March 26, 2021

Springtime Magic

tommies 1

We seem to be having an early, pleasant start to spring this year, here in Southern Wisconsin. It's been warm enough to encourage the first spring blooms, and cool enough to keep them blooming for many days. Some have been pummeled with rain showers; while those in bud before the rain continue the show.

Here's a mix of outdoor highlights.


The Snowdrops (Galanthus spp.) started the excitement, and they seem to have an exceptionally long bloom time. They still look roughly like this photo, which was taken a couple of weeks ago.

tommies 2

The Tommies (Crocus tommasinianus) followed soon after, and some are still blooming today.

Several patches of Dutch Crocuses (C. vernus) are also blooming here and there.


And the Daffodil (Narcissus spp.) parade has begun, starting with the tiny 'Tete-a-Tetes.'


A few others are blooming, too, but their display will peak in the days ahead.


Same for the Hellebores (Helleborus orientalis), most of which are just on the verge of fully opening.

We've had a nice mix of bright, sunny days and rainy, life-encouraging days. The sun has coaxed the indoor plants to grow and bloom, as well.

fuchsia 1

I've been thrilled to see that the 'Marinka' Fuchsias I overwintered are actually blooming already! I won't be able to put them outside until late April or early May, but they'll brighten the sunroom until then.

fuchsia 2

I divided and propagated the 'Autumnale' Fuchsias, so I should have plenty to fill more hanging baskets and planters. The foliage on this hybrid is ever-changing.


The Purple Shamrocks (Oxalis triangularis) continue their long lives as great companions to the ever-growing and hardy English Ivy (Hedera helix), some of which even survived two weeks of polar weather in an outdoor pot!


I saved two varieties of Kalanchoe (K. blossfeldiana) that were included in condolence bouquets. They'll be happier outside in the summer sun, but I'm thrilled that they're actually blooming again.


The Gerber Daisy (G. jamesonii) never fails to flower this time of year. The foliage is a little ragged, but wow--those blooms! The foliage will thrive outside this summer with its other potted companions.

It does appear we're on a slow, but steady trend toward warmth, and it's encouraging to know even more garden excitement is just around the corner. Many, many plants are emerging, but they will have to wait for a future post...

March 10, 2021

Wordless Wednesday: Prairie Comparisons

prairie late winter
March: prairie just before snowmelt
[Click on images to enlarge for detail.]

December: prairie before the snow

February 20, 2021

A Local Gem: Six Months Out


I happened upon a gem of a place in late summer 2019: a 56-acre natural area surrounded by residential property and commercial development. While I've lived near it my entire 35+ years in the Madison area, I'd never explored it. Discovering it felt like found treasure.

I posted about the Edna Taylor Conservation Park in June last year, but I'd never posted about my original (August 2019) impressions until now. As we're climbing out of a deep subzero freeze from the wobbly polar vortex, it seems fitting to project six months out from February to the warm, fertile conditions of August.

The verdant park includes wetlands, woodlands, oak savanna sections, and more. Interestingly, despite the fact that it's a sizeable property, one would hardly know it exists when traveling the perimeter...until venturing in beyond the wooded entrance and exploring the riches beyond.

Edna Taylor, a writer, teacher, and dairy farmer, owned a large portion of the property and sold it to the city of Madison to help create the conservation park. It includes six linear Indian effigy mounds and one panther-shaped mound, all listed on the National Register of Historic Places. does a great job of describing this special place, which is free to all visitors.

Among other things, it's a great place to do butterfly surveys.

joepye monarch 1

joepye monarch 2


Old, tattered monarchs and healthy, thriving, and mating monarchs on Sweet Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium purpureum) and other plants.

skipper on thistle

Silver-spotted skippers on Bull Thistles (Cirsium vulgare).


And viceroys on fields of grasses.

shagbark hickory

There are so many reasons for any person to appreciate this special place. For me, beyond its richness with natural resources and natural beauty, its habitats and conditions are similar to those in my backyard garden: oak, maple, and shagbark hickory trees, woodland edges, rolling hills...the list goes on. So, it's a great place to take note of plants likely to thrive in my own garden.

showy tick-treefoil

Soon after traversing the land bridge between wetlands shown in the first photo on this post, one encounters an upland path that winds around beautiful woodland-edge meadows. In early August, the masses of Showy Tick-Treefoil (Desmodium canadense) were thick, bright, and dramatic.

thin-leaved sunflower

Several species of native sunflowers, including Thin-Leaved (Helianthus decapetalus), were beginning their late-summer show.


The understated and edible Self-Heal (Prunella vulgaris) popped in here and there along the hiking paths.

rudbekia fulgida

Several Rudbeckia species including Orange Coneflower (R. fulgida) graced the woodland edges and open areas with their sunny faces.


One plant I was surprised to see in shade was Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa). I was aware it would grow in partial shade, but I was surprised to see so much of it in heavy shade. Because of this, I added this plant to my garden; alas, the rabbits seem to like it, too.

prairie coneflower

I've always enjoyed Prairie Coneflower (Ratibida pinnata), so I was happy to see it. I think my garden might be a little too shady for this one, but maybe at some point I'll add it.

compass plant

Among my favorite plants of the late summer in this part of the world are the Silphiums. This photo of a Compass Plant (Silphium laciniatum) recalls many happy, warm hikes.


This plaque near the entrance to the main hiking trail at the park provides a brief synopsis and tribute to Edna Taylor herself.

woodland edge

What a wonderful resource for residents and visitors to the area. But I'm certain many aren't even aware of this amazing park's existence. I look forward to many more hikes and discoveries in this special place.

February 05, 2021

Hey, That's My Nest!

ospreys 4

Back in July, after parking near one of my favorite hiking spots at the local state park, I encountered a woman I perceived to be a park ranger. She was viewing (with binoculars) a nest on top of a very tall (30-40 feet?) power pole platform, using binoculars. I couldn't see what was in the nest, so I asked her. She informed me it was an osprey nest.

Unfortunately, I didn't have binoculars or a good camera with me, so I came back a few days later.

ospreys 1

Luckily, the ospreys were again in their nest and protective of their young. They gave me a little show, including sound effects.

ospreys 2

ospreys 3

ospreys 5

mystery creature

Recently, I noticed two people, again with binoculars, viewing that same nest. I perceived some slight movement in the nest, but again I didn't have binoculars or my good camera with me. (Note to self: Keep some binoculars in the car.) I thought: It can't be ospreys because they don't overwinter here!

So, again, I went back a few days ago with my camera and snapped a few captures. Can you tell what's in the nest? I couldn't, until I came back home and downloaded the photos.


I do believe it's a great horned owl! It's harder for me to zoom in on the bird from below, but I intend to go back yet again to get some better shots from a different angle.

Apparently, great horned owls usually adopt nests created by other species, so this isn't unusual. This nest is in a prime location: near a lake, wooded areas, and open prairies. I'm sure both species' diet options at this spot are plentiful and diverse: from fish to rodents to rabbits and more. It's fascinating to observe both species of birds of prey.

January 22, 2021

Let's Overwinter Some Fuchsias!

fuchsia 1

Do you grow Fuchsias in your garden? They've been a mainstay in my garden for oh, so many years--particularly at our current location where we've lived for more than 20 years. Fuchsias like shade, and we certainly have plenty of that with our huge, old Oaks.

fuchsia collage

I've tried so many varieties of Fuchsias over the years and I've loved all of them, but there are two that are so special, I've taken to overwintering and dividing them for the next growing season. Fuchsias overwinter well in a bright, heated room with indirect light. I simply lightly water them a couple of times a week. To expand the collection, I clip the vines about halfway, and either root them in water first or simply place them in soil and water liberally for the first couple of weeks.

The two I personally enjoy the most are Fuchsia 'Autumnale' and Fuchsia 'Marinka.'

autumnale 1

Autumnale has the most exquisite variegated foliage that changes with the seasons and the light. Yes, it's beautiful and appropriate in the fall, but it's fabulous year round. This is a new variety for me, as I bought it last summer for my mom, so I'll always think of her with this one. When she passed, I took cuttings from her pots to bring home. It was lovely through the autumn, planted with ornamental kale.

autumnale 2

I'm finding that it's performing quite well in pots in the sunroom this winter and multiplying from cuttings. I should have plenty for new outdoor potted arrangements come May. Autumnale's flowers are similar to those of Marinka, shown below.

marinka 1

Yes, Markina is a long-time favorite! Such a hummingbird magnet, the flowers are lush and lovely, and the berries are large and juicy. (Did you know that Fuchsia berries are edible? They're delicious popped on top of a salad, or mixed with other berries!) 

marinka 2

Here's Marinka in the sunroom, with ripening berries and healthy vines. With summer sun, the plants will bloom profusely again very soon.

If you like Fuchsias, consider overwintering a few for fun and to save some money for next year's garden!