Monday, July 30, 2007


It's dry in the understory. Despite occasional afternoon thunderstorms, not much moisture makes it down through the dense eastern rain forest canopy to the ground. I set out an old sprinkler to water some transplants and it quickly becomes an oasis for small birds of all kinds who come to play, drink, and cool off in this joyful water feature.

Sunday, July 29, 2007


Last year on a Sunday just like today I head up the stream behind the house into the mountains looking for a cool pool. It is hot summer and the stream is mostly underground now...just dry cobblestones and dust with thirsty plants along the banks. Finding a shady spot with a nice still pool of water I sat and watched the little mountain crayfish, just an inch or so long, scurry about the bottom through the reddish algae. A pleasant afternoon made more satisfying by the time spent playing with the watercolor paints.

Saturday, July 28, 2007


I noticed these beautiful handmade birdhouses in a neighborhood garden in North Carolina. Just a reminder that many things other than plants find a garden a healthy place to grow.

Thursday, July 26, 2007


I look forward to coming home on Friday evenings to prepare a cool summer drink. The mint plants growing around the water spigot (now blooming) provide just the extra flavor for a perfect rum mojito over crushed ice. Yum.


After weeks of watching the beautiful big flappy-petalled purple blossoms turn into masses of pips, the berries are beginning to appear. This variety of thornless berries always produces a huge harvest from just three plants.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

07.25.07 NEW FRUIT!

The Japanese persimmon tree I planted five years ago is fruiting for the first time. (Sure hope the deer don't discover it!)


Officially the "Tree of Heaven," the Ailanthus, is the tree Betty Smith is talking about in her book, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Another Asian introduction, arriving in the U.S. in 1784, with a bad reputation for invasiveness and pervasiveness. Its reputation is not bolstered by the noisome odor it gives off when stems are broken, it is also called "stink tree"! The "ghetto palm" not only grows well between cracks in the concrete of the city, but it also thrives in any sunny area in the country it can claim a hold on. This time of year it is coming into seed and they give the tree a handsome appearance perhaps explaining why it was originally imported as an ornamental.

Monday, July 23, 2007


We planted cardoons, Cynara cardunculus, several years ago. We never got around to taking the time to blanch and eat the stems, so we transplanted them to the flower garden where they continue to thrive and please us with their prickly form and banner-like blossoms.


You have to look closely at this picture. But if you do, you will see signs of tunnels between the pepper and tomato plants. Lately when walking in the garden, I have noticed the soil in the paths was kind of squishy and loose. Here is evidence to the reason. Mole holes! When I took this picture, I thought I would be writing about my trials with another garden pest, but after some research on the web I find that my fears were completely unfounded. Moles (family Talpidae) do not, as commonly thought, eat the roots of plants. They are carnivorous, going after earthworms and hopefully some of the many grubs (of pest beetles?) in the garden. I don't mind losing some of the earthworms, we have plenty, and the moles kindly aerate and till my soil from below.


I have had such difficulty getting my squash seedlings started in pots, that I decided to risk it and plant some seeds directly in the garden. So far so good, these zucchini sprouts have not attracted any attention yet!


It's corn harvest time! Here is a photo of the load of corn I harvested from my two little fifty square foot beds. If you look closely at the kernels you will notice they are a bit small. I think I picked the ears a little early, but when you see the work the deer (or racoons?) have been doing in my tiny patch at night, you will understand why I wanted to bring them in from the garden right away! Despite its small size, the corn is sweet and delicious, a real treat with supper.

07.19.07 FOX FRENZY

I mentioned the birth of a litter (is this the right term?) of foxes earlier this year in the Book of Days. We can hear the kits barking in the night or in the morning as they roam the neighborhood. They seem to have grown rapidly because we now often see them, lying in the warm gravel road at night, hopping up and retreating for cover when our headlights sweep over them, or just prancing across the pastures during the daytime hours. Two new stories of foxen adventures have come to light courtesy of my Mennonite neighbors down the road. First, Paul, reported that the wonderful Buff Orpington rooster we had given him to fertilize the eggs of his hens (he and I are both hoping to increase our flocks) was killed the other night and it was quite clear that the fox that had been carrying off some of the lighter weight hens was responsible. That fox may have been the victim of gardeners’ karma when he tried to sneak into Abe's vegetable garden a couple of nights later. Abe found him the next morning hanging, quite dead, from his electric fence!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


The flowers of the Datura genus (angel's trumpet, moonflower, jimson weed, devil's trumpet, hell’s bells, etc...) are so striking that the amazing painter Georgia OKeeffe did at least four different paintings of them. As indicated by its name, it is a highly poisonous plant.


If you come back in the fall and see the seeds created by this flower, Belamcanda chinensis, you will know why it is called a blackberry lily. The clusters of black seeds look a lot like blackberries, making this plant ornamental in the garden in two seasons. This plant, originally a native of Asia, has become naturalized in this area, having escaped from residential gardens. Thomas Jefferson probably grew it at Monticello where the seeds are now sold to tourists. Poisonous.

The beautiful butterfly may be a black swallowtail, Papilio polyxenes. (It is difficult to identify for certain since there are several similar looking butterflies.)

07.16.07 STAGHORN?

This close up of the fruit of the sumac, Rhus genus, shows the distinctive pyramidal shape of the berry clusters. It is a native shrub (Yeah!) which grows easily in waste areas. In the fall the leaves turn a brilliant red. One variety of sumac that is common around here is known as staghorn sumac, and I am thinking that is what this plant is.


These tremendous bright red clusters catch my eye along the road near Free Union where they emerge from the base of a stump. They are the fruit of the Jack-in-the-Pulpit plant, Arisaema genus. Poisonous.


Indeed, this wild plant, the wineberry, Rubus phoenicolasius, is rampant! Introduced in the 1890s to the US as breeding stock for raspberry breeders. It has tasty berries and thus is highly sought by birds and mammals (including me) which results in it spreading widely. It is very vigorous and invasive and is considered a threat to native woodland plants.

Thursday, July 12, 2007


My mother, Helen, was born on this day in 1935. I can remember, as a child, collecting handfuls of this wild flower to honor her birthday. I never noticed until I was older that this blossom didn't really have a very sweet smell and that most folks thought it was just a roadside weed. But my mother and I both appreciated the beautiful intricacies of the tiny white blooms and its fascinating name, "Queen Anne’s Lace," (Daucus carota).

07.12.07 INVADERS

The Japanese beetles (Popilla japonica) have arrived in their usual huge numbers. This one is enjoying my grape vines’ leaves, and you can easily see why their feasting is not welcome to most gardeners. The Japanese beetle arrived in the US around 1916 from Japan. In Japan it is kept in check by an insect predator not found in America. Suburban gardeners annually decorate their gardens with colorful beetle traps which are suspected to attract more beetles than they actually catch!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007


This garden shrub with its big "in your face" flower has spread into the wild and blooms along pasture edges in our neighborhood. Rose of Sharon, Hibiscus syriacus, has a blossom of remarkable endurance, lasting a long time in a vase of cut flowers. Perhaps because of this resilience and its remarkable beauty, the flower has become the focus of stories in both the East and the West.

"I am the rose of sharon, and the lily of the valley. As the lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters." reads the Jewish Bible's Song of Solomon. (Sharon was a beautiful fertile plain near Jerusalem.) Long after Bible times this name from the Song of Solomon was given to the garden shrub, Hibiscus syriacus.

In the East, this flower is the national symbol of Korea, where its name, "mugunghwa," means "immortal" and "sincere heart." A legend surrounding its name describes its origin from the tears shed on a grave by a husband whose beautiful wife had been kidnapped and murdered by a feudal lord.

07.10.07 SNAKEROOT

A magnificent wildflower is now blooming at the edge of the forest where ever a little bit more sun shines through the heavy green canopy. It is black cohosh, Cimicifuga racemosa, also known as black snakeroot, black bugbane (for its unpleasant smell), and fairy candle (for its magnficent appearance!).

Sunday, July 8, 2007

07.09.07 BLUE STARS

Every morning the meadows are filled with blowing galaxies of the blue blossoms of the chicory plant, Cichorium intybus. But watch for them, by midday their blooms begin to fade and close.


A vigorous vine, the trumpet creeper, Campsis radicans, is opening its large orange flowers to blaze along the roadside. These flowers of high summer were a favorite plant toy of my childhood. Their flower buds were just too tempting not to pop!

Friday, July 6, 2007

07.07.07 DID KATY?

A katydid, genus Pterophylla, warms itself on the inside of the back porch screen this morning. The genus name Pterophylla means "winged leaf" which is the perfect name. Tonight I will hear this one sing its indecisive, "katy did, katy didn't..."


Tassels have begun to appear on the corn plants in the garden. If I look closely I will find silk emerging from the base of the leaves at the corn stalk. Each pollen grain produced on the tassels will hopefully find its way to a single piece of silk. And after that sexual union has occurred, one corn kernel will be produced. I shake the corn tassels vigorously over the silking corn plants hoping to improve my ears of corn!

Thursday, July 5, 2007


The centers of the purple coneflowers, Echinacea purpurea, are filled with the beautiful colors and geometries of a fantastic pincushion. The rugged plant, native to the American prairie, is easy to grow in suburban gardens because it withstands heat, sun, and drought! Its name, echinacea, comes from the Greek root word for spiny or hedgehog.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007


Bringing up the produce of the garden to the house one day this week, I feel a bit of independence from grocery stores and the long line of merchants and producers they represent. One small potato planted a couple of months ago has produced all of these potatoes from one plant, the hens contribute some lovely eggs, and believe it or not the broccoli is still producing like crazy. A sweet country supper.

07.03.07 TURTLE TIME

Hiking in the forest I often come across empty box turtle shells, Terrapene and its tribe. This one is quite beautiful for its bleached whiteness which stood out vividly against the undergrowth. Each visible "panel" is called a "scute" and has annual growth rings just like a tree! Looking closely you can see the shadow of many rings. Including the rings that have worn smooth, we can guess this turtle had a pretty long life. Box turtles can live to be eighty years old, far senior to most of the young people who discover them in the wild.

Monday, July 2, 2007


The cicadas are emerging! They crawl from under the ground and shed their shells revealing wings. They climb into the trees and summer's orchestra begins. Cicadas are found around the world, there are over 2500 species! Some of the names folks in the States call them in addition to cicada are: locusts, jar flies, and harvest flies.