Tuesday, April 15, 2014

I Didn't Want to Start Weeding Anyway

Well, it's finally arrived!  After much waiting, spring has finally decided to make an entrance here in Massachusetts - trees are budding, bulbs are emerging, and the first bloom has finally been spotted in my garden!

And what is the first flower to bloom at the Red House Garden? 
It is....
a weed!

Well, beggars sure can't be choosers after such a long winter.  I'll take anything.  
Even a weed.

Thankfully, however, not long after the Coltsfoot weed in my yard started blooming, I did get a few real garden blooms.  

The diminutive early Crocus 'Spring Beauty' has started blooming.  These tiny Crocuses are so pretty and a little more unusual looking due to the dark feathering on their outer petals.

My favorite flowers blooming in the garden right now, though, are not what most people think of as flowers.

The soft, fuzzy catkins of my Pussy Willows have emerged.  Catkins are actually thin, long clusters of flowers that have either no petals or very inconspicuous ones.  

a catkin on a Pussy Willow
I have loved Pussy Willows ever since I was a kid, and I was thrilled to find them growing wild in my yard.

And it looks like I am not the only one!

To find out what else is blooming in other people's gardens around the world, visit Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day over at May Dreams Gardens blog!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Calling All North American Gardeners - Help!

If you want to keep seeing this:

Monarch butterfly
you are going to need this:

Monarch laying eggs
Help our Monarchs make babies...

a baby Monarch
plant Milkweed!

one type of milkweed - Asclepias tuberosa
As the population of Monarchs dwindles severely, the great migration of the Monarchs is in serious danger of becoming extinct. 

area of land occupied by Monarchs at their overwintering sites in Mexico
source - Monarch Joint Venture 
The Monarchs have taken a battering on all sides.  Harsh weather and habitat loss have led to record low numbers of these beautiful butterflies in North America. 

While we have no control over the weather, we can plant Milkweed in order to help the monarchs as much as possible! 

Milkweed is especially critical in the Great Plains regions.  With the rise of corn prices (due in part to the government mandate of adding ethanol to gasoline), millions of acres of grasslands have now been converted to Corn and Soybean farms.  

Furthermore, these large farms are switching to the new varieties that are genetically engineered to tolerate herbicides (such as Roundup Ready Corn).  The spraying of herbicides has eliminated the milkweed that used to sprout up in and around the crops - and thus eliminated much of the breeding ground for Monarchs.

Monarch laying eggs on Milkweed
So calling all North American gardeners - especially you all in the Great Plains region!

Let's do what we can to save the migration...

and hopefully not witness the end of an era.

Milkweed comes in a variety of colors, and there are Milkweeds for just about every type of garden, from dry to swampy.
Here are just a few online sources for Milkweed seeds and plants:

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

An Indian Garden

Well, here in my garden the snow has finally melted away and the sun has come out.  Even though we got a brief flurry yesterday, the overall temps are slowly rising, and the sight of bulb tips rising out of the ground is enough to give this winter-weary gardener a cause for celebration!

While I wait for temperatures to rise enough for gardening to begin in earnest, I thought I'd share pictures of a garden in southern India.  Last fall we visited Mr. Red House's grandparents in Bangalore, and his grandmother has a beautiful, lush garden filled with tropical plants.

There were many plants I couldn't identify, not being as familiar with tropical plants.  The impressive specimen that anchors the corner of the yard has now been identified as a Sago Palm (thanks to Linda from Southern Rural Route!)

an overhead view
The nearby flower stalks of Heleconia (thanks, Usha, for identifying these!) were very pretty and exotic.

In the shady front yard a vine with small white flowers climbs along the wall.  A bench under the mature tree in the corner is a nice place to sit and enjoy the cooler shade.  The focal point, though, is the striking decorative planter which holds a Holy Basil plant (thanks again, Usha, for correctly identifying that one!)

If you look closely, you can see patterns drawn in chalk on the cement around the planter, a practice common in India.

To the side of the house is a small courtyard is lined with crotons and flowering shrubs.

My favorite plant held sprays of small white, freckled flowers, that the butterflies enjoyed.

A larger shrub (possibly Ixora?) held bunches of interesting red and orange flowers.

They have several fruit trees, including a coconut palm tree.  On another occasion when we were in India, they had a guy climb it and throw down some coconuts for us to eat.  It was impressive to see the guy climb the tree - he climbed it so quickly and with no safety ropes of any kind!  The coconut milk and meat were delicious.

There were a variety of hibiscus shrubs in the garden.  (Those I recognized!)

My favorite was a graceful pale pink variety, whose flowers never open, but instead stay whirled around the center stalk.  (Thank you to Usha, who I should hire as my tropical plant expert, for identifying these as a Turk's cap variety!)

Mr. Red House's grandmother also had a similar one in red.

Right next to one of the doors grew a large Hibiscus mutabilis shrub, whose flowers only last for one day, but slowly change their color from white in the morning...

...to dark pink by the afternoon.

Many of the flowers they would cut in the mornings to float in bowls of water or to place in their prayer room.  However, even if they cut all of the flowers, the garden would still never be without color with the profusion of colorful foliage in it.

colorful Croton leaves
It was so much fun to visit a garden with such different plants than mine.  Bangalore is known as the 'Garden City' of India.  Many of the streets are lined with flowering trees, and it is so lush and green there, that it is easy to see why!

auto rickshaw turning into the driveway
Happy spring gardening!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

When a Good Plant Becomes Bad

Last fall we took a trip to Bandipur National Park in southern India.  My last post showed some of the wildlife I saw there, but, as a gardener, the trip was also a small treasure hunt to find and photograph some of the native flora.

I saw several Gloriosa lilies, growing wild in their native habitat.  

I think this is Thorny Nightshade.  Looks rather unfriendly, doesn't it?

Thorny Nightshade, aka. Solanum virginianum
I'm not sure what these little bell shaped flowers are called.  They remind me a little of petunias.

Mostly, though, I saw Lantana.  
and lots
of Lantana.

Lantana camara growing everywhere, including up onto trees.
Oh, I thought, Lantana must be native here!

It's from parts of Central and South America.  Lantana was only introduced into India in the early 1800's (as an ornamental shrub, of course).

Lantana camara
Even though butterflies love it, it is a huge detriment to other wildlife.  
It's leaves and flowers contain toxins that make it inedible to herbivores, and it also spread rapidly and chokes out the native plants, so there's less food for plant-eaters.

Lantana towering over the elephants at Bandipur National Park
 It's such a problem, that the decline of herbivores is also becoming a threat to the population of tigers and other carnivores in these protected wildlife and tiger reserves.

It's even hard for some of the large animals to make their way through the overgrown thickets of Lantana! 

Herd of elephants wading through the Lantana
Outside of the wildlife reserves, it's also affected people's livelihood, as Lantana takes over crop and pasture land.  Many of the efforts to get rid of it has failed.

Do you see the peacock hiding behind the Lantana?
Forest departments and other agencies are doing their best to manage this weed, uprooting it and planting native plants.  They are also researching ways to use Lantana, such as building furniture from it, in order to help the livelihood of the people in the local communities.  If life gives you lemons, try to make some lemonade, right?

But, really, after seeing the amount of Lantana, I feel bad for the forest agencies who are facing an uphill battle.

Lantana is growing up giant Bamboo mounds at Bandipur National Park.
I'll say this -
after seeing Lantana in India... 

'Chapel Hill Yellow' Lantana quietly growing in my old North Carolina garden.
Is it really making plans to escape?
I'll never look at it in a garden quite the same way again!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Where the Wild Things Are

Last autumn, we traveled to India to visit relatives in Bangalore.  While in the area, we were also able to visit Bandipur National Park, a large wildlife sanctuary and tiger reserve. Once the private hunting grounds for the Maharaja of Mysore, Bandipur now includes 337 sq. miles (874 sq km) of diverse terrain.  It is home to many different species of wildlife and protects several of India's endangered species.

bonnet macaque monkey
We saw lots of monkeys near the roads and near our hotel.  All too used to humans, an especially bold monkey would even approach to beg for food when we were eating.

a baby monkey snuggles into its mother to nurse
Herds of chital deer and wild boar also grazed nearby in the more open areas.

Chital deer
Wild boar
We then took a windowless bus into the Bandipur National Park, driven by one of the park rangers.  Following a dirt road deeper into the reserve, we were able to see some animals that were less tame..  

Gray langur
herd of Gaur, also known as Indian bison
Green Bee-Eater
herd of chital deer surrounded by old bamboo mounds
We saw quite a few peacocks with their gorgeous plumage.

Did you know that peacocks can fly for short distances?  I didn't, before I saw this:

peacock up in a tree
When we saw animals, the park ranger would stop the bus and turn off the ignition so that we wouldn't scare them and so that we could take pictures.  Of course we were all thrilled when we spotted a group of elephants.

Notice what the adult elephants are carefully guarding..

A baby elephant tried to come closer to see us.  The adults quickly pushed it back behind them.

Then an old matriarch elephant started out of the brush towards our bus.

One idiot in the back of the bus was busy taking pictures with the flash on.  'No flash!' hissed the park ranger.  I heard a click as he turned the key halfway in the ignition, ready to start the bus and hit the gas if the elephant decided to charge.

The elephant stopped about 10 feet away from the bus and stayed there, grazing on tufts of grass and keeping a very watchful eye.

I could barely breath at that point - I was sitting in a windowless bus 10 feet away from a colossal sized elephant... 
with my own 4-year-old daughter on my lap.

Thankfully, all she did was watch us.  After a while, the herd of elephants decided to move on, and we went our separate ways. 

I was actually quite glad we did not happen upon a tiger...

The encounter with the elephants was wild enough for me!

Photo props:
Mr. Red House and his father took many of these awesome photos, as I was often busy holding kids.
Great photos, guys!
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