Native shrubs


There are many historic garden sites in Connecticut which can be seen on the annual Connecticut Historic Gardens Day on Sunday, June 23rd, 2019 from 12:00 noon to 4:00 p.m. From the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme to the Roseland Cottage in Woodstock there is one near you. Of the several that are located in Hartford County, one of particular note is the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center historic garden, home to the late author in the last 23 years of her life, located at Nook Farm on Forest Street in Hartford.

Harriet Beecher was born in 1811 in Litchfield, CT, the daughter of a prominent Congregational minister, the Reverend Lyman Beecher. Harriet married Calvin Ellis Stowe, an ardent anti-slavery proponent, in 1836 in Cincinnati, Ohio. While in Ohio, Harriet and her husband supported the Underground Railroad, actually housing several fugitive slaves temporarily in their home. Cincinnati is located on the northern side of the Ohio River, just opposite the then-slave state of Kentucky, making it a popular stop on the Underground Railroad. These circumstances led to Harriet writing the novel for which she is the most remembered, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, published in 1852, although she wrote more than 10 other novels, a book of poetry, and many works of non-fiction.

Frontispiece engraving of Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom's Cabin (Boston John P. Jewett, 1853).Frontispiece engraving of Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin (Boston John P. Jewett, 1853).

Do you remember that Uncle Tom was a man who kept a good garden with fruits, vegetables, begonias, roses, marigolds, petunias, and four-o’clocks? Here is an excerpt from the book: In front it had a neat garden-patch, where, every summer, strawberries, raspberries, and a variety of fruits and vegetables, flourished under careful tending. The whole front of it was covered by a large scarlet bignonia and a native multiflora rose, which, entwisting and interlacing, left scarce a vestige of the rough logs to be seen. Here, also, in summer, various brilliant annuals, such as marigolds, petunias, four-o’clocks, found an indulgent corner in which to unfold their splendors, and were the delight and pride of Aunt Chloe’s heart.

cabin Image by Charles Howland Hammatt Billings (1818-1874) for the expanded 1853 edition of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

In 1873, Harriet and her husband Calvin purchased and moved into a 5000 square foot painted brick Victorian Gothic ‘cottage’ at Nook Farm. Her fellow author, Samuel Clemens, aka Mark Twain, moved in next door a year later. Harriet would spend the last 23 years of her life at Nook Farm. Also part of the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center is the home owned by Harriet’s great-niece, Katharine Seymour Day.

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Harriet was an enthusiastic flower gardener and her passion was shared by her great-niece. The gardens around the homes reflect their fondness for and knowledge of the plantings of the Victorian era. Nook Farm contains eight distinct gardens including the woodland garden, the blue cottage garden, the wildflower meadow, a high Victorian texture garden, antique rose garden with award winning roses, formal color-coordinated or monochromatic gardens, and more.

The site includes Connecticut’s largest Merrill magnolia tree, a specimen that towers over and dominates the landscape. It blooms in early spring and had unfortunately gone by when we were there in early June so that we missed its large, fragrant, white blooms. However, the Collections Manager at the Center was kind enough to send this great image of the tree in full bloom as well as one of the Stowe dogwood which had also already bloomed.

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Merrill Magnolia image courtesy of the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center, Hartford, CT

The 100-year or older Harriet Beecher Stowe Dogwood™, Cornus Florida rubra, is believed to be from Stowe’s time, and saplings grown from cuttings are planted from Canada to Japan and even at Harriet’s home in Cincinnati.

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The Harriet Beecher Stowe Dogwood image courtesy of the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center, Hartford, CT

In the Victorian era the dogwood symbolized endurance and sprigs were presented to unmarried women by male suitors to show interest. Should the woman return it to the suitor it meant that she was indifferent to him, if she kept it was a sign of mutual interest, the 19th century equivalent of “swiping right”.

It is fitting that these saplings are finding homes outside of Connecticut as Harriet was a proponent of trading plants with family and friends, bringing cuttings and seeds with her when she moved to a new home, and pressing blossoms into sketchbooks, a common practice during the Victoria era.

Pansies

Harriet’s gardens gave her ample opportunity to paint out of doors, a practice known as en plein air, with other local artists. Thematic and single-color gardens provided inspiration to artists then and they still do. Shade areas are filled in with hosta, Solomon’s seal, and meadow anemone, all in cool greens and whites.

Just a bit further down the walk are white-themed peonies, iris, rose, and bridal-wreath spirea.

Two plants are listed in the self-guided tour but were not in evidence as we strolled the grounds: the Elephant ears and the castor bean plants. Elephant ears have dramatic foliage that can measure up to 2 feet across can grow in sun if they get some afternoon cover or shade.

The castor bean, Ricinus communis, is a highly toxic annual herb and as such, may seem like an odd choice for a garden that receives so many visitors. Reaching a height of 8 feet, it can tower over every other annual in the garden with its reddish-purple stems, large, palmate, lobed leaves, and red, prickly fruit capsules. It is within these unusual fruits that the toxic part of the castor bean lies. The seeds contain ricin, a phytotoxalbumin which can cause a fatal reaction. In fact, the broken seeds can cause a severe allergic reaction just by coming into contact with the skin. After all of that you wouldn’t think that anyone would want a castor bean plant around but it is called an ornamental annual. And yet, once it has been heated during extraction, the toxicity is deactivated and the castor oil is used in a variety of coatings, lubricants, and medicines. The image below is by Dawn Pettinelli but is not from the Harriet Beecher Stowe gardens.Castor Bean SB07

Roses are in evidence throughout but it is the lined drive with its hedges of lovely fragrant roses that is just stunning.

Here is a video tour of the rose hedges:

The side garden of the Katharine Seymour Day house has a romantic Victorian garden that boasts peonies, roses, and moth mullein with its vintage dusty peach shades.

Behind the Day house are massive examples of mountain laurel, rhododendrons and a pawpaw tree. A National Champion tree, the common pawpaw, Asimina triloba, is a native deciduous tree that produces an edible fruit with a banana-like taste leading to it also being known as the West Virginia banana or the Custard apple.

As we walked around we could also see the home of Mark Twain and I couldn’t resist a peak at the conservatory, my favorite room there.

Should you choose to visit any of the gardens on the historic tour please visit their website: Connecticut Historic Gardens.

Susan Pelton. UConn Home & Garden Education Center

 

tulip tree bloom

Tulip tree in flower

 

“ The first day of spring is one thing, and the first spring day is another. The difference between them is sometimes as great as a month.”

  • Henry Van Dyke, Fisherman’s Luck

 

The first day of spring was in March and I feel like we have been gypped so far in 2019. The expected arrival of warm weather, or just sunny days for that matter, has not come upon us yet. The almost daily rains of April and May so make Seattle look dry by comparison. But enough griping about the weather. May is here and with it come the birds, flowers and butterflies that winter had kept at bay.

red bud flowers May 6 2019

Eastern redbud trees flower in early May

Pinxter Azalea, Rhododendron periclymenoides, is a native rhododendron that has tubular pink and white fragrant flowers that appear just before the leaves expand. It is found in moist soils along stream or pond banks. Pinxters sometimes have a juicy, sweet “apple” gall formed by the fungus  Exobasidium vaccinaii.

pinxter flower native 5-22-15 Ruby Fenton - Copy

Pinxter azalea flowers

pinxter apple (2)

Pinxter apple is really a gall

Native tulip trees, Liriodendron tulipifera,  bloom in May, and when they do, it is apparent how they received their common name. Yellow and orange flowers resemble tulips, standing upright among the flat-tipped leaves. This tree is sometimes called yellow poplar and is one of the largest trees in North America, sometimes reaching a height of over ninety feet.

Some native wildflowers are putting in their appearance now. One of my favorites is the diminutive gaywings or fringed polygala-Polygala paucifolia. Usually no taller than 6 inches, these plants may go unnoticed along woodland edges or peeking up out of needles lying under white pines in open woods. The magenta flowers have three petals, one of which is keeled and ends in a pink fringe.

fringed polygala May 13, 2015 Pamm Cooper photo

Fringed polygala

Solomons’s seal is a native wildflower that is a good choice for use in woodland gardens. Its dangling white flowers along graceful, arching stems produce blue- black berries later in the fall. Hummingbirds will visit the fragrant, sweet smelling flowers. Geranium maculatum is another native wildflower that can be used in shade gardens.

variegated Solomon's seal

Variegated Solomon’s seal

Swallowtail and other butterflies are seen regularly now that temperatures (rising at a glacial pace!) have warmed up and plants have leafed out. Painted ladies and red admirals have arrived from their southern wintering areas, and other butterflies should eclose from their chrysalises as the weather warms up. The gray hairstreak, one of the first hairstreaks besides the spring azure to make its appearance in May, should be out in warmer areas of Connecticut.

first gray hairstreak seen 2018 may

Gray hairstreak butterfly in May

Migrating birds have been a little slow to return, but thrushes, Orioles, tanagers and veerys arrived at their usual time when oaks are in flower. Warblers are pushing through on their way to their northern breeding grounds. Magnolia warblers arrive as crabapples are blooming and may linger around until it warms up. Listen for bird songs of warblers on Cornell’s allaboutbirds.org website, and then see if you can spot them with a pair of trusty binoculars.

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Wilson’s warbler passing through on its journey north

Green tree frogs have been trilling during the day and turtles may be seen as they begin to look for mates and afterward for suitable nesting sites. Efts and salamanders may be seen on rainy days, or on sunny days following rains, and box turtles often are seen as they cross roads during or after rainy days. Things always perk up a little for me I see my first eft of the red-spotted newt out and about, usually in mid-May.

eft form of red- spotted newt 2017

Eft form of the red-spotted newt

 

Of course, spring is not always a jolly time for gardeners. Lily leaf beetles, rose slug sawflies, asparagus beetles and gypsy moth caterpillars are here and carrying on with their plant damaging specialties. Check plants regularly to stop some of these pests in their tracks.

lily leaf beetle GHills mid- MAy 2018

The harbinger of doom for true lilies and fritillarias- the lily leaf beetle

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But it is May. And May is not, by nature, a limpid herald of doom, but rather a forerunner of the warm, sunny days to come. Cheer up, little buttercup! The best is yet to come.

Pamm Cooper

 

wild columbine and geranium maculatum by a roadside

wild columbine and wild geraniums by a country roadside

One of the best things about spring is seeing all of the new varieties of plants that appear in gardening magazines, on websites, and at nurseries. One of the bad things is realizing that you may not have room for any more new perennials in your yard! Fortunately for me, both my daughter Hannah and my future daughter-in-law Jamie share my love of plants and are more than willing to accept any donations.  Hannah’s home does have lovely established areas but we can always find a nook for another flowering plant.

Lets-Dance-Diva-Hydrangea-compressor__37886.1517166509Three years ago I gave Hannah a lovely hydrangea, ‘Let’s Dance’, in honor of her upcoming wedding. This variety of Hydrangea macrophylla bears beautiful, pale pink lace-cap flower heads where an outer ring of open florets encircles a center of tiny florets. We planted it into a large oak barrel tub that had to weigh in at 25 lbs. and placed it near her front walk where many other plants in various size containers also had residence. But one night, quite unexpectedly, the hydrangea and its tub mysteriously disappeared! I can’t imagine that someone thought that we were getting rid of it but we can only hope that it went to a happy home.

Hannah’s yard has that fairy garden-like feel; it is a snug, L-shaped yard that is surrounded by a sufficiently aged, unfinished fence where all manner of trees and shrubs grow.

Although the side of the yard that runs along her 1920s home is in the sun for a good part of the day, most of the yard is in some level of shade for most of the day. Patches of phlox, bellwort, and vinca share dappled sun along with heuchera and bleeding heart in the shade of the dogwood and Japanese maple.

Primrose makes an appearance at the base of the dogwood.

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Her ‘front yard’ consists of a 4’ by 8’ bed between the sidewalk and her porch and another 6” by 15’ wide swath that runs along the fence, both of which receive very little direct sunlight.

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It becomes quite apparent as the daffodils in the yards on the other side of the street bloom a week or two earlier. That front fence is a great place for hanging bags of impatiens and trailing ivy that don’t mind being in shade for most of the day. Columbine, painted fern, and a variety of tulips have also naturalized along that area.

Selecting herbaceous plants, trees, and shrubs that do well in so much shade just takes a bit of forethought; there are many species that love to be in a woodland setting.  The term ‘shade’ itself can be confusing. Is it shade? Partial shade?  Part sun?  Full shade? Morning or afternoon shade? Partial sun means a minimum of 4 hours of sunlight a day while partial shade is 3-6 hours of morning or late day sun with coverage during the hottest and brightest times of the day.  Many hydrangea will bear partial to full shade and the climbing hydrangea that has taken over her back steps is proof of that.

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Filtered sun, similar to partial shade, is great for woodland or under-story plants. Bear in mind that this can change over the course of the season as trees leaf out to a denser canopy and create more shade. Study the light in your yard throughout the growing season to determine the light situation. Shade plants may also like a moister soil that emulates the rich, humus environment of a forest floor.

Deep shade, also called full shade, does not mean a complete lack of sunlight. Think of the areas beneath evergreens or the northern side of a home. These areas will receive 3 hours or less of sunlight per day with little reflected or indirect light. We have just such a spot on the northern side of our home. The early morning is when this area receives its daily dose of somewhat dappled sunlight but from 9:00 a.m. on it is in full shade.

The plants that thrive in this area in our yard include clematis, hosta, astilbe, forget-me-not, and more Solomon’s seal. These beds are also where toadflax, lily-of-the-valley, and anemone are happy.

Shade tolerant plants may have thinner leaves that are more sensitive to light and perform photosynthesis at lower light levels. Over-exposure to sunlight can cause leaf margins to scorch, this sometimes can happen when a larger, shade-producing tree is removed and plants are suddenly exposed to more light than they are accustomed to receiving. Additionally, plants that are placed to receive less sunlight than they fully require may thrive but will often produce fewer blooms.

There are many varieties of shade perennials and annuals that can fill in a small space or a large bed, just visit a local nursery and take a stroll through their selection to find one (or two or three!) that catch your fancy.

Susan Pelton (all images by S. Pelton)

In my blog of October 11, 2018, I shared images and some information on various flora that are found on Bermuda and promised to talk about some of the species that have become invasive. You may wonder why invasive species on Bermuda might be relevant to us in Connecticut. Islands as small as Bermuda or as large as Australia may have species that are unique to their location and that have fewer defenses against introduced plants, animals, fungi, or microorganisms. These places are great concentrated studies in the effects of introduced species.

We have seen many invasive species become hot topics as they moved from other parts of North America or even other places on the planet into non-native locations in the Northeast. The Connecticut Invasive Plant Working Group lists over 80 plants that are currently problems, some of which moved into our region in just the course of a decade. Transported wood that is infested with the Emerald ash borer or the Asian longhorned beetle has enabled these insects to move easily from state to state.

Japanese barberry image, UConn Plant Database, EAB image, CT DEEP

The isolated volcanic islands of Bermuda were not subject to invasive species for most of its history. There were only 165 species of vascular plants, 5 species of bats, a species of skink and another of turtle on the islands when Bermuda was discovered. Over the next several hundred years thousands of plant and animal species were brought by ships to the islands, sometimes intentionally but more often not. Some came as stowaways as seeds in hay or soils, on ocean currents, as insects in food stores, or in the bilge water of the ships themselves.

Bermuda cedar (Juniperus bermudiana), Bermuda maidenhead fern (Adiantum bellum)

Until Bermuda was visited by the first Europeans in 1505 there had been no human-related importing of flora or fauna to the archipelago so it is a great microcosm of the effects of species introduction. When settlers come to a new place the first thing that they attempt is to make it ‘home-like’. The introduction of rabbits to Australia in 1788 by British penal colonies. Within ten years they numbered in the millions and ate enough vegetation to cause widespread erosion issues.

5 Rabbits Australian National University

Rabbit around a waterhole, image from 1938/Australian National Museum

One of the first species introduced to Bermuda were the pigs that were released on Bermuda in the late 16th century. By the time a European settlement was established in the early 17th century the pigs had become abundant and feral. You may wonder why pigs were released in the first place. It was because the islands were used a place to replenish food and water, kind of a 17th century truck stop by ships. The pigs did untold damage to seabird and turtle breeding colonies.

Cockroaches, Periplaneta americana, came to Bermuda as egg cases in the bilges of a ship in 1621. Wireweed, Sida carpinifolia, was already a rampant invasive in 1669 when then-governor John Heydon was calling for tenants to pull it up by hand.

6 Gary Alpert, Harvard University, Bugwood.org

American cockroach (Periplaneta americana) egg case image

Many of the introduced species were brought in to control other species. The Jamaican anole, Anolis grahami, arrived in 1905 to control the Mediterranean fruit fly, Ceratitis capitata, and has since become naturalized. A beneficial introduction came in the form of honey bees, Apis mellifera. A beekeeping record dated May 25, 1617 stated that “The bees that you sent doe prosper very well.”. The Bermuda palmetto (Sabal bermudana), a native plant, is one of the main nectar sources for these bees. The giant Cane toad, Bufo marinus, an introduced species, was brought in to control garden pests but unfortunately consumes a lot of bees.

Honey bee, Bermuda palmetto, Cane toad

The Indian laurel, Ficus microcarpus, an ornamental garden tree was not considered an invasive species until the 1980s when a pollinating wasp was introduced to the island. Known as a strangler fig like its cousin the banyan, Ficus benghalensis, the Indian laurel can crack through walls and water tanks. It is a primary food source for the starling, an introduced species that does a lot of damage as they spread invasive seeds from the Brazilian pepper, Schinus terebinthifolia, the asparagus fern, Asparagus densiflorus, and the Indian laurel.

Indian laurel &  banyan trees

Casuarina, Casaurina equisetifolia, over-shades native plant species and causes soil erosion. It was introduced from Australia in the 1940s as a windbreak but no plants grow beneath it. Kudzu, Pueraria montana, is familiar to Connecticut gardeners as it is also on the Connecticut Invasive Plant Working Group list.

Casaurina & kudzu

With 23 of the top 100 invasive species in the world, Bermuda is still at risk of additional invasive species as most of their food and consumer goods are brought in by ship. Visitors or traveling Bermudians also bring plants, fruits, and seeds on to the islands. When you travel anywhere in the world and see warnings about bringing back fruits and plants or prohibitions against moving wood, visiting farms, or petting livestock it is for the good of all to heed that advice.

Susan Pelton

Docked at King's wharfAlthough a month ago the weather in Connecticut was still very summer-like we headed to another sunny location, Bermuda. Bermuda is one of our favorite places to visit as it relatively close by compared to other island destinations. It is a two-hour flight but our preferred mode of transportation is to cruise there. The Bermuda archipelago has a great variety of native, endemic, and invasive flora species. Since the 1500s many plants have been introduced to Bermuda, some to much detriment. In my next blog posting I will discuss the species that are of concern for the island but for now I will share many of the beautiful plants that can be seen there.

Our first foray after docking at King’s Wharf at the Royal Naval Dockyard was the Bermuda Botanical Gardens. Located in Paget Parish about a mile outside of Hamilton, it was established in 1898 as a public garden. In 1921 it became the Agricultural Experiment Station and then, in 1958, due to an increase in tourism and ornamental horticulture it became the Bermuda Botanical Garden.

BBG

Open year-round (no snow days in Bermuda!), this park has something for every visitor. There are areas devoted to roses, daylilies, hibiscus, conifers, palm trees, sub-tropical fruits, cacti, orchids, an aviary and more. There is even an aromatic sensory garden designed for the visually impaired although it may be enjoyed by anyone. The first tree that caught our attention upon entering the garden was this large banyan, Ficus benghalensis. A member of the fig species, it is epiphytic, beginning its life by germinating in the crack or crevice of a host tree. Also called the strangler fig, it then sends aerial prop roots down to the ground which envelop its host to the point of the death.

Walking a bit further into the gardens we found a section that is devoted to many hybrids of hibiscus that were originally brought to Bermuda from China. Hibiscus is an introduced species which has naturalized, meaning that it will reproduce on its own but does not become invasive.

The four-section formal garden has a 17th-century English Parterre garden, a Persian garden, a Tudor-style children’s garden, and a serene Japanese Zen garden bordered by vibrant pink plumeria hedges.

One of my favorites sections of the botanical garden was a cool and shady area that contained primordial vegetation called Cycads. Among these plants that superficially resemble palms were the large leaved Philodendron shrub, Philodendron bipinnatifidum, and an Abyssinian banana, Ensete ventricosum, that easily dwarfed me. Not really difficult to do, I know, but this plant was easily 10’ tall.

The subtropical fruit garden contained the familiar in the form of bananas, avocado, and citrus and the unfamiliar in the form of papaya trees, whose growth habit reminded me of Brussels sprouts!

So many beautiful plants were not contained to specific areas but were spread around the 35 acres just waiting to be discovered. There were chenille plants, Acalypha hispida, with its soft hanging cat-tail looking panicles. Pink and yellow shrimp plants, Justicia brandegeeana, are evergreen shrubs that are highly attractive to hummingbirds. Another evergreen shrub, Sanchezia speciosa has tubular yellow flowers that extend out of reddish bracts. And of course, what subtropical garden would be complete without bird-of-paradise, Strelitzia reginae?

Day 2 found us at the far east side of Bermuda on the island of St. George’s, one of the larger of 181 islands that make up the Bermuda archipelago. St. George’s has a great public garden, Somers Garden, named for Admiral Sir George Somers, the founder of Bermuda. A fountain sits in the middle of this lovely space, picturesque turquoise stairs lead in from one side and there is also a quintessential moongate, a symbol of good luck.

The trees in this garden are all labeled with their common names and species, always a benefit to visitors. Royal palms, Roystonea regina, line the walkways, there are Indian rubber trees, Ficus elastica, and a Bermuda palmetto, Sabal bermudiana, grew in front of a very large Norfolk Island pine, Araucaria excelsa.

There were also a large variety of flowering plants. Lantana, Lantana camera, an annual familiar to many of us, grew to heights not often seen in Connecticut. The lantana flowers were yellow, white, purple, and variegated. The white and purple-flowered plants are weeping lantana, Lantana montevidensis.

There were more sanchezia, sunny Mexican flame flowers, Senecio confusus, and the deep red-orange flowers of West Indian Jasmine, Ixora.

And a large selection of croton, Codiaeum variegatum, also in sizes way beyond our container houseplants.

Our third day in dock was spent at the Royal Naval dockyard. Built by thousands of convicts in the early 19th century as an anchorage for the British Royal fleet, it remained an active part of the British naval force until 1951. In 1982 it became a National Museum and is open to the public.

The flora that is found here is of a less formal nature than the Botanical and Somers gardens. Plants grow where they like, perhaps a better representation of Bermuda’s nature. Among them is prickly pear, Opuntia sp., a mounding coastal cactus native to Bermuda that is very effective as a defensive planting around fortifications, aloe vera, and dwarf palmetto, Sabal minor.

Tropical milkweed, Asclepias curassavica, is grown as an annual in Connecticut as it does not survive our winters but it thrives in Bermuda. This specimen was inundated with yellow milkweed aphids, a sight that is not uncommon to Connecticut gardeners.

Mexican fire plant, Mexican poinsettia Euphorbia cyathophora

 

 

 

Anyone that has had a poinsettia in their home during the holidays will appreciate this next plant, the Mexican fire plant, Euphorbia heterophylla. Also known as wild poinsettia, this hardy native plant has bluish-green bracts with splashes of bright orange-red at the bases. Although small, it caught my attention as I walked by.

 

 

 

White Egyptian star flowers, Penta sp., rose periwinkles, Catharanthus roseus, deep pink oleander, Nerium oleander, and spider lilies, Hymenocallis sp. were all to be freely found.

So many of these species were introduced either intentionally or unintentionally by humans, animals, or weather-related events. In November I will write about the continued effects of these introductions to the islands of Bermuda.

Susan Pelton, all images by S. Pelton, UConn Home & Garden Education Center

 

tiger swallowtail and obedient plant

Tiger swallowtail on obedient plant flower

“What dreadful hot weather we have! It keeps me in a continual state of inelegance.” – Jane Austen

What a strange summer we have had so far in New England! I almost thought of going to Florida to escape the heat and humidity. It has been hot and humid, no doubt, but it is August after all, and things are coming along nicely in the out- of-doors. This time of year there is enough good stuff going on in the landscape to overcome any weather difficulties we may be experiencing, so let’s plod on out and see what’s happening.

Horsebarn Hill on a foggy July morning

foggy morning on Horsebarn Hill UConn

 

 

As we head on into the mid= summer, most garden buffs are by now reveling in the abundance of hydrangeas that are now in bloom. The dwarf ‘Little Lime’ is one of several panicle Hydrangeas that have nice full-bodied lime green flowers that pack a visual punch in the landscape. ‘Little Lamb’ is another of the smaller panicle hydrangeas, this one also having a compact form with pure white, ethereal blooms that give it its name.

little lambs hydrangea

‘Little lamb’ panicle hydrangea

Hibiscus are also blooming now, with their outstanding large, colorful flowers that really provide some visual excitement in the garden. I came across a nice hedgerow type planting that made a nice privacy screen along a sidewalk. I am not really a hibiscus fan, but a pink- flowered one popped up in my garden, and looks so great there that I guess it can stay. I wonder if someone snuck it in there to get me to have kinder thoughts toward these plants…

hibiscus border

Hibiscus

On the wild side, the sweet- smelling Clethra alnifolia is in full bloom and is attracting all types of bees, beetles and butterflies. Look for this small clump-forming shrub in any areas where soils are moist. The white flower spikes are very fragrant, so you can tell where Clethra are long before you actually see them. Groundnut vine is also blooming now, with its pea-like pink flower clusters dangling from its twining stems. Often found twining itself around goldenrods and blue vervain, it is always fun to come across this plant.

red spotted purple on clethra alnifolia

Red spotted purple butterfly on Clethra

The barn swallows that are partial to building their nests on the eaves of our equipment building have had their second brood of the year, as have bluebirds. Hopefully that will exit the nest soon and mom and dad can have a much needed rest in the near future. There was a female wood duck taking her brood on a tour in a large beaver pond the other day.

barn swallows ready to leave nest

barn swallows ready to fledge

female and male juvenile wood ducks Early August Airline Trail marsh Pamm Cooper photo

Juvenile wood ducks

I came across a wild grape that had one leaf covered with interesting cone- like galls formed by the grape tube gallmaker midge (Schizomyia viticola). This is a harmless gall, and only affected one leaf on the entire grape plant. Looks like a bunch of tall red, skinny gnome caps were set on the leaf.

grape tube gallmaker on grape leaf

grape tube galls

Combing through garden centers for great plants is always enjoyable when you find something like the Blackberry or leopard Lily Belamcanda chinensis. Star shaped flowers only 2 inches wide are heavily spotted with red, while foliage is sword- shaped. The flowers appear in late summer and bloom until frost, so this is a good plant to spiff up areas where other perennials are fading into the sunset.

leopard li;ly Belamcando chinensis

leopard lily Belamcando chinensis

Interesting plants suitable for containers are agave and other succulents. I saw a good size Agave colorata recently which was very striking in appearance. Its leaves are thick and powdery blue- gray with unusual cross- banding designs on them, plus leaf edges have brown teeth tipped with spines. A spectacular plant!

Agaave colorata

Agave colorata

pattern on agave leaves

patterns on Agave colorata leaves

Caterpillars this time of year are larger and, in my opinion, more interesting than the early season caterpillars. One favorite is the brown- hooded owlet, which is a sports a rich array orange, blue, yellow and red. Look for this caterpillar on goldenrods, where it feeds on flowers and flower buds.

brown-hooded-owlet-caterpillar

brown-hooded owlet

If you want a nice surprise, with a little careful handling you can check inside folded stinging nettle leaf shelters and may find either caterpillars of the comma or red admiral butterflies, or the chrysalis of the red admiral.

red admiral chrysalis inside nettle leaf shelter

red admiral butterfly chrysalis inside a leaf shelter on stinging nettle

 

The skies can provide some viewing that is better than any television show. Thunderhead clouds can provide some drama as they develop on hot and humid afternoons, and may provide further excitement in the form of thunder and lightning, and rainbows may follow. We can have remarkable sunsets any time of year, so don’t forget to have a look at the sky around sunset. August is also a great time for early morning fogs as well, especially when we have had a humid night. Getting up early does have its good points…

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Thunderhead developing on a hot and humid afternoon

 

Pamm Cooper

Cornus mas flowers April 24 2018

Cornus mas flowers- Cornelian cherry dogwood flowers in April before leaves appear

Spring has returned. The Earth is like a child that knows poems.

– Rainer Maria Rilke

This spring has arrived at a plodding, glacial pace. Several snows in April and chilly, gray days which far outnumber the anticipated sunny, warmer ones seem to have put nature into a low gear. Birds that normally would have arrived in early April, like chipping sparrows, were late arrivals. Forsythia bloomed later than it did the past few springs, and soils have remained cold enough to hold back lawn grass growth. But the cold weather can’t last, and we finally have seen a few sunny days this week.

colletes at hole 4-14-2018 Pamm Cooper photo for Facebook

Native Colletes inaequalis ground nesting bee at entrance to her nesting tunnel- one of the earliest spring flying bees

Tree swallows arrived a couple of weeks ago, and barn swallows followed a week later. I always check out a nice swampy area along a road every spring when false hellebore is about a foot tall. This is when many migrating warblers start to come through on their way north. Two of the earlier arrivals are the yellow-rumped warblers and the palm warblers, which can often be seen together in good numbers as they catch insects on the fly. The loud drumming of pileated woodpeckers can be heard and barred and great horned owls should have nestlings by now. Canada geese should be sitting on eggs, with young hatching out in a week or so.

Pileated woodpecker pamm Cooper photo

Pileated woodpeckers

Bloodroot is now blooming, and before it is done, red trillium should also be blooming. Trout lily leaves are up, and its flowers should appear in a week or so. The early flowering azalea, Rhodendron mucronulatum, is flowering now with its welcome pink flowers. Bees were all over several plantings of this shrub on the UConn campus this past sunny Tuesday. Pieris japonica, or Japanese andromeda, Cornus mas and star magnolias are also in full bloom. Ornamental cherries are just beginning to bloom now and as the native black cherries begin to leaf out, look for tents made in the forks of branches by the Eastern tent caterpillars. Native bluets began blooming this week, and many native and honey bees, as well as early flying butterflies avail themselves of the nectar these tiny blue flowers provide.

purple trillium Pamm Cooper photo

Purple trillium blooms shortly after bloodroot

Rhododendron mucronulatum. Azalea Pamm Cooper photo (2)

Rhododendron mucronulatum azalea in bloom in late April. Note that this azalea does not retain its leaves through the winter

Spring peepers have been singing like a glee club, and are a welcome white noise in early spring for those of you who live near ponds. In vernal pools, egg masses of wood frogs, spotted salamanders and American toads can be found now. Diving beetles and water striders are also active now. Our vernal pools support life stages of many kinds of insects and amphibians, and provide water sources for many animals and birds as well.

spotted salamander nymph among frog eggs April vernal pool

Gilled larva of the spotted salamander swims among wood frog eggs in a vernal pool

Red, or swamp, maples are already dropping flowers, while spicebush are just starting to bloom.  Snowball viburnums are leafing out and new leaves seen curling are probably signs of snowball aphid feeding. Look inside the curled leaves for these aphids. While not a cause of alarm for the health of the plant, it is a cosmetic issue. Redbuds are showing deep pink flower buds as are the larger ornamental cherry varieties like Prunus subhirtella, the weeping Higan cherry. When these bloom, crabapples are not far behind.

Japanese Andromeda flowering in early April 2018 Pamm Cooper photo

Japanese Andromeda, Pieris japonica, can bloom in March. This year it has remained in bloom through late April. Many bees visit its flowers.

More insects are becoming active now with the warmer weather. Look for the striking six- spotted tiger beetle along open woodland trails. Cabbage white butterflies are also arriving, and will lay eggs on native mustards and the invasive garlic mustards. The second generation may end up on your brassica later in the year. Mourning cloak and comma butterflies are out now, and look for swallowtails and the spring azure butterflies. Migrating red admirals and painted ladies usually arrive around the time of crabapple and invasive honeysuckle bloom. I can hardly (but must!) wait to see a swallowtail butterfly. To me this is a certain harbinger of steady, warm weather.

6-spotted tiger beetle

The 6-spotted tiger beetle is hard to miss

Mourning cloak early spring

The mourning cloak butterfly survives winters here in the north as an adult. Often it is seen imbibing at sap flows or on animal dung

tiger swallowtail butterfly on bluets Pamm Cooper photo

Tiger swallowtail on native bluets

As you venture out this spring, listen for the songs of newly arriving birds, observe  insects as they go about their daily activities and enjoy the flowers that join together to make spring a poetic response to winter. Definitely a more charming repertoire in answer to winter doldrums than my own seemingly useless “ hurry up spring” song and dance…

Pamm Cooper

 

 

 

 

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