Creating a wildlife haven one plant at a time

Friday, May 31, 2013

Little Free Libraries

"If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need"
~Marcus Tullius Cicero

Little free libraries is a concept which began with a group in Wisconsin and has spread across the country and the globe. Have you heard of this phenomenon? You put out a box full of books and allow the public to take a book to read and give a book for others to enjoy. These boxes are being added to public parks, downtown areas, and neighborhoods.

This is a fabulous way to promote literacy and encourage students of all ages to share/donate their books that they have already read. Gardens on Green is a public education garden supported by the Master Gardeners of Hall County, Georgia (of which I am affiliated). We kicked off this concept for the county with three boxes: one for elementary school, one for middle school and one for high school level readers.

Georgia state bird: Brown Thrasher
The boxes have been painted to tie in the garden theme and the state symbols of Georgia. Our state bird: the brown thrasher; our state butterfly: the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail; and, state tree: the Live Oak.

Georgia state butterfly (showing the life cycle): Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
The purpose of the little free libraries began as a way to support community libraries by extending their reach to areas in the community that may not otherwise use them. Many boxes are being themed with ideas such as "We're Cooking Now", "History in a Box", "House of Health & Wellness" or a "Celebration of Culture & Community. The ideas are endless!

Georgia state tree: Live Oak
At Gardens on Green the libraries have been seeded with gardening themed books to encourage not only reading but also life in the natural world. Think faeries, dirt, insects, life cycles, seeds, exploration, dragonflies, amphibians and wildflowers. There are so many ways to get immersed into the world of nature! And if you are a parent of a young student you can use the books as a way to introduce gardening concepts to your child. Most recently we had a group of students who made magical faerie houses using elements found in the garden. What a great way to create memories and maybe even ignite a passion for nature!

So grab a book and find a comfortable place to sit in one of the 7 themed gardens that make up Gardens on Green (vegetable garden, pollinator garden, native garden, conifer garden, bulb garden, gold medal garden and deer resistant garden) and enjoy your read!

You can take the book home but don't forget to put a book in the box that you think others may enjoy.

Gardens on Green is a public educational garden located at 711 Green Street, Gainesville, Georgia and is a collaborative effort of the Hall County Master Gardeners and Hall County School System

For more information on Little Free Libraries click here

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Insects and a Healthy Garden

Gardening for wildlife can have its challenges. It requires a change of mindset to be less in control and let nature takes its course. Sometimes that is easier said than done.

When I noticed the sawflies on the hardy hibiscus I knew they were busy laying eggs on the leaves. I had to restrain myself from spraying an insecticidal soap on them because I knew soon...

the leaves would be covered in the larvae that would eat the leaves down to a skeleton. Sigh! The end result is not so very beneficial to the plant. Is there a predator who would please come and make a meal of these larvae?!

In another part of our garden the witch hazel is decorated in small hats which were created by aphids. A mother aphid laid her eggs on the leaves in early spring and created a gall around them to protect the babies.

Because you know who loves aphids and is essential in controlling their population...

Hello lady beetle!

As the aphids grow they suck a lot of plant sap to excrete the proteins. They then excrete honeydew which attracts other insects, mainly ants.

Letting all these insects support one another creates a healthy, viable garden;
and, is much less work for the gardener. 
It is beautiful to see the garden alive and working in harmony!

Friday, May 10, 2013

Get The Chainsaw Out

You know what it is like when you discover a new plant and then suddenly start seeing it everywhere. Recently, I identified a tree that grows on our additional acreage and now I am seeing it all around popping out the tree canopy as it is now blooming.

This is Empress Tree, also called Princess Tree (Paulownia tomentosa). It is advertised as the fastest growing tree in the world.

The blooms are a showy pale violet. They are fuzzy and sticky to the touch. They remind me a bit of foxgloves blooms.

It is an aggressive ornamental tree introduced from East Asia in the 1840s. It will grow 30-60 ft. tall. According to the Southeast Exotic Pest Plant Council it often grows in disturbed areas that may be habitats for rare plants. It grows in acidic and infertile soils and is drought tolerant. This is an invasive tree in Georgia. By some it is a much treasured tree. It is highly prized in Asia for the quality of its timber and its ability to tolerate harsh environments.

The wood is easy to work with and is used to make furniture, musical instruments, wooden bowls and ornamental carvings. It has been harvested to extinction in Japan and because it is so fast growing it is popular in its native China for reforestation, roadside planting and as an ornamental tree. This tree is a good example of how a plant has its role in its native ecosystem but is invasive when taken outside of its native area.

This tree does not have a role in our garden and will continue to spread if we don't remove it. So, out comes the chain saw for initial removal. I read that resprouts are common after cutting. Its ability to sprout prolifically from adventitious buds on stems and roots allows it to survive fire and cutting. Ugh! Looks like we may be pulling sprouts for some time to come.

So many of the invasive species are here because they were introduced by us or accidentally in global trade. It is a good reminder to think twice about the plants you are buying. Be sure to know their history before you start a relationship with them in your garden.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Getting More Macro

Anyone who has read this blog, knows that I have an affinity for macro shots. For Christmas, my husband gave me a 105 mm lens so that I could really get macro. He knows how much I enjoy the smallest details of garden life. Recently, I spent some time getting to know my new lens. It has had its challenges but has been rewarding at the same time.

The beauty of this lens is that it provides even more detail in pattern and texture of the subject, in my case plants and insects. The challenge is that when you get in this close the slightest movement, from wind, insect or photographer (even with the vibration reduction on) can mess up your entire shot.

A lot of the time the subject can't all be arranged on the same plane and so I have to decide what is going to be in focus and what is not. And yes, I was only inches away from this snake when I photographed it.

Sometimes throwing more of the subject out of focus makes for some interesting results and a little more of an artistic look.

With macro shots the background will always be out of focus. Out in the garden it can be challenging to get the right background because of the angles you have to shoot from. I found that choosing a plain background makes the photo simpler, focusing on the main subject.

The fun part of all this is discovering the microscopic world. Many of the insects I looked at are very, very small, like the spider below. He is hanging on the parsley leaf which gives you a reference to how small he really is. Normally, these creatures go unnoticed because we focus on the bigger things in the garden.

I shot all these without a tripod but I think I will invest in a small, flexible one to get some sharper results, especially with the very tiny insects.

There is a whole new world waiting to be explored behind this lens.