Tangled Branches: Cultivated
happenings in and around my zone 6b gardens in northern Virginia and in central Virginia
Friday, March 31, 2006
Two stories about holly trees today - a short one and a longer one.
This morning when I went out to get the newspapers, the cedar waxwings were in the little holly tree I mentioned yesterday. I assume they were eating the berries, but they flew away when I got close enough to see.
Now the longer story. Several days ago I noticed a dark spot on the mulch under a large holly tree in front of the house. I didn't think too much about it at the time, except that maybe some critter had just been there leaving me a message. Yesterday, I decided to replenish the mulch. When I got around to the holly tree, I noticed the dark spot was still there. Hmm. Sap, probably. A broken branch? I looked up into the tree. It's a many-branched thing that I limbed up some number of years ago, so when you are under it, you can see the main stems clearly. I wasn't prepared for what I saw - dozens (hundreds?) of sapsucker wells around most of the big branches and many of the smaller branches. My first thought was "Wow, cool!". My second thought was, "Uh oh, these branches look girdled". My third thought was, "I haven't seen a sapsucker all winter. How could I have missed them?". I wonder if the bird(s) that created this have moved on? According to the species description on the Cornell Bird site, they don't nest anywhere near here, so I'm thinking maybe they're gone for the year. So, is the tree going to survive? This site says the girdled branches will die, but this listserv posting, and this newspaper article, say that the tree will probably callous over the spots and be fine. I'll let you know.
Thursday, March 30, 2006
Waxwings and Sparrows
After sitting, waiting and wishing for cedar waxwings to appear in the yard, they've finally come around. I've been seeing a few here and there, not every day, for the last few weeks. Then yesterday afternoon, while having tea outside, I noticed several small yellowish-brownish birds high up in the trees, staring down at me. Those look like cedar waxwings, I thought. Go get the binoculars. And sure enough, they were. This morning, the tulip tree in front was hosting 11 cedar waxwings. I wonder what they're eating? Most of the holly berries are long gone, but I have one holly in the front yard loaded with berries which the birds apparently don't like. It's not in a convenient spot for watching it from the house, but I'll have to make an effort. Or maybe they're finding enough bugs to eat - this site says they turn carnivorous in the summer.
Another sign of spring showed up in the yard this week. The first chipping sparrows arrived Tuesday morning.
Saturday, March 25, 2006
Happy New Year
Have you celebrated the New Year yet? I was looking through an interesting book this morning - Seasons of America Past by Eric Sloane - and was reminded of something I had forgotten. In the English-speaking world, from the twelfth century until 1752, for civil and legal purposes, the first day of the year was March 25. If you think modern-day legalese is difficult reading, try King George's British Calendar Act of 1751, or even just the little section dealing with the Supputation of the Year. My eyes glaze over...
So another year has gone by, and I still haven't gotten the Chionodoxas sorted out yet. I have a couple of clumps, of some undetermined species, with vivid blue flowers, which grow and flower well in the woods. I'd like to have more of them, without having to wait for them to increase on their own. I thought they might be Chionodoxa sardensis, and so I ordered some bearing that name from Brent & Becky's Bulbs last fall, thinking that when those bloomed I'd be able to compare to what I had. However. The new ones haven't come up yet. I'm hoping that they're just waiting for a bit of rain and warmer temperatures, but so far I see no sign of them. :-( A 50% chance of rain was forecast for today, but the sun is out.
There's always next year, whenever that is.
Wednesday, March 22, 2006
Well, actually it did snow enough overnight to whiten the ground, but not enough to moisten the soil. It's dry around here, I tell you. Today, I even watered some overwintered, outdoor containers which contain sprouting perennials. Next chance of rain or snow is now Friday (20%), then Saturday (30%).
The daffodils were all sad and droopy this morning, but revived in the afternoon. I noticed that my favorite Chionodoxa is in bloom, but don't have a photo yet.
The tomato seeds have germinated. I was hoping to move some of the older, bigger seedlings to the cold frame, but the weather just seems a bit too chilly to me. Maybe next week.
Monday, March 20, 2006
Vernal Equinox, You Say?
Sure doesn't feel like spring. I was going to rake the front yard today, but changed my mind after going out around 10 or 11 AM to fill the birdbath. Cold and windy again. Oh, and it's supposed to snow tomorrow.
Comparing this year's flower pictures to last year's though, I would have to say that everything is blooming earlier. And very probably my memory is faulty, but I don't ever remember the bleeding hearts flowering when the shoots are first emerging. This has been the driest spring in recent memory. We've had no precipitation worthy of the name since February 22.
The winter birds are still around. I've lately been seeing a brown creeper, a red-breasted nuthatch, and a purple finch. The juncos are still here. But on the spring side of things, we've had big flocks of robins recently. And yesterday and again today we were invaded by blackbirds - starlings, grackles, and crows - all three kinds at the same time. They emptied the sunflower seed feeder and tried hard to empty the suet feeder.
To commemorate the equinox, here's a cool animation showing the motion of the Earth about the Sun. But here's something I never realized. As we sit (stand, lie down, whatever) on our big chunk of rock spinning through space, we are never occupying the same place twice. The following is from Earth & Sky:
By the way, someone asked, "Does each solstice and equinox happen at the same place in space every year?"
And the answer is no. As far as we know, Earth never comes back to a place in space where it's been before. Our planet is being carried along by the sun in its journey around the center of the galaxy. The sun moves at about 140 miles per second, but space is so vast that the sun takes some 200 million years to travel once around the galactic center.
And the galaxy is moving, too, through the universe of galaxies, in a way that modern astronomers still don't completely understand. So hang on! We're travelin'. . .
Saturday, March 18, 2006
The House Ate My Blog
I was going to title this post "Sprung, Part 2", but things didn't work out like I planned. Our house renovation project is on hiatus as of March 15, owing to the carpenter having a prior commitment for a job starting then. He'll be back here when he finishes that one, but until then I thought I'd have more time to garden and cook and blog and ...
What I've been doing instead is trying to put the kitchen back into a truly functional state, which means not having to search the basement for missing equipment and pantry ingredients every time I want to cook something. Oh, and I also decided that we won't have the floors refinished; that I'll just touch them up by myself instead. This is going to work out OK, but the key word there is work.
But in the garden, things are blooming - 85 degrees last Monday had some effect, although it's freezing cold and windy today. If tomorrow is a little less windy, I'll try to get some flower pictures posted.
Today I planted tomato and pepper seeds - only weirdo-type plants, no Big Boys or Early Girls. Tomato seeds are: Belii Naliv, Black Russian, Eva Purple Ball, and Striped Roman. I grew Striped Roman in a pot on the front steps last year, and was really impressed with the flavor. This year's other varieties are all new to me. Pepper seeds are: Bellingrath Gardens Purple, and Czechoslovakian Black. With any luck and free time, these will all go into my new ornamental/edible border on the south side of the house.
Thursday, March 09, 2006
Finally having some spring weather today. When I went outside early this morning to get the newspaper, I could sense that the air had changed - warmer for one thing, and with a moist spring-like smell (no, not fresh mulch - that will be later). This afternoon we're all the way up to 67 degrees. The early narcissus got down to business yesterday, but I imagine by tomorrow there will be even more flowers. A newcomer to the garden this year - Crocus sieberi 'Firefly' - is lighting up the front walkway. It's a very glowing flower, and I wish I had planted more of them. Must put it on the list right now for fall planting.
The seedlings are coming along in the basement under lights. Tomorrow, if the weather stays warm, they'll get a chance to warm up outside - it's just darned cold in the basement. While I started 3 varieties of Cupheas from seed this year, that just didn't seem like enough. So I ordered 7 more varieties today from Singing Springs Nursery. Never have done business with them before, but anybody who lists 7 kinds of Cupheas already has my respect.
Monday, March 06, 2006
Does Anybody Really Know What Zone It Is?
GardenGrown left a comment that got me thinking again about the hardiness zone maps and their many varieties. Way back in January, I read a post on Creek Running North about the updating of the USDA zone map. A closer read though reveals that the update was done by the National Arbor Day Foundation. One wonders if the exact same methodology was used to create the 1990 USDA map as was used to create the 2004 National Arbor Day map. I seem to recall reading that just a few years ago an update to the USDA zone map was released and withdrawn. Or perhaps that update was done by a third party as well? Does anybody know anything more about this? I did some Googling, but didn't turn up much.
For the record, I'm basing my declared zone on the map posted on the National Arboretum's web site. I've never seen this map at a high enough resolution to be sure, but I seem to be right on the borderline between zone 6b and 7a. I'm rarely disappointed when I take the pessimistic view, so I chose 6b. Oops, just found that Better Homes & Gardens has a much higher resolution map available. According to that, I'm still awfully close to the borderline, but more clearly in 6b.
Which I completely ignore.
Wednesday, March 01, 2006
In Like a ?
I think we made it through the winter. And just look what's coming! I put up the best photos from today, but there are some other things blooming too - more Crocus, more Snowdrops, Scillas just starting. They say it's going to be cold next week, but as long as there are flowers to look at, I feel sure it won't last.
All seeds planted a week ago Monday have germinated, and the Alyssum in the cold frame just sprouted yesterday. I want to plant more seeds, but I can't find them. I'm losing my mind over the house renovation. I know I put those seeds in a plastic bag and put them somewhere safe from all the construction. So safe that I now have no idea where they are. Luckily, another two seed orders arrived after the plastic bag incident, and escaped my absent-mindedness.