Monday, December 31, 2018

George Washington and me

I cannot tell a lie: I cut down a cherry tree. Or three, to be exact (one died on it's own). And four apple trees. I contemplated keeping one of the sweet cherries for the birds, but its location - too close to the back fence - would have meant continual upkeep in the form of pruning.

As part of my garden downsizing, I decided to stop growing food. Once upon a time, in order to eat organically grown produce, one had to grow one's own. No more, as it is available at most major grocery stores. Fort Wayne also has a year-round farmers market, and during the summer there is one almost every day of the week somewhere. Also, growing one's own food means preserving it in some shape or form. I am the only one here, so all that effort seems unnecessary.

While the trees are gone (except for the main trunks - I will ask my chainsaw-owning neighbor to help with those), the raised beds with their cement blocks are still there. That corner also hosts a raised bed for the madder plant, which I will probably dig up at the end of next year, and a large bed that has been taken over by common milkweed. The eventual goal is to turn it all back to lawn. I know - SAD! But I will add a shade tree of some sort.

BTW, I saved the fruit trees in lawn bags, as the bark can be used to dye fiber.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Da burds

The birds finally discovered the feeders in the front yard. Besides the usual sparrows and finches, there are jays and a red-breasted woodpecker and black-capped chickadees. There is also a squirrel. It tried repeatedly to find its way past the baffle, which was comical to watch until it finally made it to the big platform-style feeder. It hasn't cleaned the feeder out nor has it invited its friends (yet), but I will have to do something to discourage it. Shortening the hanger so that the feeder is a bit higher should do the trick.

I set up the heated bird bath in front of the picture window. About the time I gave up hope that the birds would decide it was okay, the sparrows and then some blue birds found it. I would not be surprised to see the squirrel there too someday.

The weather has been unbearably (to me) temperate. The ground just won't freeze and stay frozen, which causes one major problem with muddy dog paws. I spread straw over the worst places in the yard and invested in a Paw Plunger and limit the number of times the dogs can go out during the day, but the routine of cleaning them up whenever they want back in is getting OLD.

On the other hand, on nice enough days, I am out in the yard, piddling around. In today's rare sunshine, I cut back the catmint and blue false indigo. Earlier I cleaned out the garden shed. Bit by bit.

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

The lazy blogger

I can't believe it has been more than a month since I last posted. Part of the reason is the season - not much is happening in the yard and garden these days besides a little fall clean up. I don't make the beds all neat and tidy, but any time it is reasonably nice out, I putter a bit.

The barberry shrubs are getting hacked up quite a bit. They are supposedly invasive, but my primary concern is they crowd the big Gold Mop. Ditto for the burning bush, but it keeps trying to keep on. Some plants just don't want to say die even when the gardener wishes they would, like the yucca.

I stopped feeding the birds for a while, as the sparrows had driven everyone else away plus they were ruining the lower branches of the thin skinned tulip tree by stripping off bark for their nests. The dogs have the run of the backyard - and they like to chase away the sparrows (good dogs!) - so this fall I set up the bird feeders in the front yard, away from the tulip tree, where the old fashioned lilac once stood. The stump of that shrub refuses to decompose, so now it is surrounded with mulch and topped with the feeders. It is not a very popular spot yet, although the blue jays have been helping themselves to the unshelled peanuts. I'm still contemplating a spot for the bird bath.

Seed catalogs started arriving just before Thanksgiving, but they go right in the recycle bin. I am reducing my gardening footprint because it is becoming just too much for me to keep up. Instead of new plants, I plan to rearrange the ones I have. If there are holes to fill, I may use annuals for the time being.

In case it is another month before I post again, happy holidays!

Sunday, October 28, 2018

The lazy gardener

This summer I was beginning to think that the yard was becoming more than I could handle. Then a neighbor gifted me with a used compost bin (my old one was dying a rather ungraceful death), which forced me to dig out the compost, which took three hours on a lovely sweatshirt kind of day. That's when I realized it is not the yard work that is too much, but the HEAT. The temps this past summer were too high for too long, leading to abbreviated dog walks and no desire to leave the air conditioned comfort of my home. The trick going forward will be to figure out how to yarden despite the heat. All the wood chips we mulched with this past spring is a good start, as that labor has paid off in reduced weeding.

I planted some goutweed (a.k.a. bishop's weed) under the 'Limelight' hydrangea a few years ago. It has spread around the front of the shrub, just as I planned, but the area behind is still rather barren. When the goutweed blossomed, Jason at gardeninacity suggested I cut off the blossoms before they went to seed. I did this, but tossed them behind the hydrangea, in hopes of filling in that area without any real work.

While we were in Columbus IN this past summer, we stumbled across an alleyway with a long bed of Northern Sea Oats (or River Oats). I love River Oats, especially in fall when the seed heads turn copper-colored, but those seeds spread. The "prairie sampler" I planted on the south side of the house was an epic FAIL, so I plan to transplant those plants elsewhere, where they will get more sun and rain, and fill that bed in with River Oats from the front yard. Toward that end, this fall I cut the seed heads off and threw them in the back of the prairie sampler bed. Hopefully, some of them will sprout and take root.

What kind of labor-saving gardening methods do you have?

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Another way to feed the birds

As I have mentioned before, I stopped filling bird feeders because of the sparrows. My backyard is too sparrow-friendly, to the point they were the only birds I saw. Also, they were stripping bark from the limbs of my tulip tree, to the point the limbs were dying. Bad birds! So I put away the feeders, at least for the time being.

That does not mean there is nothing for the birds to eat in my yard. During the summer, there are seed heads of course - sunflowers, coneflowers, etc. - but there are also berries, starting in the spring with the serviceberry crop. That tree is stripped clean in no time at all, by robins. As other shrubs and trees produce fruit, some is eaten right away, some in a more leisurely fashion, and some remains into and over winter.

Aronia melanocarpa, a.k.a. Chokeberry

The size of the crop can vary greatly from year to year as well. I have never had more than a few berries on the 'Blue Muffin' viburnum, but its cousin 'Chicago Lustre' went all out this summer. The 'Wentworth' highbush cranberry and blackhaw viburnum bloomed well but neither produced much fruit even though I don't think we had a late frost. It's a puzzlement.

Viburnum Dentatum 'Chicago Lustre', a.k.a. arrowwood viburnum

I'm really impressed with the crop on the hawthorn. This tree is not that old, but it is loaded with orange fruit. It's a delight to view through the picture window.

Crataegus viridis 'Winter King', a.k.a. hawthorn

The 'Perfect Purple' flowering crab is young, too, but trying to do its part. My dad had a flowering crab that held its fruit all winter along, to be descended upon by a flock of robins in early spring when there is not much of anything else to eat.

Malus 'Perfect Purple' , a.k.a. flowering crab

I do miss feeding the birds from bird feeders, though, and am trying to figure out a place in the front yard where I (and the cats) can watch from the window. My indoor/outdoor cat is also a problem, but the older he gets, the more indoor he becomes.

Wednesday, October 03, 2018


My daughter sent me this pic of what I assume is a swallowtail caterpillar on her dill plants. She says there are four, chomping away. I offered up my butterfly habitat, but she declined. It's one thing if Mother Nature ends their lives, quite another if they die from neglect.

My dill is long dead, so now I am thinking I should plant it successively, to increase the likelihood that I will attract some egg-laying swallowtail butterflies.

Monday, October 01, 2018

As the worm turns

A few posts ago, I mentioned doing an entry on failures. But today I decided that there are no failures in gardening, just experiments and lessons learned. Also, one's goals may evolve over time.

The other day, I found myself gazing on the yellow, orange, red, and purple blooms in the backyard and thinking, "I like to look at these flowers, but the work involved is getting to be too much." So while most of my gardening over the years has been about expanding, now it's beginning to contract.

When I first bought my house, the northwest corner of the backyard had been used as a vegetable garden by the previous owners. It even had a rabbit fence around it. I continued that tradition until the nearby silver maple grew large enough to provide too much shade. Then the plan was to convert that area to a hosta garden, but that never came to pass. For one thing, I was not excited about the idea. For another, I had the silver maple (and three more next to the house) cut down.

For a while, I referred to that corner as The Meadow, but it was mostly Canada thistle. More recently, I started an orchard there, planting four cherry and four apple trees. This year, my SO helped me tote a ton of woodchips to the area, which I thought would keep it at least weed free, but volunteer milkweed popped up all over. Initially, I thought, Cool! But after a storm, all the milkweed fell down. And then the bindweed took over. Ugh.

Now that breeding season is over for the monarchs, I cut down all the milkweed. Today my SO helped me clear out the bindweed. Then I want to move the woodchips elsewhere and turn that corner into lawn.

I'm taking a hard look at the rest of the yard, figuring out how to make it attractive yet manageable. Stay tuned!

Friday, September 28, 2018

Down in the mouth

I've been ignoring the yard (and this blog) lately. Sometimes I blame the weather, which has been unseasonably warm and dry lately; today it's lovely out there, so that is no excuse. Maybe it's the political climate; didn't we fight these battles a long time ago? Maybe I'm just getting old.

But asters!

'Purple Dome' aster

And fungi!

Fungus on cherry tree trunk

I also saw bees, monarchs, and a hummingbird while I was outside. There is not enough chocolate in the world to make me feel better, but maybe I can take my angst out on some weeds and clean up a corner of my little world.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Warm colors for cool days

Garden photos have been lacking while I fixated on the monarchs. One reason is, thanks to the giant pile of wood shavings we had to move this past spring, gardening was a bit haphazard and not according to plan. New perennials went into "holding" beds instead of their desired location, annuals filled in the holes, etc. But there is a lot of color out there right now, even if it looks a bit messy.

Asclepias tuberosa, var. Clay

I find butterflyweed difficult to get established, but some I planted last year is still there, while newbies are doing okay. Conversely, coneflower and black-eyed Susan flourishes, although sometimes the latter struggles in ensuring years.

Rudbeckia subtomentosa

Besides the butterflyweed, coneflower, and black-eyed Susan, I have a jumbled bed of Ohio goldenrod, ironweed, and bergamot, none of which did much blooming this year.

Rudbeckia subtomentosa and Echinacea purpurea

There is also some cupplant and compassplant. It looks like the poke milkweed did not survive - too much competition from the common milkweed, I guess.

Echinacea purpurea

Annuals besides the Mexican sunflower are marigold, dyer's coreopsis, and cosmos, all of which I stopped plucking blossoms from, to give the pollinators something to feast on as summer draws to a close. Oh, and the redundantly named Red Scarlet zinnia is also providing late season nectar.

Tithonia rotundifolia 'Torch'

The volunteer goldenrod seems to have disappeared from my yard, because in the spring I mistake it for a weed; I'm sure it will be back. The prairie sampler on the south side of the house is a mess, but a few asters are making a valiant effort to start blooming; that area is due for a reboot. Later I will do a post on garden FAILS.

Rhubarb, turning

Monarch update: the adult appears to have taken flight, as it is MIA this morning. Another chrysalis is turning black, so a new butterfly should be free soon. The forecast is for warm and dry, so hopefully the last of them will hatch and head for Mexico. ¡OlĂ©!

Saturday, September 08, 2018

Are you tired of monarch pix yet?

Another monarch hatched yesterday. The chrysalis had turned black as its surface thinned to reveal the new butterfly within. At least, that is what I was hoping was happening.

I kept checking the habitat throughout the day, but missed the actual emergence of the adult.

The newly emerged adult butterfly is very tame, has no qualms about climbing aboard a human finger.

This time I managed to catch some decent photos of the wings, closed and open.

Some of these photos are with my Olympus SLR, some with my Samsung Galaxy phone camera. Can you tell the difference? I can't.

This fellow picked a cool and wet day to emerge. I left it perched on the outside of the habitat, then last night arranged some shelter to protect it from the rain. It is still sitting there today. Probably needs a little sunshine to get going. (Don't we all?)

Wednesday, September 05, 2018


A day after my last post, I went to check the butterfly habitat and was startled to find... A MONARCH BUTTERFLY! It must have been newly hatched, as it was gently waving its wings to dry them. My source said it would take 4 to 9 days for the chrysalis to hatch, and I believe this one took the full nine days.

Taking photos was a bit awkward. I tried to catch one with the wings outstretched but the shutter delay was never timed right. I helped it out of the enclosure - its feet feel sticky - and it flew away (while I chased Finn the indoor-outdoor cat away).

When the caterpillar sheds its skin as it grows, it eats it. However, the shell of the chrysalis is left behind.

Raising butterflies is not quite as simple as it seems. For the habitat I have, I would like a branching structure that reaches from top to bottom, so the caterpillars can climb, and with platforms (or something) for holding fresh milkweed leaves. Even a small tree branch would do, I think. I'll have to ponder that for next year.

Sunday, September 02, 2018

Still no butterflies

There are three pupae in the butterfly habitat, but none have hatched yet. I moved the habitat outside, as I thought maybe being exposed to natural temperatures instead of the steady 74 in my house might help things along and/or acclimatize the little buggers to the real world. So far, no luck. Hope everything is okay.

While gathering fresh leaves for the captives, I found this guy in the wild (backyard). I checked on it everyday, but now it is gone. Did a bird eat it? Did the dogs knock it off the milkweed? Is it pupating somewhere not obvious?

Regardless of my success or failure with the caterpillars, my heart has been gladdened by the sheer number of butterflies, especially monarchs, I see in the backyard these days. Most are nectaring on the Mexican sunflowers, along with the hummingbirds. Both are preparing for their migration south.

Otherwise, not a whole lot has been going on in the yard and garden. I finally tired of harvesting flowers for dyeing, so there is a small riot of color out there, mostly yellow and orange. The weather continues to confound - it's either too hot or too wet to do much besides mow. Speaking of which, I'd better get at it.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

And we have a chrysalis!

Many moths spin cocoons. Butterflies create a chrysalis to protect themselves during the final stages of metamorphosis. (I am getting my monarch information from here. That site has better photos - I am finding it difficult to snap pix without disturbing the critters too much.)

Just hanging around

Closed for renovations

We're right behind you!

Now that the end is near for one of my monarch caterpillars, I am finding it much easier to remember to check on the habitat. To extend the main milkweed stalk, I twisty-tied a shorter one to it. Now the remaining caterpillars will be able to climb to the top of the mesh ceiling.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Out of sight, out of mind

One problem with keeping the monarch caterpillars locked away from the cat is I forget to tend them. A milkweed stalk does not last long even when standing in a jar of water. Also, caterpillars can fall into the jar of water (I rescued one). All I need to do is remember to give them fresh leaves everyday, but somehow that is too much.

Another problem is fresh leaves may also have eggs on them - or even a teeny tiny caterpillar the birds haven't found yet. I really need to get on the ball here or I will miss out on the fun of releasing a live monarch into the wild.

With all the rain we've had lately, it is all I can do to keep ahead of the mowing and trimming. Yesterday I was feeling rather blue about the yard. Today I weeded a bit, though, and discovered it's not as bad as I thought. The raised beds are relatively weedfree. It's the areas that are not protected and mulched that are problematic. In past years, my SO has helped out a LOT, especially battling weeds. This year his contribution was primarily the moving of the wood chips from driveway to backyard. That reflects some progress. Once it cools down, I will corral him into helping me tackle (my side of) the (neighbor's) privet.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

A little catch-up

Sometimes I think I have too many hobbies. Other times I just seem to be inefficient or lazy. I'm retired, so all "goals" are self-inflicted, but I know I am happiest when I feel like I have accomplished something by the end of the day. Blogging tends to fall by the wayside.

Monarch update: I think I have put six caterpillars into the butterfly habitat. I'm hesitant to check the leaves too thoroughly, as if a caterpillar falls off its leaf (a common reaction to disturbance), there is no way it can climb back on.

When it's time for cocoon formation, they will want to climb up and attach to the top of the habitat, but right now there is no way to do that, either. I'd like to add another milkweed plant, but a danger of doing that is introducing a predator. The newly hatched larva are SOOOO tiny I think the smallest spiders could make a meal of them. What is a monarch foster mom to do?

August is rudbeckia season. I have some scattered around the yard; next year, there should be a lot more. Thanks to all the rain we have received, the coneflower and rudbeckia transplants are doing great (as are all the weeds). The butterfly weed is okay; it takes a while to get established.

It's easy to forget about the 'Limelight' hydrangea. It is in a corner I don't visit often except to mow, and then I am looking down, not up. I caught a glimpse of it over the fence while walking the dog the other day and realized it is in bloom.

The late season 'Royal Standard' hosta is in bloom as well. The hosta in general have somewhat recovered from dog trampling but only because I fenced off that section of the yard. I would not be walking daily were it not for the dogs, but sometimes I wonder if my health is worth all the damage they do to the yard.

I continue to pluck blossoms from the cosmos and dyers coreopsis on a daily basis, and in less than 24 hours, there are MORE. A LOT more. There is a lesson in deadheading there, I believe (although the marigold are much slower to recover from just such a denuding). Some plants are in desperate need of deadheading - those flowers are definitely DEAD - but then I see goldfinch feeding on the seeds. Maybe the birds and I can reach a compromise of some sort.

Monday, August 06, 2018

They grow up so fast!

I have little bitty monarch caterpillars! Ironically, the eggs on the first leaves I picked did not hatch (not fertile?), but after ordering the butterfly habitat, I saw a monarch laying eggs on the milkweed by the deck. I grabbed a couple of leaves from there and those are the ones that hatched.

Day 1 (or 2?)

I didn't write down the caterpillars' "birthday", so I'm a bit fuzzy on exactly when they hatched. (And I suffer from CRAFT - can't remember a freaking thing.) I *think* day one they looked like teeny tiny meal worms, but by day two the stripes were visible.

Day 3 (or 4?)
Now you can see the antennae, which for some reason just makes me go *squeee*!

Day 4 (or 5?)

The first indicator that there were caterpillars was the appearance of frass (caterpillar poop) in the bottom of the mason jar. This has to be kept cleaned up, so now not only do I pick up dog poop and scoop kitty litter, I am mopping up frass.


Initially, I set up the butterfly habitat in the kitchen, weighting it down with a couple of bricks in what turned out to be a vain hope Beau (the feline destroyer of all things fine) could not knock it over. Unfortunately, the mess sides are perfect for snagging cat claws. So now the habitat is in the bathtub, behind a closed door.

Butterfly habitat

According to the instructions, this habitat can incubate up to 30 butterflies at a time, so of course I went out and found five more leaves with eggs. It is not limited to monarchs, either, so maybe next year I'll be able to raise some swallowtails or something. Science is fun!

Saturday, August 04, 2018

Road trip

My SO and I went on a little road trip, to the Columbus IN and Nashville IN area. Everything looked so *green*, from the Hoosier National Forest to the fields of corn and soybeans. Obviously, they have had plenty of rain.

We didn't go hiking - too humid, too tick-ridden - but we did wander Columbus a bit. Despite the wonderful architecture and bits of art here and there, the plantings were rather ho-hum. Just as Minneapolis is rife with hosta, Columbus is full of coleus, mostly in pots.

The Inn at Irwin Gardens has a large formal garden. We didn't want to pay for the official tour, so took pix from outside the fence. There is also a large greenhouse known as the Gardener's Farm, but we didn't visit that, either.

Columbus is home to Cummins. The building downtown sports a long promenade-like pergola, which reminded me of my attempts to grow something on my pergola. Hopefully, these pix will continue to remind me next spring.

We strolled down to Mill Race Park, again in hopes of seeing something interesting plantwise. No such luck, but we did come across the Clock Tower. The elevator was out of service, but athletic types use the stairs Rocky-like for exercise. According to one runner, 125 steps! There are also notices about suicide prevention on the backside of the structure.

One nice garden we visited was at the Story Inn ("One inconvenient location since 1851"), but I was too distracted by the heat and hunger to take pix. We ate pulled pork, smoked on the premises, in the basement tavern there.

So, why did we travel to the area? No particular reason. Nashville was a bit of a disappointment; it used to be an artist colony but now is rather touristy. We did visit a weaving studio and a weaving store and a couple of yarn stores, though, so I had a good opportunity to contribute to the local economy.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Back to earth

After yesterday's excitement, the rest of the garden seems rather blah. But there are pretty pictures of pretty flowers to show.

'Lucifer' crocosmia

Lemon yellow daylily of unknown origin

Volunteer sunflower

Blazing star

'Aphrodite' Rose of Sharon

'Black Beauty' zucchini

Those zucchini illustrate what happens when one turns one's back on the squash plants for a moment. I did a search on my blog for 'zucchini' and found lots of references for zuke recipes. Today it was zucchini and basil over pasta.