Tuesday, April 26, 2022

April Gardening: Journal

Clematis Candida

Cool mornings early in the week with a crescendo of warmth toward the weekend.
I began on Wednesday to prune and tie up the clematis. Duchess of Edinburgh which was the most affected by frost has benefited from the trim and the warmer days to put out encouraging new tendrils. 

On Wednesday I drove to my favorite nursery, Homestead Gardens, in the South Fork community. 
I came home with two dwarf nepetas--something I've been coveting, an assortment of bush type tomato plants, a lush hanging basket of mini-petunias as a gift for a friend, 5 assorted Gazanias for Gina.
Friday temps soared into the 80's F. We opened windows, worked at outside chores. 

I moved over-wintered rosemarys from the crowded table in the sunroom to the south/east porch and began cleanup of the sunroom--sweeping up dropped needles and attacking numerous 'stink bugs' that seemed to literally come out of the woodwork around the south-facing windows.
The tomato plants I purchased were in the usual tiny plastic 4-packs and needed to be potted on. J. came home from getting milk at the Beachy's with 8 leggy 'Early Girl' tomatoes which also needed plonking in much deeper pots. He is itching to get things into the garden, but the soil is still damp and heavy. A frost in early May is not unheard of. The tomato plants will be much safer in my little greenhouse until the weather settles.

Candida, for all that she insists on blooming too early each spring is my favorite clematis, well worth the aggravation of shrouding in protective coverings during April's frosts.
During her too brief season of bloom I take photos nearly every day.

The lilacs are now in full bloom; their sweet scent carries me back to many decades of springtime in New England. I remember lilacs with gnarly trunks and branches reaching for the eaves of a farmhouse ell, unpruned, shaped by harsh winters and deep snows. Often lilacs remained to mark the site of a farmhouse no longer standing, victim of fire or long neglect.

I recall so vividly a certain afternoon in late May. My best friend Linda and I were strolling along the dirt road that stretched the two miles between her house and mine when at a bend in the road where no house stood, we caught the unmistakable scent of lilacs, Clambering over a rail fence we plodded through a hilly pasture and found the purple lilac in bloom near the tumbled fieldstones of an old foundation.

Pinks raised from seed in 2020 have settled in along the west retaining wall, spreading in sturdy clumps in spite of inhospitable soil. 
Behind the pinks and the foxglove are the weeds which persist around the flat creek rocks laid as a walkway last spring. 
It is very evident that I should have put down a weed barrier before arranging the stones.
My on-going battle with invasive and persistent weeds is not one that I am winning.

Gazania for Gina--they have gone home with her, given larger pots in which to grow a bit while she decides where to put them for the summer.

Time spent in my greenhouse, potting up, sowing seeds, time of contentment.

The west garden tonight at 8 p.m.--the weeds not too much in evidence in this photo.
I tied up both clematis to the trellis arch--Jackmanii and Dr. Ruppel. 
The roses have been pruned as has the butterfly bush which was labeled as 'dwarf' but is obviously not of that designation. 

Centranthus Ruber/Red Valerian--a sturdy clump in the corner of the wall, has set some new plants which have invaded the space where miniature lilies are slowly multiplying.

Willis still faithfully follows me about and oversees my gardening tasks.

Shelby-cat whisked out the front door on Thursday morning, having spent the night in J's closet [she has a thing about closets and often has to be extracted.] I was surprised when she did not appear when the cats where called for their early afternoon 'tea,' nor did she show up while I unpegged laundry from the back porch lines. 
I was really concerned that she did not respond to my calling, didn't come in for the night. Friday--no Shelby, ditto on Saturday. J. had seen a coyote crossing the lower end of the property earlier in the week. Shelby loves to prowl in the south ravine usually appearing from there when she is called. I struggled to accept the idea that she had likely met a sad end as a meal for the coyote.

Sunday forenoon when I opened the front door she shot in! 
I scooped her up wondering if some lingering scent on her fur would suggest that she had been shut up in a house or barn--her coat smelled only of fresh spring air and green plants. Up a tree? Did she go up a tree in the ravine and forget how to climb down? Of course we won't ever know.
She gobbled a helping of tinned food, raced to J's chair in front of his TV, where she gave herself a thorough wash then curled herself in a heap on his bed where she stayed until evening.

Elmo goes out and about although I have kept Rosie in the house.
Both have been enjoying the open doors into the sunroom and the east porch.

A female hummingbird [at least one] this weekend joined the males who arrived on the 13th.
When I am too exhausted to continue garden chores I retreat to the rocking chair on the porch with a book and a glass of iced tea. Rosie joins me to 'bird watch'--and has to be discouraged from leaping up the screen for a closer look at the hummers. 

This morning was chilly--a mere 47F. which wasn't conducive to early morning coffee on the porch. 
By noon the sky was blue, the sun shining but the wind was brisk. 

I spent time in the greenhouse after our early supper, sowing seeds of basil, cosmos, rudbeckia and several varieties of coneflower. Two rows of beets and two of Swiss chard planted in one of the raised beds. Seed potatoes planted two weeks ago are not showing, but J. gently uncovered enough to determine that the spuds haven't rotted--merely waiting for warmer weather to push through the still cold soil.
I tied up clematis in the last golden light of the day, walked about contemplating the burden of work needed to tidy the perennial beds, hoping for a solution that will allow for flowers without the heavy work I can no longer do. 
Surely I will find a way!


Tuesday, April 19, 2022

A Few Lovely Mornings

Daily emerging green leaves add light and fresh color.
Dogwoods are in bloom spreading their dainty skirts of creamy white.
Green grass has pushed up through the bleached stubble of winter fields.
Bluebirds, goldfinches, sparrows, are all busy with the duties of the season.
The voices of the woodpeckers and the sounds of their hammering on trees in the ravines are an accompaniment to outside chores.
They are shy birds, thus the flash of a red crest or a view of their black and white bodies darting from tree to tree is a special joy.

A vigorous clump of coneflowers growing too close to the south-east retaining wall.  My plan of the moment is to move self-sown coneflowers along with native asters and prairie sage, wintered over in pots, to the plot outside the west windows.  My hope is for these sturdy plants to colonize and flourish in that rather rough space.

Plants set into the raised bed near the front steps. Several lavenders there winter-killed and have been removed. Nigella self sows in abundance as has poppy 'Lauren's Grape.' I hoped to see red poppies in this space but none emerged.

The lilacs gifted to me by Howard and Dawn during our first spring in the new house are blossoming for the first time. One appears to have the traditional 'blue' tint while the other is red-purple.

The frilly petals of ranunculus are like crinolines.

Dawn appeared on her way home from work one evening last week with two potted ranunculus. I've never grown these before and I'm intrigued with their multi-layered petals. Both plants have been moved into larger pots and set on the east porch. I've learned that they are a tuberous plant flowering in the cool weeks of spring then fading with summer heat.

The ranunculus and the planter of petunias and verbena are living on the porch, but were moved inside to avoid being nipped by frost on Monday night.

Several cool sunny days encouraged the lilacs.

This one seems the more forward of the two.

I treasure this clematis, the heirloom 'Candida', discovered at our first Kentucky home. I moved a hastily potted portion of roots to the Amish farmhouse we renovated, then moved roots again to the site of this home. After a winter spent in a large pot a wonky fence was hastily constructed by Jim to support the plant and its companions. Candida is an early bloomer and always puts out buds just as late frosts come along. 
A run of bright mornings and warmish afternoons deteriorated into rain late on Easter Sunday. Monday was bleak and rainy with frost warnings published for our area. Early in the evening I went out with an armload of old sheets, pillowcases and tablecloths [all optimistically washed and stored away after the last round of cold weather] and battling a cruel wind managed to cover all the clematis. 
It was a choice between flattening early blooms or risking frost damage. It was 34 F. at 7:30 this morning, a mere 2 degrees above the frost mark.

Duchess of Edinburgh, planted next to Candida didn't prove as hardy through the snow and cold which struck during the second weekend of April. Leaves at the base of the plant seem healthy, so perhaps a severe pruning away of damaged leaves and stems will revive the Duchess for later blooming. 

Two male hummingbirds arrived mid-week and discovered the syrup feeders hung from the eaves of the east porch. I feared for them in the harsh wind and biting cold of Monday night, but they have emerged to fortify themselves at the feeders. 

Green tints in the hearts of Candida blooms delight me.

Jane magnolias have triumphed over the snow and frost that earlier blighted them. 
Nature has a miraculous perseverance that encourages me.


Thursday, April 14, 2022

Day After The Storm

Wednesday was a day of brooding contrasts--a morning with mere slices of blue sky appearing through grey overcast, bursts of rain, hints of sun, more clouds, uneasy weather.

The local forecast warned of heavy winds, rain overnight.
Late afternoon cleared enough for me to do some pruning and tidying in both wall gardens. Three lavender plants had succumbed to winter damp and needed removal;  several that remained in pots over the winter are alive and showing fresh growth, but need trimming.

As dusk approached the air developed a heavy brooding quality.
Dawn was concerned about getting to work in the morning if the creek in front of their house should go over the bridge, so arrived just before dark to stay in the downstairs guest suite.

She had been here only a few moments when the wind picked up.
To say that the wind 'roared' is to use a cliche', but the sound of the approaching gale had a deafening growl as it swept in from the south west bringing rain driven almost horizontal by its force.

Jim herded us downstairs at which point I remembered that Shelby-Cat [who else!] had slipped out the back door when I came in from gardening.
I stepped out to the porch where I was instantly pummeled with rain. 
I called Shelby, wondering if she could hear me over the howl of the wind.
For about 15 minutes we watched and listened, awed by the intensity of the storm. 
Gradually the boisterous rumble of the wind began to diminish til only the sound of lashing rain remained.

When I called Shelby from the front steps she scrambled over the south retaining wall, slid through the rose hedge and flung herself, drenched, through the door.
I snatched an old towel and followed her into my bedroom, only to find I had left the west window raised about 6 inches and the floor was wet. I spread the towel over the puddle and when Shelby, wide-eyed crept onto it I was able to blot some of the wet from her fur. 
She remained huddled on the damp towel for the next hour, evidently traumatized by her experience of the storm.

This beautiful planter came home with Jim from one of his Wednesday errands.
A chilly night is forecast for Saturday, so I won't put the plant on the ceiling hook until the weather settles. Meanwhile it graces the screened porch with joyful colors.

The west meadow on Thursday morning--clouds giving way.

I went out in my tall wellies striding through wet grass and a carpet of wild purple violets. 

Shelby decided to walk with me. She skitters off then dances back, tail inflated.

The coneflowers moved to the west raised bed several weeks ago have settled in.
I can remove the sticks laid around to protect the area from cat explorations.

Foxglove, pinks, emerging lilies and the David Austin roses, cool and damp in the aftermath of rain.

The newest clematis, planted last spring are in need of tying in.
Ideally, they need a small trellis of finer grid set against the sturdy permanent trellis.

Nellie, having gotten feet and belly wet in the meadow grass decided to perch on the roof of J's truck where the morning sun could warm his bones. His sliding exit leaves muddy pawmarks on the windshield.

Three hours spent this afternoon weeding on the south wall garden and still more to be done. 
The removal of weeds disclosed more self-sown coneflowers, some of which have been moved up to the raised bed by the door.
Taking a sort of inventory of plants started from seed last spring and wintered in pots I've decided to set them in groups to hopefully grow where other plants [the lavender] didn't flourish.
I have several varieties of late summer asters and  blue prairie sage.
These might be considered roadside or pasture/prairie plants; since they are hardy and inclined to spread, I'm hoping they will compensate for the fact that fussy gardening on my knees is no longer an option.

Clearing the mat-forming weeds from the clematis along the wonky fence. More tying in needed.

'Candida' has survived frost, snow, cold rains, and being smothered in an old sheet during the coldest nights. She is my favorite clematis, moved from our first Kentucky property to the Amish farmhouse, then spending a year in a huge tub before setting into the ground here.

Howard and Dawn had two delivered from a Tennessee nursery as tiny plants while we were still in the upheaval of construction, spring of 2019.
Now in their third year, both shrubs are ready to flower.
Lilacs are particularly dear to New Englanders--surviving harsh winters to bloom in May.

The frost-ravaged 'Jane' magnolias are valiantly striving to put out fresh leaves and a few 
somewhat tattered blooms.
The first hummingbird arrived yesterday before the storm; this morning he found the magnolias an attractive place to perch before discovering the feeder of syrup hung in its accustomed place on the south/east porch.
He may have been flustered by the newly red-painted trim on the front porch; as I stood there he darted toward the railings and hovered briefly inches from my face.

The temperature stayed shy of 70 F but with the blue sky, bright sunshine and little wind it was a nearly perfect day to work outside.
Dawn stopped by on her way home with two potted ranunculus--a love gift--I've never had them before and have been researching their care. Tomorrow I will give them bigger pots and set them on the screened porch where I can admire them and move them into the sunroom if a chilly night threatens.

It has been a satisfying day, one that finally felt like spring. Plants leaping from hibernation into exuberant growth; laundry flapping dry on the back porch lines; birds busy around me as I dug and weeded. 
Showered and with garden dirt scraped from under my nails, the kittens, Rosie and Elmo, and I sat on the porch while I consumed a Gala apple and a stack of crackers with cream cheese spread.

The hummingbird darted in to sip at the feeder and we enjoyed his company--the kittens [now nearly CATS] intrigued but a bit wary of this new-to-them presence.

The nearly full moon drifted pale in the late afternoon sky and now sheds its glow over the darkened dooryard.
I love the nights of the waxing gibbous moon--I leave the bedroom curtains parted so that its glow will fall on my pillow in the wee hours of the morning. 

A long day, and my old bones protesting a bit from my gardening labors, but a day of delighting in the reassurance that spring always does arrive.


Friday, April 8, 2022

Every Kind of Weather

Spreading clumps of monarda in the rough strip that has mostly produced weeds. The weeds have thrived on mulch!
I've divided the monarda and moved clumps to both raised beds, given some away. It is welcome wherever it chooses to flourish.

Spring still reluctant to give us warm sunlit days. We've had a few sunny breaks in the clouds, but mostly the sky has remained sullen. 
Dawn and I ventured to Homestead Gardens on Monday; I had birthday giftings to indulge.
I came home with seed potatoes to put out as soon as the weather settles, various packets of seeds and plants destined for a large pot to sit near the front steps. 

There was no name tag on the display of these cheerful little things with dainty foliage and daisy faces. 
I noticed many container and 'bedding' plants which weren't available when I worked in a greenhouse  years ago.

Annual blue salvia. 
I also chose a coleus in deep burgundy colors. I potted on all four plants  giving them room to develop sturdy roots, and brought the coleus indoors to grow under lights until such time as the weather is warm enough--and stable enough--for outdoor pots.

At least I can enjoy blooms indoors.

Mayapple unfolding in the damp leaves along the edge of the south ravine.

Claytonia? Slender Toothwort?

Violets spread along the lane, pop up in garden plantings, They seem impervious to frost or late spring snow. They have the vigor of weeds, but so much more appealing than most of the invaders with which I do continual battle.

Wild turkeys, most often the hens, are much in evidence. This photo taken through the screen of my west bedroom window. The cats who were keeping me company and hoping I was about to arise suddenly went into defense mode, heads poked through the curtains, growling warnings. 
It wasn't a surprise to see the turkey a few feet away from the house.

On Wednesday afternoon I drove to the next town to pick up a quilt that had been machine 'quilted' for me by a professional service. It began to rain as I left the house for the 20 minute drive.  On the way home the heavens let loose a deluge. Windshield wipers going full tilt, headlights on, slowing for sheets of water that pulled at the car's tires.
The fury of the storm tapered off toward evening and the day closed with a fiery sunset.

Thursday, scudding clouds that sailed across the sun at intervals all day. Brisk wind. I laundered sheets and pegged them firmly to the back porch lines where they flapped and bounced until dry.

Today has been murky-dark, cold, snow and frost predicted before morning.
I went out to tuck sheets and towels around the clematis--likely a futile gesture as the sheets were soaked, as was I, before I finished the task, with tiny flakes of snow collecting on the sleeves of my jacket. The Jane magnolias, hard hit  nearly a month ago have struggled to put forth feeble new buds. Freezing weather tonight and as predicted for tomorrow night will be rough on them. I could think of no way to shelter them.
We so look forward to spring flowers at the end of a longer than usual winter here; perhaps blighted blooms are a small matter with all that goes on about us, but still a loss.

Shelby Cat [she who caused such uproar last Friday evening] has spent much of the day stretched on a soft old comforter.
The house is warm with the wood fire, I've indulged in an extra mug of tea [Constant Comment] and as I can do no more for my battered garden, I shall draw the shades against the dark night and sequester myself with a book.


Tuesday, April 5, 2022

April 1st: A Strange Evening

The final week of March spun out with blustering unsettled weather. A sharp wind blew from the southwest, tossing the bare trees, moving sullen clouds across the sky. 
The temperature began to climb on Wednesday afternoon reaching an uneasy 75 F. by 9:30 p.m. The wind was a continual roaring, rising in intensity through the earliest hours of March 31st. 
Knowing sleep would be impossible I kept my bedroom light on, reading the last chapters of the newest book in the Maisie Dobbs saga. 

The cats were agitated by the noisy clamor of the elements and plopped from the foot of the bed to skitter about in the darkened living area before galloping back to leap onto the edge of my dresser, pushing small items to the floor with a clatter.  The more adventurous ones took turns utilizing the sill of the west window to peer intently out through the swirling darkness as though the roistering gale might have a visible presence. 

A little before 1 a.m. the wind dropped and in the sudden silence I switched off the bedside lamp and the cats and I slept until around 5 a.m. when a clatter of hail pummeled the house and the wind again raised a vengeful voice. 
Daybreak was murky grey with the temperature a mere 4 notches above freezing. 

The lane that runs to the western edge of our property was littered with branches, some mere slender twigs, others more substantial. 
I'm waiting for a warm and dry afternoon to collect and break them up to use as kindling in the wood stove.

Friday morning, April 1st, was cold, the sun came out only intermittently during the day. As evening drew in a chilly sunset and predictions of frost roused my concern for the previously frost-nipped clematis vines.
I had spent hours preparing food for a church dinner; thus it was dusk before I tided the kitchen and pulled on a warm zipped 'hoodie' ready to cover the clematis. 

I found old sheets, pillow cases and a shabby blanket on the laundry room shelves and began carrying them to the back porch--tripping over interested cats. On one of my trips through the door, slender Shelby-cat slipped between my feet and dashed toward the south ravine, her favorite area to prowl in the underbrush and pretend that she is a mighty feline of the jungle.

Willis-cat predictably, appeared to supervise my task, trudging from one plant to the next, tangling himself in the sheets as I attempted to drape and fasten them to best cover the varying heights of the vines. The newest plants, still struggling to climb the trellis at the west of the house were the last to be covered. Willis fussed about, butting at my chilled hands when I tried to peg the sheets to the trellis, using clothes pins hastily gathered from the back porch drying lines. 
 While Willis waited outside, I went into the house to fetch my small flashlight firmly 'shooing' the inside feline residents whose curiosity might have propelled them through the door.

The 'ghostly' looking fence and trellis swaddled against pre-dawn frost.

I began calling Shelby, singing her name in the classic cadence from high note to a lower 'third.'
"Shel-by, Shel-by. Here, kitty, kitty. "
I moved to stand on the gentle knoll beyond the end of the house, sweeping my light up and down the lane, across the edges of the ravine. 
A soundless movement pulled my gaze upward to witness the settling of an unmistakable owl shape in the night-black branches of a tree a few yards away. Not a great-horned owl, more likely one of the barred owls we often hear at night. An owl, never-the-less, and quite capable of a swift swooping dive to carry away as tiny a cat as our Shelby.
Keeping a wary eye on the owl--and on Willis, I swung the beam of my light down toward the west end of the property where a sweep of meadow edges toward the most open section of the ravine.

Eyes! A pair of animal eyes glowing in the flashlight's beam! 
I moved several yards down the grassy slope, calling Shelby. When I looked back, the owl had flown off as silently as it had arrived. 
Shelby did not come rushing up the lane to fling herself, rolling at my feet, her usual performance when she decides to come in.

The eyes moved in the darkness and I tracked the animal's progress up the edge of the ravine, always staying behind the brush, disappearing behind a tree, bobbing out, slowly coming closer to where I waited with Willis. The wide spacing of the eyes suggested a larger creature than my bitty cat. 
The feral tomcat who visits in hopes I've left the kibble dish on the front porch? 
Raccoon? Skunk? That legendary cat of Kentucky's hills and hollers--a 'painter?'

Moving my light to keep pace with the creature's Cheshire-cat progress--the reflection of eyes--disappearing--reappearing--I became aware of a red dot moving lower on the hillside, the creature now tracked between the small sharp beam of my flashlight along the ground level of the tree line and a red circle of light keeping pace from the farther slope. 
A rectangle of yellow light suddenly poured down from the upper porch and Jim leaned over the railing. "Don't you think its time to come in? That cat has had more than half an hour to come to you. If she doesn't want to, she can stay out for the night!'
'But,' I protested, 'the owl! Shelby is a perfect midnight snack for the owl!' 
Jim, muttering about cats [and maybe women] who don't know enough to come in out of the dark, vanished into the house and the spill of lamplight was extinguished.

I trailed slowly toward the back door, looking over my shoulder to see if the red circle of light still hovered. It was there. 
My hands were cold and the chill of damp grass was making itself felt through my shoes.

Something about the quality of the night felt off, unsettling. The presence of the owl, perhaps lurking just beyond my range of night vision? The animal eyes [not my small cat] bobbing ever closer through the scrim of trees? The red dot of light across the slope?

During the next half hour I ventured onto the front steps several times, calling Shelby in my most winning tones. She didn't appear.

In the morning it was 2 degrees above freezing when I scuffed sleepily into the kitchen. Jim appeared behind me and without preamble demanded, 'Did you see a red light following you last night?'
I cudgeled my slow morning brain into remembering.
'Yes, there was a moving red dot, keeping pace with me just across on the opposite slope. Why?'

'I woke up at 3 a.m. thinking about it, wondering if I had imagined it. That was a laser.' 
His tone was portentous.
'So? A laser? What are you telling me?' I was muddled.

[Jim loves to start a discussion with an oblique question, and I wasn't having it first thing in the morning!]

'LASER! You know--the thing an instructor uses to trace a route on a map or point out a detail in a photo.' He snatched his flashlight from his desk, turned on a red light which set the kittens to pouncing, ricocheting  about the room in pursuit.
'That's a laser. And someone using a gun at night can use a laser light to help them home in on a target. Don't you see? Someone was on the north ridge following you with a laser light!'
Jim thumped about, fuming. 
' I should have caught on quicker! I should have gone out with my big light, shone it through the trees onto the ridge, hollered! No one, whatever their reason for being out, should have been tracking you with a laser!'

Early morning sunshine was touching the front steps. I stepped outside with a pan of kibble for Willis and Sally. Shelby bounded up through the rose hedge, tail held upright, fur bristling along her bony spine. Obviously she hadn't been a midnight snack for the lurking owl. 
She bustled through the door, made a circuit of the kitchen, batting at the kittens who gathered to sniff at the wild outdoor scent of her coat.

I haven't quite forgotten the sense of unease, walking at night in my own familiar dooryard, the eyes of the unknown animal [probably harmless] who moved toward me but wouldn't venture onto the path to meet me. 
That red laser, somehow invasive and unwelcome.
It is one of those small mysteries unlikely to be explained. 
I intend to keep my often overly sensitive imagination within bounds.
I doubt there is a 'painter' lurking to carry me off.
I can't consider that someone was deliberately keeping track of my evening meander. 
It was probably a 'one off,' something that won't happen again.
Still--it was a strange evening, perhaps more so in retrospect.