Nurture, Respect, Learn, Educate, Always Grow!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Webs of Morning Dew

The fog is thick this morning. The birds are just rising, their song bringing life to the day. Dew lays gently across the fields glistening in the first light. A fleeting glance around the pastures reveal that the orb spiders were busy during the night weaving glorious webs.


In the dense fog it is hard to make out all the silk spun webs but they are everywhere. It is astounding how many there are.  Hanging between the openings of the barbed wire fences, among the blades of tall meadow grass, between the limbs of the trees. All waiting to snag an unsuspecting insect.

 
The webs hold onto the night's dew droplets mimicking grand crystal chandeliers.


Some droplets so heavy they rip the fine threads as they fall almost like rain.


The bead-like chains are nature's masterpiece and a sweet reward for being an early riser.


As the sun rises higher and begins to evaporate the dew, the webs seem to disappear almost as quickly as they were revealed. Time for some more coffee.


Monday, March 30, 2015

Portrait of a Buckeye

Hands down one of the most captivating shrubs to watch unfurl in spring is the buckeye. From the big fat terminal bud to complete leaf out followed by bloom time, it is fascinating to watch.

In early spring the bud breaks open and slowly the contents begins to emerge.


The leaves gently cradle the bloom as a mother would her newborn.


Then ever so gracefully the leaves release the blossom and stretch themselves out.


As they gradually pull away, they spread far and wide.


The new leaves take in the sun and bring a new energy to the plant.


The blooms of the Red Buckeye stand upright waiting for the arrival of the ruby-throated hummingbirds while the Painted Buckeye calls out to the early bees and butterflies.


We have two varieties of buckeye growing in our garden, Painted Buckeye (Aesculus sylvatica) which is native to our area in the Georgia Piedmont and Red Buckeye (Aesculus pavia) which is native to the upper and lower coastal plain. Both varieties feel most at home at the edge of our beech/oak woods and in a clearing where they receive dappled sunlight. Here they grow alongside devil's walking stick, sumac, and elderberry shrubs.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Seasonal Celebrations: Firsts

That. First day that feels like Spring. You know the one. The feeling is in the air. The cool morning turns into a glorious sunny day that warms your face. The first day that you peal your layers off when you are working in the garden. The one were the birds are singing as loud as they can way up high in the canopy announcing their arrival. Yes. That one.

bluebird (male)
Eastern bluebird (male)

Sometimes that day arrives in north Georgia as early as February but typically it's an early March day. I'm embracing that day. The first tingling of spring.

view into our garden

The 'Okame' cherry trees are always anxious to get the spring party started. They typically explode into color around Valentine's Day but all too often Old Man Winter will quash their efforts. And yet, they still try. When they succeed the honey bees and the finches are very happy. You can read more about my experience watching birds eating their blossoms here.This year their opening was pushed back to early March (almost a month later than normal) due to some crazy winter weather. In fact, I'm amazed that they have blooms at all. Most of them must have been tight enough when the ice covered them a few weeks ago.

Okame cherry tree
Okame Cherry tree

I'm going to be rejoicing all the firsts of this spring season because after this long, wet, cold winter it is time to celebrate the new season with verve. I'm joining Donna at Gardens Eye View for Seasonal Celebration. Won't you come along?

One of my favorite things about spring is seeing the new blossoms bud and then burst open on the trees painting the landscape in soft pastels. The orchard trees usually always follow the cherry trees in their bloom time. This year they are blooming in synchronicity giving pollinators a choice of nectar as they emerge from their winter abode.

honey bee on plum bloom
honey bee on plum bloom

If you'd like to see more on the orchard go to my post A Chorus of Pollinators in the Orchard.

A favorite activity is walking through the woods to find all the early emerging spring blossoms that poke up through the leaf litter and shine on the woodland floor. I have tried to recreate this look in our woodland garden by adding many native ephemerals.

bloodroot
bloodroot

Golden ragwort
Golden ragwort

trillium
Trillium
Sometimes nature does all the work on her own. It is a thrill to find native plants in our woods without any help from us.

Catesby's Trillium
Catesby's Trillium

The coral honeysuckle is about to burst into bloom. Just in time for the arrival of the first ruby-throated hummingbirds. We usually see the first hummers in late March. If you live in the Lower 48 or southern Canada you can report your first sighting at hummingbirds.net.

coral honeysuckle
Coral honeysuckle

It's not just the blooms that are fun to watch but who will be the first to leaf out? The elderberry shrubs seem to have beat everyone to it this year.

elderberry leafing out
American elderberry

You can learn to be a plant observer and report your findings at a citizen science project called Project BudBurst. This is a great way to help in their research.

There is something special about celebrating firsts. They stick in your memory and in your heart. How will you celebrate your first spring day? I hope it is out in the garden.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

A Chorus of Pollinators in the Orchard

Despite the blasts of winter last week the blossoms on the plum trees in our orchard burst into bloom this weekend. Mother Nature couldn't have scheduled the sunshine, blue skies and 70 degree temperatures better.


I absolutely adore these blossoms. They just make me happy. And, as I stood admiring their pure white blooms against the clear blue sky the symphony of buzzing began. The riotous concerto could be heard from across the garden. What a joy to see my beloved pollinators again after their long winter slumber.


I first noticed the honey bees as they were most numerous. They actively flew from one blossom to the next. Going in for a quick landing and take off. They never hovered for long. So many blooms to visit.


Despite their hurried efforts their pollen sacks were getting fat. They were very industrious as if they were making up for lost time. Maybe they were just as giddy as I was for the glorious spring day.


Other pollinators ventured out to join the festivities too. A few wasps came to inspect the blooms and drink the sweet nectar as well as various flies.

Red paper wasp

Tachnid fly

Hoverfly
There was even a very tiny spider crawling around the blooms in a maize-like fashion. Perhaps searching for some lunch.


There was much merriment. Bees doing their waggle and hum, flies bustling and the vivacious wasps gracefully gliding from flower to flower. It was a busy place in the orchard today. And I think I can say with certainty that the pollinators and I are all the more happy for it.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Lessons Learned: Winter

Do you have plants in waiting? I do. Plants are irresistible to me. I just can't pass them up especially when I see a good deal or find a plant that is on my wish list. In late fall/early winter, right before the nurseries close for the season, there are some good buys and I found myself coming home with a car full of plants. I thought there would be plenty of time to get them in the ground before the first cold spell hit. But then, boom! the arctic air arrived earlier than expected and I put off planting.  I told myself that I'd get to them the next week when it warmed up again. But the days got shorter and life got busy. The holidays were fast approaching. I got distracted getting the house ready for family and friends to visit. Planning the holiday menu. Doing crafty things with the kids. And no planting happened. All of a sudden the new year was here and those now very sad looking plants were still sitting there. Waiting. Ever so patiently. Finally there was a warm, sunny day in January and I was really ready to give those plants a home in our garden. Then I checked the forecast and we were expecting freezing temperatures the upcoming week and I knew I was kidding myself. Planting wasn't going to happen.


Now here we are in March (already!) with a wagon full of plants, a collection of shrubs and trees sitting in containers lining the garage floor. These plants often forgot to be watered. Occasionally were taken out on a warmish day for some sunshine.  Did they survive the neglect and all that sitting and waiting? Where they really such a good buy if they don't survive? I promise I'm going to get them in the ground this month. Salvaging what I can. And most importantly I will remember next winter not to buy plants that are just going to sit and wait.



*     *     *

The Boy Scout motto "be prepared" has a nice ring to it and maybe I should heed this advise.

We are located at the foothills of the southern Appalachians and the mountains frequently obstruct those frigid polar air masses from the north. As a result our winters are normally pretty mild with a few cold spells which are usually short-lived. We typically get a good snowfall once every five years. But more common is a dusting of snow in January or February which to the children's dismay melts by mid-day. We had a monster snow storm in 2011, some say it was the worst to hit our area, but we got some major sledding and snowball fun in that year. So we shouldn't be surprised if we get a significant snowfall accumulation in an upcoming winter but we always are.


About once every 10 years we get a major ice storm. That's what happened this year. You can read about my experience and see some ice photos from that day here. Being that these storms are so infrequent it leaves us either unprepared or crying wolf. The snow storm of 2014, wasn't the most snow we've ever received but it hit right at rush hour and resulted in people being stranded on the interstate overnight and children sleeping on gym floors at their schools. Atlanta made national news and there were plenty of critics. The fact of the matter is that weather forecasters usually make a big deal over nothing here. And it didn't help that the city of Atlanta only had about 4 pieces of snow equipment at the time. Since then they've purchased 70 so naysayers be warned. Meteorologists hype up storms here as if it will be Armageddon and then we get nothing. No snow. No ice. Nothing. So as you can imagine we don't always believe it is really going to happen.

But, this winter it did happen. We got that once every 10 years ice storm. And although we weren't confined to our homes because of icy roads or too much snow, many of us were without power for days. The roads impassable, blocked by felled trees and too treacherous to drive due to falling limbs and ice.


My take away from this is, as with most things in life, it is better to be over prepared than ill-equipped. We should probably invest in a generator and buy some covers for our outdoor faucets to prevent freezing pipes. Stock up on the milk, bread, chocolate and wine and face the fact that we will have more extreme weather conditions and actually get a "winter". Despite all the havoc these winter storms can cause one of the lovely benefits is that schedules get tossed aside and my family can huddle together next to a warm fire, play games, read stories and watch movies and make wonderful memories.

With this post I am joining the seasonal meme Lessons Learned. For more details go to Beth's blog Plant Postings. And up next I'll be writing about the forthcoming spring celebrations with Donna at Gardens Eye View.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Join the Birds for a Snow Day

Our first snow fall of this winter season arrived on the heals of our recent ice storm. When snow falls and temperatures hover around freezing the birds know it is time to get busy at the feeders to keep their energy levels up. And boy are they busy. Filling the feeders up twice a day.

Carolina chickadee
Carolina Chickadee

The birds are always cautious. It's in their nature after all. Cardinals, Titmice and Finches perch in the neighboring trees. Hopping from branch to branch, making their way closer and closer to the feeder. Birds like the Carolina Chickadee and Nuthatch shimmy down the trunk of the trees gaining more courage the closer they get to the feeder.

White-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch

When the coast is clear they make lift off and in one fell swoop land safely on the feeder. Hastily grab their one seed and off they go to the shelter of the tree branches to devour their take.

We rarely see pine warblers visiting the feeders. Days like today bring them down from the pines searching for additional seeds. They are a burst of color on a dreary snow day.

Pine Warbler
Pine Warbler

One of our most popular feeders frequented by the tufted titmouse is the one with raw peanuts. They are also big fans of sunflower seeds and suet cakes.

Tufted Titmouse
Tufted Titmouse

This morning I happen to spill some peanuts on the edge of one of the raised beds in the kitchen garden and it wasn't long before the seeds were discovered.


These smallish birds are full of personality. They communicate frequently with their friends, bringing in more and more titmice. The adjacent tree was filled with 5 to 10 birds at a time eagerly waiting their turn to swoosh down and grab a nut. It was a little like Atlanta's airport with take off and landings happening every 30 seconds.


The ground feeding birds like the mourning dove walked about the snow pecking at the seeds that were accidentally dropped on the ground. They marked their path as they wobbled along leaving interesting patterns in the snow.

Mourning dove footprints in snow

Snow days are fun days and have to be embraced because tomorrow all that white will be gone and it'll be back to the tired brown landscape until spring arrives. 

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Beauty in the Storm

It began as a typical winter rain day, but then the temperatures began to spiral downward and the rain began to freeze on the trees. As day turned to darkness and I lay in bed trying to sleep I could hear the snap, crackle, pop of branches breaking and tumbling down to the ground. Then bigger booms as trees came crashing down. Weak hardwoods and tall, skinny pine trees just couldn't handle the weight of the ice. Lights flickered on and off several times and eventually the power went out for good. We were without power all night and woke to a chill in the air. No heat, no internet, no cell service. We felt very disconnected from the world.

ice laden trees at early morning sunrise
ice laden trees as sunrise peaks over the horizon

As morning graced the garden we could see all the damage from the ice storm. The linemen had been out working tirelessly all night trying to restore power. More than 200,000 people were impacted. The crews risk their lives in such treacherous conditions. They are such brave souls replacing poles, fixing lines and removing trees to restore power as quickly as possible.



The ice storm caused a lot of disaster but there is also beauty to be found in it. The trees heavy under a coat of ice shimmered and shone as the sunlight hit the icicles and sparkled liked diamonds.


Our cherry trees and plum trees were just about to burst into bloom when the storm hit and encased them in a bubble of ice.

cherry trees about to bloom under ice
cherry trees ready to burst into bloom under coat of ice

The buds were frozen in time and gave a pink hue to the ice capades.


Walking through the garden I found more blooms being brave little souls under the spell of the ice.


Some that couldn't hang on and tumbled to the ground with their glass house in tact.


And others that are holding out for warmer days (may we be blessed with those soon!)


The naturally made ice sculptures added some fabulous winter interest to the garden.


I watched the birds trying to sit on icy limbs or eat at the feeders that were frozen in ice. Even these skilled species had a difficult time maneuvering the elements. My heated birdbath wasn't even working for them since it is electrically powered. The downfalls of modern technology.


The freezing rain hanging in the form of icicles from branches, bird houses, fences and blooms became a science lesson for my children.



And, also made for some interesting shapes in the grasses, leaves and branches



We were all waiting for the sun to warm us up with the exception of our Shepherd who reveled in the arctic conditions. It was mid-day when the sun appeared and began to melt some of the frozen water creating an ere atmosphere with fog kicking up.


As you can see in these photos the roads were clear of ice, the ground too warm for it to hold. But there was enough damage done. Our power came back on 15 hours later. We were fortunate compared to some who were out of power for several days. The wind that swept in the following day felt like Boreas chilling the air with his icy breath. Thirty-five m.p.h. wind gusts hurled ice around the garden making it hazardous to walk and drive around. Shattered ice looked like broken glass carpeting the forest floor.

Overnight our temperatures plummeted to a winter low of 15 degrees (feeling like 0 with the windchill). My thoughts were with those still without heat as the wind had caused more outages despite all the efforts of the Jackson EMC crews.


These forces are out of our control but finding beauty in these worst of times makes for some good times. As Charles Dickens wrote in his Tale of Two Cities,

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,...
it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, 
it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, 
we had everything before us, we had nothing before us...
~Charles Dickens (Tale of Two Cities)

OK...so we're not experiencing anything as dramatic as the French Revolution but some of the words felt applicable (artistic interpretation).