Friday, December 30, 2011

My Birthday Prize List

   I've decided to post a list of the plants I picked up at Nature By Design, since this blog is partly a garden memoir. When I was there trying to decide what to to get, I put an emphasis on shrubs because trees were too big to fit in our vehicle, and perennials are somewhat easy to obtain through my usual method of procurement, mail-order. Native shrubs, on the other hand, are expensive to mail-order, and the specimen size is typically very small. Since I'm an impatient gardener, here was my chance to get some decent sized individuals. I went heavy on Viburnums since they feed both pollinators and birds. The numbers of each were based on whether or not I already had any, and trying to get pollination partners for berry production. I also chose tall species for the perennials and vines because I'm working on a green/living fence project. I've only managed to get a few things planted so far, because planting our Christmas tree took priority, which was so difficult (heavy), we may not do that again...

Hereby known as The Beast

Here's the list, drumroll please...

1 Viburnum dentatum (Arrowwood Viburnum)
2 Viburnum lentago (Nannyberry)
3 Viburnum trilobum (American Cranberry Bush)
3 Lindera benzoin (Spicebush)

5 Andropogon gerardii (Big Blue Stem)
3 Panicum Virgatum (Switchgrass)

6 Pycanthemum muticum (Short Toothed Mountain Mint)
6 Eupatorium perfoliatum (Common Boneset)
3 Eupatorium purpureum (Sweet Joe-Pye)
3 Rudbeckia laciniata (Cutleaf Coneflower)
1 Agastache foeniculatum ('cus that's all he could find) (Anise Hyssop)

4 Clematis virginiana (Virgin's Bower)
2 Parthenocissus quenquefolia (Virginia Creeper)

Not bad, eh?

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

How I Spent My Birthday...

About a week and a half ago, Jeff and I headed up the interstate to the D.C. area for a multipurpose trip, part Christmas shopping, part birthday getaway for me, and part exploration/investigation. I had recently discovered that Virginia has only one dedicated native plant nursery open to the public, and it ironically just happens to be in one of the largest metropolitan areas of the country (D.C.), Alexandria to be precise. Travelling up there can be dangerous for your well-being, especially at Christmas time, but we're veterans and I couldn't pass up the opportunity to visit my first native plant nursery, especially on my birthday, before winter set in too deep. Luckily for me, our winter has been quite mild and I got there just as the owner was getting ready to put things away for the season. I managed to fill up the back of our vehicle with and assortment of shrubs, flowers, vines and grasses. We seriously contemplated renting a Uhaul to fill up, but this being winter, I didn't want to commit to having to plant that many things before the ground freezes. I admit, it felt pretty strange buying pots of dirt with crunchy brown tops, but I easily could have bought twice as much if it had been spring, I felt like a kid in a candy store!

The name of the nursery is Nature By Design and it's conveniently located just off of route 1 in Alexandria, Virginia. Situated at the end of a cul-de-sac, the nursery is cozily laid out in the back yard of a house, complete with mature trees, a pond, a carriage house/office, and greenhouse/giant coldframe. I couldn't believe the selection that was available, I wanted everything! The owner, Randee Wilson greated us as we walked through the gate and couldn't have been a nicer fellow. Jeff and I probably spent about an hour and a half walking around, trying to narrow down our choices, and picking things out while Randee helped us find what we were looking for. I can easily justify the 8 hour round trip drive next spring to come back, and if you're in the vicinity you won't be disappointed. March is only a few months away!

Do you want to know something really bizarre? Well, on our way home, I called my mom and told her what we did, which was visit this nursery in Alexandria. She says, "Oh yeah, where in Alexandria?" (She grew up there, and I was born there). I say "Just off route 1, near Glebe, on Calvert Avenue". She says, "No way! I lived on Calvert Avenue!". You see, Calvert is just a short street, maybe 1/4 mile. The only house left is the one with the nursery. She described the area from memory perfectly so there's no chance it could be a different Calvert. The odds of that are extremely tiny. Alexandria is huge. Small world! 

Thank you Nature By Design, for being there and for still being open in December!

Sweet little pond and beautiful crabapple tree, most of the forbs were stored under the tables!

Randee in the background adding up our bill

Trees and shrubs area

Very cool mantis sculpture

My birthday gifts to myself (notice Christmas shopping bags in background!)

Squeezed in wherever they would fit

Friday, December 23, 2011

Mystery Plant ID Help?

I managed to escape for a quick stroll through Green Hill Park this morning and was shocked by all of the herbaceous plants putting out new growth, on December 23! This has to be the warmest December on record, yesterday was 68 degrees! Anyway, I recognized all but this one and wondered if any of you plant experts know what this might be. It's growing at the base of a young (oak?) along the river, kinda shady, and the leaves are somewhat thick and almost waxy like a succulent. I'm in zone 7a by the way. I realize I'm not giving you much, but it just looks so darn interesting, I love learning new plants, and I can't find anything like it in any of my books.

Does anyone recognize this plant?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Last Minute Christmas Ideas for the Wildlife Gardener

   Hurry, Hurry! Time is running out! Who doesn't need a last minute gift idea, right? Gardeners can be notoriously difficult people to shop for, especially since our passion is pretty much dormant right now. I came up with a few gifts that I would love to receive, except for the fact that I already have them!

Gift #1: The World's Best Leaf Rake Ever

Yes, I'm recommending buying a rake as a gift. I love my rake. I bought mine from Lowe's for about $14, the brand name is True Temper. It actually is clog free. Since we were committed to not using the gas powered leaf blower, we got a workout (in a good way) raking our yard to gather leaves to make mulch and compost with. Instead of being a chore, I really enjoyed the raking because I just kept thinking about the yummy leaf mulch my plants were sure to love.

Gift #2: Benjamin Vogt's book "Sleep, Creep, Leap"

I enjoyed reading this more than anything else in a long, long time. Especially since it's winter now, I enjoyed being transported into his backyard garden, laughing on one page and crying on the next. It's so cheap, only $5.99 at Amazon and they can deliver it in a jiffy. If not for someone else, buy it for yourself!
Sleep, Creep, Leap: The First Three Years of a Nebraska Garden
Image from

Gift Idea #3: For the big spenders out there...Pre-order a tray of plants from Prairie Moon Nursery.

What native plant enthusiast wouldn't appreciate more plants? Again, if not for someone else, at least treat yourself! You can now order a tray of 38 native plants to be delivered between May and July for only $98.00. You can mix or match up to four different kinds per tray of dozens of native wildflowers and grasses. I ordered one to try last spring and was very impressed with the quality, many of the plants bloomed the first year including Aster azureus and Solidago speciosa. I plan on ordering several trays this winter, Merry Christmas to me!

My tray of plants from this past Spring, aren't they awesome!

In case I don't get another post written before Christmas, Happy Holidays to you all and thank you for visiting my blog!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

My Winter Sowing Project: Part 1

   Saturday morning was absolutely gorgeous, mid 30's, clear blue sky. I just had to be outside. I'd been thinking about the Chasmanthium latifolium (River Oats) that I'd seen along the river (of course) over at Green Hill Park a few months ago. If there were any seeds left on the plants, I really wanted to get some and give them a try. I love River Oats and know of several places in my gardens where they'd fit in nicely. Well, as luck would have it, I didn't just find the chasmanthium, but some goldenrod, frost aster, wingstem (Verbesina alternifolia), and Virginia Wild Rye (Elymus virginicus), too. I couldn't resist! These are hardy common staples here in the valley, and should do wonderfully in our gardens, in fact some already exist there, just in small quantities. 
   I didn't really need any more seeds, I'd already received my order from Prairie Moon for my must haves for next year, plants that I want alot of. It is, of course, cheaper to grow 50 Sweet Joe Pye plants from seed than to buy them already as mature plants. And there's no such thing as too much Joe Pye. I wanted to try my hand at winter sowing, but what started out as an experiment has quickly gotten out of control. I am a plant addict, after all. I ordered six kinds of seeds from Prairie Moon, then collected five more kinds in the wild. All those black plastic plant pots I saved from over the summer now isn't enough. I've run out and need to buy some, I haven't even planted my Green Hill Park seeds yet.
   I've been dreaming of starting native plants from seed all summer long, planning what I wanted and what I thought would do well here. Before I was really into habitat gardening and I was just a casual gardener, winter was dull and boring, with nothing to do in or for the garden. When I started reading about winter sowing, I just knew I had to try. Worst case scenario = no plants, best case scenario = lots of plants!
   The only problem is, I've never done this before. I have visions of either zero success, or so many plants that I have to start giving them away (to the native flower friends I don't have) just so they can get planted. 
   If any of you out there reading this have any tips for me, please share. I've only read what's available out there on the internet, which all seems to be anecdotal with no "After" shots of pots of plants in the spring to show how successful they were. No one I know has ever done this before. For example, I've read that since I don't have continuous snowpack, I should keep the pots covered, like with clear plastic sheeting. Why? To retain moisture? Won't that create heat build-up, negating the cold part of the cold stratification process? I do notice they tend do dry out a bit and I'm supposed to keep them moist. So I'm going to be watering pots all winter? I've also noticed some folks use empty milk jugs, but I don't have a few hundred lying around. I originally had my pots on the southeast side of my house, but they were drying out in a day. I have since moved them to the colder, north side and they are staying moister longer. Am I foolish, or what? Tell me the truth, I can take it...usually. 

The green hill of Green Hill Park, a popular place to ride a horse, if you have one.
An old farm field full of goldenrod, aster, and birds...
Wingstem seeds, I think they're attractive still on the stem
Virginia Wild Rye
My haul from Green Hill Park
My first batch, likely soon to double...

Saturday, December 10, 2011

And Here It Is...!

The original...

Here it is!

   Don't feel bad if you couldn't find it at first. Like I said earlier, when Jeff showed me the photo, I knew it was there but I couldn't find it either. We've been watching this owl for about a week, it's probably been there a bit longer, we're not sure. This is likely the source of the screech heard at daybreak a few times last month, not a barn owl as was originally suspected. We feel truly fortunate to have this owl here and be able to view it on occasion, I've only seen Screech Owls a few times. We're definitely trying to leave it alone so it doesn't get spooked and leave the area. Here's a couple of other pictures of the same owl from a different day and different angle.

I think it's smiling!

This is not the first time an Eastern Screech Owl has occupied this hole. Several years ago, likely a different owl was spotted here, but it didn't hang around as long.

Ever since, we've made certain that we take a look at the hole any time we're nearby, just to see if someone might be looking back at us.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Do You See What I See?

...Way up in the sky, little lamb,
Do you see what I see, 
A star, a star, dancing in the night...

These pictures were taken at Dean, just a couple of days ago. There's something very interesting "hiding" in this picture, even though I knew what I was looking for, I had a hard time finding it when Jeff showed it to me. Can you find "it"?

A close-up

From further away, for context

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Our Tree Has Arrived!

   We decided to change things up a bit this year, and possibly future years, by getting a plantable Christmas tree. I just can't bear the thought of having a tree's life sacrificed for decoration. I would rather use this time to create a new tradition of adding a tree to the landscape. Just imagine...if we keep it up, in twenty years we'll have a virtual forest! We figure we'll get something different each year, for diversity. This year since it was short notice for the nursery, I could only choose between Blue Spruce or Norway Spruce. I chose the Norway Spruce. We have several 20+ year old specimens at our home and at Dean, they're gorgeous, they do great in our climate, and the birds love the shelter they provide. I wanted a native evergreen, of course, but they need advance notice to get one of those. Now I'm off to Tractor Supply Co. to find a galvanised bucket for the root ball. I'm not looking forward to dragging this puppy inside, but that's what strong husbands and dollies are for. Many thanks to Townside Nursery for fulfilling my crazy wishes, again!

Fresh off the truck

Untied and root ball covered to keep it dry and therefore lighter
(we're only getting about 8 inches of rain today)