Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Love Is in the Air

This morning, through bleary eyes, I thought I saw a pair of nuthatches playing tag in the brush by the shed, but something about them didn't look right. I fetched my binoculars to get a better peek, and discovered they were not nuthatches at all, but downy woodpeckers! They were doing their courtship dance, hopping around from branch to branch, then pausing to flutter their wings and spread their tales. It was quite the spectacle. Usually, I try to write in the morning and have my head bowed to the computer screen, but this morning I was lucky enough to be too tired to write. Otherwise, I would have missed this display.

Last night the temps dropped below freezing, so this is the last pic of the rhododendron.

Today its petals are dropping in brown puddles. The bumblebees are unhappy about that.

The sandcherry did not mind the cold, though.

Nor did the creeping phlox...

... or these late daffodils.

The blossoms on the serviceberry look iffy, though. Last year there were no berries at all, so I'm hoping some of the blooms survive. The robins love serviceberries.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Earwitness Report

I'm not very good at recognizing bird song, but I swear I hear a wren this morning. I received my first wren box as a Mother's Day gift two years ago, and almost as soon as I hung it, a wren set up housekeeping. I consider Mother's Day to be Welcome the Wrens Day, so this seems early to me. With the introduction of the bluebird/sparrow box, I rearranged the wren houses so that one is in the backyard and one is in the front yard. I know the wrens like the backyard, but they may not like having the sparrows as neighbors. The front yard is a little sparse shrubwise, though. We shall see how the new arrangement works out.

Yesterday's yardwork, while not spectacular, has made a difference in the yard and in me. Nothing like a couple of hours of outdoor activity to clear the mind and tone the body.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Eyewitness Report

The baby bunny lives! And his flight instincts seem to have kicked in, as he tried to flee by crawling through the chicken wire around the pea fence. His head fit, but not the rest of him, so he had to use his back legs to pry his head out of the chicken wire. Then he would see me again, and repeat the same escape attempt. It was like a cartoon! I moved to the front, and he took the hint and advanced to the rear, into a pile of brush. Of course, no pix, but I caught mama taking a rest under the arborvitae.

In other backyard news, I can confirm that the bluebird house is occupied but not by a bluebird. A pair of sparrows have claimed it. When I purchased the bluebird box, the saleswoman advised that if "stinky sparrows" built a nest in the box, I should shake the eggs to scramble the contents. Having witnessed a pair of Canada geese outside the building where I work try to hatch their oiled eggs, I just could not do something similar. It is too heartbreaking.

I just can't get enough of the rhododendron this year, although I think they may have finally peaked.

Yesterday started cold and gray and windy, and even after the sun appeared, outdoor work was still a bit daunting. I'm glad I waited until today, as it was just about perfect. The entire yard is mowed, the backyard cleaned up, and the bird feeders stowed.

I even got the chance to use my latest Lee Valley purchases:

I also dug in the garden a bit. Last year (or the year before?) I disposed of some sand in my garden, in the hopes it would lighten the heavy clay soil a bit, but all it seemed to do was deflect the worms. Today, the only ones happier than me to discover a healthy worm population in the garden were the robins. I chose to dig by hand, which was interesting because the top layer of soil was dark like compost while the next layer was yellow clay.

And now I am going to go soak my weary bones.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Son of a Bun

I am guessing that the reason the backyard bunnies seem so tame is they are actually trying to lure me away from their little treasures. Betsy the beagle found this little fellow trying to play hide 'n' seek.

If I can't see you, you can't see me.

I lured the dog away and left the bunny alone, hoping it would find it's way back to a nest or it's mom, but later it was still there. I tried prying it out of the corner with a stick, hoping it would hop away, but it just sat there. I'm not sure it was mature enough to be out of the nest, as it still had the baby bunny instinct to be as still as possible in the hopes of escaping detection, instead of the run-for-your-life instinct. So I put on leather gloves and picked it up and carried it around the corner of the house where the dog could not get it and hid it behind the iris. Hopefully Mom will find it before a cat does.

When not rescuing baby bunnies, I am taking photos.

I planted this sandcherry last summer and am pleased to note the rabbits left it alone over the winter and it appears rather happy to be in my yard. The neighbor across the street had a couple of these at the corners of their front yard, and I looked forward to admiring the pink flowers against the dark foliage every spring, but for some reason he tore them out. So I planted my own.

(This same neighbor shared their plan to also remove a whole row of conifers, which made me gasp out loud. I suggested they not because 1) the trees act as a privacy fence between them and the neighbor to the south, and 2) trees increase a property's value. The problem was he did not want to mow around them - maybe that is why he got rid of the sand cherries - so he compromised by trimming up the lower branches.)

Grape hyacinth really smell like grapes!

The rhododendron in all it's glory.

Three (?) years ago, I planted three arborvitae to provide backyard privacy. Despite the rabbits efforts, they are doing fine, growing from their initial 4 feet to over 6 feet.

The daffodils are from Breck's, their "naturalizing" collection.

When I planted the bulbs, I also planted an English bluebell bulb in each hole. The bluebell foliage comes up every year, but I haven't seen many flowers. Maybe this year will be different.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Pretty in Pink

I guess, technically speaking, the rhododendron is lavender.

And this hyacinth is actually pink and white.

We are having a week of lovely weather - sunny, in the 70's - while the weekend promises to be rainy. Isn't that the way it always seem to go? With DST, I could be out working into the yard until bedtime, but mowing grass at 9PM just feels unnatural. Maybe the weather forecasters will be wrong about the weekend rain; they are usually wrong the rest of the time.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

First Cut

Yesterday the lawn mower had its first outing. I had not planned on mowing, but Sunday my neighbor to the north mowed, which made my lawn look scruffy. That is usually how it goes on my block; one yard gets mowed, then the rest fall in line. Sometimes our street looks like a golf course.

After yoga class, I feel like I have stretched and toned every muscle in my body, but apparently the lawn mowing muscles are missed - I'm a little sore this morning.

A post from last year featured some amorous ducks. Well, guess who flew over the yard last evening, quacking sweet nothings midair. When Betsy and I passed by the neighborhood pond yesterday morning, a pair of geese complained, but I doubt they will hang around. Too many people walk their dogs along the waters edge.

The bluebird box appears to be stuffed with nesting material, but I have not seen anything coming or going, nor anyone standing guard. The front of the box swings open so you can check on the inhabitants, but I'm too polite to intrude.

I am getting queasy about taking down the silver maples. My head says it is the right decision for the long term for me and my yard, but my heart aches and I apologize to the trees every time I think of them. Last night I dreamed that there was another tree in my yard, a stately sycamore, and I could say I still had two trees instead of the one that will remain when the whacking is done.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Ten Dollar Asparagus

A week or so ago, the local food co-op sported some lovely asparagus in their produce section. I've eaten asparagus out-of-season before, so was unfazed by this bunch's origin, California. Also, some asparagus risotto seemed like a good antidote to the winter that would not end.

Sticker shock at the cash register: that little bunch of green cost almost $10!!! I noticed the price when the cashier rang it up and asked her to double-check it. Nope, that was the correct amount for a little over a pound of asparagus. Did I still want it?

If I had noticed the price beforehand, I would have rejected it, but throwing it back now felt too much like a statement ("I'm not paying exorbitant prices for organically grown asparagus!") I took it home, making a mental note not to let it rot in the back of the refrigerator like that last bunch of asparagus I bought.

I'm in the midst of reading (well, listening to, on CD) Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. She asserts asparagus should be eaten fresh, the same day it's cut, for optimum flavor. I have never had asparagus that fresh, at least not to my knowledge, but this California bunch definitely supported her argument: it was awful!

When I was married, I grew all our family's vegetables in a huge organic garden, but I never bothered with asparagus because my husband hated it. He could be tricked into eating cauliflower by disguising it under a creamy cheese sauce, but asparagus is difficult to pass off as anything but what it is. But it's just me now, and I love asparagus, so maybe a small bed is in order.

But first. I have decided to go ahead and whack the silver maples in the backyard. This decision was not made without much angst, especially since once they are gone, my personal tree lot will consist of one King Crimson maple (the slowest growing tree in the world) in the front yard. But the removal of those four silvers will not only eliminate the problems they have become, it will totally transform my backyard. No more sunshine constraints!

I have lived here for about 16 years, and year by year, the available light in the backyard has been shrinking. The shade has been lovely for the Florida room and deck, but not so lovely for the grass that won't grow or the flowers that won't bloom or the vegetables that won't thrive. I will plant replacement trees, more appropriate ones in better locations, but I am also going to take advantage of that abundant sunshine.

And one way to do that would be to plant me an asparagus patch.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Who Are You Callin Yaller?

Yes, the grass is green, but it's these sunny beings that catch the eye these days.

Crocus (soon to be bunny fodder):

Last spring these poor fellows were face-down...

... and the forsythia did not fare much better. But this year it is spectacular.

But green and yellow are not the only colors available so far. I think this is radicchio, left over from last year's planting of mesclun:

And I am hoping these rhododendruns hold back a bit so they don't get bitten by frost:

The lamb may not lay down with the lamb, but apparently beagles and bunnies can co-exist:

If I were more adept with the photo editing, I would add an arrow to show you where the rabbit is, but if you look straight up from Betsy, you should see a pair of rabbit ears against a background of dried leaves.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Looking Good

Every time I step outside while the dog does her business (I think her business is relieving herself, while she thinks it is scent detection and rabbit turd consumption), I check for bluebirds. This morning I was so busy looking at the bluebird house that I almost missed seeing the bluebird himself, perched in the tree just over my head. We chatted a bit, or rather, I chatted while I hoped he listened. But he was actually keeping an eye out for intruders, one of whom he chased away with much angry chirping. I knew bluebirds were territorial, but I did not realize how pugnacious they were. I hope his actions are a good sign that the bluebird box will be populated this summer.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Slow Compost and Birdhouses

Sometimes, when I am cleaning house, I feel like I am simply moving piles of crap from one room to another, instead of making any real progress. Ditto with yard waste. I raked and trimmed in the front of the house and side of the garage, and dragged the detritus to the backyard where someday, in the not so distant future, I would need to deal with it.

In order to deal with all the rakings, however, I needed to deal with the compost pile. I'm sure you have heard of the slow food movement and there may even be a slow garden movement. I participate in the slow compost movement. I have two compost bins, side by side, and I pile crap into one, then at some future random date, I move the pile to the other bin, and voila! The bottom of the first bin holds black gold.

But I was not very attentive to the compost bins last year, so they both had piles of crap. I tackled the smaller of the two, which had enough compost in the bottom for the shrubs. Once that had been distributed, I replaced the crap I had removed and moved the crap from the other bin, expecting to find a like amount of compost underneath. But no, there was a huge mound of compost. Eureka!

New topic: A while ago (two posts but nearly a month ago) I wrote about seeing bluebirds in my backyard and how, once I supplied them with suitable housing, I never saw them again. Well, today there were two bluebirds perched on the top of the post where the bluebird house is hung. Oh! I hope they deem my yard bluebird worthy!

And more bird housing: I cat-sit for my neighbors, and as a thank-you, they brought me a ceramic bird bottle from Williamsburg. It needs to be out of direct sunlight, so I think I will hang it on the south side of the shed, over the compost bins, under the apple tree. That should be shaded and secluded enough, but still viewable from the house. I can't wait to see what takes up residence there.