Saturday, December 23, 2017

Christmas Wishes

Here near Boston, freezing rain is turning roads and runways into sheets of ice, a problem for travelers.  We are eagerly waiting for family that is flying in from another part of the country, now unfortunately delayed.  The weather looks hopeful, though, with sleet giving way to rain later today, and rising temperatures anticipated to thaw out the ice.  Speaking of weather and hope, our forecast is calling for Christmas morning snow.  How lovely would that be?

I wish you and your loved ones safe travels this holiday season, a very merry Christmas, and a New Year full of hope and peace!

Thursday, December 14, 2017

The Easiest Winter Containers

Does it seem like this time of year gets busier and busier every year?  Maybe it's the age my kids are now, but life keeps getting busier and free time is getting harder to find.  We haven't decorated as much for the holidays this year, but I did make time to hang a wreath on the door and decorate my two whiskey barrel containers for winter.

easy winter container
The last couple of years I've streamlined the process, and it takes me less than an hour to get my two winter containers all done (minus acquiring any store-bought material).  First I gather my materials.  A local nursery sells a big bunch of mixed greens for a good price, so I get one of those to combine with white pine that I clip from our yard.

I used to spray paint branches to put in my winter containers.  Then I found out about curly ting.  This stuff can be found in any arts and crafts store, it's cheap, it comes in all sorts of colors, and it adds SPARKLE! This year I used red ting and gold curly ting.

curly ting
Last but not least, I threw a few ornaments on some wire floral picks for some more added SPARKLE - though thankfully I could reuse most of them from the previous year, making things that much easier.  I attach the ornaments onto the wire, and then push the green pick part into the dirt in my container to secure the ornaments.  (You could just as easily use something else to attach ornaments in a container, but I happen to already have floral picks.)

floral picks
Assembly was quick and easy!  I pulled out the dead or dying summer/fall stuff that I had in the containers and loosened the soil.  I stuck the branches of greens in the dirt, working from large branches to the smaller stuff.  Then I added the curly ting and ornaments.

Viola!  If I had had more time, I might have added some ribbon or something else, but I was pretty happy with this.  Some people will then water their arrangements, but I was lazy fortunate and could wait for the next day's rain.  Then when temperatures dropped, everything froze in place for the winter.

Now my yard looks ready for Christmas, and I'll have pretty containers that will last throughout the winter.  As we know, the winter season up here in the North is quite long, thus it's very, very important to put together pretty winter containers that one can enjoy for the next several months.  

Or... maybe I should start on my indoor decorations...

Happy decorating!

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

New Garden Visitors

It's always exciting to see new birds at the feeder.  This year I was lucky enough to have three varieties that I had rarely even seen before here in the garden!

male Rose-breasted Grosbeak
I had only seen a Rose-breasted Grosbeak once before this year, stopping by the bird feeder one autumn on its way down to Central or South America for the winter.  This beautiful fellow, however, spent all summer here this year.

A female Rose-breasted Grosbeak also frequented my bird-feeder this summer, so I assume they were nesting nearby.

female Rose-breasted Grosbeak
I didn't spot any babies, but young Grosbeaks look so much like their mother that it is often hard to tell the difference.

In September, I had another new visitor to my bird-feeder: a Baltimore Oriole.  I believe this was a female, though immature males oftentimes look similar.  Isn't she gorgeous?

Baltimore Oriole
Orioles have always lived and nested nearby, but I rarely see them down from the tree tops.  My previous attempts to tempt them with jelly and fruit all failed, and this is the first time one has ever checked out my bird-feeder... 

...though since I never saw her there again, it might also have been the last.  I might try the jelly feeder again sometime, as they are such stunning birds.

The last new visitor to the garden stopped by my porch one rainy October day.

Eastern Phoebe
Probably sheltering from the rain, this Eastern Phoebe hung out here for a bit.  Even though I knew they were in the area, I had never seen one in my garden before.  It didn't go for the bird-feeder, but it did find something it liked!

Eastern Phoebes aren't known for visiting feeders, but they often nest near humans, building their nests under eaves or porches.  Maybe I'll spot more next summer?

It was so great to see some new feathered friends in the garden this year.  Here's hoping that some of them come back!

As always, happy gardening.
And for those of you in the States,
may you and your families have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Monday, October 30, 2017

Still Open for Business

While today's big storm is bringing about cooler temperatures (just in time for some frigid trick-or-treating, of course!), for most of October it has been warm and beautiful here.  We have yet to get our first frost.

the front garden, a couple weeks ago
Due to the lack of frost, many pollinators are still out and about.  This late in the season, they will take any sources of food they can get - and, of course, the Red House Garden is still open for business.

Hello?  Any food in here?
My favorite perennial available for pollinators in October is my Willowleaf Sunflower, which gets bigger and better every year.  The blooms are sadly now over, but for much of October it was bee-utiful.

Willowleaf Sunflower
Bees go crazy for native Asters, and I am so glad that the groundhogs and bunnies finally let mine get taller than nubs this year.  Some are still in bloom in the garden.

bee on Aster laevis 'Bluebird'
The Montauk Daisies are also still blooming, though looking a little more ragged by now.

Montauk Daisies
The plant that impressed me most this year, however, was the Sheffield Mums.

Sheffield Mums in the greenhouse garden
Every time a big rainstorm comes, they look like they are out for the count, but they just pop right back up again.  Pollinators love them, and the only wildlife that bothers them is the occasional Cucumber Beetle.

"I get knocked down, but I get up again.  You are never gonna keep me down..."
Along with the late-blooming perennials, my annuals are indispensable to the fall buffet. Self-seeding Cosmos, Nicotiana, and Sweet Alyssum pop up every year in my garden and keep going until frost (or even through light ones, as in the case of the Sweet Alyssum.)

Cosmos 'Picotee'
I might actually have to buy more Cosmos seed for next year, as I didn't get as many this year.  The Verbena bonariensis, on the other hand, outdid itself, coming up everywhere and attracting hordes of butterflies to the garden.

Painted Lady butterfly on Verbena bonariensis
Like many other people around the country, I saw an explosion of Painted Ladies in the garden this year.  It was such a good year for these butterflies that a huge mass of migrating Painted Lady butterflies stretching 100 miles wide over Denver, Colorado, was recently caught on radar!  The befuddled meteorologists had to turn to social media for help to figure out what was going on.

Painted Lady butterfly on Verbena bonariensis
I've also been ecstatic to see so many Monarchs in the garden this year, after years of such dangerously low populations.  Unusually warm temperatures coupled with strong headwinds have resulted in the latest migration ever recorded, and I spotted Monarchs in my garden just a couple days ago.  I do hope they can fly down south in time to hibernate before the cold weather hits!

Monarch butterfly on Verbena bonariensis
The weather is turning colder, and I am sure it will be freezing before we know it.  Until then, we stay open for dining, and all bees, butterflies, and other pollinators are welcome!  Happy gardening as always,

and, for the little guys, bon appétit!

Sunday, October 8, 2017

When It's Not Poop

A friend recently gave me a Dictamnus plant out of her garden.  Right on top was a very interesting stowaway.

What looked like a giant bird dropping on a leaf was no dropping at all...

It is actually the caterpillar of a  Giant Swallowtail Butterfly - one we don't commonly see this far north!  It uses its disguise of bird poop to avoid getting eaten by predators.

Giant Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillar
It's not the only one that masquerades as a turd for extra protection. Several different types of Swallowtail caterpillars look somewhat like bird droppings in their early phases.

Black Swallowtail caterpillar
Similarly, I don't think any predator would find the appearance of this Hover Fly larvae appetizing...

Hover Fly larvae - ugly in appearance, but very beneficial as it eats aphids
Along these lines, I noticed a new visitor to my veggie garden this year that I called the 'poop bug' until I finally looked up its true name.

It is really called the Clavate Tortoise Beetle.  I can see why it is called that, as the dark markings really do look kind of like a miniature tortoise - but I still think it looks even more like bird poop.

Clavate Tortoise Beetle (aka Poop Bug)
These beetles like plants in the nightshade family, including tomatoes, but thankfully don't usually do a lot of damage.

I think it's really awesome how nature uses camouflage to protect caterpillars and other critters from predators.  As interesting as it is, though, I think I'm ready to see some wildlife that doesn't look like poop.

Ah, much better!
Happy gardening (and critter watching)!

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

A Berry Strange Mystery

I've previously posted about my Winterberry Holly bushes that I have on either side of my front porch.  One of the reasons I love them is that they loose their leaves in fall, leaving their branches covered only in bright red berries.  It is a spectacular sight.

The display of berries lingers into winter, often past Christmas, until the local birds discover them and feast.

My bushes are usually completely loaded with berries.  This year was no exception - until a couple of weeks ago when my Holly branches started looking much barer than normal...

For some mysterious reason, many of the berries had gone missing!

I'm not quite sure where all of my berries could have gone.

Any ideas?

Friday, September 15, 2017

Not All Liatrises Are Created Equal

You know those lists that you see of plants that are great for pollinators and plants that attract butterflies and so on?  Liatris is one plant I always see on those lists.  I also read somewhere that they were absolutely irresistible to Monarch Butterflies, thus I decided to plant some in the garden.

I purchased a bunch of corms (bulbs) of both the purple and white varieties of the native Liatris spicata, a.k.a. Dense Blazing Star or Gayfeather, which is the Liatris that nurseries most commonly sell.  I planted them in the garden, sat back, and waited for their blooms to attract butterflies and other pollinators in droves.

I was disappointed.

Other than the occasional bee, they seemed to attract pretty much nada.  Maybe I just had too many fabulous other plants blooming at the same time (in all fairness, they had to compete with the Coneflowers and Milkweed), but this Liatris definitely was not living up to its list-making reputation.

a lone bee on Liatris spicata
So were all those lists lying about how much butterflies love Liatris?   I did a little research and realized that when people were talking about Liatris and Monarch butterflies, specifically, they usually mentioned Liatris ligulistylis, a.k.a. Meadow Blazing Star or Rocky Mountain Blazing Star, not the type I had planted.  This Liatris was a little harder to find, but I just had to get some.  Last year I found and ordered some online, and this year they bloomed for the first time.

Monarch butterflies on Liatris ligulistylis
That was more like it.

All of the Monarchs that flew into my garden were drawn to this plant.  It was true - this Liatris is a magnet for Monarch butterflies!

Other pollinators enjoyed it, too...

bee on Liatris ligulistylis
It makes me wonder why this variety of Liatris is not more commonly found.  Maybe people just like the look of the more commonly sold Liatris spicata better?  (It is often used in the cut-flower industry.)  My new Liatris ligulistylis does look a little more awkward with its more unevenly-spaced flowers.  It can also grow quite tall - mine are mostly around 5 feet.  I've found that many people are somewhat wary of growing tall flowers, and the common L. spicata is usually only around 3 or 4 feet tall, shorter and easier to fit into smaller gardens.

Liatris ligulistylis
It is a good thing I love tall flowers in my garden - one of my L. ligulistylis even grew to an impressive seven feet tall!  Even more impressively, it didn't need to be staked until a couple of severe rainstorms finally wore it down and caused it to lean sideways.  (Of course, that might just be a sign of the poorness of my soil - these plants do have a reputation for leaning in richer or moister soils.)

Liatris ligulistylis, with its 'blazing star' type flowers
Liatris ligulistylis blooms in late summer, a little later than L. spicata.  It likes full sun and medium-wet to medium-dry soil, but it also tolerates poor soil, light shade, and drought when established.  It is native to central North America and hardy in zones 3-8.

Liatris seed
Now in fall, the blooms on my L. ligulistylis are starting to fade.  However, the steady stream of visitors to this plant still continues, as the Goldfinches have now discovered the ripening seeds.

Goldfinch on Liatris ligulistylis
I have to say that, at least in my garden, not all Liatrises seem to be created equal.  

Monarch butterfly on Liatris ligulistylis
I think you can tell which one I like better.

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