Friday, March 30, 2007

Scilla (Siberian squill)

From Wikipedia- "Siberian squill (Scilla siberica), also known as the wood squill or spring beauty, is a small perennial plant native to Siberia." The blue is gorgeous and even if the plant is small the flowers stand out because of the startling color. A real treat in Spring.

Tiny wildflowers - weeds? and moss picture

There are these tiny wildflowers growing between the curb and sidewalk. The flowers have been blooming since fall so I'm quite amazed that it's still blooming now. Each flower is probably only about the size of a peppercorn or smaller. The plant forms a rosette and sends up a slender flower stalk. Small but very tough so it probably must be some kind of weed. Our neighbor's lawn service liberally applies herbicides but it doesn't faze this tenacious plant.

I took a picture of this moss that has flowers? on a red stalk. I believe it's the same moss as the one I previously posted but the stalk on that one wasn't as red but probably the same variety.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

A potpurri of plants

Just some pictures of plants and flowers.

I was amazed that the moss I had seen earlier now formed some fruiting bodies. I thought we pretty much had only one kind of moss in the yard, the ones that form a nice green velvet pinchusion but apparently not so. One pictured has formed spiky hair like growth above the leaves, at least I think they're called leaves.

The Magnolia stellata is just starting to bloom these are the very first flowers to open. One got a little frost burn.

The Pieris japonicas are also almost in full bloom. I wasn't aware that they are in the same family (Ericaceae) as the blueberry and Enkianthus campanulatus which we bought last fall and hope will bloom this year. When you look closely the flowers of the Pieris they do resemble the flowers of the blueberry.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Macro photo info

I would like to take better macro photos so I was looking for macro photos on the net and I stumbled upon this website with incredible photos of insects. Apparently the author used an old regular 50mm single lens reflex camera lens turned it backwards and could take wonderful photos with is old Canon G3 and G4 digital cameras. I haven't quite figured out what equipment he used but I think it was a macro coupler ring or two clear filters glued together to provide two male threads in opposite directions so you can attach one end to the camera filter fitting (for most cameras you would have to buy an additional coupler that fits your digital camera if there's one available) and the other end to attach to the 50mm lens. It's easier to understand if you take a look at the website. Here it is.

I tried just handholding a 50mm lens from my old SLR Pentax camera up to the lens of my digital camera and took a picture of the bug you see in the photos. I need to work on the focusing but you can clearly see that this might work. And the magnification is huge. This was a very tiny bug about the size of a rice grain. I could see that it had different colors but not the chevrons or patterning with my naked eye. The penny indicates how small it actually is. So I'm off on another quest.

Rurality suggested a great website which has much better instructions on how to do point and shoot camera macro photography than the one I suggested above and also an article on DSLR macro photography. The site is called The How Zone and it has wonderful how to information on all sorts of things like how to attract birds and butterflies to your yard, how to make a lighting softbox, how to make ginger beer etc. As Cheech said, checkit out!

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Stinkbug again

When the weather warmed up briefly a few weeks ago the Brown Marmorated Stinkbugs Halyomorpha halys I wrote about in the Fall appeared to be crawling out of the small tv we have in the bedroom and out of crevices, nooks and crannies. I caught a total of four and mailed them to the Rutgers University Agricultural Experiment Station Cooperative Extension. If you see any of these bugs please let them know as this may become a major pest. They have an e form on the website so it's quick and easy.

What's marmorated? "Variegated like marble".

I got some better photos of them this time. As always click on the photo to see an enlargement.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Liar, Liar!

Our snowdrops and hellebores made a liar out of me. I was bemoaning the fact that the snowdrops we planted two springs ago did not bloom and that this year looked to be a bust too. But 4 plants managed to survive and up poked their dainty flowers to quake in the breeze.

I also thought the hellebore flowers were all killed by the 2 week cold spell we had about a month ago. The flower buds were appearing but seem to all die and the leaves turned brown and flopped to the ground. Well now that it's warming up, up popped these hellebore flowers. I believe these are H. niger or Christmas rose so why is it blooming now? Hey we'll take anything at this point. Don't look a gift horse in the mouth, eh.

Favorite Crocus (as if you couldn't tell) and photo experiment

This is our favorite crocus. The flowers are edged in a very light lavender giving the blooms an ethereal fragile quality. I did an experiment using two different cameras to see which captured the colors better. The first four are from a Nikon and the last two from a Panasonic. I think the Panasonic is truer in color but the differences are subtle. The Nikon makes the purple look too blue. The picture of the buds was taken early yesterday morning and the other three of the Nikon pictures only about a half an hour later. It doesn't take very much sunlight to get them to open.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Partial order of Ramps arrived!

The Ramp bulbs and seeds arrived this Thursday. I guess the Ramps themselves are not fully grown to be picked yet. Should arrive by next week I hope. Looks like rain for most of the weekend so I'll wait 'til the ground dries up a bit. It's a sodden mess right now as our clay does not soak up the moisture readily and we have water ponding in the low spots.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Look what came by UPS yesterday, Osmanthus x Burkwoodii

The wonderful UPS man brought a surprise package yesterday. I was expecting the Medlar tree but when I opened the box it turned out to be an Osmanthus shrub. I thought the box was too small to contain a tree but I don't remember ordering the Osmanthus, in fact I have a folder on my computer desktop which I thought contained information about Osmanthuses sp? as a reminder to order one in Spring but I guess it was an order confirmation all this time! The mind is going to pot quickly.

Well in any case what a pleasant surprise. I read on the Gardenweb forums for NJ garderners, several people extolling the virtues of their Osmanthus shrubs mainly that the fragrance was heavenly or the smell intoxicating. Unfortunately most of the Osmanthus growers live in zone 7 or warmer as the plants are usually hardy only to zone 7. I did some digging around and found that the O. x Burkwoodii was listed to be hardy to zone 6 although I later found that some books list it as a zone 7 plant. The magic words zone 6 cinched it. So I must have placed the order as soon as I had that information at hand.

Osmanthus x Burkwoodii, syn. O. x Osmarea Burkwoodii is named after the famous Burkwood brothers, the early 1900's plant developers in England. It is a hybrid cross of the rare O. decorus from the Caucasus and O. delvayi from China. The evergreen plants belong to the olive family. Apparently some people consider Osmanthus with its prized fragrance to be the sweetest and most attractive of all flowers. Supposedly the fragrance is "reminiscent of jasmine or gardenia". Scent of jasmine and gardenia-that doubly cinched it for me.

My two feet tall plant has a couple of small flower buds! I can't wait for the blossoms to open. You can see one in the detail photo.

I bought the shrub from Heronswood Nursery in Pennsylvania although it was shipped from Delaware. The price was right at only $10.95 but the shipping was $7.00. Still a bargain in my opinion. And apparently O. x Burkwoodii is the least fussy of the Osmanthus to grow. I recently ordered a Daphne from Park Seed Nursery so it will be interesting to compare the scents of these two fragrant shrubs.

A meme, an invite from the County Clerk to participate!

The County clerk on his blog Lake County has started a meme with the theme of "5 Crazy Things You've ACTUALLY Done That Only Gardening Addict Would Understand (or admit to)."

Not being internet worldly, I didn't know what a meme was so I looked it up on Wikipedia which was not enlightening. I also looked up screaming memes because I thought it referred to something kids do to be heard yelling me, me. This is what I found on the site: "Screaming Meme
Memetics, after "genetics" and "même" (French for "memory"--the mistaken pronunciation "Me! Me!" is appropriate but apparently coincidental), is a term coined by Richard Dawkins in his book The Selfish Gene, describing the flow, transfer, or spread of ideas as a process of generation based on the "highjacking" of higher organisms in a process similar to viral self-replication. Any idea, phrase, thought, or trope can be viewed as a meme; those that spread, that has implicit in their paradigm the ability and need to spread, are the most "evolutionarily" successful. Memes compete against one another in a Darwinian struggle for replication; spreading quickly or eliminating competitors help a meme to survice. Examples of memes might include evangelical Christianity, the Roman alphabet, the English language, or "Eleanor Rigby" by the Beatles.

The idea has been seized upon by a number of science fiction (notably Samuel R. Delany and, later, a number of the cyberpunks, notably Bruce Sterling) & avant-garde (notably but not exclusively William S. Burroughs) writers. Memetics has also received considerable attention on the Internet, which itself can be viewed as an example of a meme. In fact, the theory of the meme can itself be viewed as a meme (and it is proving to be a fairly succesful one).

To quote a .sig I've seen on alt.memetics:

I didn't know what a meme was, so I asked five friends. They didn't know what a meme was, so they asked five friends..."

But the Clerk gave the best simple explanation: "1. write a post on THIS blog
2. leave a comment and link on mine
3. tag 5 more people
These things go around the world."

Clear and concise.

If you would like to participate go to the County Clerk's website to add your list of 5. Please no more than 5 entries. And here's the theme again: "5 Crazy Things You've ACTUALLY Done That Only Gardening Addict Would Understand (or admit to)."

Then write about this meme in your own blog so others may participate if they wish to. This should be fun.

Monday, March 19, 2007

An amazing sight

Just this afternoon, I heard a thump on the side of the house, a bang on one of the front windows then a dark shape flying past the window. I first thought it was a couple of snowballs that some kids were throwing but when I looked out the window, a Sharp-shinned hawk was sitting in the road. I thought it had flown into the window as some birds do and was stunned. At first I didn't see that it had something black under it but when I looked more closely I saw it caught a blackbird. I could see red epaulettes so it was a red-winged blackbird. I got my camera with 17x zoom but when I opened the door to my amazement the hawk took off carrying the blackbird. As soon as that happened another hawk that I didn't see further in the neighbor's yard across the street flew off after the other one - probably its mate. I couldn't believe that the small hawk could carry a bird more than half its size. Unfortunately no pictures.

I had to look it up in my Birds of North America book. The Red-winged blackbird is 7.5-9.5 inches in length and weighs 2.3 ounces. The Sharp-shinned hawk measures 10-14 inches in length and weighs 3.6 ounces. So it's flying with 2/3 again its total weight. Pretty impressive.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Time of the year for Ramps (wild leeks) again.

I just placed my order for Ramps or wild leeks Allium triccocum from the Ramp farm. I read a blog a few weeks ago that Ontario Canada had banned the collection of ramps in the wild because of overharvesting. At least that's my recollection of the article. Ramps in the U.S. are also becoming endangered because of overharvesting and Smoky Mountain National park has banned the harvesting of ramps. I don't know if the Ramp Farm cultivates ramps instead of collecting from the wild but I hope so and that's the impression I got from the website.

My curiosity was piqued last year by a NY Times article on ramps. I almost missed the season and sent in my check for a pound of ramps just in time in the last week of April. A pound of ramps arrived and we immediately ate 3/4 of it, keeping 1/4 of the smaller plants with roots so I could plant them. Some of the planted ramps actually grew and one even flowered. I took a peek earlier last week and I can see about 3 plants poking through the ground. At least I hope that's what they are and not some other kind of bulb we've managed to plant all around the yard.

The ramps were absolutely delicious. We just cleaned the leeks, removed the roots, cut them in 2-3" pieces, leaves and all and sauteed them in butter. I haven't tasted anything better in the onion family. If you are a meat eater the addition of bacon would be a great complement. A leek and potato soup would probably be better using ramps instead of the cultivated leek Allium porrum.

So I placed my order early this year. Bought a pound of ramps, some seeds and an order of bulbs. We'll eat the ramps now, plant the bulbs for ramps next year and the seeds for two years hence. That's the plan anyway to have a unique and tasty plant to eat without having them go extinct. The only troublesome thing is that they like a woodland setting and filtered light so I'll have to find a shady, moist place in the yard. Maybe I can sneak them in the overgrown area of the nearby park, way back in the brambles.

I had to dig up my old photo from last year as my order has not arrived yet. And the picture of the ramp flower is from my planting last fall. The leaves around the ramp flower are of the wild ginger Asarum canadense and are not ramp leaves.

Here's a great site for the cultivation of ramps from Purdue University.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

What a difference a day makes!

Well maybe more like a day and a half. We got socked here in central NJ by 3-4 inches of granular sleet which formed a rock hard crust. The poor crocuses and hyacinth are in extremis.

Don't look back: Something may be gaining on you.*

*Satchel Paige.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Medlars Mesplius germanica

Many years ago we visited The Cloisters, which house the Metropolitan Museum of Art's collection of art and architecture from medieval Europe. There's a courtyard garden there with lovely small trees. We asked one of the gardeners what they were and he replied 'quinces'.

When we moved to our present home from a townhouse, we finally had enough room to plant trees. I immediately thought of the 'quince' the gardener mentioned. After looking through several catalogs, I decided to buy the biggest fruited and leaved plant of Cydonia oblonga the quince. They didn't quite look like the trees at the Cloisters but I was hoping it was only because of the way the photos were taken. Well wishing or hoping doesn't make it so. Here's a nice picture of a quince.

The quince was absolutely not the tree at the Cloisters. Further, even if the description of the plants in the catalog said they were pest free, that was absolutely not the case. Aphids attacked the early tender leaves and powdery mildew stunted the tree.

A couple of months ago while searching for other trees on online nurseries, I spotted a tree that looked like the ones at the Cloister. Medlar. Mespilus germanica. I excitedly did a Google image search and was even more convinced that this was indeed the long sought after tree. My suspicions were confirmed by a post a few weeks ago on the Gardenweb forums when someone posted that they had a brochure about the courtyard garden of The Cloisters, mentioning the Medlar trees planted there. Aha! Apparently most people plant the tree for its fruit and it's sold as such, the fruit which then has to be bletted-fruit picked and left to ripen until soft and sort of fermented. Another fruit that needs to be bletted is the persimmon which would be too astringent to eat otherwise. Many people were so disappointed with the fruit that they wanted to get rid of the tree. Interesting that they don't look at the tree as an ornamental, a way it is obviously used at The Cloisters. To the credit of the gardener at the Cloisters, the Medlar is related to the quince. He may have been confused by the quince-like look of the tree.

I immediately ordered one from Edible Landscaping and I am eagerly awaiting its delivery in April. Raintree Nursery also has them but I bought from Edible Landscaping because they are closer to me, shipping from Virginia instead of the West coast. Raintree does have more varieties though. Finally the long search is over.

Here's a photo of some primroses waiting to be planted that we picked up very cheaply at a supermarket . We usually buy primroses to add some color in the house. A couple of years ago when they stopped blooming, we thought, what the heck why don't we plant them outside, maybe it will bloom again before the winter. Well they didn't bloom again and we thought the plants were dead when winter arrived but in spring we were greeted with colorful flowers once again. So now we enjoy the flowers in the house and again outside in spring. The plants originally planted about 3 years ago are still alive. These are just the common primroses sold everywhere in the spring.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Damn *#%@?~% !!!!! Rogue Deer

I didn't mind too much when a young deer kept knocking over our sunflower seed 25 lb. container, exposing the seeds to rain. The squirrels and birds seemed to eat most of it anyway but destroying our Japanese maple Villa Taranto is more than I can take.

I was just livid when I saw the destruction. Grrr! The deer took off all the branches! Not a single one remains and it topped the tree as a final insult. I don't know if the tree will survive after such a drastic pruning but Japanese maples are tough so I hope it will recover.

I don't know what I'll do to keep this deer out of our yard. I've used a hot pepper spray in past years but the deer then seemed to graze on easily replaceable plants like tulips and sometimes a bit of bark and new growth of the service berries. They usually came to eat the birdfood and left the greenery intact or just nibbled a few choice things. Not a wholesale destruction of a tree. The problem is that I don't know what it will eat next. And spraying the whole yard is too much work especially when I have to respray after it rains. I heard that bloodmeal works as a deterrent so maybe I'll try that as I need to fertilize the plants anyway.

Two pictures are of the destruction and another of what the tree should look like.

On a happier note, here are a couple of me too photos of croci that just came up a couple of days ago.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Right in my backyard!

I wrote about beeches a little while ago. I was walking around the yard to see what was coming up and I came upon a little tree we planted 3 years ago with leaves still attached. Head slap. I had completely forgotten that the nursery woman said it may be some kind of beech. It didn't have an ID tag on it when we bought it so we didn't know what it was. But, it has the same gray trunk though darker than the Fagus grandifolia or americana and the same characteristic retaining of leaves all through winter. All the time I was wishing we had a beech - we already had one! Actually we now have two as we planted a copper beech Fagus sylvatica pendula purpurea which was leafless when we bought it in a plant sale late in the fall.

The leaves are darker tan almost a light sienna in color and round in shape. I looked it up in my botanical book and it's most likely a Fagus sylvatica, the common or European beech with a subheading of rotundifolia descriptive of the round leaves. The books says it has strong upright growth but the tree remains stunted and has grown only 2 or 3 feet in the years we've had it in ground. I wonder if this is a dwarf form? I was attracted to the tree by the small round leaves which are only 1 to 2 inches in diameter at most and the compact form. I wonder why it's so easy to overlook something in front of your nose. I need to be more observant.
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Location: Zone 6, New Jersey, United States

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