April 27, 2011

Wildflower Wednesday: More Surprises

Here I am squeaking by again on a meme. But I just had to share these beauties before they fade. I took a walk in the woods and found some surprises.

Sanguinaria canadensis L.
It’s kind of embarrassing, but I didn’t even know we had Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis L.) on the property. As I’ve said before, I haven’t fully explored the wooded part of the lot. Sure, I’ve walked back there, but I haven’t documented all the plants. These little beauties were bobbing in the wind and their vivid white caught my eye as I scanned the horizon for wildflowers. In the morning, the flowers folded up to protect their centers, and later in the day they unfolded with the warmth and the sun.

On the other hand, I knew we had Mayapples (Podophyllum L.). I just didn’t know there were so many! 

Podophyllum L.
They’re carpeting the forest floor at this point. And I’d never captured photos of them before at this stage of their growth. I love this shot because it shows the foliage in a variety of forms—from tightly curled around the stem, to mostly unfurled. They’re not blooming yet, but Mayapples are a fun plant to watch—from emergence to bloom to fruitfulness.

Bugbane (Actaea racemosa L.) is making its annual expected appearance.

Actaea racemosa L.
This wildflower grows at the back of a planned perennial bed. It looks like a reaching hand right now, but later in the season it will tower over other plants in the garden, supplying structure and a frame for lower-growing plants.

I was actually on a hunt for one of my favorites—Trillium Grandiflorum. I didn’t see any emerging yet, but they’ll likely make an appearance any day now.

For more Wildflower Week posts, check out the excellent list at Clay and Limestone.

April 23, 2011

Lost in a book

Guess what my favorite hobby is? Silly question, I know. Of course it’s gardening! I can spend hours in any garden—working, walking, or just reflecting—and totally lose track of time.

But Wisconsin winters are long. And our springs (especially the current one) are often cold and rainy, and not exactly conducive to “enjoying” the garden. So, a Wisconsin gardener needs other hobbies to preserve his or her sanity.

My other top hobby is reading. I try to read at least one book a month, sometimes more depending on my schedule. My book club supplies a constant stream of phenomenal reading material. We read a good mix of fiction and nonfiction, and whenever I finish a book I can’t wait for the next “fix.”

So when Hanni at Sweet Bean Gardening tagged me to participate in The Sage Butterfly’s Earth Day Reading meme, I was thrilled! I’m a little late getting this post up, but the rules of the meme say the deadline is midnight on April 23, so I’m squeaking by.

Part of the reason it took me so long was the difficulty of winnowing down the list to just three books that inspire me to live sustainably. But these "three" are definitely at the top of my list:

1. Just about any book written by Willa Cather. I first read “O Pioneers!” in high school. Since then I’ve read just about all of Cather’s books, and most contain an element of appreciation for the land and the beauty of the American landscape. Whenever I read a Cather book, it takes me to another time and place, but one that is close to home and a part of my ancestral heritage.

Nothing says it better than the opening lines of “O Pioneers”: “One January day, thirty years ago, the little town of Hanover, anchored on a windy Nebraska tableland, was trying not to be blown away. A mist of fine snowflakes was curling and eddying about the cluster of low drab buildings huddled on the gray prairie, under a gray sky.”

Or this passage from “A Lost Lady,” describing the character Captain Forrester: “Anyone but Captain Forrester would have drained the bottom land and made it into highly productive fields. But he had selected this place long ago because it looked beautiful to him, and he happened to like the way the creek wound through his pasture, with mint and joint-grass, and twinkling willows along its banks…” I can get delightfully lost in a book like that!

2. “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” by Michael Pollan. While I’ve learned a ton from every Pollan book I’ve read, “Omnivore” probably made the biggest impression. It’s the first of his collection that I read, and it caused me to really think about every type of food I eat.

While much of the information was not exactly new to me, Pollan goes into great detail about the origins of corn and how it became such a staple (probably to excess) in the American diet; the history and current state of American farming and animal husbandry; and the pure joy of foraging for berries, mushrooms, and other edibles in the wild. (I don’t trust myself yet in identifying the mushrooms, but I’m learning.)

3. OK, I’m cheating a bit with this last one. Just about any gardening book from Rodale Press offers loads of suggestions and practical guides for sustainable gardening and living. But most of what I’ve learned about organic gardening has come from the magazine of the same name. I’ve been a subscriber for most of my adult life.

Every time Organic Gardening appears in my mailbox, it’s a highlight of my day. I really can’t say enough about how much I enjoy it and how much it has taught me over the years.

At this point, mainly because of techniques I’ve learned from the magazine (and tips from friends and trial and error), my garden is 99% organically grown. We use corn gluten meal as a natural fertilizer/herbicide on the grass, beer to catch slugs and earwigs in the veggie/flower garden, and companion planting to avoid the need for chemical pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers.

I don’t want to be preachy. Going organic was simply a personal choice for me, and it hasn’t really been that hard with all the great information available today.

Thanks, again, to The Sage Butterfly for hosting this meme! Fortunately, I’m posting too late in the process to have to select three other bloggers (click here for the meme's rules). You’re all great sources for information and inspiration!

April 19, 2011

Plant of the month: Lupine

I planted Lupines (Lupinus polyphyllus) for the first time more than 20 years ago. It was one of the first perennials I tried in my first backyard garden. (It's listed by some sources as technically a biennial.) I planted it from seed, directly into the ground, in May. It reappeared and thrived each year we lived at that first house.

After moving, I didn’t plant Lupines for several years. I’m not exactly sure why. Maybe it was the limited space for sun-loving plants, or maybe it was a desire to try plants I hadn’t tried before.

But about five years ago, I decided it was time again to welcome Lupines into my garden. This time, instead of seeds I started with a small plant, which worked just as effectively. Once again, Lupines are a highlight of my garden—returning and producing knockout blooms year after year. Here are a few vitals on Lupines:

  • Prefer full sun;
  • Thrive in zones 3-8;
  • Excellent cut line flowers in a bouquet, as a single species bunch in a broad vase, or as a solitary flower in a tall vase;
  • Members of the Legume family, so they’re great companions to just about any other plant since they return needed nitrogen to the soil;
  • Available in a rainbow of colors—brights and pastels—from pale pink to vibrant bold blue, bicolor varieties;
  • May need staking in open, wind-blown areas; although mine are in the middle of my sunny garden spot, placed against the wall, and require no staking; and
  • Feature 10- to 12-inch flower spikes on tall stems.

But one of the niftiest features of Lupines is their foliage, which is almost as fascinating as the spiky flower whorls. My plants emerged in March this year, and they’re continuing to slowly grow as the light and temperatures increase.

March 31

April 7

April 14

In May the flowers will form, and I expect they’ll be at their peak of beauty in early June.

On another, more personal note: I apologize to gardening and Blotanical friends for neglecting blog visits recently. I've been a bit preoccupied. My youngest performed in her senior dance recital this past weekend. It’s a transition for all of us. No more tutus or tight buns. And like many transitions, we celebrated her success with flowers.

(Yes, those are Oak leaves I need to rake and a light snowfall I'm choosing to ignore in the background.)

April 14, 2011

GBBD: Mystery solved

And the mystery plant is…

Muscari botryoides

Grape Hyacinth! (See my last post, “Welcome Surprises,” for background on why this was a mystery.) Wow, I vaguely remember seeing Muscari in this spot in past years, but why didn’t I take any photos?

I do remember the Fluffy Daffodils! They are midway through their seasonal show, and lovely as always:

The Hellebores are a little rough around the edges because I removed their mulch too early, but they survived:

Helleborus orientalis

Hints of blooms to come for the next GBBD:

Syringa meyeri

And after snapping these shots in 40-degree weather with a stiff breeze, I realized why I don’t have as many photos of early spring blooms from previous years—it’s cold out there and my fingers are numb!

(Thanks to Carol at May Dreams Gardens for hosting Garden Bloggers Bloom Day!)

April 09, 2011

Welcome surprises

Has this ever happened to you? You inherit a garden and you’re surprised by the plants that appear each year. Or, you plant bulbs and perennials and they seem to change from one year to the next.

One garden patch near my patio, for example, contains numerous spring bulbs planted by the previous owners. Every year, I’m surprised by the plants that emerge in April. For example, I don’t recall seeing these Purple Crocuses before.

Perhaps I just don’t remember, but you’d think I would have snapped photos of them. And I do have many shots of these White Crocuses from the past. They haven’t made an appearance this year.

Didn’t I have some yellow ones, too? Do Crocuses change color?

I thought the rabbits had finally destroyed all the Tulips in the garden, but I noticed today several remain—the ones tucked into corners a bit too tight for the rabbits to reach.

And what are these? Grape Hyacinths? Snowdrops? Something else?

This is a mysterious section of the garden. I never know which bulbs will dominate. But I look forward to the surprises every year. 

April 03, 2011

The beauty of simple things

I was looking for dramatic, eye-popping changes in the garden the other day—blooms or amazing perennial growth, or really anything worthy of a fascinating blog post. But I saw only brown and gray and green. It was a pleasant day—about 55 degrees…a light wind…no snow. It felt good to breathe in the fresh, mild, clean air after breathing cold outside air and stuffy indoor air for a few days.

I realized that even though nothing terribly dramatic was visible when looking at the big picture of the garden, it was so refreshing to be outside and actually comfortable in a light jacket. Then I started noticing textures.

Lichens on old logs and branches and on an old bird feeder…

Moss on rocks and on the patio…

Sometimes I have to remind myself that the smallest details in the garden are breathtakingly beautiful. But I have to zoom in and dial down my expectations.

The beauty is always there if I’m open to the possibilities.