December 29, 2014

Twelve of My Favorite Things (2014)

At the end of last year, I started a personal tradition. I've always had a habit of "wishing away" the winter and a bit of trouble adjusting to some seasonal transitions.

So, at the end of December 2013, I created a list of favorite things for each month to help me live in the present and appreciate each season in its time. Did the list help?

Yes! As the days rolled along, I found myself thinking about my "favorites" and enjoying simple magical moments.

I've decided to make it an annual tradition. For each month, I've identified a favorite nature-related "thing." Here are my reminders for the year ahead:


The long shadows of the Oak trees on the back garden can be mesmerizing. This effect is particularly dramatic on bright, sunny days after fresh snowfalls. I don't even have to go outside in the cold to see this!


New buds on the Cyclamen are almost as pretty as the blooms, themselves. This photo is from last February. I'll be curious to see if, and when, it blooms again this year.


Like any gardener, I'm thrilled to see the first shoots of spring-flowering bulb plants as welcome signs of new life. Some years these appear earlier, so mulch and snow help to protect them from the cold.


Some Cedar Waxwings are with us year-round, but they seem to gather in great groups and sing their high-pitched songs in great exuberance during the first mild days of spring. They're always a joy to see and hear!


There are so many plants and events to enjoy in May. My problem is less about finding a favorite thing than narrowing it down to one. But finding spring ephemerals, like Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) shown here, is an all-time favorite activity.


June is a prime hiking month in Wisconsin. I enjoy discovering native plants along the trails, like Pussytoes (Antennaria neglecta).


Wildflowers at the cottage are plentiful in July. Shown here: Daisy Fleabane (Erigeron annuus) and Spotted Beebalm (Monarda punctata). Both are pollinator favorites.


If I'm lucky, I'll find a Monarch caterpillar in my garden. Luckier still--to see it transform into an adult butterfly and nectar on my garden's flowers.


Nothing says "September" like regal Sunflowers (Helianthus spp.). When I saw these blooms reaching for the hazy sun during a late-summer hike, I knew this memory would supply warmth during the cold winter months. I believe this plant is either H. decapetalus or H. tuberosus.


Maple leaves in warm reds, oranges, and yellows make October in Wisconsin a truly stunning place. If you enjoy autumn foliage, this is a great destination for an October trip.


Most years, November is a grey, brown, misty month here. But it's still a great time for hiking. The temperatures aren't too cold (usually) and the leaves form a soft cushion on the trails. Several new trails are opening near my home, and I can't wait to explore them!


What's more fascinating than a simple seed head? (Said the plant nerd.) This one, from Clematis 'Nelly Moser,' looks soft enough for a bird's nest and pretty enough for a decorative pin. I enjoy photographing seed heads on milder December days.

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When I think of these simple pleasures, and many more, the year ahead looks bright and hopeful. Each month carries its own unique blessings.

My wish for you in the year ahead is that you'll find many simple "favorite things" and gifts that will bring you much joy.

Happy New Year!

December 18, 2014

Plant of the Month: Northern Sea Oats


Need an ornamental grass for a shady setting? I have just the plant for you!

dried seedheads

Northern Sea Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) is one of those plants that has me asking, "Where have you been all my life?" It's new to my garden, and I wonder why it took me so long to add it. Numerous garden bloggers have extolled its virtues, and I finally took their advice and planted it.


Northern Sea Oats is one of the few grasses native to my area and zone that thrives in shade--perfect for my shade-dominated garden.

Apparently it can be prolific--reseeding readily from year to year. I can't vouche for that since it's new for me, but I'm guessing the best practice is to plant it in an area where you don't mind some spreading.


Fortunately, I found a great location--in a narrow section between the patio and the stone wall, with shrubs on one side and Dead Nettle (Lamium maculatum) at its feet.

Other specs for this plant, as noted by the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center:

Height: 2-4 ft.
Shape: clump-forming
Water use: medium
Native distribution: eastern, central and southwestern North America
Larval host: various skipper butterflies
Resists: deer and rabbits
Other nicknames: River Oats, Indian Wood Oats, Flathead Oats, Upland Sea Oats, among others


The dried seed stalks are excellent for autumn and winter floral arrangements.


And after one season of closely observing this plant, I've concluded the best location for it is in partial shade or dappled sun, because the best views of Northern Sea Oats include gentle sunlight illuminating through it ... during every season.






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(Thanks to those who've participated in and commented on PlantPosting's fourth quarter "Lessons Learned" meme. The meme remains open indefinitely, and we'd love to learn from your experiences. Click here or on the "Lessons Learned" tab to participate.)

December 15, 2014

Squirrel Popsicles!

If you wish, listen to the music
as you scroll through this post:


Have you ever seen a squirrel eat a popsicle? I did the other day. This little guy picked up a large chunk of snow/ice and proceeded to enjoy a little refreshment.

Squirrels are always entertaining, but this particular chunk was about as long as the squirrel's tail.

I wasn't speedy enough to capture the first few moments, but I did manage to snap a series of photos that produced a cute little "auto awesome" Google video. As I was watching it, the Vince Guaraldi song "Linus and Lucy" was playing on the radio, which is why I suggested it at the top of this post. Enjoy!

I'm linking this post to Donna's Seasonal Celebrations at Gardens Eye View and Michelle's Nature Notes at Rambling Woods. Hope you're all having a safe and enjoyable holiday season so far!

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(Thanks to those who've participated in and commented on PlantPosting's "Lessons Learned" meme. The meme remains open indefinitely, and we'd love to learn from your experiences. Click here or on the "Lessons Learned" tab to participate.)

December 06, 2014

A Year in the Life of the Shagbark Hickories


And so we come full circle with our "tree following" posts. What a wonderful learning experience this has been!

Lucy at Loose and Leafy hosts this tree following meme, and it's been a privilege to participate this year. I dedicated my posts to our twin Shagbark Hickories (Carya ovata). Each month revealed new things about them. (To read earlier posts, click this link or search for "Shagbark" in my search bar).

Now in my part of the world, December and November have switched places this year. I have no images to show of snow catching on the bark of the Shagbarks, because we've hit a patch of mild weather. There's even talk of a non-white Christmas here in Southern Wisconsin. (Whether this happens or not, I won't be the one to complain about a mild December.)

Here are my December 2014 garden observations about the Shagbark Hickories:

leaves on snow

Most years, the Hickories lose at least some of their leaves before the snow flies. This year, the snow dropped first--in early November. Slip-sliding around with a rake didn't make much sense, so my chores are delayed.

It's interesting to trace where some of the leaves have fallen.


No picnics on this bench for a while.


Hickory leaves are mixed with Oaks as winter mulch for the hardy plants in one of my pots.


Some of the curled leaves are impaled on the nearby Lilac shrub.


The color and texture of the dried Hickory leaves reminds me of cognac-colored leather.

moss and lichen

Even in winter, the trees host healthy mosses and lichens.


A few avian visitors fly from the feeders to the Hickory branches and back again. This photo of a Hairy Woodpecker was taken a few weeks ago, before the Hickory leaves (in the background) dropped.


Though the branches are now bare, the Hickories remain strong and stately.


And their winter buds portend the promise of another year of life.

Thanks to Lucy at Loose and Leafy for hosting the tree following meme. Visit her blog on the 7th of each month to learn more about trees from around the world.

I'm also linking in with Michelle's Nature Notes at Rambling Woods.

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(Thanks to those who've participated in and commented on PlantPosting's "Lessons Learned" meme. The meme remains open indefinitely, and we'd love to learn from your experiences. Click here or on the "Lessons Learned" tab to participate.)

November 29, 2014

Lessons Learned Under the Cathedral of the Oaks

Every autumn, after the Locusts, Maples, Ashes, and other deciduous trees have faded, the Oaks seem to form a "stained glass" canopy overhead when the autumn light shines through at magical angles. While those Oak leaves are now long-gone in my neighborhood, the "cathedral of the Oaks" effect seemed appropriate for this introspective post.

Welcome to the 15th installment of the "Garden Lessons Learned" meme. I introduced this quarterly meme in June 2011, and looking back on all the entries amazes and humbles me.


Each season is unique. Sometimes, my own garden lessons are very practical--things I want to try to remember for "next time." Other "lessons" posts include facts I've learned during the past three months. Still others focus on internal reflections.


This post is the latter--a bit more introspective and personal (which tends to be more common for me in the fall and winter). This is in part because I was apprehensive about taking a break from blogging (my last post was more than two weeks ago). Turns out, the break was a healthy thing for me to do. It gave me a new perspective and a fresh focus for the blog going forward.


I'll share some plans in future posts, but for now, here are personal lessons learned during the past three months:
  • It's fine to take a break from blogging. If you're like me, and you've settled into a routine of blogging once a week or more often, the idea of leaving that blank space of no posts for an extended period of time can be unsettling. I could say so much more about why I took the break and my reactions to it, but I'll simplify: I was busy, I needed an attitude-readjustment, and I'm refreshed and ready to begin again.
  • You don't have to rush out with your camera every time you see a beautiful scene, an item of interest, or a personal life event. Social media--and blogging in particular--has the power to both enrich and taint our lives. Enrichment comes through meeting new friends, staying in touch with old ones, and sharing more experiences than was possible in the past. But social media also introduces the risk only seeing the world through the prism of what would be a good tweet, share, or blog post.
For example, the other day after a fresh snowfall, I saw a spectacular scene of a Maple tree with clinging autumn leaves, framed by a powdered-sugar landscape all around it. I was driving home, and once I arrived I had a choice: I could run back out with my camera to try to capture that scene, or I could spend those extra minutes with my daughter who's home for the Thanksgiving holiday. I chose the latter and I don't regret it. I don't mean to preach, because I fail on this lesson repeatedly and frequently. Life is a series of choices, isn't it? All I'm saying is that I, personally, must remind myself to live life fully and not always try to write, photograph, and post about it.
  • Two weeks without blogging goes by very fast! Enough said.
  • Blogging about gardening, plants, and nature is one of my favorite "things" to do. I guess I already knew this, but the break confirmed my feelings. Blogging has truly become a passion. If, when I was a young person, there had been an Internet, digital photography, and the concept of "blogging," I might have chosen this as a career. Alas, these options weren't in existence. No regrets; I'm simply joyful in continuing to share in this amazing community of garden and nature bloggers going forward!


Oh, and I did learn a few "practical" lessons:
  • The fruit of Fuchsia plants is edible. In fact, depending on the variety, the plump, oval-shaped "berries" are quite tasty. I learned this lesson from Helene at Graphicality-UK. She commented about it on my blog (and discusses it a bit at the linked post in the previous sentence), so I decided to try Fuchsia berries. My cultivars tasted sweet and refreshing, with a hint of pepper at the end. My only warning is that some potting plants are treated with systemic pesticides at garden centers, so know your supplier before you consume Fuchsia berries.
  • I found an eagle hangout near my home. I'll share photos soon, although I'll have to go back and hope the eagles will be there for better captures. The fishman and I saw two eagles through the mist in the distance when we were hiking, but they flew away before we got close enough. We believe they were Bald Eagles, but it was too foggy and we were too far away to tell for sure.
  • The top of our heated fishpond makes a great cold frame. The fishman created an acrylic winter cover over the pond that lets the sun in but partially protects the plants from the elements. (Don't worry, there are vents on the sides of the pond as air exchange for the fish. They survived last winter's polar vortex in there!) The internal temperature under the cover hovers around 32F during the coldest of days when the heater is on, and rises to the 50sF and warmer on mild, sunny days. The lettuce plants are still alive, and the scallions are just about ready to pick!


What lessons did you learn during the past quarter? If you're in the Northern Hemisphere how was your autumn? For those in the Southern Hemisphere, how did your garden grow? Please share your lessons!

I'm switching things up again with this meme (I do hope you'll forgive me). As always, please write a post or share one you've already written about your "Lessons Learned" during the past season. Share your links in the comments to this post. I'll keep it up for a few days, and it will be available always under the "Lessons Learned" tab at the top of this blog.

One change: I'll forgo the "wrap-up" this time. Autumn and spring are long-gone for many of us already, and will seem like distant memories by the solstice.

At that point, we'll be deep in the celebrations of year-end holidays--the perfect hand-off to Donna's Seasonal Celebrations at Gardens Eye View! Feel free to join in with a post that fits both memes, or separate posts for one or both of them.

Bye for now!