Creating a wildlife haven one plant at a time

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Chickadee & Bluebird Update

On April 20th we found eggs in one of our nesting boxes (see post here). Thanks to Gardening With Nature they were identified as Carolina Chickadees based on the appearance of the eggs (white with brown splotches) and the nest made mostly of moss.

On April 26th we checked on the eggs and found that they had hatched. It looks like only 4 hatched. They were so tiny and only had wisps of down on their head and behind.

We checked on the babies today. In just three days they have grown significantly and started to get their wing feathers.

Both the parents are working diligently to raise their young. According the the Cornell Lab of Ornithology a male and female pair may remain intact for several years as long as they have successful nests.

The babies are hungry and mom and dad are spending their days searching for food to keep this brood feed.

Looks like mom found a nice green caterpillar this time.

Next door the Bluebirds cleaned out their failed nest and are trying again.

As of today there are 4 beautiful, blue eggs.

And, the mockingbirds have fledged. A lone rose pedal is all that remains in their nest.

Stay tuned to see how the bluebirds fare with their second go at parenting.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

W4W: Inspiration, A Personal Journey


We all need it. So where do you find it? What stimulates you? How do you find your motivation?
 Inspiration is a personal journey. Everyone finds it in a different place.

For me it is Mother Nature. Yes, I know it is such a cliche but this won't surprise anyone that visits my blog. We live on such a beautiful planet and I have only witnessed a small piece of what is out there. Everyday I find something in nature that inspires me. Of course nature's grandeur is often breathtaking with awe inspiring views and scenery but what really gets me are the amazing details. I like getting up close and appreciating the little things.

  There are many lessons to be learned from nature, it is always my go to place. If you listen, Mother Nature is always communicating. We just need to open our ears, eyes, heart and mind.

 Earth teach me quiet ~ as the grasses are still with new light.
Earth teach me suffering ~ as old stones suffer with memory.
Earth teach me humility ~ as blossoms are humble with beginning.
Earth teach me caring ~ as mothers nurture their young.
Earth teach me courage ~ as the tree that stands alone.
Earth teach me limitation ~ as the ant that crawls on the ground.
Earth teach me freedom ~ as the eagle that soars in the sky.
Earth teach me acceptance ~ as the leaves that die each fall.
Earth teach me renewal ~ as the seed that rises in the spring.
Earth teach me to forget myself ~ as melted snow forgets its life.
Earth teach me to remember kindness ~ as dry fields weep with rain.
- An Ute Prayer

My journey began as a child when my mother planted the seed that grew within me. I watched her in the garden as she created a beautiful palate of colors and textures that was the envy of all our neighbors. It was my favorite place to play, relax and enjoy the outdoors. We moved often to many different parts of the United States and abroad but we always had the most amazing garden. My mother would start on the garden even before all the boxes were unpacked. Growing up I recall spending a lot of time outdoors, rain or shine, snow or ice. We experienced it all. Family hikes in the mountains, trips to beaches and everywhere in between, fueled a love for nature and all its flora and fauna.

My Opi, Dad (camera in hand) and I in Hamburg, Germany

My father's photography inspired my love of the landscape and seeing the world from behind the lens. I recall stopping often on drives through the countryside or mountains so that he could get a certain shot. I often find myself doing the exact same thing. He always lugged his huge camera case filled with numerous lenses and tripod even when we went hiking. His cameras of choice were a Hasselblad, Linhof and Zeiss Contarex. I spent many hours with him in our basement dark room observing the master at work. He was my own personal Ansel Adams. He gave me my first Polaroid when I was nine years old and I was hooked. I continue to aspire to his level of mastery of the craft but my primary focus is to document nature and the beauty and lessons it has to offer.

As a mother I have passed on my parent's teachings about nature to my children. I am ardent that my children spend as much time outdoors as possible...playing, exploring, examining and learning. I think Mother Nature is one of the best teachers a child can have.

My youngest son with a lizard.

The human spirit needs places where nature has not been rearranged by the hand of man.
~ Unknown

Education is the key. It opens one's mind to so many possibilities and allows us to make informed decisions. As a Master Gardener, I have the distinct privilege to teach children about the outside world and the importance of a healthy Eco-system. I teach them how to grow food and explain the health benefits of eating a colorful platter. The children love to get outside and see, feel, touch and observe the plants and wildlife around them. They have such curious minds that are ready to absorb as much knowledge as we can feed them. In our day of technology this is more critical than ever. Children need to reconnect with the dirt and learn to use all 5 senses outdoors. My hope is that I will inspire one of these students to become a gardener and good stewards of our planet. Their curiosity, excitement and willingness to learn inspires me to continue down this path.

Inspiration can be found in many places and many ways. Sometimes we are inspired by people, events or experiences. Sometimes it is a book, a photograph or observation. You can read a wonderful serious of posts at Garden Walk Garden Talk about inspiration. And I encourage you to check out the links for Word for Wednesday to see what others have to say. Who knows, maybe you will be inspired.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Special Visitor for Earth Day!

Today, we spotted our first snake of the year. The snakes usually start to come out from hibernation between March and May. This is a beautiful black rat snake (non-venomous). It is approximately 4 feet long and was slithering along at a steady pace in the back garden when my husband came upon it.

Rat snakes are rather shy and avoid being confronted. If they are confronted they will freeze and remain motionless as this snake did several times in our presence. I don't think when he wandered out today he thought he was going to a photo shoot.

He (or she) has really beautiful but when the sun shone on it almost a deep purple. It was difficult to capture all the nuances in the photographs.

These snakes are welcome in our garden as they are an important part of the food chain and help keep our population of mice, chipmunks, moles and voles in check. During the spring months they usually look for food during daytime hours but during the summer months when nights are warmer they often hunt in the evenings.

Today, our friend must not have been hungry because he passed right by a Five-Lined Skink and Eastern Fence Lizard and didn't think twice about them. Perhaps he had other things on his mind such as finding a mate.  

At Southern Meadows we like to celebrate our earth everyday and what better way to be rewarded than to have this visitor in our garden. Happy Earth Day y'all!

Friday, April 20, 2012

We have babies and eggs!

Earlier this week I noticed a mockingbird flying in and out of the rose bushes on a pretty regular basis. I thought it was building a nest but this morning I heard a loud racket coming from the bushes that sounded like baby chicks squealing with hunger. Of course I had to take a peak.

These were challenging pictures to take. The roses are on a steep hill and I had to reach them from the top of the hill without slipping while moving the thorny branches out of the way with one hand and holding the camera and clicking with the other. I was mindful not to disturb the nest and watch for mom and dad. I didn't want them to attack trying to protect their nest if they felt I was a threat.

The babies are big already. Mockingbird babies will leave the nest as soon as 12 days after hatching. They usually seek shelter in low lying shrubs until they can fly. The parents will continue to feed and protect them during this time. Mama bird was waiting patiently in the cherry tree with a mouth full of food (looks like a dragon fly or a mayfly) ready to feed her chicks.

Just in front of the orchard we posted two birdhouses made by my father-in-law for two of our boys (notice the inscription). The bluebirds built a nest in the house on the right. I was so excited since this is the first time bluebirds have nested in our garden. Unfortunately, when I checked the nest this morning I found that the baby birds were all dead. I am not sure why the nest failed.

Later in the day the bluebirds were back, both mama and papa bird.

 They were busy cleaning their house all day. Going in...

 ...and out

When I checked the nest this afternoon the nest was clean. They seem to be ready to try again. I hope they have better luck this time.

In the house on the left fence post is a nest with five eggs! And, now I know where all my moss went...

The birds fly in and out so quickly I am having trouble deciphering them. They look like the eggs of a Tufted Titmouse or White-breasted Nuthatch but could also be a Carolina Wren (help, anyone?). I have all three of these birds in my garden.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Nature Notes: Swallowtail Caterpillars

Black Swallowtails are common in our garden from spring to late fall. Several times during the season we find caterpillars munching on parsley or fennel which we plant specifically for them.

As soon as we see butterflies fluttering around the garden we start checking the host plants. In late March we found two early instar caterpillars on the bronze fennel.

March 30th

My children love to watch them grow and check on them daily. They molt often and grow quickly (the caterpillars not the children...although the children do grow like weeds).

April 5th

April 11th
These two caterpillars have eaten one entire plant, stems and all. One caterpillar has already gone to pupate. The second caterpillar has moved to the neighboring fennel plant and is still munching away.

Swallowtails tend to wander pretty far from their host plants to pupate. Before they depart they will empty their digestive track. If you observe the frass you will see that it looks different than the normal poop (I will spare you the photograph). This is the sign that your missing caterpillar has gone to find a good spot to make its chrysalis.

In about two weeks we should see a few more of these beautiful butterflies gracing our garden.

Black Swallowtail on Black & Blue Salvia
Linking to Rambling Woods for Nature Notes Wednesday. Please stop by to see observations of nature from all parts of the world.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day ~ April 2012

It has been a busy month in the garden ... for the gardener, the plants and wildlife. Everyday there are new buds and sprouts awaking to greet spring, more critters are arriving or awakening from their winter slumber and I am flat wore out at the end of each day in the garden. There is so much to do since everything is up early this season. I am very behind schedule.

Bearded Iris

The (biennial) foxgloves are blooming this year. I planted foxgloves in our garden in memory of my father. They always reminded him of his native England.

The blooms of the Baptisia 'Carolina Moonlight'

and Salvia greggii 'Navajo Rose' and 'Hot Lips' are blooming on the walled hill garden.

I struggle growing Rhododendrons. I'm not sure why since they are relatives of our native azaleas which do beautifully here. This is the first time EVER that they have bloomed and I planted this one three years ago!

The Encore azaleas are one of the stars this month. The bees, butterflies and hummingbird moths approve of their abundance of blooms. They are covered with pollinators from sun up to sun down.

Jack is preaching in his pulpit. This native plant starts life as a male but after two years or more in poor soil conditions it will turn into a female, flower and then seed.

The Foam flowers 'Dark Star' are starting to brighten the woodland garden.

My garden is blooming in more ways than one.  The wildlife have been busy too...
I am seeing more and more butterflies everyday and I just love the little skippers...

Silver-spotted Skipper

Horace's Duskywing Skipper

And the next generation is starting...

Swallowtail caterpillars munching on bronze fennel

The loud calling we heard the past few evening paid off. Apparently the female (the larger of the two toads) approved. We found these two near the pond and egg sacks sinking to the bottom. Perhaps soon we will have some tadpoles! They hatch anywhere from 3 days to 2 weeks.

I had to include a picture of the knock-out-roses before the Japanese beetles start to devour them. This is a shot of half the wall or pink. There are a total of 55 roses along this slope.

Be sure to stop over at May Dreams Garden to look at other gardener's bloom day blooms.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Founding Gardeners (Earth Day Reading Project)

Mountain Laurel 'Kalmia latifolia'

Did you know that...

John Adams experimented extensively with manure making.

George Washington left his generals just before the invasion of New York so that he could write to his estate manager about planting groves of flowering trees at Mount Vernon.

The garden of Philadelphia farmer and botanist John Bartram played a significant role in the Constitutional Convention.

I learned these intriguing facts about the men that shaped our country from read a fascinating book written by British design historian Andrea Wulf.

 The Founding Gardeners
~ The Revolutionary Generation, Nature and the Shaping of the American Nation

examines the gardens and farms of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and James Madison. It explores their love of gardens, nature and agriculture and the influence it had on their political ideas. The book details how each of these men developed their properties: Mount Vernon (Washington), Peacefield (Adam's farm in Quincy), Monticello (Jefferson) and Montpelier (Madison).

Swan House

A fascinating aspect of this book was to learn how each of these men viewed their natural surroundings and how this influenced their approach to farming and gardening. The book describes how George Washington liberated his garden from its 'claustrophobic corsets of geometry' after returning from the war. He was the first to plant trees and shrubs from all thirteen states as a visual expression of the young nation.

Jefferson meticulously categorized native plants by medicinal, edible, useful and ornamental purposes. He was a pioneer in growing native plants and incorporating them in his garden design.

May-apple 'Podophyllum peltatum'

As I was reading about these great men I couldn't help but think how we have come full circle in gardening as we again encourage these practices today.

All these men also firmly believed that small-scale farming in principle fostered independent people. 'As long as a man had a piece of land of his own that was sufficient to support his family...he was independent'. (Benjamin Franklin)

Agriculture imagery was often infused in their political writings and speeches. These men exchanged the latest gardening and agricultural books, shared valuable seeds of new crops and reported about their harvests and compared their experiments. Sound familiar? As the first president of the Agricultural Society, James Madison spoke about living off the land without destroying it. Interestingly all these men practiced crop rotation a system I use in my vegetable garden each season.

Adams wrote more on the subject of composting in his diary than any other subject. Over the years  he experimented extensively with manure mixing it with mud, lime and seaweed.  Washington was the first American to build a stercorary, 'a covered dung depository where manure could be stored, aged and mixed.'  These men were truly groundbreaking in this subject since many of the farmers at the time found this practice controversial. 

In a speech in 1818 James Madison warned that humanity could not expect nature to be made subservient to the use of man. Man, he believed had to find a place within the symmetry of nature without destroying it.

Henry David Thoreau and John Muir are synonymous with the environmental movement but this book traces it back to our Founding Fathers.  They found a balance with nature and widely encouraged the protection of the environment. They may have differed in their political view but they had a common bond and friendship. These men were not only the shapers of our country but the seminal thinkers in the environmental movement.

I have always found that gardeners are some of the kindest and most caring people I know. I love how gardening was a common core that these men shared and were passionate about in their own ways. For me they are each an inspiration to modern man in the pursuit to live harmoniously with nature.
"All Nature's differences keeps all Nature's peace"  ~ Alexander Pope

Rose Campion 'Lychnis coronaria'
I am joining The Sage Butterfly for the Earth Day Reading Project where you profile a book that has influenced your gardening practices or view on your environment.

Special note on photographs ~
I took these photographs at the Atlanta History Center. The Swan House is one of the most photographed landmarks in Atlanta. This classically styled house was built by Edward H. Inman, heir to cotton brokerage fortune, in 1928. The Tullie Smith house farm is a plantation-plain house built in 1840. There are several gardens at the history center featuring native plants, heirloom vegetables, old fashioned ornamentals and 10 acres of woodlands.