Saturday, June 30, 2012

Where's my Mother?

Record breaking heat has descended on much of the U.S., including the Red House Garden.  At least, that's what I hear.  I am currently escaping the heat in Canada, on vacation here to attend a wedding.  I'm a little afraid of what I might find when I come back, even though the person feeding my cats has been watering some of the plants.  I'm worried for some of my newer plants - I hadn't counted on them trying to fend off 105 degree weather!

On a completely unrelated note, here is a picture of a baby blue jay.  It is much cuter than a picture of my frying garden, I'm sure, even if I had fried garden pictures available to share.

Blue Jay fledgling
We met this little feathery guy on our last round of travels in May.  The baby blue jay was sitting right outside a rest stop building for quite awhile.

It was looking around and squawking, most likely for its Mother. It let me get quite close to it before finally flying a short distance away, confirming its fledgling status.  (Sometimes baby blue birds will wander from the nest a couple days before they are able to fly.)

Is my Mother over there?
I do hope it found its Mother!

You're not my Mother!  Where is she?
And I do hope my garden isn't fried..

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Two Weeds or Two Wildflowers?

Since I did not grow up in this area and am a relatively new gardener, there is much I don't know about native North Carolina wildflowers.  Being a rather laid-back (i.e. lazy) gardener, I am quite willing to let interesting weeds grow in the hope that they are really wildflowers.

Sometimes this works out well for me.  Sometimes... well, there's no need to dwell on the carefully tended ragweed that Mr. Red House was so allergic to, is there..?

This summer, two interesting weeds have possibly developed themselves into full-fledged wildflowers.  The first left me quite puzzled for a while:

Getting excited.. what is this going to be?
Um.. is this some sort of alien flower?
What in the world are those sprout things sticking out of the top?!
Ahhh.. now I know what you are!
When the bloom finally opened up fully, I realized that it is indeed a wildflower of the Monarda family!

It is quite ironic that, while this chance Monarda that sprouted in between my daisies is quite healthy,  the three Monarda plants that I actually purchased this year are doing quite poorly and barely surviving.  Monardas spread quite quickly (or at least I thought they were supposed to, until I had trouble even growing my purchased plants); hopefully my wildflowers will not bully themselves back onto the weed list!

See those bright magenta purple Monarda blooms way up there in the tree?  Yeah, this plant is about 4 or 5 feet tall!
Can any of you fabulous gardeners identify what type of Monarda it is for me?  Monarda media, maybe?

The next wild flowering plant that has made its presence known in my garden is this pretty white flowering vine.

Definitely in the Morning Glory family, the bloom looks much like that of Wild Potato Vine, but the leaves are unusual.

I am hesitant to upgrade this plant to welcome wildflower status.  Many Morning Glories, such as Bindweeds, are notorious thugs and hard to eradicate.

So which should it be - Weed or Wildflower?  Can any of you more experienced gardeners identify this one for me?  It is pretty...

..but I don't want to encourage a 'wildflower' that is going to take over my backyard!

For more native wildflowers, check out Wildflower Wednesday over at Clay and Limestone!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Fox, Gray Fox

Recently we alerted the public to the fact that there is a serial killer on the loose here at the Red House Garden.  Fairly sure that this serial killer is from the Vole family, we have put out deterrents in the form of castor oil.  While this has slowed the number of plants that have fallen victim to this wily killer, maiming and injury has still occurred. 

Thus, Red House Garden authorities were rather excited when a singular individual showed up who might be able to help.

Meet Gray Fox.

Gray Fox
This individual startled all of us here at the Red House Garden by deciding to perch on top of the garden fence.  Fox was very shy, especially as most of the family was in the screened-in porch at the time,  but came in anyway to inspect the area.

I am a little worried, as Fox seemed to spend the most time looking near the bird feeders, even though our serial killer Vole has not been anywhere near that location...

Fox did not stay long, but hopefully this hunter will return in the evening to catch Vole in the act! (and hopefully leave those bird feeders alone...)

Facts about Gray Foxes:

- Foxes are mostly nocturnal, but they do sometimes come out in daylight hours as they hunt birds and squirrels which are out during the day.  In the spring, foxes might be more often seen in daylight, as they are hunting for food for their babies.

(Of course, if the foxes show signs of rabies, such as aggression, stumbling, or foaming at the mouth, call Animal Control.)

-  Gray foxes can climb trees.  They have been known to sleep or hide in hawk or owl nests.  They will even sometimes raise a litter high up in a hollow tree, though rarely.

- Along with small animals, gray foxes also eat fruit and nuts.

- The Gray Fox is the only native fox here in North Carolina.  (We now also have red foxes here, descended from European foxes that were brought over for hunting.)

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Creating Beds and Borders - Book Review

When you keep checking a book out from the library, you know you like it!  And that is the case that I find with the garden book Creating Beds and Borders.    

Creating Beds and Borders is actually a great collection of articles written by several different contributing authors for Fine Gardening magazine.  The authors talk about a wide variety of topics related to creating garden beds and borders, from how they design garden beds to what plants are good for difficult sites.

Six of the 16 different authors of this book
I love this book because I can reread it many times and keep learning new things.  It is a wealth of information!  This book was where I first read about no dig gardening methods ('Build a Bed without Breaking your Back' by Barbara Blossom Ashmun), which is a technique I much appreciate after all the pick-axing I have to do in my clay.

I also especially appreciated the article on how to create a long season of garden color here in the hot climate of the Southeast ('Designing a Warm-Climate Border' by Jimmy & Becky Stewart).

With the heat, perennials often have shorter bloom times here, even though we have a longer gardening season.  The authors supplement with many annuals, which they change out twice a year (warm-season and cool-season).  I don't think I could do that for much of my garden now, due to time/cost factors, but I do have a small area in the front garden where I do this.  The authors also give a great list of tried-and-true perennials that bloom for a long time in the South, as well as suggestions for some plants that are similar to Northern favorites but will take the heat better.

There are articles on shrubs, good edging plants, seed-starting techniques, garden design, and much more!  I will probably have to recheck this book out of the library several more times to absorb it all!

I do have to let you in on a secret, though.  One of my reasons I love this book has nothing to do with the articles, but with the fact that the pictures are beautifully realistic.  Several of the gardeners have gorgeous garden beds and borders that will hold your attention - but if you look closer, you will see that next to those beautiful flowers is a weedy lawn.   Just like mine!  Okay, maybe still better than mine, but still..  It makes these beautiful gardens seem attainable.  And that is truly inspiring for me.

To find more great gardening books, check out this month's book review over at Holley's site Roses and Other Gardening Joys.  Happy Gardening!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Variegated Weeping Redbud

Several weeks ago I posted about the new stone bench we got for my shade garden, and how I was searching for a plant for behind the seat to give the area some height.

The requirements were rather daunting - the plant had to be skinny enough to fit behind the bench, and it had to tolerate a fair amount of shade and some not-so great-draining clay soil.  Oh, and something with flowers would be preferred..

I spent awhile trying to find a plant that would work.  After blogging about this difficult corner some gardeners gave me some great suggestions to think about; however, soon afterwards we unexpectedly happened upon a plant that amazingly fit all the requirements for the site.

Meet our new variegated weeping Redbud tree - Cercis canadensis ‘Whitewater’:

Cercis canadensis 'Whitewater' behind garden bench
We found this unusual Redbud cultivar while perusing our local nursery, which was having a great sale on trees and shrubs.  Mr. Red House (who can never resist a tree) fell in love with it, and it happened to be perfect for this corner.  The 'Whitewater' Redbud tree grows to around 7 feet tall and only 3 feet wide, and, according to the nursery, can tolerate quite a bit of shade. 

variegated leaves of the 'Whitewater' Redbud tree
A recent cultivar of our native deciduous Redbud tree, the 'Whitewater' Redbud sends out white-splashed leaves that become greener as the summer progresses.  A bonus - like the common Eastern Redbud, this tree will sport magenta-rose colored flowers in early spring.  (I can't wait!)

Redbuds are known to tolerate clay soils quite well, though not necessarily heavy waterlogged ones.  The amount of compost I've incorporated into my shade bed should hopefully be sufficient - thankfully this site doesn't get truly sodden like some other parts of the garden!

I was pleasantly surprised to find out this this cultivar was locally developed right here at North Carolina State University by Dr. Dennis Werner.  I'm hoping that means that it will do exceptionally well in this area!

Of course now I need some medium height plants to bridge the height gap between the tree and the rest of the garden...and I'm going to have to move those hostas that don't really match well...

Is there any such thing as a completed garden?

Friday, June 15, 2012

June Summer Blooms

Summer might not officially start until the 20th, but here at the Red House the summer gardening season started several weeks ago. 

A closeup of the little Coral Lily (Lilium pumilum)
I admit, the garden has worn me down this month.  I feel like I haven't played in the garden this month so much as wrestled with it.

Deer, rabbits, raccoons and voles have all been working against me this year.
I suspect a conspiracy.

Most of the front garden has remained intact, thankfully.
And we won't even talk about the weeds, which have taken every opportunity that the early spring has afforded.

Scabiosa blooms
But, let's focus on the positive!   Even though I've been too busy to plant hardly any annuals, my garden has still had a fair amount of color thanks to some hard working perennials and bulbs.

Salvia guaranitica 'Black and Blue', which is a perennial here in zone 7b
Some 'Cancun' lily blooms that have survived the deer
Two of my favorite flowering shrubs have also been faithfully blooming - the beautiful variegated 'Santana' Butterfly Bush

'Santana' Butterfly Bush with an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
and the Hydrangea arborescens 'Incrediball'.

To my amazement, my little vegetable garden has turned into a jungle and has started to produce peppers, tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, and green beans.  

Note to self:  buy bigger tomato cages next year...
Here's hoping that the wildlife won't nibble away the rest of my garden!

To see what is blooming in other gardens around the world, visit Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day over at May Dreams Garden.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Why Did I Have to Get the Needy Birds?

Um.. we have a problem..

There's no water in here!

Why is there no water in here?

Yo, Red House lady, we need some water!

We're waiting...

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Jack the Nibbler

First off, I want to thank you all for coming to this press release.

I know in the past we have had several criminal incidents at the Red House Garden.  First we had a problem with the berries that were allegedly stolen by the American Robin gang and then the ongoing problem with nectar robbery, but we have never had criminal activity comparable to what is going on now.  Yes, everyone, we have a serial killer on the loose!

Victim #1 is a vine around 25 months old, often wearing small purple and white bells.
Identified as Clematis Pitcheri
Suspicious activity was first noticed this winter with the appearance of small, golf ball-sized holes in the ground.   Then we started seeing victims.

Another victim identified as Rosa Souvenir De La Malmaison
There have been several killings, as well as several missing bulb reports that we are looking into.  Several plants have survived the attacks and have just been wounded, however.

This victim is still in intensive care.  Authorities are still working to determine his identity, though appearances suggest he is from the Carex family.
We have noticed that this serial killer seems to be targeting victims on the fringes of the yard, next to wooded areas.  The modus operandi has been the same for each incident:  the killer tunnels under the ground and then, usually under the cover of night, strikes at the roots, biting them off and eating them. 

Another homicide victim:  Rosa Pat Austin
We do have a suspect in mind - we are pretty sure that this killer is from the Vole family.  So far this Vole has managed to elude authorities.  Since this Vole usually only comes out at night, there have been very few eye witnesses;  however, composite artists have managed to come up with a good likeness, with the help of Wikipedia:

Vole, alias Field Mouse - wanted for questioning in connection with several killings at Red House Garden
These are troubled times.  We are asking that the general public be on alert for suspicious behavior, especially unusual holes in the ground and plants, oftentimes expensive ones, that seem to be inexplicably looking unhealthy or dying.  Also alert the authorities if you find young trees that have been gnawed on near the base or girdled.

We shall now take questions from the press:

How can you be sure that this killer is not from the Mole family instead of a Vole?  Good question, since Moles also leave similar holes in the ground.  There is a Mole family in the area, but the killer does not come from there - Moles do not eat plant roots.  They eat worms, grubs, and nuts.

A mole has two types of tunnels:  shallow raised tunnels and deep tunnels, which often have a little mound of dirt near the entrance of them.  Neither raised tunnels nor mounds of dirt were found near the victims.

A raised tunnel right under the surface of the earth is from a Mole
Are you sure that this serial killer is male?  Perhaps it could be a female?  Actually, 'Jack the Nibbler' could in fact very well be 'Jacqueline the Nibbler'.   A female serial killer could lead to an even more serious problem - Voles are extremely prolific.  One pregnant Vole can theoretically result in over 100 more plant and tree killing Voles in under a year!  Ladies and Gentlemen, we could indeed see a hostile takeover of the Red House Garden by this Vole family before the year is out, unless action is taken.

Crime Scene - this plant has fallen over due to complete annihilation of its roots
What can we do?  How do we protect ourselves against this serial killer Vole?!  There are several options.  The most lethal involves putting mousetraps baited with apples or peanut butter under a flowerpot right near the tunnel entrance.  There are also different poisons you can use, though you have to be careful so that other animals don't get into the poison.  Or invite in a cat or other predator, such as an owl.  Mounting owl nest boxes will attract owls to your yard.

Authorities here at the Red Houose tend to be tenderhearted, so we do prefer the non-lethal means.  There are non-lethal traps, such as the Havahart ones, so that you can trap the Voles and release them far, far away.  You can also repel Voles with sprays or granules that contain Castor oil or Capsaicin, making the vegetation unpleasant tasting, and surround roots of plants with sharp gravel that Voles will not like to dig in.

Castor oil spray has worked well so far for the Red House Garden, though it needs to be reapplied after a lot of rain.
Voles are attracted to lots of mulch, brush piles, and other more natural areas that offer them protection from predators.  They also enjoy bird seed and fallen fruit that you might have in your garden.

Voles like mulched areas and areas under bird feeders. 
We're in trouble.
Once the voles have been repelled or taken from the area, it is a good idea to put a fence around the garden if possible, burying the fence about a foot down into the ground. 

Is there anyone who doesn't have to worry?  Are there any plants that the Vole will not target?  Daffodils are not in any danger, as they are poisonous and repelling to Voles.  Other plants that are not as likely to be victim to Voles are Goldenrod, Grape Hyacinth, Hellebores, Elephant Ears, Salvia, Siberian Irises, Mints, and plants in the Onion family. 

Though you never know with a killer such as this Vole.  This could spell big trouble.  We shall keep the public posted on any further developments.

Remembering the victims...
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