Nature


Sunflower in its glory

“This morning, the sun endures past dawn. I realize that it is August: the summer’s last stand.”
― Sara Baume,

August is a favorite month for me as many things I have been looking forward to in the scene have now arrived. Whether in the garden or in the natural environment, there are plants, birds, insects and other things that seem to be more interesting to encounter later in the summer than earlier.

Late bloomers like Caryopteris (bluebeard), turtle head, goldenrods, boneset and spotted Joe-pye weed add interest to the garden and provide food for bees and butterflies before the cold weather sets in. Closed gentians put in a more subtle appearance hidden under shrubs and small trees along pond, stream and lake edges. As many bees are active right until cold weather sets in, these late bloomers are of special value.

wool carder bee at Hill Stead museum sunken garden 8-20-2019 Pamm Cooper photo

Wool carder bee at Hill Stead Museum sunken garden 8-20-2019

Canna lilies and Caladiums, great annuals for foliage color and texture, should be at their peak foliage development now. While still in bloom, check out hedges and borders of hibiscus, hydrangeas and rose-of-Sharon that can make attractive screens with their colorful flowers in August. The hardy hydrangeas will also continue to delight throughout the next month or so as their flowers change colors as they age.

S

Sun backlighting ‘Calypso’ Canna lily leaves

hibiscus border

hibiscus border

‘Little lambs’ hydrangea

Numerous butterflies are out and about, although this year many species seemed few and far between. Monarchs, though were numerous. One butterfly that was an unexpected surprise-seen just about everywhere, it seems- is the common buckeye. Usually considered vagrants from the south, they were here as early as June and were breeding throughout the summer

 

Spicebush swallowtail on salvia

Two common buckeyes amid wild blue vervain and boneset August 2019

Check out Rudbeckia  flowers for the diminutive camouflage looper caterpillar which cuts flower petals and sticks them on its body to hide from potential predators. There are also many other small loopers that can be found on black-eyed Susan flowers.

Camouflaged looper with flower parts slapped on it to hide from predators

 

Sunflowers are a winsome addition to any garden and are easy to start from seed in June. There are many varieties to choose from, and some are pollen-less for cutting and floral arrangements. ‘Firecatcher’ has flowers that smell like Juicy Fruit™ gum.

Sunflowers can be started from seed and should be in full bloom by the end of August

Yellow sunflower

Orchards are having a terrific harvest this year. Rains were not as abundant as last year, but the sun was, so fruits like peaches and nectarines are especially sweet this August. Native trees and shrubs that ripen their fruit early include the sassafras and some viburnums, and birds will usually eat the fruits before they drop off to the ground.

sassafras fruit

Sassafras fruit

Along hiking trails, in open fields and in the woods, the caterpillars that are found from August until fall are usually more robust, colorful and generally larger than their spring and early summer counterparts. Sphinx, giant silkworm, dagger, tiger and prominent moth caterpillars are some of the more interesting ones. Generally not pests, several can occur in large enough numbers in the garden landscape to cause alarm, such as the Datanas, but in the wild, they are not a major concern. Slug caterpillars are small but many can inflict a painful sting if the urticating spines are touched. One of the more notorious is the spiffy looking saddleback caterpillar.

 

Early instar saddleback caterpillar August 2019

Northern pine sphinx

 

At any time of year check out the skies for colorful sunsets, sunriss and cloud formations. Indicative of weather to come, clouds and sky colors are good to learn about. A sweet little book on clouds and other phenomena of the skies is “The Cloud Collector’s Handbook” by Gavin Pretor-Pinney.  Like anything else, it takes practice and careful study to correctly identify anything, clouds being no exception.

August dawn with a crescent moon

August 28 2019 dawn with a crescent moon

I will be enjoying the rest of August and the upcoming September, which I hope will be warm. Keep your eyes open for migrating night hawks and tree swallows. which are starting their southern journey now. Large flocks of tree swallows were seen this last week of August week at Hammonasset Beach State Park.

tree swallows Hammonasset August 28 2019

tree swallows Hammonasset State Park August 28 2019

 

One last note- if you are hiking along a woodland trail and come across a single strand of spider silk running between two trees, follow it to the main web. It is likely a spiny orb weaver, Micrathena gracilis , which eats her web every day and builds a new one in an hour the next day.

Micrathena gracilis spider

 

Pamm Cooper

 

 

In June I shared a visit to the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center in Hartford, CT with you. Last week an outing took me to another beautiful garden site, Elizabeth Park, with three generations of ladies that included a dear friend, her mother, and my future daughter-in-law, Jamie. This was Jamie’s first encounter with Elizabeth Park as she is a recent transplant to the area from Long Island. It couldn’t have been a nicer day as the weather was warm but not hot with just enough cloud cover to allow us to walk about quite comfortably.

Elizabeth Park is of seven major parks that ring the city limits of Hartford, Connecticut and were created to benefit all of the citizens. Bushnell Park led the way in 1854 followed by Colt Park, Goodwin Park, Keeney Park, Pope Park, Riverside Park, and of course, Elizabeth Park by 1895. The lands for these parks were attained through purchase or bequest. Such is the case for Elizabeth Park which was bequeathed to the City of Hartford upon the death of Charles M. Pond in 1894. During his life, Charles Pond had acquired 90 acres that were bordered by Prospect Avenue on the east and Asylum Avenue on the north. His only request was that the park be named for his deceased wife Elizabeth who loved the flowers and many gardens around their vast estate. The site of the current rose garden was their nursery. Charles also left a very generous $100,000 fund for the ongoing care of the grounds, an amount roughly equal to $2.8 million today.

 

The original landscaping for Elizabeth Park was done by the sons of Frederick Law Olmsted as he had retired in 1895. Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., and John Charles Olmsted followed in their famous and prolific father’s design footprints. The park now encompasses 101.45 acres and includes 12 different gardens, 4 greenhouses, 2 gazebos, 2 bridges, and a pond among various other outbuildings, sports fields, tracks, and playgrounds.

Annual bed 2

The day of our visit we saw people strolling the grounds, bikers and runners on the paths and roads, and dog-walkers that included 2 Portuguese water dogs that were enjoying a cool swim in the pond! Our daughter attended one of the many weddings that take place in the Rose Garden each year and we have been to one of the fun outdoor concerts that are held during the summer.

full garden

But the big draw always remains the flowers. The Rose Garden was the first municipal rose garden in the United States and is the third largest with well over 15,000 roses in 475 beds. If you think that it’s difficult to take care of your flower beds then just imagine the number of hours that it takes to care for 2½ acres of roses! The day of our visit the gardeners were trimming the arbors that line the 8 paths to the main gazebo, known as the Rustic Summer House, as those roses bloom mid-June to late July. They actually remove the clips that hold the trailing vines on the arbors, unwind them, trim them, and reattach each one. It seems quite a laborious process but the gardeners just worked steadily and systematically.

It was impossible to take in all of the roses that were still in bloom, many of which will continue to bloom into the fall. Each new variety was as beautiful as the next as these images show.

But the roses aren’t the only beautiful blooms at Elizabeth Park. The Annual Garden is planted in early June as the 10,000 tulips that were planted in the fall die back. Those bulbs are pulled out as they don’t always re-bloom but in their place is a circular annual garden with crescent-shaped beds of plants that were started from seed in the greenhouses. Some of our favorites included the sunflowers, Helianthus annuus, cleome, Cleome, and heliotrope, Heliotropium.

And Zinnias! Lots and lots of zinnias!

Walking from the greenhouses past the Annual Garden you come to the Perennial Garden. In existence since 1914, the Perennial Garden is an herbaceous delight of 8 large beds bordered by Japanese yew. The Japanese anemones, Anemone hupehensis var. japonica, also known as thimbleweed, were standouts with their delicate pink blooms above the purple stems.

A summersweet bush, Clethra alnifolia, with its upright panicles of white and pink were very attractive to the dozens of pollinators that seemed to be everywhere, including on the hydrangea, Hydrangea paniculata, the coneflowers, Echinacea, and the blue shrimp plant, Cerinthe major.

Other beautiful areas include the Horticultural gardens where herb beds, oleander (Nerium oleander), and giant castor bean (Ricinus communis) plants grow side-by-side.

The Julian and Edith Eddy Rock Garden is a shady and peacefully contemplative area with the spicy anise aroma of agastache (Agastache foeniculum).

Closer to the pond are the Charlie Ortiz Hosta Garden and of course, the renowned Pond House. I always thought that it was thus named due to its proximity to the Laurel Pond, but no, it is named for the Ponds.

The area surrounding the Pond House is worth a visit in and of itself just to encounter the quirky surprises that are around each corner, such as the stone face planter that peeks out of a slightly ajar door and the gravity-defying terra-cotta planters. The Pond House has a working kitchen garden that is full of herbs and vegetables that are used by the café where we enjoyed a delicious and relaxed lunch that gave us the break that we needed to head out to the gardens once again.

As you can imagine, it takes a lot of work and money to sustain something as large as Elizabeth Park. In fact, in the 1970s, the City of Hartford had decided to plow the park under due to the expense of keeping it up. Fortunately, a group of volunteers formed the Friends of Elizabeth Park in 1977 and the Elizabeth Park Conservancy is still very instrumental in working with the City of Hartford to keep the park free and open to the public. If you are 18 years of age or older then you can volunteer to help in the maintenance of the park, just check out this link, Volunteer. Should you want to learn more about the history of Elizabeth Park there will be a free tour on Saturday, September 14th, 2019 at 10:00 a.m. starting at the flagpole outside of the green Cottage.

Susan Pelton

All images by S. Pelton, UConn, 2019

8 fritillaries on milkweed

Some milkweeds are still blooming. Look for butterflies, like these great spangled fritillaries , on the flowers

Taking a walk around the yard, garden and woods, we are never at a loss of finding interesting, and sometimes annoying, plants and insects. Below are a few favorite and fun things that we found last week.

wineberry upclose

Wineberries, Rubus phoenicolasius, are non-native plants with edible fruit.

Wineberry is native to China and Japan and is a relative of raspberry and blackberry. It was originally brought to this country in 1890 as breeding stock. Today it is classified as invasive due to its aggressive tendencies. https://www.massaudubon.org/learn/nature-wildlife/invasive-plants/wineberry

Tobacco hornworms shown above are actively feeding on tomato plants. If you find a stem of your tomato plant with few or no leaves, scout for this caterpillar. Remove and dispose of as you see fit.

Hibiscus border

This hibiscus border is colorful in August

Many plants can make a suitable border, as seen above on this property featuring a hibiscus border. Perennial hibiscus Hibiscus moscheutos is easy to grow and gives a tropical, colorful look in the summer.

Check undersides of squash leaves for the egg rafts of the squash bugs. If, found, you can crush or use the sticky side of tape to remove them from the leaf. Dispose of tape in the garbage.

red spotted purple on clethra alnifolia

Clethra alnifolia and red spotted purple butterfly

 CLethra alnifoilia is a native shrub often found on edges of ponds, streams or in other places where soils are wet. Flowers are very fragrant and attract many pollinators and butterflies.

 

juvenile red- tailed hawk on rock wall late summer

Juvenile red-tailed hawk

This juvenile red-tailed hawk has found an ideal spot on top of a stone wall to wait for prey like chipmunks, voles and squirrels. Young red-tails have blue eyes.

grapevine beetle 2019 Pamm Cooper photo

Grapevine beetle resting on a grape leaf

The grapevine beetle, Pelidnota punctata, is often found on or near wild or cultivated grape. The beetle is attracted to lights and is frequently found in swimming pools where lights are on for part of the night. Although it feeds on grape leaves, it is not considered a pest. Larvae feed on organic matter.

 

In the spirit of ” gung ho” (Gung ho!, motto (interpreted as meaning “work together”)  Carol Quish and  Pamm Cooper did this blog together

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.

ksd-house.jpg

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

 

The gorgeous flowers of the  horse chestnut are blooming this week. Aesculus hippocastanum is commonly called European Horsechestnut or Common Horsechestnut. The massive trees are fast growers and need plenty of room to spread out and reach high. Never plant one near or under power lines. The panicle flowers are normally white with parts of pink and yellow. There is another variety with pink flowers as shown below. Horsechestnut fruit is not edible for humans and are called conkers. The shiny nuts look nice displayed in a dish for nature lovers, just don’t try to crack and eat them!
red horse chestnut.jpg

Red Horsechestnut Flower

Luna moth sighting have been reported around the state this week. They are a strikingly large and beautiful, with only a brief seven days of life in its adult stage. They are nocturnal spending the night seeking a mate with females laying eggs for next year’s generation. Occasionally they will fly towards a light even landing on a screen door with lights on inside. Host trees providing leaves for caterpillars to eat are walnut, hickory, sweet gum, and paper birch.

Luna moth A.Saalfrankphoto 6-4-2017 - Copy

Luna Moth

In the vegetable garden asparagus beetles are very active, feeding, mating and laying eggs. As can be seen in the lower photo, eggs are laid on on point sticking horizontally at a 90 degree angle to the stem and off of the flower bud stem. Crush all eggs by running you hand up and down each stalk. Catch adults beetles and crush or drop into a container of soapy water to rid them from the asparagus patch.

asparagus beetle May 19 2019 Pamm

Asparagus Beetle

asparagus beetle eggs May 20 2019

Asparagus Beetle Eggs

Another oddity was sent to my office this week. This is an Apple Oak Gall produce by a developing tiny, cynipid wasp. The adult female wasp injects the egg and a chemical into leaf tissue, causing the leaf to distort and makes a home and food for the newly hatched larva. Once the larva is big enough, it pupates inside the gall, only coming out once the gall is empty and dry. There are not enough wasp and galls to cause harm to the tree, so they are only considered cosmetic not a pest.

apple oak gall 2, RZilinski photo

Apple Oak Gall

Another gall I found this week was the Wool Sower Gall on a white oak tree.  The gall is caused by secretions from the developing wasp larva, secretions of , (Callirhytis seminator). These galls and wasp damage are also not harmful to the tree. The wasps are not dangerous to humans as they do not sting.

wool sower gall 2 - Copy

Wool Sower Gall on white oak.

Other galls we have seen in past made by insects are the grape tube gallmaker galls on grape leaves, (Schizomyia viticola). Grape tube gallmaker is a species of mite that forms a gall on New World grape leaves. Larvae feed inside the tubes and are free from predators as they feed on the deformed plant tissue. Again only cosmetic to the plant.

grape tubemaker gall

Grape Tube Galls on grape leaf.

Finger galls form on a cherry leaf below. Eriophyid mites are the gall makers here. They are microscopic mites developing inside the raised, malformed tissue. Mites can be identified by the structures they create on their host plant.

finger galls on small cherry

Finger Galls on a cherry leaf.

Velvetleaf galls on sweet birch develop from the feeding of the  velvet eriophyid gall mite.  Reddish-patches are called an erinea, can also occur on silver maple. (JLaughman photo).

velvet gall on birch,Jean Laughman photo, 6-8-18

The soil bacterium, Agrobacterium tumefaciens, can cause galls, tumors in this case, on the crown, roots and sometimes branches of susceptible host plants. Euonymus is commonly infected. The bacterium can enter a plant via any tissue damage that normally happens during pruning or transplanting. Agrobacterium tumefaciens is also used as a tool in the laboratory in genetic engineering to introduce genes into plants in a natural way.

crown gall - Copy

Crown Gall, Agrobacterium tumefaciens.

-Carol Quish

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.

Wilsons 5-12-14

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

T

 

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

 

 

forsythia

The earth is continuing to awake this week, wide-eyed and full of vigor. The most obvious, in-your-face sign is the bright and intense yellow flowers of forsythia popping up and out of landscapes and yards. There is nothing subtle about forsythia. It is loud and screaming to be seen. A designing friend once called it the “spring vomit defiling the landscape.”  Another bit of sage wisdom on color theory about yellow was offered from a quilt teacher, “A little yellow goes a long way.” But I think forsythia’s splash is just what is needed after months of grey and browns of winter, especially a winter without the white of snow cover.  Forsythia shocks us out of the winter doldrums and seems to waken all the other flowers.

forsthyia in the woods

 

Forsythias bloom on wood grown in the previous year. Prune forsythia the spring immediately after flowering. Flower buds develop during the summer and fall, and fall, winter or early spring pruning will remove them. Forsythia is a non-native plant here. Most species are from Asia with one originating in Southeastern Europe.  Forsythia is often used a marker and reminder to apply crabgrass preventer. Once the forsythia is starting to drop its flowers, the timing is right to apply pre-emergent fertilizer. The same ground temperatures at that stage of blooming are the same ground temperatures to initiate crabgrass seed germination. Good to know.

Daffodils complement the landscape, drawing eyes away from possible blinding by overplanted forsythia hedges. Daffodils come in varying shades of yellow from soft, pale yellows and whites to deep, yellows with almost orange trumpets. Bulbs planted in clumps look more natural than soldier straight rows, although rows add a sense of formality and satisfy the orderly type of gardeners. All parts of the daffodil plant is toxic to animals, making is a good choice where deer and voles are common to visit.

daffodil clumps

Directly following the forsythia flowers, several showy trees begin blooming. First is the star magnolia, (Magnolia stellata), with its white star-like flowers. Any winds will move the tepals, and if you squint hard enough, look like twinkling stars. Star magnolia is native to Japan and is a common specimen tree here in the U.S..  Flowers delicate often succumb to frost damage and turning brown tinged.

 

Saucer magnolia (Magnolia x soulangiana), blooms a week or two later than the star magnolia. Saucer magnolia flowers are cup shaped in various shades of pink depending on variety. The parents of this hybrid are Magnolia denudate x Magnolia liliiflorsa, both native to China. I love the smooth grey bark visible during the winter once the leaves drop, providing great winter interest.

 Another softer and less yellow flowering shrub blooming currently is Cornell pink azalea AKA Korean azalea, (Rhododendron mucronulatum). Blossoms come out before the leaves turning the multi-stemmed shrub into a mass of many clear pink flowers. It is native to Korea, Russia, Mongolia and Northern China. Bees especially appreciate its rich nectar source and often are can be seen visiting at all times of day.

Rhododendron mucronulatum. Azalea Pamm Cooper photo

Spicebush, (Lindera benzoin), is a native understory shrub with subtle, pale yellow flowers attached along branches before leaves emerge. Look into the woods to see a bit of dotted yellow haze in wet areas. Leaves can be used to make a tea. Red berries will be produced later in the season providing food for wildlife and birds.

spice bush

Cornelian cherry, (Cornus mas), is not a cherry at all, it is in the dogwood family. Native to Europe where the fruits produced later in the season are used for preserves and syrups, if you can beat the birds to harvest them.  Mature trees develop interesting, exfoliating bark.

Look lower to the ground for first spring flowers. The native bluets (Houstonia caerulea) are beginning their show up. Other common names are Azure Bluet and Quaker Ladies. Find them growing in moist areas near stream banks, rivers and ponds. I see them in natural lawns where no herbicides or weed and feed products were ever used. Cow fields are usually loaded with them in rural areas.

Bluets

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) is another native spring flowering plant poking its white blossoms up from the soil with its leaves following below. Flowers are self-pollinating, and then form a seed pod which ripens around July. Ants are important allies in spreading the seeds, and eating the rich lipid coating on the seeds, aiding in germination.  Bloodroot occurs natural in woodland settings, blooming before the tree leaf canopy develops. Bloodroot gets its name from the red juice emitted from rhizomes historically used to dye wool and fabrics. It was also used for medicinal properties in the past.

 

-by Carol Quish

 

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