Creating a wildlife haven one plant at a time

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.


Golden ragwort
Golden ragwort

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

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

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.