Nurture, Respect, Learn, Educate, Always Grow!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Wildflower Wednesday~Carolina Jessamine

Yellow is such a beautiful color in the garden. One of my favorite yellows is our native evergreen vine, Carolina Jessamine. It can be found in abandoned fields and climbing in the canopies of our pine forests.

Southern Meadows

It is a pretty adaptable plant and does well in our clay soil. The great thing about this vine is that it can twine up trellises and over fences and walls but also makes a dense ground cover. I use it both ways in our garden.

Southern Meadows

The masses of fragrant flowers bloom in April in my garden and the tiger swallowtails love it. It was chosen as the state flower of our next door neighbor, South Carolina, because "it is indigenous to every nook and cranny of the State. It is the first premonitor of coming Spring; its fragrance greets us first in the woodland and its delicate flower suggests the pureness of gold; and its perpetual return out of the dead of winter suggests the lesson of constancy in, loyalty to, and patriotism in the service of the State" (S.C. General Assembly document).

Southern Meadows

All parts of this plant are poisonous which keeps the deer and other animals from munching on it. The primary pollinators are bumble bees, Eastern tiger swallowtail butterflies, European honey bees, blue orchard bees and blueberry bees (source: University of Georgia).

This is a wonderful native to add to any zone 6 and higher garden. Is it growing in your garden?

To see more beautiful wildflowers be sure to head over to Clay and Limestone and enjoy!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

April Blooms in the Woodland Garden

The garden has really started to come alive the past few weeks. Not that it was completely dormant, but we do seem to be a few weeks behind the usually time frame. We have been anxious to see what survived our fierce winter and what perished. So far, things are looking pretty promising. But then again, we have another hard freeze warning tonight.

Southern Meadows
narrow view of woodland garden
Spring is the most exciting time in the woodland gardens at Southern Meadows and everyday there is someone new poking their head through the soil.

Southern Meadows

The Redbud trees are at the tail end of bloom time but our tree was spectacular, putting out more blooms than ever. We found this little guy two years ago while clearing part of the back garden. It was a very happy day.

Southern Meadows

The dogwood trees are still going strong. We have several varieties including Cherokee Brave which has a white center that fades to lovely deep pink bracts.

Southern Meadows

Lower to the ground the ferns and hosta are saying hello. They all appear in their own sweet time, some are out faster than others.

Some of my favorite combinations are variegated Solomon's Seal and Foam Flower. Unfortunately, I found it impossible to get a good photo of them together; so here they are separately.

Southern Meadows

Southern Meadows

I noticed the nodding trillium just yesterday. They are easily missed because their blooms hang down below the drooping leaves. This also makes them challenging to photograph. Stooping down in the leaf litter with one's camera is something every gardener does, right?!

Southern Meadows

The Celandine poppies are starting to put out one bloom at a time. One of our plants hasn't come up yet and I am thinking critters may be the culprits. These should spread in nicely in the woodland garden over time. I think they would look lovely paired with Virginia bluebells that I want to add.

Southern Meadows

I just love walking by the sweet shrubs because their blooms have the most heavenly, sweet scent. I describe it as pineapple sprinkled with orange. The shrubs were growing on the property when we moved here. On a whim, I purchased a sweet shrub at a plant sale last year and interestingly that one has a much spicier aroma and not a hint of citrus.

Southern Meadows

An adorable little plant that is tougher than it looks is the Shooting Star (Dodecatheon meadia). It starting blooming very late March to early April and lasts about a month. I shot this photo at the beginning of its bloom time just before it fully opened. The petals reflex upwards displaying a pointed yellowish tube with white and brown accents. Queen bumblebees are the most common pollinators to visit these flowers, but miner bees and green metallic bees will also visit. I read that they obtain the pollen through buzz pollination which is the rapid vibration of the bees thoracic muscles. This is another flower that offers no nectar reward so the bees are simply collecting pollen.

Southern Meadows

There has been lots of bird activity this month. The bluebirds have been actively visiting several nesting boxes and it looks like they have finally decided to set up in this box in the rose garden. Don't they make a beautiful couple~

Southern Meadows

The chickadees also showed an interested in this box but they decided on a box near the kitchen garden. I peeked in this morning and saw Mrs. Chickadee. One click of the camera from a precarious position and she was off.

Southern Meadows

I don't really like disturbing them during nesting time but I had to take a look to see what was happening  Isn't it a beautiful nest; filled with moss, dryer lint and some strands of dog hair...nice and soft!

Southern Meadows

How is your spring garden coming along? Is it slow to start or right on schedule? Be sure to check out what everyone has to share this month at May Dreams Gardens. Thank you Carol for being such a wonderful host!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

A Woodland Wildflower for Early Spring

Alas, we have officially made it to spring! This winter was one of the longest and coldest in recent history here in the southeast. Although I have reveled in the quiet landscape of the winter and enjoyed our two snowfalls, I am very ready for the garden to warm up and come to life again. We've had some gorgeous, sunny, spring days teasing us of things to come; followed, by cold fronts suggesting that old man winter doesn't want to wave good-bye just yet, despite what the calendar says. Regardless, the birds have begun their serenading rituals, the frogs are calling for mates and the spring blooms are beginning to appear.

One of my favorite spring flowers that shows up in our woodland garden is bloodroot. At first look, the name bloodroot seems inappropriate for such a beautiful, snow-white flower but it gets its name from the red-orange sap found in its roots and stem. If you cut open the stem the sap will bleed out and stain everything it touches. Native Americans used it as a dye for baskets and clothing, decorating weapons and when mixed with fat, as war paint (hence the name Indian paint).

Southern Meadows

You can't miss these bright blooms as they begin to peak out of the leaf litter. Their large petals and colorful anthers attract small bees and flies. But the bloom is a trickster. It doesn't actually contain any nectar so while the bees and flies desperately search for sugar they inadvertently transfer pollen but in the end they don't get a reward for all their effort. You think they would learn! Often bloodroot is out before bees are even around so like many ephemerals, they can self pollinate by ejecting pollen from their sacs in an attempt to hit the stigma of another plant. Its a little like my boys with their slingshots; but, the more practice they have presumably the better they get.

Southern Meadows

Once the bees and flies are done with the blooms the ants take over. Through a symbiotic relationship referred to as myrmecochory (myrmeco: "ants" and -chory: "dispersal") the ants collect the seeds which have a fleshy organ called elaiosome. The ants take the mature seeds to their nest and eat the elaiosome and put the remaining seeds in their nest debris where it stays protected until germination time. Now, isn't that cool!

Southern Meadows

Bloodroot is just getting established in my garden. And, it does have its challenges ahead. If the deer don't feed on them in early spring my dogs are sure to step on them when they are racing through the woodland garden. Training them to stay on the paths has not been easy.

What is your favorite bloom that says spring has arrived?

I am joining Gail over at Clay and Limestone for Wildflower Wednesday. Do jump over there and take a look at more beautiful posts that celebrate our wonderful wildflowers.

Also, be sure to check out my friend Beth's write up on bloodroot. She has more gorgeous photos and information at Plant Postings.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Another Helping Bella

One of the most beneficial and valuable gifts
 we can give to ourselves in this life,
 is allowing ourselves to be surprised.

A few weeks ago we were graced with a visitor on our back deck. Thirsty, skinny and desperate for companionship this puppy stood by our back door for an entire afternoon and well into the evening. Our dogs smudged noses with the puppy between the glass door and the puppy scratched to be let in. I was really hoping she would go back to her home but late that night she was still here.

Hi! Can I come in please?
I made her a comfortable bed in the garage and vowed to search for her owner in the morning. We took her to the vet to see if she had a micro chip and have her looked at. No micro chip to be found and other than being skinny (you could count her ribs with your fingers) she was fine. I proceeded to contact all the area vets, the Humane Societies in all the surrounding counties, Facebook, Craigslist, local grocery stores and post offices and left her photo and information. Do you know what kind of response we got?...

NONE. How disheartening! This sweet puppy was not wanted. My thought was that if I had a dog missing I would be searching high and low for him/her. So, after a week and a half, and no one claimed her we decided to keep her in our home. mean I can stay?!
After all, she gets along great with Sasha and Biscuit. She is still learning her place in the pack but that is normal stuff. 

Bella and Sasha

Bella and Biscuit

She plays beautifully with the kids too. And, is incredibly affectionate and oh so sweet!

We had her fully vetted and addressed some tummy trouble which the vet has sorted out now with special (read: expensive) dog food and some antibiotics. The vet estimates she is about 6 months old and boy does she have some big paws on her! 

She has fast become a member of our family.

Yippee! Kickin' my paws up to find new friends!
I never thought we would be owners of three [big] dogs but life is full of surprises and sometimes we just need to embrace the gifts that are put before us! Now, I just need to teach her not to eat the plants, dig in my pots or make holes in the ground...

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Counting Birds

In the spirit of the Great Backyard Bird Count, a citizen-science project sponsored by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, I thought I would take you on a birds' tour of our garden.

Our resident red-shouldered hawk can usually be seen perched in one of the many trees around the garden. He blends into the winter landscape really well.

red-shouldered hawk

Somehow the song birds instinctively know that he much prefers a rodent over them because when he is hanging about the garden the birds are still very active at the nearby feeders.

red-shouldered hawk

I find woodpeckers much easier to spot in the winter when the trees are bare. There are several we see regularly including the red-bellied, red-headed, downy, yellow-bellied sapsucker, and Pileated.

red-bellied woodpecker

red bellied woodpecker

Of course that doesn't mean they are easier to photograph. Woodpeckers are constantly moving up and down or around tree trunks, tapping for insects or sap.

The Pileated woodpecker makes a very distinct tapping sound but is notoriously difficult to get in photos. The bird (or the photographer) is always on the wrong side of the tree.

Pileated woodpecker

The yellow-bellied sapsuckers are another migratory bird that are very active during the winter months in our garden. We usually see them perched on the side of trees drilling their signature rows of holes around the trunk to lap up sap with their brush tipped tongue.

yellow-bellied sapsucker (male)

yellow-bellied sapsucker (male)

They will also visit suet feeders and have a cache in trees like this male who was retrieving some black sunflowers seeds.

yellow-bellied sapsucker with seed

Another of our winter visitors is the hermit thrush. Typically we see them hopping around in the leaf litter searching for insects but they have visited the feeders often during our chilling temperatures. The snow, ice and sleet we got this week made it extra challenging for these birds to get food. Ground foragers can't scratch through the ice layer so I was sure to scatter seeds.

hermit thrush in snow

hermit thrush

White-throated sparrows are also temporary residents, winter through spring, when they migrate northward for breeding.

white-throated sparrow

white-throated sparrow in snow

The pine warblers are bright patches of bright yellow in an otherwise pretty monochromatic landscape. They look a little out of place in all the snow. But these little birds have been a ray of sunshine on our gloomy winter days.

pine warbler in winter

pine warbler

This weekend (February  14-17) is the Great Backyard Bird Count. It is super EASY to participate. All you have to do is...
1) Register at Great Backyard Bird Count website.
2) Count the birds you see for 15 minutes (or longer) on one or more days. Make your best estimate on the number of each species.
3) Enter your list(s) online at Enter a new checklist for each day, location, or same day/location but different time.

Make your best estimate on the number of each species you see. Here is a grouping of cardinals at the edge of our woodland garden which I shot yesterday during our snow storm. How many do you see?

Cardinals in winter landscape

The GBBC website has bird lists by zip code or National Park/Forest, an online bird guide and tricky bird ID helps. There is even a photo contest for those who are interested in submitting their images.

Why is it important to participate? Well, this project collects data on our dynamic bird populations. The data helps scientists get a big picture look at the distribution and movements of bird populations around the world. It looks at how weather can change or influence these populations, changes in population numbers, changes in migration patterns, bird diseases affecting populations in certain areas, and differences in diversity in rural, natural and suburban areas.

But, most of importantly it is FUN!

Monday, January 20, 2014

A Special Monarch Butterfly

Butterflies are intriguing insects and we support many species of butterflies in our garden by providing host and nectar plants. This past year we saw record numbers of certain species such as the Variegated and Gulf Fritillaries but very low numbers in others such as the Monarch where we only spotted one all season.  Just a few miles down the road my friend, Penny had lots of Monarchs in her garden. What a difference a few miles can make!

Monarch butterfly laying eggs on milkweed

Penny spent a lot of time studying the Monarchs in her garden. She watched the monarchs lay eggs, caterpillars grow from one instar to the next but when they crawled off to form their chrysalis she never could find them. Since she wanted to observe the entire life cycle she decided to grab a few fat caterpillars when she saw them crawling away from the milkweed and put them in her habitat cage. She was then able to watch up close how it formed its chrysalis and also see it eclose from the chrysalis 8 to 12 days later. The following two photos are hers that she took of the monarch in action.

Monarch emerging from chrysalis
©Penny Stowe
When a butterfly reaches maturity it emerges from the chrysalis and uses its legs to pull itself out and cling to the empty shell so that its crumpled wings can hang down.  It pumps its wings slowly up and down to force fluid (hemolymph) into the wings. The butterfly then stretches its wings out to dry. The butterfly has about an hour to do this otherwise the wings will dry in their folded position and will be permanently deformed.

Monarch pumping its wings with fluid
©Penny Stowe

Have you ever found a butterfly with deformed wings in your garden? There are several reasons this can occur. It could be that the butterfly falls to the ground while its wings are wet and they become damaged. Sometimes butterflies don't have enough room to fully spread their wings during this critical time or the butterfly may have a defect which prevents the wings from opening properly. Crinkled wings is one of the signs of O.E. (Ophryocystis elektroscirrha), a protozoan parasite that infects Monarchs all over the world. I wrote a post about this last year, O.E. and Monarch Conservation. You can read it here.

Monarch with crinkled (deformed) wings

What would you do if you found a butterfly that had deformed wings? Well, my friend, Penny found a special Monarch in her garden and being the kind soul that she is she brought him inside. She knew that he wouldn't survive on his own. Without the ability to fly properly, and since it was early December and the temperatures were dropping, his hours were numbered.

She feed him diluted honey water from a petri dish. Sometimes she used a paperclip to unfurl his proboscis to help the drinking process along.

feeding monarch with deformed wings

The day I visited, he ate heartily. Notice his feet resting in the liquid in the photo above...butterflies have sensory organs on their feet and this would indicate to him that this honey solution was something tasty to eat. In the photo below you can see his proboscis is unfurled and he is drinking.

Monarch drinking honey water solution

Penny kept him in a temperature controlled patio where he could rest comfortably. He would flap his wings to get around and crawl on the floor. He had a favorite corner he would go to and let the sun shine down on him through the floor to ceiling windows. Penny's pet monarch lived for a good 6 weeks but then his time had come. Thanks to Penny's tender heart and devotion he had a great life considering his circumstances. In addition it was an enthralling learning experience and I am so glad that she was able to share it with me.