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Actea rubra

A garden of mostly native plants created by a plant addict

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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Stalks and Birds
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Now that the snow is here and appears ready to stay, the birds have returned to the garden in large numbers to take advantage of both feeders and the seeds in the garden. I noticed lots of bird activity in my vegetable garden this morning.  As I mentioned in earlier posts I do not cut down garden plants at the end of the season, but wait until spring for lots of reasons: winter interest, IPM, and bird activity. This morning it was the Juncos (Junco hyemalis) foraging for seeds from the remnants of Salvia "Lady in Red", Nigella sp., Rudbeckia triloba,Monarda fistulosa and the many other plant stalks with seeds in the garden.  Juncos are secretive most of the summer , but make their presence noticed in the late fall when flocks of them appear throughout the garden.  Sometimes they visit the feeders, but most often forage through the garden beds looking for seed.

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Once one species of bird has found food, others will follow.  In this case the Mourning Doves (Zenaida macroura) showed up. The Mourning Doves here in our garden are quite gentle and not at all aggressive as I have seen them be in other locales.   They seldom fight with other birds and are too heavy to feed in the squirrel proof feeders.

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Besides the seeds from the garden plants, Juncos feed on the seeds of Ragweed (Ambrosia), Violets (Viola), Smartweed (Polygonum) and Goosefoot (Chenopodium).  This is why leaving a wild area of your property where grasses and herbaceous plants can grow will attract yet more bird visitors in the off season. Birds are one of the aspects of winter that I enjoy most (besides the solitude) and I know that they will visit my garden all winter to feed on last seasons plants.
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Sunday, December 6, 2009

First Snow of the Season
Fairly late in the season, but finally here.  No other commentary needed


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Friday, December 4, 2009

Plants as a Basis for Design
Most gardeners have by now heard the term Plant Driven Design. Plant driven design is merely selecting plants that are suited for your site conditions. New gardeners who pick plants that will not survive site conditions are usually discouraged and feel that gardening is much more complex than it has to be. This initial failure often deters would be gardeners, which is too bad because gardeners make the world a better place to live.  I have been teaching a course on the science and art of plant driven or eco design for the last month at the Berkshire Botanical Garden in Massachusetts.  The basic idea is to look at plant associations and communities in natural landscapes and apply the principles to garden design. If you have clay soil don't select plants that require sharp drainage and so on and so forth.

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Over the Thanksgiving holiday I was in Sin City (Las Vegas).  I am always fascinated by garden compositions in other areas of the country and the world. For the most part plant selection was pretty good:drought and heat tolerant plants in many places. In other places however many plants required irrigation because they were unsuitable for the desert climate. One plant I saw used as a hedge in several places was the Australian brush cherry (Syzygium paniculatum), this is a plant of the subtropical rainforest and requires adequate moisture year round. Perhaps the most abysmal waste of water was for turfgrass. The Hotel I stayed at not only had large expanses of turgrass that required irrigation, but also had sprinkler heads that watered the sidewalks and patios, wasting large amounts of water. "Lake Mead, which supplies a stretch of the Colorado River that snakes through northern Arizona, could run dry in a decade or so, if current water use rates persist. Each year, the study found, the lake loses enough water for 8 million people"(Newsweek, 2008). Waste combined with global climate change makes it more important than ever that even in areas with adequate water we conserve wherever possible.  The Colorado river now runs dry before it reaches Mexico. If the American southwest becomes drier (Lack of both rain and winter snowfall) then there is less runoff to feed rivers and reservoirs and people.

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I was happy to see one species of plant in Vegas even though it is not native: Olive trees (Olea europa). The Olive which evolved in the hot dry climate of the Mediterranean is suited to the hot dry desert and doesn't require tons of water. Unfortunately this picture doesn't show the turfgrass growing underneath the canopy of the Olives. Plant driven design will have to become the norm, rather than the exception if people are going to try to live in inhospitable areas. I have my doubts whether places like Vegas will survive when the spigot runs dry, but using nature as a model now makes a lot of sense, rather than waiting until calamity strikes.
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