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Baneberry Garden Blog

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Actea rubra

A garden of mostly native plants created by a plant addict

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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Wildlife and Gardens
A garden is a place of diverse life.  Plants attract birds in several ways: by providing seeds or fruit to eat, by attracting insects for birds to eat (about 80% of their diet during the breeding season) or by creating habitat.  I have worked hard to ensure my garden does all three of these things. Most native plants have evolved to produce flowers or fruit at a time when symbiotic realationships with animals will result in their succesful pollination or seed dispersal.  I also have feeders and suet up for the birds as well as sources of fresh water to drink.  On most days from morning until night there is a lot of bird activity in the garden: Robins, finches, bluebirds, titmice, chickadees, nuthatches and woodpeckers to name a few. Besides working on the garden , one of my favorite things to do is sit and watch the bird activity at any given time.  One regular visitor is the Pileated woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus).  These magnificent birds often bring their young here to eat suet that hangs from the black walnut tree.  They have gotten so used to us that even when we sit on the front patio they still come to eat without fear.
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Other visitors to the garden often come while we are asleep.  The Northern flying squirrel is one of these. These wide eyed visitors arrive silently.  As a child I had a flying squirrel as a pet. When I was out one night looking at the stars I happened to see one climbing on the tree and was able to snap a picture.  The fact that all of these animals share this place with me gives me great joy that I am making a difference on my small piece of the Earth!
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Sunday, June 28, 2009

Water in the garden
Water should be an integral part of any garden no matter how large or small.  I inevitably find myself drawn to water features in both the public and private gardens that I visit. Many years ago when I still did landscape installations, I had a client who wanted a 30'x40' water garden on a hillside perched above a lakeshore.  It was a logistical and engineering nightmare, but when it was completed it was quite a site to see the 2 bodies of water from the house.

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In my own garden I am also near water: the lake that is a few hundred yards from the house is visible from the garden as is the brook that flows through the property.  I have 2 small preformed pools in the ground with water plants and a Kyoto style fountain on the front patio.  A few years ago a close friend of mine Greg, who is also a garden designer, helped me to install a small gravel terrace in the front yard that connected two garden beds.  It is oval shaped and desperately needed a focal point.  At a nursery I found a large container that I loved.  It was ceramic and I was hesistant to purchase it thinking of the zone 4 winter ahead.  Here in zone 4 we can have winter lows of -30F.  I was afraid it would crack.  I purchased it anyway thinking I would move it into the garage for the winter.  It worked spectacularly as a focal point with a waterlily and some duckweed (Lemna minor ) in it. Visitors to the garden are always drawn to this feature.  For the winter I simply empty the container, turn it upside down and after it has baked in the sun for a few days , I cover it with a weber grill cover for the winter.  It has remained unscathed by the cold for 5 years now and is well worth the effort for the pleasure it gives me everytime I see it.
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Saturday, June 27, 2009

Nom de jardin
I have gardened here for 15 years, but only intensively in the last 10 since we purchased the house. When we first moved here as renters I was taken by the mature woodland in the back of the property, the brook and the house, but less than thrilled with the wide open front yard and utter lack of plantings around the house. In exploring the wooded slope down to the brook behind the house I discovered huge colonies of some of my favorite woodland plants: Actea rubra Red Baneberry and a few plants of its cousin Actea pachypoda Dolls eyes.  I began transplanting some of the red baneberry into small beds around the house where it remains shaded most of the day.  As I began developing gardens in the front and side yards I encountered the dilemma of the Black Walnut tree Juglans nigra. Black walnut is an Allelopath:  It exudes a toxin juglone that kills many other plant species including tomato, rhodendron, and blueberry.  This being said it was a beautiful tree and perfectly shaded the south side of the house from the hot summer sun. It also leafed out later and dropped its leaves earlier than other trees providing more sun in spring and fall for the side and front of the house. I had grown up with a black walnut tree at my parents house and my mother had grown species such as Black cohosh Cimicifuga racemosa and Solomon's Seal Polygonatum commutatum with success.  I planted these species under the tree along with many others that will be the subject of a future post about the walnut-but I digress.  I rationalized that red baneberry is closely related to black cohosh, thus probably a safe bet under the tree.  It was.  It has since reseeded and filled in many gaps in the shady beds near the walnut.  I still take great delight in both its bottlebrush white spring blooms and its intensely red fruit that is eventually eaten by birds and chipmunks.  Baneberry was a good choice as a name for both the garden and this blog as it is one of the plant species that gives this unique garden site its character.
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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Of Deer and Deterrence

Deer are a fact of life here in Upstate NY.  From estimates of somewhere around 500,000 deer total in the U.S. around 1900, the population is now estimated at over 50 million.  We have only ourselves to blame for this problem:  We have created habitat favorable to deer (edge habitat and open areas) at the same time we have eliminated their natural predators: Wolves. This is what suburbia with its open lawns and many non-native plants has wrought: Sterile uninteresting landscapes that appeal only to hoofed browsers.

The reality of this to gardeners is all too apparent. Prized plants disappear overnight while other plants lose their tips just about to flower. Frustration can run high.  Most gardeners I know use spray repellents such as Hinder. I often use Milorganite around shrubs or herbaceous plants that deer favor. One of my friends in the central Adirondacks uses a local hunter to cull the deer herds and tells me that he gets great satisfaction out of a freezer full of venison that has been well fed on his vegetable gardens: "at least I get to eat my plants in a different form.


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Other strategies can work as well.  Deer do not have great eyesight. Camouflaging plants with other plants can often be a successful strategy. Bitter tasting or poisonous plants around "deer food" can work fairly well.  In the southwest corner of the garden is an Oakleaf Hydranges (Hydrangea quercifolia "Little Honey" ) This wonderful golden form of the Oakleaf Hydrangea is diminutive reaching only about 3'-4' if it isn't browsed to the ground by bambi. This one plant suffered year after year mostly in the winter when the deer use paths through our small woodland.  Last year I surrounded the plant with a white flowered form of Tansy (Tanacetum corymbosum. Tansy is of course poisonous and a potent insecticide. This year I took offshoots of Fragrant Sumac (Rhus aromatica)and planted them on the other side of the Hydrangea. The sumac, while not toxic, has a pungent aroma and is untroubled by deer in the garden.  When these new plantings mature my "Little Honey" should be fairly well protected from what many here call  Rats with Hooves.

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Monarda-one of probably many posts about this Genus
Monarda is one of my favorite Genera of plants.  I have numerous cultivars of Monarda and several different species including the 2 best known: Monarda didyma, bee balm or oswego tea and Monarda fistulosa, commonly known as Wild bergamot. Monarda is a mint, as evidenced by its strong smell when crushed.  This also helps make it fairly deer resistant.  In midsummer my garden is filled with the blooms of the various cultivars and species. Many creatures including hummingbirds are drawn to the blossoms. Among these is one of my favorite insects the Clearwing Humingbird moth, Hemaris thysbe. The hummingbird moth seems to prefer Monarda fistulosa over the didyma for reasons unknown to me. I surmise that is it the color of the Wildbergamot that it is attracted to.
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One species of beebalm or horsemint that I grow is unusual in that it flowers a full month or more earlier than the types described above.  Eastern horsemint, Monarda bradburiana begins flowering in May or June.  It is also much shorter than other species, topping out in my garden at between 12"-18".  It is nonetheless a great pleasure to have bee balm blooming in May or June and then again in July and August.

Monarda bradburiana
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Sunday, June 14, 2009

Pros and Cons of Gardening in Sand

As I mentioned in an earlier post I garden on the bottom of an ancient lake bed. Sand has it advantages.  Sharp drainage helps boost winter hardiness when gardening with some marginally hardy species. Even though I am located in USDA zone 4, I can grow many zone 5 plants. Sand is also incredibly easy to work in.  Digging and weeding are a breeze.  Planting is easy.  Sand also has its disadvantages: Even after days of rain, a few hours of sun can dry things right out.  Sharp drainage also means that nutrients are quickly leached out of the soil.  Microbial soil activity also tends to be lower in sand making initial establishment of plants a little more difficult. Having said all of that I would still prefer to garden on sand rather than clay.
 One species that does very well here is the native Hairy penstemon (Penstemon hirsutus).  A few plants that I bought about a decade ago from Randi at Toadshade wildflowers www.toadshade,com have thrived with little care.  It seeds itself about and every few years I gather up all of the stray seedlings and move them into a new area to increase the population within the garden. This has been a particularly good year for this species. Other species that prefer moist soil also do fairly well here:  I grow Lobelia X Ruby Slippers in a dry sandy area and it has thrived and bloomed for over 5 years now. I also grow Nodding Ladies tresses (Spiranthes cernua) with little difficulty. 

Penstemon hirsutus
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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Wildlife Musings
The intent of my garden, besides being my passion, has been to attract birds. Everywhere you look wildlife habitat is being destroyed by thoughtless development that bulldozes native plant populations and often replaces them with invasives like Norway Maple (Acer platanoides) or burning bush (Euonymus alata). I intentionally plant things to attract specific birds, mammals and insects. Spicebush , for example (Lindera benzoin) is a larval host plant of the Spicebush swallowtail butterfly. It has the added attraction of providing fruit for the birds later in the season. All of this brings me to the vibrant Chipmunk (Tamias striatus) population residing in the garden this year.  Typically chipmunks chew my tropicals and annuals in pots, often chewing off flower buds just because they can.  This year I have a secret weapon, a chipmunk named Hamlet. Hamlet became tame last summer and then disappeared.  I surmised that he had been the victim of a fox, cat or the busy road in front of the house.  About a month ago, right after completing a new front entry patio, I was sitting outside and a familiar face appeared. Hamlet was back and wanted to be fed.  I feed him on a gravel terrace a few feet from the new patio.  He jumps up on a bench and gets his seed and I pet him. This year he decided that the patio was also a place for him to spend time.  He "patrols" the patio and keeps other chipmunks from entering the area, thus keeping my potted plant safe from nawing and nibbling. It is a very fair arrangement and one I hope continues throughout the growing season.
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Sunday, June 7, 2009

The gift of orange flowers
Cloudy and overcast here in the Southern Adirondacks. I spent some time today in the garden both working and sitting.  In the vegetable garden most things have only been in the ground for a few weeks and after an early memorial day (the typical barometer of when things are frost free here) and fear of frost, things are now growing happily.

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In the garden blooming this week is the atlantic or Moroccan poppy (Papaver atlanticum)  This poppy species is indigenous to the Atlas mountains of Morocco.  I am a big fan of orange in the garden.  There are few species of temperate plants with orange flowers.  One that I have and love  is Asclepias tuberosa , a milkweed called butterfly weed. Butterfly weed will not bloom for at least another month. Most other orange flowers are tropicals that I buy from places like Logee's or annuals like Zinnia or Dahlia.

The Moroccan poppy is listed as Zone 5 hardy.  Here in zone 4 the key to growing this plant is the glacial sand that I garden on.  Excellent drainage can often help push the limits of hardiness and the fact that this area of New York State was once an ancient inland body of water known by geologists as Lake Albany makes that task easier.  Gardening on an old Lake bed has its advantages!   Moroccan poppy reseeds in the garden and can also be propagated vegetatively by division. The plants bloom heavily in spring and early summer and then intermittently the rest of the summer. 
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5:20 pm est

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Almost summer
Today is the first posting on my blog.  In thinking about setting up a blog I was hesitant to add yet something else to do to my already overextended schedule of things I do that don't make money for me.  But the addition of a new sitting area right outside my front door changed my mind.  Most of my time spent in my garden is done from a working vantage point. This has changed now that I have an area to really sit and look at the garden.  For the rest of the growing season I hope to share my observations on the plants and animals that are my garden as well as other musings on plants and life. Having said that more posts will follow.  Thanks for visiting and please come back
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