July 31, 2012

Wordless Wednesday:
Bucket of Plenty

(I'll be linking in to Garden Bloggers Harvest Day over at the The Gardening Blog on the 5th. Check it out!)

July 25, 2012

Plant of the month:
Shagbark Hickory

It was tough to pick a plant to highlight during this unprecedented Midwestern drought. Should I go with a native perennial, even though most of the perennials—even native ones—struggled with no rain and extreme heat for seven weeks? Should I pick a nonnative shrub that seemed to thrive during the drought?

In the end, a couple of posts by fellow garden bloggers influenced my decision to go with a hardy North American tree that showed no signs of stress, even though I barely watered it. In fact, I neglected it until a couple of weeks ago when I realized how valuable it was to the garden’s personality, the wildlife, and the plants it shades.

Cat, at The Whimsical Gardener, posted an extremely inspirational message with a nod to fellow gardeners, saying that what we do matters—to wildlife and the habitats around us. After weeks of dragging around garden hoses and watering buckets to save plants, I found her post incredibly encouraging. I was just about to give up, when Cat’s message came through…and then it rained.

Mary at Muse, also influenced my selection. Her recent post titled, “Oh nuts,” discussed the importance of including trees in our gardens that support the local ecosystem. Oaks and Hickories, in particular, said Mary, attract and sustain birds, squirrels, chipmunks, and other animals.

That did it. I then knew that the Shagbark Hickory (Carya ovata) was my July 2012 plant of the month!

Carya ovata

I confess I’ve taken our twin Hickories for granted. I appreciate them, yes, but until the full force of the drought hit I didn’t really think much about them.

I just assumed they’d be here for the birds perched on their branches, ready to swoop down for bird seed at the feeders below. I figured the squirrels would always have Hickory nuts to store away for the winter.

But now I realize how nifty those Shagbark Hickory trees are. Not only do they thrive in moist conditions, they’re also extremely drought-tolerant because of their deep taproots, according to the University of Nebraska.

Their shaggy, serrated bark adds interest to the garden in any season—even winter.

Their large leaves provide excellent shade during the hot summer and turn a lovely yellow hue in the fall.

Buds that form in summer and fall open in an artful dance during springtime—celebrating new life in a particularly inspiring display.

The native range of the Shagbark Hickory stretches as far north as southern Ontario and Quebec in Canada, and southward to the mountains of northeastern Mexico. And from Kansas in the west to Maine in the east, notes the USDA Forest Service.

Shagbark Hickories can live up to 300 years, and grow to 60 to 80 feet tall. My engineer son estimates our tallest one is approximately 40 feet tall.

Clearly, this tree with plentiful personality should be respected and appreciated—for helping to provide food, shade, and shelter in all seasons, and even in the depths of drought.

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Drought update

Today the USDA designated 23 counties in Wisconsin as disaster areas, including Dane, the county I live in. While the extreme drought broke with about three to four inches of blessed rain last week and more this week, the fallout will be with us for months to come. This map released by the U.S. Drought Monitor based on conditions as of July 17, is likely to show improvement this week:

Source: U.S. Drought Monitor

But it’s too late for many of our plants, trees, and shrubs. (And definitely for the Corn crop—for the week’s unfortunate crop report click here.) While it’s not pleasant reporting on the damage, that’s part of the story.

No words are adequate to convey the signs and symptoms of drought—beyond saying that some plants are gone, others are severely stressed, and others are vulnerable to insect infestations and disease.

Please note that these photos were taken in public places that didn’t have the benefit of careful gardeners to tend them. Hopefully we’ve turned the corner on the drought. Plants are looking much better. New trees will grow to replace the old ones, and native perennials will return next year—some probably stronger and healthier than before. But the biggest losses are to the farmers’ crops and livestock, which will affect food prices in the months ahead.

But thank goodness it finally rained.

July 20, 2012

Flowers for the home

I love to readnovels mostly, with a sprinkling of nonfiction.

But when it comes to garden books, "reading" is a relative term. I do a lot of scanning, and I usually (being a visual learner) reach for garden books with colorful photosbooks that help me identify plants or "show" me how to perform various garden tasks.

I'm also a sucker for just about any Dorling Kindersley publication. DK is adept at "showing" readers how to "do" things.

So, among my always-growing collection of colorful plant and gardening books is one titled, "Flowers for the Home," by Malcolm Hillier. An acclaimed floral designer and photographer, Hillier has produced several books with DK, and I imagine all of them are as delightful as the one I have.

In addition to the stunning photos of creative floral combinations and unique color palettes, "Flowers for the Home," introduces unique ideas for floral arrangementssuch as using Watermelons for vases, displaying flowers under water, and tying Magnolia leaves together for a wreath.

Not only does the book encourage whimsy and creativity, it also shows ususing detailed and diagrammed instructionshow to create the stunning displays.

There are sections on floral tools and equipment, containers, picking and conditioning flowers, and preserving and drying.

But my favorite part of the book is leafing through it to spark creativity.

Amazon has a limited quantity of "Flowers for the Home." But I also found it on Google Books, eBay, and various online sellers. Then again, just about any book carrying the names "Malcolmb Hillier" or "Dorling Kindersley" is bound to be worth the investment.

Thanks to Holley at Roses and Other Gardening Joys for hosting Garden Book Reviews on the 20th of each month.

Oh, and check out Malcolm Hillier's photo gallery for photographic inspirationstunning stuff!

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(For those of you who write or plan to write book reviews, I found this information about fair use, which defines copyright lawat least in the U.S.as it relates to reproducing book images and writing book reviews. Frankly, if I wrote a book and someone copied parts of it for an online review, I'd be thrilled about the exposure. Various book authors seem to concur.)

July 17, 2012

Wordless Wednesday:
Rain on the Redbud!

And a first glimpse of our new above-ground pond! Fits right in with the light, gentle rain (finally). Yes!

July 15, 2012

Gratitude for precious blooms and foliage

This Bloom Day and Foliage Follow-Up post comes with a sense of thankfulness, trepidation, and cautious hope.

Thankfulness for the 0.02 inches (yes, that’s just 2/100s of an inch) of rain we’ve received in the past three days after four weeks without a trace, and before that merely 0.31 inches since May; and thankfulness for my shady garden, which has sheltered the plants and animals from the worst of the extreme heat and drought.

Trepidation that the rain could halt again for weeks on end; that we’re heading into another extreme heat wave; and that, in any case, it’s too little too late to save the local Corn crop.

And finally, hope—that most living things will be able to recover from the driest June (maybe the driest month?) ever recorded in Dane County. June is usually the wettest month here, and the drought has come at a critical time in our short growing season.

Looking back through my main perennial bed in the back garden, you’d think it was fall. The ferns are burned and curled and the leaves on the scrub trees in the woods are turning yellow.

The drought and heat have killed numerous plants, bushes, and trees around town. The full toll isn’t tallied yet, and there are still many weeks to go during this hot, dry summer. But I’ll save more drought documentation for a later post.

On Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day and Foliage Follow-Up, we celebrate the plants that survive, thrive, and put on a great show in our gardens. Most of these plants have been watered and tended. Without that effort, many would have been long gone by now.

I’m especially thankful for these beautiful blooms:

The Dwarf Korean Lilac is blooming again! I don't remember that ever happening before. And I've barely watered it, which makes it even more surprising.

The Daylilies continue their loyal show in spite of the heat and drought. They never seem to fail in the summer—no matter what the weather.

The double Hollyhocks seemed especially pleased with moisture from the sprinkler the other day.

Zinnias continue to bloom right through the heat, and they don't have as many Japanese beetles to contend with because of the drought, I guess.

Liatris have been watered; otherwise, I fear they would have perished.

The dear Hydrangeas are severely stressed—even with frequent waterings they wilt in the heat, and they're beginning to turn their fall colors.

Who can resist the creamy consistency of the Cosmos? I could photograph these beauties all day long!

The Black-Eyed Susans are taking the stage. They appear to have a minor disease on their leaves, but the flowers are gorgeous as always.

Large-leaved Hostas seem to produce the prettiest flowers. This one looks like a little angel in Lilac robes.

Bugbane was a little stressed when we got home from our vacation. But it looks like it will survive to bloom another season.

Purple Coneflowers have particularly large cone tops this year—maybe a sign of something to come?

Rocket Ligularia is stressed and past prime, but still lovely in its own way.

I'm also thrilled about this fantastic foliage:

Fern-Leaf Bleeding Heart is still blooming! It must enjoy the heat, as long as it's kept hydrated.

As I've mentioned in previous posts, I've barely watered the Cotoneater and it looks great. It's starting to set fruit, which will turn red later in the season.

I don't know what's prettier on the Cosmos plants—the flowers or the wiry, delicate foliage.

These Mums looked horrible a few days ago, but with water they perked right up.

Lamiums are tough. They simply need a light watering from time to time.

Sedum, a succulent, can withstand a bit of drought. But it sure looks lovely with drops of moisture dotting its foliage.

The foliage of Solomon's Seal overlapping a stubbornly surviving Fern creates a pleasant contrast of textures.

And one of my favorite foliage examples—the Lupine. Its flowers are long-gone, but it still continues to please with water drops collecting strategically on its face.

I don't think I'll ever take water for granted again. I've never seen anything like this terrible drought, and I've realized what an easy gardening season we had last year...and for every other year of my gardening experience, for that matter.

Thanks to Carol at May Dreams Gardens for hosting Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day, and Pam at Digging for hosting Foliage Follow-Up!