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Baneberry Garden Blog

Actea rubra

A garden of mostly native plants created by a plant addict

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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Frogs and Blogs and Ruby Slippers

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

I've 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

frog1.JPGI 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.

lob1.JPGRuby 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. 

lob2.JPG In an autumn world of yellows and blues, red is always a welcome color!

4:17 pm est

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Of Pigeons and Pokeberries

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.





10:40 am est

Friday, September 11, 2009

Feed Fixes and Garden trips

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 areaP1000495.JPG

 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!

12:11 pm est

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Why deer are bad for bird populations

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
-Aldo Leopold


4:37 pm est

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