piper's Couch Exclusively. (Seriously. You should see her face if I sit down at one end. Imagine having someone reeking of pot sit down next to you on public transportation when you are on your way to a business meeting. The look on your face? That's the look on Piper's face. A bit pained. A bit uneasy. "This is so Not Right.")

Anyway, once I rouse Piper from her couch and jingle the car keys, she is rarin' to go. We usually visit our favorite walking area and trails, and if you've been following my blog for a while (thank you) you may recognize certain trees and stones and views. Of course, there is also a lot of this sort of image:

So much happens at ground level in the woods.

This woodland is about two miles from home. Time was when we would have walked there, then "gone for a walk," then walked home. Haven't done that in a long time. Piper would probably be up for it, but I have to be realistic and would rather reserve my limited energy for the woods.

We usually walk on trails; at least I do. If there is no one else around, I let Piper run and she makes big loops through the woods, up hill and down, then catches up with me. Or backtracks to me. I call her to me now and then, to keep her mind on "our" walk. If I have to call her twice and she hasn't come, I go get her and quietly put her back on lead, then immediately give her a simple command - like "Sit" or "Down" - so that I can praise her for something right away. I don't ever want the lead to seem like a punishment.

This was quite a long walk, though a bit cold and gloomy,
and Piper was off-lead for nearly all of it.

Yesterday we took another long walk, and we both went off-trail. This area consists of many slopes, with a series of small wetlands and connecting drainages.

I felt suddenly transported back to the wooded area I spent hours in as a child. The inland version of tidal pools. Magical.

 Yesterday was an ideal opportunity for exploring little streams and seeps, because the Rubus hasn't leafed out yet with its millions of grabby new thorns, and the biting bugs aren't yet active. I estimate that this glorious state of affairs will last about another five minutes, so no time to waste!

All those vertical stalks are Rubus.
In a very short time, it will be a waist-high mass of thorns.
Even if I wanted to walk through it, I couldn't take Piper there.

It's sunny today, and I'm hoping to head out again this afternoon, for at least a short walk. I may bring a snack, just in case.
Yesterday Piper and I were in full agreement about the lack of planning on my part that meant we had water but no food.

More snow is predicted this coming week.
Here, quick: let's look at something green:

I hope you've had a good week!

Sunday, April 3, 2016

sunday snapshots

6AM: a few inches of fresh snow

9AM: snow stopped.

Very cold.

2PM: bitter cold, constant wind.
Still blowing at nightfall.

A full day of snow predicted for tomorrow.

Appropriate action has been taken:

Also, the last gallon of 2015 cider is thawing in the kitchen.
Preparations are complete.

Friday, April 1, 2016

thanks so much

A huge "Thank You!" to everyone who commented or sent an email about the windowbox project! I feel so lucky to have readers who take the time to ponder these things, and then write about their experiences and their ideas for what would or wouldn't work well here. Thank you!!

It's extremely helpful hearing about things like fiberglass boxes that last for decades - who knew? - and using plastic liners inside wooden boxes - which never even crossed my mind! - and the need for daily watering because even in plastic planters the soil may dry out more quickly than I expect and the heat of the sun on the boxes may damage the plants' roots. This last in particular may seem obvious to most of you - except KB, who has a similar closed-canopy situation at her woodsy home as I do here - but having to watch out for the effects of too much sun on the plants will be quite a new experience for me!

I'm still looking at pictures and measuring and deciding, so if anyone feels the urge to add to the comments, please do! With so many excellent ideas and options, I really don't think there can be anything but a satisfying outcome. The project should be underway next week; I'm trying to coordinate with my hired helper to be here one day for other tasks, as that way there'd be an extra hand within hailing distance for windowbox assistance if needed.

And as I've continued to ponder plants and planters,
there's still a lot of this going on every day:

Turns out you can do quite a lot of garden planning
while combing a goat or two.

We've reached the time of year when things start happening day, the slightest tint of green amidst the high grey branches of the maples, and the next morning the air is absolutely full of birdsong. I saw the first flycatcher in the South Paddock yesterday; hopefully they will build a nest under the workshop eaves again and I will see them swooping to and fro when I am filling the water buckets. Today I saw nine goldfinches at the feeder - a record! Several are in the process of trading their serious Winter outfits for a new Spring wardrobe.

We know what that feels like, don't we, Azalea?

"I'm about halfway done with shedding my cashmere!
It's tremendously hard work, but I don't complain.
Just having a bite of hay to keep my strength up."

In fact, it's taking a chance, but this weekend I'm going to shed my own Winter coat. I'll take my ancient calf-length down-filled barn coat off the peg by the back door, mend this year's rips, wash it, dry it in the fresh air, and put it carefully away for the season.

Piper and I have been going for our usual short walk/wander most days when it isn't actually raining. Everything is right on the brink of massive change; you can feel it in the air and see it in tiny signs everywhere you look. On clear days, it would be hard to take a bad photograph.

Especially when you have the help of a dog like Piper, who has recently begun to insist on being self-walking.

She actually carried that retractable lead all the way out of the woods, walking about 20 feet in front of me the whole time. I think she's finally come up with a solution for a human who stops to take photographs too often. "Fine. I'll walk myself."

You go, Ms. Independence.