Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Bird Brains

Bluebirds are in residence here year round. It is a joy to watch them swooping from the trees on the edge of the north ravine, pausing to perch on the power line or spend a moment swaying at the tip of the 'Jane' magnolias. 
Bluebirds became nearly extinct in Vermont, although they were present during my long-ago childhood.
In our dozen years in Kentucky we have not witnessed this frantic behavior of a bluebird male at nest building time.
This bird is demented!
Sitting at my desk on Sunday morning I became aware of a 'tapping' sound, first behind me on the west-facing bedroom window, then moments later on the horizontal window in the bathroom. Several cats were bounding from one room to the other, leaping across furniture, batting at the windows.

After several hours of this, J. went out to the shop and returned with a hastily constructed birdhouse, having googled the proper diameter for the entrance cutout.
He placed it high on the edge of the house, not far from the front porch.

I had my doubts about this location--too near where the cats are apt to lounge in the sunshine, however I wasn't consulted.
Almost immediately the pair of bluebirds investigated the new residence and Mamma Bird seemed intrigued. She even fetched a few wisps of dried grass and poked her little bundle through the door.

Meanwhile, Poppa Bluebird has continued to bash endlessly at windows. The window of the shop is a favorite; when he flaps around pecking and bashing he also lets loose with streams of poop!
I've cleaned the screen and the sill twice. 

When I venture close with my camera he flies up to the edge of the roof.

After the first clean-up of the window I hung an aluminum pie pan on a length of garden twine, hoping that the rattle and motion would discourage the bluebird. That worked for nearly an hour.


Meanwhile from inside, each flash of the bird's wings near the kitchen window sends a cat or two hurtling across the counter to take up a look-out post.
J. shouts at the cats to 'get down!'
I am becoming exasperated with the mess and the uproar, but these are birds and cats, both behaving as their instincts dictate.

Thus far the birdhouse seems to be used as a perch for a moment's rest in between frantic swoops.

J. parked the Honda in front of the house so he could back out one of his trucks that was sharing the garage alley.
[These are zoom shots which make it appear that the shed below the west meadow is near the house.]

 Immediately Mr. Bluebird investigated, leaving his tell-tale calling cards.
What does his reflection signify? Does he believe he is seeing a potential mate? A rival?

There's nothing like a bluebird at eye level while working at the kitchen sink.

After returning from errands I parked my car in the long garage/shed that parallels the workshop, wiped down the splooges of bird do with vinegar and water. 
Beautiful birds--but--four days of this madness and mess is enough!
Whatever faze of bluebird courtship is happening we're ready for something calmer.

Monday, April 24, 2023

A Sunday Spent Mostly Outdoors

It is all too obvious that my cherished plans for landscaping with perennials is a project that has been unrealistic from the beginning.
However, that doesn't stop me from continuing to poke and putter, making the best of what I can do to encourage plantings that have survived through a tough winter's cold. 
Nepeta, related to common catnip, is unfussy, growing in tidy mounds. The first dainty blossoms are appearing, luring bees as the weather warms.

The iris plonked under the ground level window are not particularly elegant, being salvage plants; they provide color and serve to crowd out weeds and undesirables.

The purple ones though ordinary are pretty. I moved these from the area where the former owner's house stood; there are a few more growing around a power pole which should perhaps be transplanted.

Clematis Candida is still opening fresh blossoms and stretching vigorous tendrils that grasp the trellis and fence.

Dr. Ruppel is in full flower. 

The small white buddleia is valiantly attempting to recover from the Christmas week freeze.
It will need more pruning and care if it is to bloom this season.
Sadly, there is no sign of recovery on the formerly glorious magenta-flowered one nearer the west wall of the house. Disinterring it will be considerable labor.

I don't think the front raised bed was a good choice of location for this small nandina. Last summer the surrounding Michaelmas daisies over-whelmed it.  I thought it had succumbed to winter kill, was ready to remove it when I noticed one frail sprig of leaves. During the week of warm temps it has revived.

Mayapple is flourishing along the shady edges of the north and south ravines where Jim has cleared brush.

I discovered several clumps of this delicate flower growing beyond the compost heap. 
An online search of Kentucky wildflowers identifies it as 'Phacelia' with a common name, Miami Mist.

Another shade-loving wildling, Oxalis.

Working outdoors or in I am companioned by cats.
Robert insisted that J. let him outdoors before daylight on Thursday.  Sounds of an altercation immediately followed. Robert spent the day recuperating. He was apparently more bruised than wounded. I found two tiny spots marked by tooth or claw which had bled a bit. I cleaned these, brushed his rumpled coat, offered choice tidbits. By the following day he was recovered but not as anxious as usual to be out at all hours. 
The sunroom provided him a comfortable and warm place to convalesce. 

Rosie loves the screened porch when the door is propped open on a warm day.

Shelby also heads for the screened porch at any opportunity.

It was 42 F at 8 A.M., thus we missed the frost that had been warned.
I went outside within the hour, the usual tending of the litter box, checking the plants and seed trays in the greenhouse.
In spite of bright sunshine, the air was chilly and I wasn't inclined to linger.
By early afternoon the temperature climbed to 60-ish.
Feeling sleepy from reading I bundled up and did a bit of weeding and pruning. J. had dumped a small heap of black compost near the back gardens, so I dressed the base of each clematis vine and the two David Austin roses, survivors of the winter cold.
Weeds are very visible between the clumps of foxglove and amongst the stepping stones in front of the raised beds.
I tweaked, dug, prodded and pulled, then came inside for lunch.
Futile as the project may be I can't abandon my plants, so spent another hour or two before dusk.
Tending gardens takes me out of myself--going out each day to see what has blossomed is a joy.

Pansies and violas in pots by the front walk have enjoyed the cooler weather and the intermittent showers Friday night.
Beyond is the tangle of monarda interspersed with Lauren's Grape poppies which self-sowed in profusion. 

My trays of seedlings haven't done well; I moved them from under the grow-light in the lower level and arranged them on a shelf in the greenhouse.
Willis believes that the shelf belongs to him and it appears that he has plodded through the trays. 
Its a toss-up whether Willis or I will win this particular battle.


Sunday, April 23, 2023

A Not-so-Plain Amish Buggy

Several weeks ago we had errands in the South Fork community, home to several sects of Amish and Mennonites.
Catching up with or meeting a horse-drawn buggy is a regular part of traveling along the narrow winding roads.
Jim was with me on this excursion. Stopping at Casey County Discount Market [which sometimes has the tinned cat food our resident felines prefer] I noted a buggy at the hitching rail but didn't pay close attention until Jim remarked, 'Now there's a fancy buggy! Wonder what the local bishop thinks of that.'

This buggy has a 'bed' constructed of diamond-plate metal to be utilized as a cargo space.
Metal runs along the base of the 'cab' and frames the edges.
Practical, but rather 'flashy' by the standards of Plain People!

The 'slow-moving vehicle' caution sign is requisite in Kentucky, and there are tail lights as well as reflectors on top of the cab.

A fitted windshield and dashboard cubby are upgrades, as well as the slits to accommodate the reins, sophisticated  engineering to add to the comfort of travel in rainy weather.

By now the horse likely wondered why we were hovering around.
There were few customers in the store and we couldn't pinpoint a possible owner of this 'worldly' contraption.
Old Order Amish are especially conservative in dress, household furnishings and farming implements.
Perhaps this splendid buggy belongs to a Mennonite family.
I will keep watch for it on future outings to South Fork.


Monday, April 17, 2023

A Normal April

Sunday evening, the western sky a roiling of clouds. 

The day began with tentative sun and I ventured out to work in my flower gardens--moving a bit cautiously having spent much of the previous day with a heating pad on my back. 
Prior to my greenhouse shopping on Thursday I determined there was room for one more clematis along the wonky fence; a fine selection was available and I checked the descriptive details on the tags searching for a shorter growing variety.  Most were climbers capable of reaching 6-12 feet, more space than I have left.

I brought home 'Alionushka' described as 'non-clinging clematis, has 2-3 inch semi-nodding, rich mauve pink flowers.' It is petite with a mature height of about 3 feet, a nice fit for a short trellis at the end of the fence. It came wrapped around a hoop-shaped plastic support which went into the ground with the plant. This is a different type than those I am familiar with, so an intriguing experiment.

With Alionushka tenderly set in place, flat rocks arranged around to discourage exploratory digging by cats or raccoons, I moved to other tasks.
I pruned the sage plant in the front raised bed, then trudged around to the west side of the house to pull weeds and poke about in emerging perennials.
The wind was rising, the capricious sun disappeared.
Rain began to spatter down as I put away my tools, closed the open window on the west wall of the little greenhouse.
The day wore on with gusty wind, rain squalls, fitful bursts of sun.

I slipped out the back door and stood at the edge of the lower porch to record this moment of fading evening light. Within moments the sky was again a sullen steely grey.

The sun has beamed forth day-long on this Monday. The sky has been cloudlessly blue, the wind sharply cold, rushing noisily through the treetops, whirling through the grass of the east meadow in ripples of light and shadow. 

The hummingbird feeder has swung wildly on its hook beneath the east porch eaves. Flying in to feed, the male hummers cling to the rim, sipping as the wind flails them back and forth.

While sitting at my desk to read online a message popped in that Jim's expected truck parts had been delivered to the mailbox at the head of the lane.
I pulled on a light jacket, took the precaution of bundling my long hair into a clip and headed out. The force of the wind at my back tempted me to return to the house for a hooded jacket, but that seemed rather wimpy so I went along.

The mailbox was stuffed to capacity.
The anticipated small box for Jim, another item in a small slippery padded envelope, two boxes for me containing e-bay purchases, the credit card statement, the phone/internet bill, a local newspaper. 
Rather clumsily I managed to stack the boxes according to size, gripped the padded mailer and the bills tightly against the largest box and started the walk home.
The full force of the stinging wind was whipping me in the face, my hair was escaping its clip. I lurched along the gravel lane knowing that if I lost hold of the smaller envelopes they would be swept across the meadow. 
I made it almost to the house, clamping the smallest package under my chin. The entire stack of parcels then began sliding from my benumbed grasp and the smallest box fell to the ground. I nudged it up the slope of the drive with the toe of my shoe, keeping a desperate grip on the remainder of the armful. 
Jim emerged from his workshop, stood staring at me as though wondering what I was doing! 
'Pick up your package, and take this other one before I drop it!' I likely sounded testy, but it did seem as though he could see the dilemma!

Remembering that I chose paddle-type door handles for times such as this, I brought my elbow down on the latch, surged through the door and let go the tipple of boxes which slithered onto the table, startling the cats who had been dozing.
I decided a restorative mug of tea was in order.

I would have liked to do more pruning, but the force of the wind made outside work impossible. So, the desultory tasks--the preparing of a meal, tidying of the kitchen.
Matt and Gina stopped in on their way back from the produce auction, shared slices of the fancy cake they had acquired. 
Later J and I drove along the road to the Beachy's, J to pick up his half gallon of milk, I to select a 50# bag of unbleached flour. An unexpected treat was the purchase of two bunches of fresh local asparagus.

The wind began to subside as evening drew in. I went out with my camera to record the budding iris under the east facing lower level window.

The sprawling sage plant near the front door is displaying tightly folded buds.
The newest violas are settling into their pots.

Clematis Dr. Ruppel has a new blossom.

Seed-grown pinks along the west wall.

Today's blossom on Candida, caught in the last glow of evening sunlight.

I've been browsing through my April posts for the past several years.
Shift the dates a bit in terms of rain, sun, heat, frost and very little has changed.
I could repost almost any journal entry and the details would fit.
Sadly, as I re-read 'comments' I realize how many bloggers have disappeared, whether bored with blogging, resorting to some other form of social media, perhaps no longer living. These tenuous, long-distance friendships, however fleeting are missed.

An old cliche comes to mind: 'Nothing ever changes; nothing ever stays the same.'


Wednesday, April 12, 2023

The Lovely "Firsts" of Spring

Clematis 'Candida.'

I marvel each season at the coloring of these blooms, the delicate stripes of pale green against creamy white, deep rose pink of thread-like stamens.

My lilacs were a Mother's Day gift from Howard and Dawn three years ago; this is their second season to bloom, a good month earlier than could be expected in my native Vermont. The scent drifts on the lightest current of air, hauntingly nostalgic.
Several ancient lilacs grew, twisted and stunted, in the remnants of a tumbled stone wall at the lower edge of Grampa Mac's garden. Survivors of harsh New England winters, lilacs mark the grass-covered foundations of many a home long abandoned and forgotten, stand sentinel in old churchyards and burying grounds. 

Each time I pass near the lilacs I am drawn to pause and bury my nose in the blossoms.

This red-purple variety is slower to open its flowers, but the scent is already discernable.

From my desk I have a view through the south window of the hummingbird feeder. My journal for 2022 notes the arrival of the first hummer on April 13th. I brewed a batch of nectar and hung the feeder on April 6th this year having observed the posted hummingbird migration charts and wanting to be sure that the birds were given a welcome.
It was 40 degrees F. at 7:30 a.m. on Monday morning when the familiar shape of a hummer zooming in for breakfast caught my eye. How quickly I have resumed the habit of glancing out the window, pausing for a moment to watch if a bird is at the feeder. 

This evening the silhouette of a male hummer hovered against the pale pink and saffron backdrop of the twilight sky. I stepped quietly onto the screened porch, moved to within a few feet of the hanging feeder. A second bird flashed across the flight path of the one leaving the feeder confirming that there are now two males in residence waiting for the ladies to arrive.

I've spent two mornings pruning winter-damaged roses, raking dead leaves and grass away from the peonies, yanking up random handfuls of weeds; as I work I'm absorbing the grim truth that invasive ground covering weeds, wild onions, purple violets, fleabane, creeping buttercup, are so well entrenched that I can never eradicate them.
Coneflower seedlings have emerged in their hundreds, clumps of self-sown poppies have burst through amongst the New England asters and bee balm. 

There will undoubtedly be a few frosty nights, days of chilly rain when we will again kindle a fire in the wood stove. 
We work through the caprices of weather that 'spring' is bound to present, rejoicing in the renewal that unfolds daily, balm to quiet the clash and clamor of unrest and uncertainty that is too much with us.


Wednesday, April 5, 2023

Gardening, Ready Or Not

Several sunny and windy days have prompted me to continue weeding in the back garden. A project that will never be finished, one that intensifies the aches in my elderly bones, but although I continue to grumble, I continue to weed!
David Austin rose 'The Poet's Wife' [pictured above] is the least damaged by a week of frigid weather at the turn of the year. Another pruning is in order, but I am encouraged that the rose will respond well with fresh growth and blooms.

'Queen of Demark' is looking less thrifty with two long branches that need cutting back. Fresh growth at the base of the plant should thrive if we don't have another severe frost.

'Roald Dahl' appears finished--the trunk is cracked, a mere dry stump with only one partially green twig at the base. Uprooting the dead bush will be a chore. I suspect the two buddleias will also need uprooting. The smaller white one showed some life early on, but the tiny emerging leaves were thoroughly blighted by cold weather. No signs of life on the magenta buddleia which grew so vigorously for three seasons.

Lemon balm has spread outrageously, pushing out from these corners to pop up here and there amongst the stepping stones.

Monarda has colonized, some of it a dwarf form. The leaves are prone to mildew, but that doesn't seem to bother the butterflies who love the blossoms.

Since the week of freezing nights I have pulled browned blossoms from the hybrid magnolias each time I walked by. 'Jane' is pushing out fresh leaves and surprisingly a few blossoms.

The resilience of "Jane.' The magnolia a few yards up the slope [which I have decided is the hybrid 'Susan'] is more slowly reviving.

Lavender buds showing on one of the lilacs.

Peonies pushing through old leaves and dead grass in the rough strip by the driveway.

I have painstakingly pruned away the damage to clematis 'Candida' and tied in the vines; I also added fresh soil where some roots had become exposed at the base of the trellis. 'Duchess of Edinburgh' needed more severe pruning, but there is healthy new growth at the base of the plant. The shorter-growing varieties have all been encouraged toward the trellises and gently tied. 

I don't attempt to thin out clumps of poppies where they appear, as the roots are so fragile. 
Dozens of them have seeded through the monarda, around the sage bush, into the gravel walk and below the rim of the raised bed. They are left to get on as they please. 
Two years running I have sprinkled the gifted seed of a red poppy; none have germinated, so I expect to see only the usual 'Lauren's Grape' which has moved with me through several gardens--a lone survivor of all the different seeds collected and saved.

Matt and Gina came by on their way from the first Amish/Mennonite auction of the season.
Matt had a flat of handsome tomato plants in an unfamiliar variety, Red Deuce. It is listed as a '2nd early, determinate' plant. 
I've checked my weather notes for several seasons past and don't intend to risk tomato plants in the garden this early. 
I agreed to take six and immediately freed them from their tiny plastic 'cells' and gave them larger pots. By the time the weather has stabilized and the garden has been 'turned' again, the plants will have sturdy root systems.

Eight broccoli plants and four of emerald cauliflower. 
[Matt insisted!]
These have been settled into one of the black raised bins and barricaded from cats with an assortment of twiggy sticks.

I've sowed flats of thyme, Lady lavender, calendula, signet marigolds, two varieties of yellow coneflower [2 year old seed, so germination is if-y.] 

Rosemarys have been moved to the screened east porch, two rosemary cuttings potted.
I lost my two large rosemarys over the winter--the heavy pots were dragged into the lower living area and positioned by the floor to ceiling window. Although that is a south exposure the porch overhang blocks much of the light. Did I over-water? Under-water? 
Rosemary isn't winter hardy outdoors here and is problematic to grow well indoors. 

Mid-day temperature reached 80F with a restless hot wind. Laundered throws and pillow covers flapped dry on the lower porch lines. 
Evening has brought rain, already enough that working outside tomorrow won't be an option.
Tomorrow I will hang a hummingbird feeder under the eaves of the east porch. My first recorded sighting is April 13th--but if warmer weather has encouraged an earlier arrival I want to be sure the tiny birds find a welcoming meal.