October 30, 2011

The stained-glass effect

Looking up through the canopy of an Oak woodland on a sunny fall day is like looking through an intricate stained-glass mosaic.

While the colors of Oak leaves are more muted than those of Maples, Sumacs, and other vibrant species, Oaks’ beauty is unequaled when backlit with sunlight against dark tree bark or bright blue sky.

Oak savannas and Oak woodlands were the predominant ecosystems in this part of the Midwest until the mid-19th Century, according to the Wisconsin DNR. Most of the acreage was:

  • Cleared and plowed;
  • Overgrazed; or
  • Invaded by dense shrub and tree growth due to lack of fire, lack of grazing, or both.

    Oak savannas and woodlands are now endangered habitats. I’ve been researching them lately, hoping to gain a greater understanding of the sweet ecosystem outside my back door. These sites offer detailed information on the history, current status, and outlook for these unique habitats:

    At this time of year, I admit, living on the edge of a small Oak woodland isn’t easy. Last fall, we hauled 10-15 tarps full of Oak leaves into a large compost pile in the woods. This year, we were “lucky” when a windstorm blew most of the first drop of leaves into the forest and the perennial beds—where they’ll stay as a natural mulch until I rake them off in the spring.

    But Oaks hold their leaves longer than other deciduous trees. Some have barely lost any leaves, and others will hold at least some of their foliage until spring. That’s fortunate for us, since we’ll have a “stained-glass” view for a little longer.

    October 25, 2011

    Happy Anniversary, PlantPostings!

    Why did you begin a garden blog? What is the goal or purpose of your blog? Why do you continue to blog; what motivates you?

    These are just a few of many questions I’d like to ask my fellow garden bloggers. When I joined the group one year ago today, I had no idea what I was in for. I thought it would be a fun way to share photos and gardening tips and ideas.

    But it has become so much more! By the time the holidays rolled around last year, I knew garden blogging would be much more fulfilling than I had ever imagined. Then through the long, cold winter, visiting blogs from England, Italy, Australia, Malaysia, the southern U.S., and many more countries and regions gave me hope that somewhere in the world plants were green, growing, and thriving.

    When spring began, posts hit the blogosphere with glorious photos of Snowdrops, Crocuses, and Hellebores. I knew I’d be able to make it through the winter! When spring ephemerals and then summer perennials made appearances here in my own garden and community, I couldn’t wait to document and share their beauty!

    While summer was a busy time, I committed to posting at least once a week. Never at a loss for plants and topics to cover, I struggled with the demands of personal transitions, a full-time day job, and endless gardening and home chores. (No complaining about any of these things—I simply had limited time to blog and visit blogs. Very frustrating.)

    And then autumn revealed itself in the most glorious display I can remember. Was it because it was more beautiful than other years? Or was I simply more attuned to the beauty because I was a garden blogger? Whatever the case, I have never enjoyed an autumn more than the current one.

    Back to those original questions I asked at the beginning of this post, and my personal responses:

    • Why did you begin a garden blog?
    I’d been photographing the plants in my garden for years and wanted to find a way to document and share them.

    • What is the goal or purpose of your blog?
    To communicate with other gardeners and share tips, techniques, and knowledge.

    • Why do you continue to blog? What motivates you?
    Where do I start? The love of gardening, first of all! Fascination with plants, the desire to share information and joy with other gardeners, the opportunity to learn lots of new things, the fun of photography, and the challenge of documenting garden and habitat changes over time.

    But there have been so many surprises, too, including:

    • I’ve learned so much about climates and growing conditions around the world;
    • Gardeners are even more generous than I’d thought;
    • There are plants in my garden that I hadn’t realized were here, and I’m sure I’ll discover more next year;
    • A few moments spent outdoors anywhere will reveal astounding photo opportunities.

    Where is this blog headed? I’m not sure I have a full answer to that question. I know I want to continue it, because the experience has brought me so much fulfillment and joy—more than I’ve experienced from a personal endeavor in a long time.

    I’d be remiss if I didn’t thank those who started this journey with me and continue to encourage me:

    • Sarah of Good Garden Ideas, who mentioned the idea of a blog and encouraged me at the start;
    • Autumn Belle of My Nice Garden, who added a sweet comment on my first post;
    • Anna of Flower Garden Girl, who encourages garden bloggers and communicators around the world;
    • My dear blogger friends on Blotanical, and others in that wonderful community whom I will meet in the future;
    • Gardening Facebook and Twitter friends—especially those who “like” PlantPostings;
    • Elaine, Ann, Rick, Linda, Teresa, Mary, Roxanne, and other current and past gardening co-workers who never hesitate to share plants and gardening lore;
    • Family members who garden and/or support me in this new adventure; and most of all,
    • Ernie, my dear husband, who encourages me endlessly in every endeavor that’s important to me.

    While it has been challenging to meet my goal of posting at least once a week for one year, it has also been great fun. I did it! I’m a garden blogger! Virtual champagne for all!

    And now for a motivational message (it’s worth watching—I promise):

    October 23, 2011

    An experiment on the patio

    I decided to try an experiment this weekend, for two reasons:

    1. The weather was incredibly perfect. Days like this are numbered, and soon it will be quite uncomfortable to dawdle outside taking photos.
    2. My new camera gives me a little more flexibility with macro photography, optical zoom, and low light situations. I needed to try it out.

    The experiment: to capture as many shots as I could in one small area of the garden.
    The goal: to avoid searching out good photos by moving around, and instead to create good photos by staying in one spot, and being observant and creative with light and composition.

    Here's what I discovered:

    The Burning Bush near the patio is still green and lush, while the one I captured in a previous post has lost most of its leaves.

    Chipmunks are hard to photograph because they move fast, and I'm still trying to figure out all the buttons on this camera.

    The Oak canopy is still a comforting filtershading the garden from the bright sun. Soon these shots will be grey and blue and white, with very little green or warm tones in sight.

    I have lots of leaves to rake, but I need to be very careful how I handle them.

    I finally captured a decent photo of this bright Begonia, which eluded me all summer.

    Simple objects composed in interesting ways and drenched with autumn's oblique light create pretty good shots.

    October 19, 2011

    Plant of the month:
    Staghorn Sumac

    One person’s problem plant is often another’s favorite. Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina) is considered “weedy” and “invasive” by some.* But it’s also a native plant in most of the U.S., and quite common in the eastern half of the country.

    In autumn, tourists often travel to regions where Sumac is prevalent to see the spectacular display. This is not surprising to me.

    How many plants hold this many colors at one point in time?

    We have a woody, scraggly Sumac bush on the side of our driveway. It overhangs the parking spot, and actually kind of gets in the way. We’ve cut it back several times. But I can’t bear to dig it out, because it’s simply beautiful.

    In springtime, Sumac forms tiny green flowers, which give way later to large, pointy clusters of hairy berry-like, reddish brown fruits. They definitely provide winter interest, because the red clusters stay on the branches and offer dramatic contrast against white snow. I’ve used the fruit clusters in autumn and holiday floral arrangements, and they hold up for days.

    But it’s the leaves that really enchant me.

    Weedy and invasive it may be when not under control, but this native plant will always have a place in my garden.

    *These definitions tend to change with time, and plants come in and out of favor. Personally, this has always been a favorite for me.

    October 15, 2011

    GBBD: rekindled love

    I’m looking the other way. I could show you the bare branches, the leaf piles, and the shriveling plants. But it’s Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day! So I’m focusing on the bright flowers still blooming in my garden. Although it was a windy day, which made the photography a bit more challenging, the light was right to capture the season’s last outdoor blooms.

    We haven’t had a hard freeze yet, so we’re in that delicate transition time when colorful annuals bloom next to autumn Pumpkin and Cornstalk decorations.

    Zinnias on the sunny west side of the house keep producing their bright, knock-out flower heads.

    Sedum is has ripened to a deep wine, but it’s still just as lovely as it was in pale pink.

    Bleeding heart hangs on to its last blooms, even as its leaves wither and drop.

    But the flower I’m truly celebrating is Cosmos—as reliable as it has been all summer. I haven’t planted Cosmos for a few years. I don’t know why, because I’ve fallen in love with it all over again.

    What’s more enchanting than a small vase of cascading Cosmos? This bouquet has lasted for more than a week, and it's brighter than the day I picked it. I’m pretty sure I’ll be planting Cosmos again next season.

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