Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Reflections on 2016

The new year is already a week old, but now that the Christmas decorations have finally been put away, I have some time to reflect on the past year.  2016 was certainly eventful, full of dizzying joys and the depths of despair.  But one of my resolutions for this year is to try to find something positive in every day, so I want to focus on the good parts of 2016.

January 2016 was truly an awful month for me, full of personal loss.  But in spite of all that, the many birds at the feeders provided for some quiet moments of enjoyment and a reminder that life goes on in spite of harsh conditions.

February brought its share of snow, and more time was spent enjoying the wonders of nature from the comfort of my living room window.  By the end of the month, however, we had a reprieve from winter, and daffodils began an early emergence from the soil.

March--can there be anything more uplifting to your spirits than the appearance of the first spring flowers?  March is a fickle month in the Midwest, sometimes bringing the worst of winter weather, but last year all I remember is that it was warm and beautiful.  By the end of the month, daffodils, hyacinths, and many other spring bulbs were in full bloom, and I was busy getting an early start on cleaning up the garden.

April, too, can sometimes break your heart with a teasing of spring that disappears under more cold or constant days of rain.  But not so last year--April 2016 was glorious!  Spring, as I've often said, is my favorite season of the year, and last year's spring was exceptional with warm weather and a daily explosion of blooms from all my tulips.  New green growth was sprouting everywhere.

A warm April meant that most of the tulips and other spring bloomers had faded by the first of May.  Irises and peonies took center stage instead, although the month was more of a transition time in the garden.  May is always the busiest month for me, as I plant containers and annuals in the flowerbeds and try to complete a host of other garden chores.  My resolution for this year is try to slow down and enjoy this beautiful month more, although I suspect that will be hard to change.

Ah, June--my favorite month of the year.  The garden was bursting with color by mid-month, but it didn't take me long to choose one photo of the many I took during this time: coneflowers and butterflies--two of my favorites!  If it was possible to freeze time and just live one day over and over again, I would pick a sunny day in June with swaths of coneflowers blooming and alive with bees and butterflies.

July brought even more color as coneflowers competed with lilies, a new one blooming each day it seemed.  I've become addicted to all kinds of lilies and can't really pick a favorite although 'Stargazer,' which grew to new heights this year, would definitely be a contender.

If coneflowers represent June and lilies represent July, then the perfect choice for August would have to be zinnias.  I've shown the 'Zowie' zinnias, one of my favorites, over and over again on Facebook and on summer posts here, but I did grow other zinnias as well.  All of them performed exceptionally this year, probably due to the weather.  It was a warm summer--not ungodly hot, but consistently hot throughout the season so that garden work was relegated to early mornings only.  Besides the warm weather, we had consistent rainfall as well, so that everything seemed to grow taller and fuller than ever before.

September brought asters, goldenrod, the 'Limelight' hydrangea, and Japanese anemones as well as a few other fall-bloomers. The heat continued through the last month of summer, and I spent many moments enjoying the shade of the front porch watching the goldfinches feast on the fading coneflowers and the antics of hummingbirds.  The warm weather meant the hummers stayed longer than usual; my last visitor stayed until the second week of October.

By October, much of the garden sensed the end of the year, though continued warm weather--and no frost!--kept many things blooming longer than usual.  The Amsonia hubrichtii, which usually has a golden hue by October, stayed nearly green until November.  The trees were slow to turn as well, and many didn't drop their leaves until December.

If one month symbolizes the extreme highs and lows of 2016, it has to be November.  On November 2, the Cubs won the World Series, ending a 108-year drought for long-suffering Cubs fans like myself.  Unless you're a baseball fan, you probably won't understand the joyous delirium we all felt. But you will understand the joy I felt just three days later when my 8th grandchild, a precious little girl, was born.  The other two granddaughters are older, so I am looking forward to tea parties and princess and fairy make-believe once again!

As for the low, well, the following week was the Presidential election.  Nothing else needs to be said, although I have vowed to try to be kinder and to be more active, speaking up for what I believe in the coming year.

As for the garden, the first frost finally arrived on November 12, the latest first frost ever recorded in our area.  So whatever else can be said about 2016, it was a great year in the garden--the longest blooming season in my memory!

By December, bulbs had been planted, and the garden was going into its long winter's sleep.  There was time at last to prepare for the holidays and to make the much-anticipated trip to Texas to meet my new granddaughter.  This may not be the best photograph, technically speaking, but it's my favorite of 2016 because the year ended on such a positive note.  This is what it's all about--family and sharing life with those you love.

We don't know what 2017 may bring for the garden, but I know whether it's an outstanding year or just a mediocre one, we gardeners won't give up hope.  And that is what I wish for all of you in the coming year--hope, peace, and love.  As Ellen says, "Be kind to one another."  💕

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

November GBBD: End of the Season

What a November this has been so far!  The month began with the Cubs winning the World Series, the first time in 108 years.  This die-hard Cubs' fan was ecstatic and walked around in a joyful delirium for at least a day.  Three days later, a new baby granddaughter entered this world, and Grandma was filled with joy, not to mention impatient anticipation as we wait to make the drive to Texas to see her for the first time.  And then three days after that was Election Day.  Like many others, I watched in disbelief as results came in that night, and woke up the next morning filled with dread and worry.  Talk about running the gamut of emotions in just one short week!

But I'm not going to talk about politics today, nor the fairy-tale ending to this year's Cubs' season, nor am I even going to show off my precious granddaughter today.  Instead, let's talk about the garden.  The beginning of November was amazing with warm weather and many annuals still blooming in the garden.

Just a few days ago, November 10, to be exact, I was admiring this 'Senorita Rosalita' Cleome.  I've planted this cultivar in pots the last several years, and it never did particularly well. This year I decided to plant it in a bare spot in the sidewalk garden, and what a difference!  Topping out at 3 1/2 feet tall and spreading even more in width, it is obviously much happier here with room to grow.  Lesson learned for next year.

On the same day, I walked around admiring the zinnias, knowing their days were numbered.  To my surprise, I found a late visitor enjoying the blooms.  This poor Monarch looks like he's had a rough time, and sadly, I don't think he had time to make it South before the cold set in.  Many of the zinnias were looking just as tattered, but there were still enough fresh blooms to enjoy one last time.

One last time...because this was the scene the next morning.  Our first frost arrived on November 11, and what survived that first morning was given a final blow the next morning with even colder temperatures.  Seeing the end of summer/autumn blooms is always a bit sad, but I'm not complaining.This was the latest first frost ever recorded in our area, so we had an unusually long season to enjoy the garden this year.

While the frost pretty much zapped the garden, there are still a few annuals blooming.  'Victoria Blue' Salvia is still looking good as are the geraniums, and surprisingly, some verbena in a pot survived the cold.  Of course, the few pansies I have are thriving.

As is the ruffled kale, which seems to get more colorful as the temperature drops.

The few roses I have don't mind the cooler weather either; 'Zephirine Drouhin' has even put out a few new blooms.

As the garden winds down for the year, it is a good time to enjoy the last days of autumn color.  The leaves turned late this year. My maple, the star of our front yard every fall, still is hanging on to many of its leaves.

Grasses are at their peak right now, and the seedheads of switchgrasses, for example, add beauty to the garden as they rustle in the breeze.

One of my favorite vignettes in the garden each year is this, Amsonia hubrichtii with a Beautyberry next to it.  My camera wants to wash out the color for some reason, but this Amsonia is a dramatic gold right now and positively glows in the sunlight.

While November doesn't have the riot of colors that summer has, there is still much to enjoy in the garden.  Even seedheads have a beauty all their own and sometimes an extra surprise if you look closely enough.

 I've really appreciated the extended season this year, especially this past week as I've found once again that there's nothing quite like gardening for soothing your soul.

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day is brought to you each month by Carol at May Dreams Gardens.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

October Bloom Day

It's time for another Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day.  Although I don't post as often as I used to or would like to do, I always try to participate in this monthly meme because it's a great way for me to keep a record of what is blooming each month.  It's interesting to compare a month to previous years as well, especially in a month like October.  Some years we have had a frost by this time and there's very little left in bloom.  But unseasonably warm weather this year has kept the garden plugging along.

The garden is definitely winding down, however, There are still many green leaves on the hostas, but most are in the middle of their fall decay.

But there is still quite a bit in bloom.  
What is more appropriate for this month than 'October Skies' Asters?

The New England Asters, which I have the most of, have long since turned to seedheads, but besides the later Aster oblongifolius I have a few others, including some Aster tataricus, a tall aster that somehow found its way into the back of my butterfly garden.  And yes, I do know the botanical name has changed to Symphyotrichum, but that is such a mouthful and I am getting older and stuck in my ways, so they will always be asters to me.

There are also some large clumps of Aster pilosus, known as Frost Aster or Hairy Aster, that escaped the weeding tools this spring.  This is not an aster for everyone, because many consider it a weed and it tends to spread pretty aggressively.  Still, the bees love it, which makes it worth keeping a few.  If you would like to know more about this plant, you can find it here.

Speaking of bees, one thing you won't see today are any flying visitors in my garden.  There are still some bees around, but I think many have started making nests for the winter. There are few butterflies as well.  I have a seen a Monarch or two floating through the air this past week, but I think they, too, are sensing the change in seasons and starting their migration south.  And Tuesday was the last day I spotted a hummingbird at the feeders.  I only wish he had said goodbye!  I wish them all safe travels and a warm winter and look forward to seeing them again next spring.

Autumn days have brought a fresh flush of blooms on the Knockout roses. 'Radsunny' adds some cheerful color to the Lily Bed.  

One of my favorite flowers this time of year is the Japanese Anemone.  I think this is 'Honorine Jobert,' but the tag has long since been lost.

The vegetable garden is pretty much done for the year except for green tomatoes that will probably never ripen.  But on one end closest to the house, I always plant a few marigold seeds, and this fall they have taken over four to five feet of the garden!  I'm not sure why they have spread so much this year, but I don't mind since they are choking out any weeds and certainly add a bright spot of color to this area.

Autumn also means the 'Victoria Blue' Salvia has come into its own.  This is one of my favorite annuals, and I have it planted in many places.  While other annuals have faded or will turn brown at the first hint of frost, 'Victoria' will keep going until a killing frost.

'Wendy's Wish' isn't as hardy and won't last past the first touch of frost, but I do enjoy this larger, fuschia Salvia, and it's a favorite of the hummingbirds.

The past two weeks I've been thinking about fall chores and slowly starting to prepare for the winter.  My bulb orders all arrived this past week, and I've made a little headway in planting bulbs.  Soon it will be time to put things away and dig up tender plants.  I know you can't tell from this photo, but this caladium leaf is huge!  A friend gave me a few bulbs this summer, and I put them in a pot, having no idea how big they would be.  I want to make sure to pack these safely away before winter--these are going directly into the shade garden next year, instead of being crammed into tiny pots.

Looking around the garden for a few photos on this breezy, rainy day, I found a few surprises.  There are a few new coneflower blooms, and the white phlox have a few fresh blooms as well.  But most surprising of all was this--a bloom on my huge lilac bush!  This is not a re-blooming lilac, but an old-fashioned shrub.  The warm fall must have it confused.

And, in case you're wondering, yes, I still have zinnias!  Some of them are even taller than I am.

'Zowie's' are blowing in the wind, but still standing strong, with a few new blooms opening up every few days.

It really has been a great year for zinnias, and I had to show them off one more time, because I'm sure this will be the last Bloom Day for them this year.  The first frost will bring them to an end, so they remind me every day to enjoy each and every moment of this fall.

The leaves on the trees have just begun to turn, and with the warm weather we've had for most of this month, it's hard to think of winter just a few weeks away.  If you'll pardon the pun, it's been a "berry nice" fall.  Viburnum 'Cardinal Candy' above is full of little berries to tempt the birds.

My non-gardening daughter asked me one day if these were blackberries, and I told her she was close, but I wouldn't recommend eating them.  I enjoy this stage of blackberry lilies as much as I do their earlier blooms.

The crabapples are full of fruit this year--enough to keep the birds happy for awhile.

And one of my personal fall favorites--the Beautyberry.

The weatherman has promised warm weather through the end of the month.  I certainly hope he's right, not only to finish all my fall chores, but also to enjoy the remaining beauty of the garden for as long as I can.  I hope you are enjoying Autumn as well!

To see what else is blooming around the world on this mid-October day, be sure to visit our hostess Carol of May Dreams Gardens.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Lessons Learned From the Back Porch

The autumnal equinox arrived this past Thursday without much fanfare.  The weatherman on the local TV station talked about it, of course, but then apologized for the continuing heat in the forecast.  I did go out and buy some pansies and a few other fall annuals to replace the awful-looking dead petunias next to my front door, but  I didn't get carried away.  It's hard to think of pumpkins and mums when it's 90 degrees outside.

The asters and goldenrod apparently got the notice that it is autumn.
By the time I get this posted, however, the weather is supposed to change, with more reasonable temperatures in the 70's this week, and I won't have anything to complain about anymore--ha!  While I wait for those welcome cooler days, it's a good time to sit down and reflect on the past season for Beth's seasonal meme "Lessons Learned in the Garden."

While I'm sure I learned many new things this past season, my mind is drawing a blank.  The problem is that by mid-July, I lost all my motivation for serious gardening.  By that time I was tired of constantly pulling weeds: the consistent rain this season was a blessing, but at the same time it meant the weeds flourished, too.  After an hour or two of weeding or trimming or picking green beans, the sweat was rolling into my eyes, and I gave up.  I guess that means I've learned that I am a fair-weather gardener--if it's hot and buggy, I'm staying indoors.

Instead of doing much actual garden work for the past two months, I have spent a lot of time on my front porch noting all that has to be done and making plans for those perfect "somedays" when the temps are are in the 70's, the bugs have stopped biting, and I'm full of energy.

From my shady perch on the porch swing, I can easily see the coneflowers when they're in full bloom and get a partial view of the lily bed and even the arbor bed beyond that.

If I stand up and crane my neck a little, I can even see parts of the shade garden as well.  The best part about this viewing at a distance is that I don't really see the weeds or the deadheading that needs to be done, and I can just relax and procrastinate to my heart's content.

With several planters on or near the front porch, I have much to enjoy close-up as well, such as this hibiscus.  Fortunately, the only upkeep these planters require is frequent watering, which I do pretty faithfully since it doesn't mean working up a sweat.

Besides looking at what is blooming, my place on the porch gives me a great vantage point for watching all the visitors to my garden.  When the coneflowers bloom, the nearby sidewalk garden is alive with butterflies.  And with only a few short steps, I can get up close to observe and photograph them.

Once the coneflowers have faded, the butterflies are replaced by the goldfinches who are constantly feeding on their seedheads.  From the porch's front step I can zoom out with the camera to get a photo if I'm lucky.

The porch gives me a great vantage point, too, for observing all kinds of bird activity throughout the seasons besides the goldfinches, from hawks swooping through the air looking for prey to cardinals feasting on the tiny crabapples.  But my favorite bird activity is only a few feet away as the hummingbirds visit the feeder just beyond the swing.

I love watching them hover in the air and then battle each other for rights to the feeder.  And if I happen to have my camera and am very, very quick, I might just get lucky enough to get one decent photo of them all summer feeding at one of their favorites, the 'Black and Blue' Salvia.

Sometimes I don't even have to look very far as bees visit the planters on the porch or even more fascinating creatures come for a short while.  Yes, you never know who will come to visit!

Tiny syrphid flies are just one of the many pollinating insects to be found in the garden.
Looking through all these photos, I am reminded that I have learned another lesson this summer--I have learned much more about pollinators.  I took a few hours' training to become a "Pollinator Pocket" presenter, a program developed by our local Extension Office.  I learned so much about different insects and other pollinators and their life cycles.

I also learned more about the needs of these different pollinators, including plants that will help to feed them.  I already knew that asters and other late-blooming plants provide a valuable food source in the fall.  But a local beekeeper at the workshop reminded everyone that bees need food in the early spring as well, and he encouraged us all to plant more crocuses because they are one of the few sources of food very early in the spring.  You can be sure when I placed my bulb orders this past week that I ordered plenty of crocuses!

Not sure what type of bumble this big guy is.

Earlier in the summer I also attended a talk by Dr. Sydney Cameron, an entomologist specializing in bumblebees, on the rare Rusty-patched Bumblebee Bombus affinis.  We watched a short but fascinating documentary on this bee called "A Ghost in the Making," which you can find here on YouTube.  The rusty-patched bumblebee was once very common in parts of the U.S., but for reasons unknown its numbers have dwindled, and it is now being considered as an endangered species.

This talk inspired me to look more closely at the bumblebees in my own garden, and while I can't identify them by type, I know that my visitors are the much more common species normally seen throughout this area.  Still, I am searching for that elusive rusty-patched bumblebee!

Linda of Each Little World and Lisa of Greenbow enjoy chatting with Susan.
One of the places where this rare bumblebee has been spotted in recent years is at the University of Wisconsin Arboretum.  On a visit to Madison earlier this month to meet up with a few fellow bloggers,  Beth introduced us to Susan Carpenter, Native Plant Gardener at the Arboretum.  As she was talking about her work here, she happened to bring up the rusty-patched bumblebee and mentioned that part of the film I had seen was filmed at the Arboretum.  Talk about coincidence!

We didn't find any rusty-patched bumblebees on this day, but we did see many other species, and Susan mentioned that one of their favorite plants this time of year is the native thistle.

Looking back, I realize that maybe I did learn more this summer than I realized.  I know I'm going to be more conscious of pollinators and do what I can to increase their numbers in my garden.  And while I've enjoyed the past two months on the porch, this morning is much cooler and pleasant, so it's time to get off that swing and get to work!

For more reflections on lessons learned in the garden this past season, be sure to stop by Beth's at Plant Postings.