Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Frogs and Blogs and Ruby Slippers
4:17 pm est
Its been a busy fall and while the consulting work will be winding down in a few weeks, the teaching started last week,
so I've been busy working on syllabus' and student questions. This has not left me a lot of time for blogging
been seeing quite a few frogs lately. Small green ones in the garden, Wood frogs in the back yard and this fellow who
has been in one of the small garden pools all summer
I always worry that the frogs will not leave the pools in time for winter and seek deeper water. Most years they do,
but sometimes they are fooled by periods of warm weather in the fall and I find them in the spring. I am also glad to see
frogs as they are indicators of environmental health. I know some of the people on my road use pesticides to have unnaturally
healthy lawns even though we are dependent upon well water. The frogs presence tell me that overall the health of my garden
and property is fairly good
The garden still has lots of plants blooming (mostly composites) and I still have at least one hummingbird hanging
around even though the feeder was taken down last week. She is frequently by the Salvia coccinea and I have
seen her by the Lobelia 'Ruby slippers' which has been blooming now for an amazing 6+ weeks. I hope she heads
south soon, but I hope Ruby Slippers keeps going for just a while longer. There are not many plants with either this
color or that bloom for so long especially in the autumn garden.
Ruby Slippers is one of the very best Lobelias in terms of longevity. Lobelia cardinalis tends to be short
lived, but Ruby slippers has Lobelia siphilitica as a parent and has inherited the longevity of this plant.
This plant has been in my garden for 5 years now and receives little if any supplemental watering in what is a very dry spot.
In an autumn world of yellows and blues, red is always a welcome color!
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Of Pigeons and Pokeberries
10:40 am est
Once, the Passenger pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius) was the most numerous bird in both the world and America.
It was estimated by ornithologists that there were about 4 billion of these birds comprising 40% of the worlds bird population
at the time. Accounts from this era tell of the sky being dark for 2 or 3 days at a time when flocks migrated. Through
loss of habitat and utter decimation from overhunting they are gone forever. The last Passenger Pigeon, Martha, died alone
at the Cincinnati Zoo at about 1:00 pm on September 1, 1914, bringing to a close the story of this incredible species.
Which brings me to the pokeberry
A stuffed passenger pigeon
The American Pokeberry or Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) is found from Oregon south to California along to
the gulf coast and in most of the northeast. It is rarely found in the Dakotas, Nevada and Montana. For many years I
admired this plant, while it was despised as a weed by the nursery trade. It is now finally getting some respect as
one of our native plants. Poke grows from 3'-12' tall and flowers in mid to late summer. Give it sun with adequate
moisture or shade for drier areas. The berries and stems on this plant are amazing reddish purple in color and very ornamental.
If you like birds many species including members of the thrush family: robins and bluebirds will come to feed on the berries.
One of the older common names for Pokeweed was pigeonberry as this plant was the favored food of the now extinct passenger
pigeon. In Colonial America the juice from the berries was used in a scam to color poor quality wine and sell it as fine vintage.
The whole plant is poisonous and this is the same plant used in the Southern U.S. as a potherb known as Poke sallet.
To make the poke edible the greens are boiled with several changes of water to render it less toxic. The redder the stems,
the more toxicity. The science how ever suggests that contact with the sap can cause changes at the cellular level and
lead to cancer with repeated exposure-I think I will keep admiring it as an ornamental. Despite all of this poke is most welcome
in my garden, although I do grow sad thinking of the loss of another bird species at the hands of man.
Friday, September 11, 2009
Feed Fixes and Garden trips
12:11 pm est
I haven't posted for about a week because I was having a problem with my RSS feed link on working on
Blotanical. Following Stuart's suggestions I changed my RSS feed with feedburner and hopefully my posts will now appear
on the picks page. Last week I went on a roadtrip with my friend Greg (Wild Ginger Blog) to the Berkshire Botanical
Gardens and White Flower Farm. The Botanic garden is always fun to visit and I have been there many times and teach
there each fall. I had never been to White Flower Farm in Litchfield, CT. It was a beautiful site and I wanted
to see the long border designed by Fergus Garrett of Great Dixter. Some pics follow
The Sales area
The Long Border
Nice vignette in the border
Some cool containers
Greg adding scale and perspective to one of the smaller borders
While it is worth a visit to see the gardens at White Flower, the help there is less than friendly
and not very "help" ful which is too bad. I guess this is because the majority of their business is probably
mail order and dealing with pesky customers in person is not their thing. All in all it was a fun day. Hat tip
to Greg for driving!
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
Why deer are bad for bird populations
4:37 pm est
Looking out of one of the back windows in the house the other day I noticed that there was a fawn in the backyard. I snapped
a quick pic through the window (hence the poor quality of this photo)
Around the year 1900 it was estimated that there were probably about 500,000-700,000 deer in the entire United States.
That was when many families in rural areas still relied on hunting for food and many top predators still existed before being
hunted to near extinction. The estimate for today's deer population is somewhere between 35-50 Million. Deer are
literally eating ecosystems to death wiping out understory plants and young trees that would eventually become the mature
forest. This has a great impact on other organisms.
A ten year experiment by the U.S forest service found that
at 20 deer per square mile birds such as indigo buntings, warblers and flycatchers disappear. At 38 deer per square mile birds
such as robins, phoebes, grouse and woodcock disappear.
So whenever I see bambi I think of what would happen
to bird populations that rely on my woodland and garden for habitat and I reach for the bottle of liquid fence. If I
allow this cute, cuddly looking creature to remain here I will lose much of the diversity I have sought to create here by
gardening and adding native plants back into the large landscape. We have already sacrificed far too much habitat to our own
diversions as a species and we are just as responsible for the overpopulation of deer by creating open edge habitat that they
prefer. Even though I love animals, I have no problem with deer hunting and I will gladly put some venison in my freezer,
especially if the deer it came from was well fed on my garden plants.
“I have watched the
face of many a newly wolfless mountain and seen the south facing slopes wrinkle with a maze of new deer trails. I have
seen every edible bush and seedling browsed, first to anaemic desuetude, and then to death. I have seen every edible
tree defoliated to the height of a saddlehorn. Such a mountain looks as if someone had given God a pair of pruning shears
and forbidden him all other exercise. In the end the starved bones of the hoped for deer herd, dead of its own too-much,
bleach with the bones of the dead sage or molder under the high lined junipers”