Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Hexastylis: A welcome bit of green on a grey day

Some leaves are variegated, some aren't

A vivid patch of green caught my eye the other day over at Dean. Even though this is a warmer than usual winter, it's still quite grey outside and anything this vibrant is bound to get noticed. I'd seen it before, I'm sure, but never payed much attention to it until now. When I saw it the other day and realized I didn't really know what it was, nor did I remember seeing it growing anywhere else, I began to wonder what it might be.

More heart-shaped than the larger patch

My first guess was Galax, Asarum, or Hepatica, but Galax typically grows near creek edges in bottomlands and this is a rocky dry hillside. Galax also has toothed leaf margins, and these are smooth. Hepatica leaves aren't as round as these, and Asarum isn't evergreen. It took me a while to figure out, but thanks to my books, I've settled on Hexastylis virginica, or Virginia Heartleaf. There seems to be quite a bit of variation amongst the leaves, which made me wonder if there are actually two different varieties here. They're related to Asarum (Wild Ginger) and Aristalochia (Dutchman's Pipe). I can't wait to see the flowers, which will be small, brown, and probably underwhelming if not bizarre. Supposedly they're pollinated by Carrion Flies and Fungus Gnats. I couldn't find much info on the internet about Virginia Heartleaf, which makes me wonder if this is a rare plant. Have you seen it where you live? Is it rare?

A mixture, even some Striped Wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata) in the bottom right corner

Friday, January 27, 2012

Three Alternatives to the NWF

So here we are, feeling bitter, betrayed, and cheated on. The NWF has left us out in the cold and like anyone looking to rebound, we conservationists and gardeners are looking for someone or some organization to hang our hats on, so to speak. Someone to show us that there really are organizations out there who say they care about the environment and have the resume to back it up. I'd like to recommend 3 groups that I believe are worthy of our support, in no particular order:

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology

  • Why support them?: Research, education, conservation, and Citizen Science Projects- they do it all
  • What impresses me: A long history of real results, they share their financial reports, wonderful online bird guide

The Pollinator Partnership

  • Why support them?: Conservation, education, and research of pollinators, critical to the world food supply and ecosystem health
  • What impresses me: A wealth of user friendly information for the home or community gardener available to make their gardens more pollinator friendly

The Xerces Society

  • Why support them?: Representing all invertibrates (94% of all animal species on the planet) through advocacy, policy, education, and research- critical for ecosystem survival
  • What impresses me: They share their financial reports, informative and user friendly web-site with ID tools, very active in government policy

I am not an official spokesperson for nor am I recieving any payment from any of these organizations, I merely wish to share my positive experiences with them. Visit their websites, see for yourself!

Another alternative group you may support would be your local native plant society. There's nothing quite like the satisfaction you can get by doing hands-on work. I don't have a native plant society active in my area but Jeff and I fill our free time by attempting to manage 4 different properties through invasive species removal and re-establishing native plant and wildlife communities. So, you don't even need an official "group" to get started, all you need is a friend or relative with land, whether it be a 1/4 acre or 20 acres, and explain to them the benefits of creating wildlife habitats while twisting their arm to let you "garden" on their property. Every little bit counts.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Other Reason I Bought that Growing Stand, and Shame on the NWF

I'm not looking for pity, won't do me any good now

Beware of P90X. Yeah, go ahead and laugh. I'm sure you've seen the infomercials or heard about it on ESPN. It's an exercise program, like Crossfit, Insanity, and Zumba. Well, my exuberance in the plyometrics earned me a bone contusion in my foot and I should be in this boot for 4-6 weeks to let it heal. Luckily it didn't become a stress fracture. I've been hobbling around since last spring, not wanting to "take care" of it until winter, knowing I'd probably be incapacitated for a while. Since I'll be unable to get out in the yard to putter around, I'll be starting seeds and watching plants grow under the lights to pass the time.

This has also given me the opportunity to play with my new camera lenses so I can try to take better photos for this blog. The honeybees were back today and proved a worthy subject for my macro lens...

Not bad, could be better

I like that I can see the pollen grains

So did Sweet Pea's nose...

Now that's detail

I'm also using my newly found down time to catch up on reading everyone's blogs. Well, unless you've been on a bender or out of the country, I'm sure you all know about the Scott's Corp. and National Wildlife Federation unholy matrimony. If not, please look over to the right hand column and peruse my blog list to see an assortment of commentary. There's nothing I can add to the discussion which hasn't been already said more eloquently by the likes of those blog authors. I had already planned to not renew my membership or make any more donations to the NWF because it seems they do little to no actual work in the field and spend all their money on weekly junk mail and junkier free gifts. I plan on keeping my Certified Wildlife Habitat yard sign but I'll be putting a big sticker over the NWF logo.

*OK, before you bust me for bashing the Scott's/NWF union and having a picture in my last post with a bottle of Miracle Grow in the background, I'm not being a hypocrite. I don't use it anymore and it's there to remind me to throw it away, but first I have to figure out how to do so safely.

Friday, January 20, 2012

A Cure For What Ails Me...

It's here! It's here!

It only took a couple of hours to assemble...thanks to Jeff for helping :)

OK, I splurged a bit. Considering last year's success with my make-shift grow stand from cobbled together parts, I was able to justify the expense to buy myself a proper one, with better quality adjustable lights and more space. What better way to cure a gardener's lust for growing green things than to start growing indoors! I'm going to use this stand to grow fresh herbs in the winter months, maybe even some salad greens, like arugula and mizuna, and catnip for Sweet Pea, Squeak, and Leo. (I learned not to grow catnip outdoors unless you want every neighborhood cat to relocate to your property) I'm also going to use it to get a head start on some flower and vegetable seeds. Just turning it on and seeing the glow warms my heart.

Empty, but not for long

I can't wait to get started growing! I have an addiction to seed starting, I just love seeing the green sprouts poke their way through the soil, and I love being able to grow obscure native plants that you can only get by growing them from seed.

Since Jeff's old photo developing room is now the growing room, we "re-purposed" his developing sink into a potting bench in the garage. This is long overdue and my poor back will very much appreciate being able to work standing up.

Now, where did I put those seed catalogs.....

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Rant of the Month...

Jeff and I went to go see "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" last week. I was really in the mood for a good movie, and it's been a long time since I've seen anything that I would call "good". I needed a distraction. Well, I still haven't seen anything good as it was terribly disappointing. I love spy movies, I love "different" movies, you know, the artsy type, but Tinker, Tailor... was just plain annoying. Vague for the sake of being vague. What little dialogue there was was so mumble-y that I couldn't make heads or tails of it. It only served to continue to feed my frustration...   (for bad movies and in general)

So, I've been frustrated lately. Uncomfortable. Maybe it's the winter blues. Mostly because I feel like something's missing, or wrong. I actually know what what it is, it's design. Harmony. Balance. Feng Shui even. I've come to realize that my yard is getting on my nerves, that something just doesn't feel right because it's not, it's just a hodgepodge of plants. I'm very left-brained and have very little knack for creativity.

I want my garden to be more than just a buffet for wildlife. I want it to be a provocative display that pleases humans as well. I want to "wow" people, is that asking too much? (Yes) I've been reading about the famous landscape architects Wolfgang Oehme and James van Sweden, and Piet Oudolf, and can see that it is possible. I can also see that my yard looks a bit shoddy. Well, of course it would compared to the works of those guys, but I tend to set high standards for myself.

So many things are stacked against me: the big trees and shrubs in the wrong places that were already here that I don't want to cut down because they hide our hideous neighbors, the winter winds, the summer droughts, the bedrock laying 18 inches beneath the soil surface, the deer, the rabbits...need I go on? When you limit yourself to natives on top of those, what's left? How can I create beauty in the holy names of Oehme and van Sweden with that?!

I know what I like when I see it, but I have a hard time actually coming up with ideas on my own. Basically, I think I know what my yard needs, it's just so hard trying to imagine and design when everything's asleep under the soil. Looking at pictures of the flower beds from last year only fuels my angst. I hate moving plants because it means losing a year, more or less, which is agony for the impatient gardener like myself. I will have to though, and I'm sure as soon as I start correcting some of my design errors, I'll feel better. I'm too embarrassed to post pictures here and ask for suggestions. Realistically I'm also too self-critical and self-conscious. (I'm sounding like a loonie aren't I) At least I can admit it.

Like I said, maybe it's the winter blues, maybe it's the moon, maybe everything will be fine once spring arrives and I can start moving forward...

OK, I feel a little better, I've purged...

*Google (or whatever) Oehme & van Sweden and Piet Oudolf and see what I'm talking about. I dare you to say their works aren't gorgeous.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Honeybees in January?

   Today wasn't the warmest day we've had lately, it was only in the upper 50's, but for some reason the local honeybees were out in droves. They were all congregated on my half dozen Leatherleaf Mahonia bushes. The Mahonias shouldn't even be blooming now, they're supposed to bloom in early Spring, usually March, but the unseasonably warm winter is causing them to prematurely open.        
   I know, I know, Leatherleaf Mahonias are non-natives, even invasive in some of the southern states, but our cold winters keep them in check here. I have several good reasons I can justify growing them: deer don't eat them, they tolerate deep shade or sun, they tolerate wet or dry soil, and most importantly they provide late winter and early spring nectar for the bees. If not for these early blooming aliens, I don't know what else the bees would have to feed on.
   I'm sure you've heard by now that honeybees are really suffering these days. Yeah, they're non-natives too but without them the US agriculture industry would collapse. I've contemplated keeping bees, but so far I'm pretty intimidated, I need to find a workshop somewhere local to see how difficult it is. I've read that so many bees are dying that new beekeepers are desperately needed to help start new hives and stabilize the population. As if colony collapse disorder and mites weren't bad enough, now a parasitic fly is posing a threat to bee populations. If you're a bee fan like myself, you can listen to a story about the parasitic fly, along with several other bee stories here from the Science Friday program on NPR.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Pine Tree Mutation?

   OK, it's a slow day around here. We've got a zero degree wind chill whippin' outside, so it's been a perfect day to peruse my photo archives, deleting the junk and looking for some inspiration for something to post about. 
   I came across these photos Jeff took about a month ago and it's still bugging me, what is going on here? We like trees, we like to look at trees, we like to read about trees, but we've never come across something like this before. It looks like some sort of mutation, I've seen a similar thing happen to Roses, where it sends out grotesque steroid-induced-looking spots of overcrowded growths, but never on a pine tree. It looks like someone grafted a Mugo Pine shrub to the side of a Virginia Pine tree.
   Any of you tree experts out there know what's going on here? I've Googled it but can't come up with any answers. Sorry the photos aren't great, I think they were taken with Jeff's iPhone. It does look like a great place to build a nest...