Creating a wildlife haven one plant at a time

Monday, December 27, 2010

Winter Birds

It was a historic day when north Georgia got a rare dose of Christmas day snow. The first time since 1882! The birds were very busy at my feeders storing up the fat they need to keep warm. A good indication that it would be a cold day.

Tufted Titmouse

Cardinal (male) and Finch

Cardinal (female)

It is at this time that I really enjoy the winter landscape. The birds are like blotches of paint on a white canvas. Although hard to see in this picture they really pop against the white snow.

I have a large population of Mourning Dove that are usually busy below the feeders picking up all the remnants but when the ground is covered in snow they fly up to my open feeder on the back deck. When it is cold birds fluff their feathers to trap heat and slow down their metabolism to conserve energy. This dove was doing just that perched on the back deck trying to keep warm.

Mourning Dove roosting on railing 

The Goldfinches no longer carry their bright yellow plumage. They now adorn their winter colors of brownish green with only a hint of yellow.

American Goldfinch

I do love the bluebirds. They are most active in my garden in the winter probably because their natural food supply is limited. Their meal of choice is insects, fruits and berries found in the wild. But since insects become inactive under 40 degrees and berries are covered with snow and ice or have been stripped by other birds they will come to the feeders. I see them at my suet blocks and I put out a feeder filled with peanut hearts just for them.

Eastern Bluebird (female)

To keep them in the garden they need to be enticed to stay with the right housing and food. Their houses have specific dimensions (8" tall x 5" wide x 5" deep with a 1.5" hole 8" from the base). I have one that sort of fits the bill. Not quite the right dimensions but the bluebirds have attempted to nest here; however, they got chased out by another winter guest.

For the past three winters a flying squirrel has nested in this bird house. The first year we unintentionally chased it out thinking we were cleaning out a bird nest. Given that they are nocturnal this was a rare opportunity  for me to photograph it as we surprised her out of her home.

Southern Flying Squirrel (Glaucomys volans)

The Downy Woodpecker will also come to the feeder when food sources are hard to find.

It even perched on the shepherd's hook for a time.

Downy woodpecker (male)

The birds of prey were out and about as well. I see red-tailed hawks flying around my garden regularly but they are difficult to photograph because they are usually too far away or in flight to get a good shot. This red-tailed hawk was staked out on a tree near the woodland garden in pursuit of a meal.

Typically birds find most of their food in the wild but during the extreme cold of the winter months with short days and long freezing nights they appreciate the help of backyard feeders. I do my best to accommodate them so that they will hang around and I can enjoy their beautiful colors all through the winter.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Some Christmas Cheer

Yesterday I stopped in at a local nursery to
hunt through their 50% off pots when I came across a table of begonias. Begonias will forever remind me of my mother. When I was a child we always had begonias; either as indoor plants or during the summer months, outdoors in hanging baskets. Thus, I began to look at their fabulous selection and this stunning begonia caught my eye.

Rex Begonia

It has the most amazing foliage. The leaves are silvery green with a deep red that seems to sparkle and shimmer. The perfect Christmas color comb!

Upon closer inspection they are almost metallic looking. With their sparkle, color and curved edging they are an ornament unto themselves. 

The deep red and black veining is very intense. It somehow looks like ice cracking on a frozen lake.

The underside of the leaves is just as striking.

And when seen together the two sides of the foliage look like two completely different plants.

I couldn't leave the nursery without this beautiful begonia and now this lovely variety adorns our home and is bringing us much Christmas cheer. So from our house to yours we wish you a very happy Christmas filled with much hope and love.

With our eyes
we see the glitter
of Christmas,
with our ears
we hear the merriment,
with our hands
we touch the
tinsel-tied trinkets,
but only
with our hearts
can we feel
the miracle of it.


Saturday, December 18, 2010

Blooming on Neglect

Many years ago I was introduced to the world of succulents by my husband. When I first meet him he had an amazing collection of succulents and despite all our moves through the years (U.S. and abroad) it has continued to grow. When we purchased our first house together we bought two jade plants (aka the luck plant or money tree). These beautiful plants are still with us today and I would say we have had our share of luck over the years so, they have been a good investment.

A few weeks ago my jade started to bloom for only the second time since we've had them! They have adorable tiny starry white flowers.

Since jade are not really known for their blooms I never really thought twice about getting them to bloom. On both occasions it just "happened". This time around my interest was peaked and I decided to do some research into when jade bloom and this is what I discovered. Blooms are triggered by long nights in autumn and a sharp contrast between day and night temperatures. Well, this year I left my jade outside longer than I usually do. I stuck them in the garage about a month ago when we had an early hard frost. Things got busy and they stayed in the garage where it was dark and cool. Unintentionally these where the ideal conditions to trigger them to bloom. So voilĂ , I have blooms!

This has to be one of the easiest house plants ever. They practically thrive on neglect. Over watering will cause it to loose its leaves and the stems will rot (I've learned this the hard way) so I usually keep a 10-20 day watering cycle in the summer and up to a month dry in winter. They can tolerate full sun but mine do best in light shade. During the warmer months I keep mine on the covered back deck where they get bright filtered light.

My 10 year old jade (Crassula ovata)

The rich green leaves grow in opposing pairs along branches. If they need to be pruned it is best to do it in spring before the growing season begins by cutting back to lateral branches. Calluses will form over new cuts. My husband usually does this (he is the "expert") and typically he will only prune to keep the top from getting too heavy and topple over. We like the more natural, random look of how the plant grows than trying to prune for certain shape so it doesn't get pruned often. What is great about this plant is that you can easily start a new plant from stem cuttings. And, they make great gifts!

One year this plant got a natural pruning of sorts. It was out on the back deck when some squirrels decided it would make a tasty snack. They nibbled off several branches and ate them. I wouldn't have believed it; however, I witnessed them gnawing on it and running off with a large limb. These were a bunch of crazy squirrels to say the least because they also chewed through the gas line on the outdoor grill.

A relative of the jade plant are Kalanchoes. They are both members of the Crassulaceae family. They also have thick, attractive leaves that are succulent in nature. Their vibrant blooms can vary tremendously. I have two of these plants each with very different blooms.

Kalanchoe (Kalanchoe blossfeldiana)

These beautiful succulents are brightening up my house with their lovely blooms. It is amazing what a few blooming plants in the house can do to raise the spirits during the doldrums of the winter months. They are helping me get through the unseasonably cold, freezing temperatures we are having in Northeast Georgia right now.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Something Magical

'Tis the season for poinsettias and Christmas cactus as their blooms adorn the holiday scenery. But one of my favorite winter flowering plants is the Cyclamen persicum which makes a lovely addition to any holiday decor.

They have lovely heart-shaped, fleshy leaves at the end of long stalks which are variegated with silver veining (rather appropriate Christmas colors)

and solitary flowers that come in many colors; most common are shades of red, pink or white that fits the season.

The indoor Cyclamen is a florist cultivar of Cyclamen persicum. This should not be confused with the Hardy Cyclamen (Cyclamen hederifolium) which can grow outdoors in zones 4-8.

 To successfully grow this plant year over year keep in mind that
  • They like to be kept in good light but not direct sunlight (keep out of a south facing window). 
  • They like it cool. Keep them in temperatures around 55F. If they get too hot they will go dormant.
  • They don't like to be over-watered. It is best to water from the bottom of the pot so that the tuber doesn't get too wet and rot. Let the plant use up the moisture until the compost is fairly dry. (They don't really appreciate a constant dribble of water).
  • Yellowing leaves are a sign of over-watering or temperatures that are too warm. Dead flowers or leaves should be removed carefully by giving their stems a sharp tug. 

Cyclamen are naturally winter to spring growing plants native to the Mediterranean region where they are a woodland plant. Come spring the plant will start to go dormant. It will loose its blooms and leaves. At this time they should not be watered. Cyclamen have a tuber which is the storage organ they use to stay alive during their dormant period. They rest during the summer months and then in September into November new leaves will start to shoot up. Start watering the plant at this time. It can take some time but as long as the tubers are still plump and hard the plant should come back.

What I love most about this plant are the paper thin, twisted and reflexed petals. They are held aloft from the clustered leaves and have a wonderful flow and body about them.

Cyclamen is said to bring one happiness. So I hope that this plant will bring you something magical this holiday season.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

A December Dawn

It is true, as a gardener I spend most of the year low to the ground digging in the dirt. My focus is on all things growing from the earth. Sure, I look up every once in a while to check the sky and see what the day will bring...spring rains, summer heat, fall winds. But come December when most all the plants have gone dormant for the winter I find myself lifting my head and looking up at the sky more frequently. This morning I was greeted by a beautiful sunrise coming up over the hill.

The oranges, pinks and purples lit up the sky.

And even the sun
in dawn chorus sings,
a celestial melody to the earth
-   Tjaden

And from the west side of my house the sun hit the trees so that they glowed as if they were on fire.

It certainly gave the illusion of warmth but taking a quick step outside proved otherwise. It was a crisp 22 degrees Fahrenheit. A tad chilly for this "southern" chic.