Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Wildflower Wednesday and The GBBC

Is it just my imagination, or is this winter whizzing by?  Normally, I would be counting the days until spring by now, but it was a surprise to me to look at the calendar this morning and discover that it was already the fourth Wednesday of February, meaning it's time for another Wildflower Wednesday.

I'm sure the mild weather we've experienced this year is the main reason I haven't suffered from my usual winter blahs.   Sunny days in the '40's and '50's hint that spring may be just around the corner, and the sight of crocuses in bloom again today add to that feeling.  Most of the garden is still waiting for confirmation of the beginning of spring, but there are some spots of green here and there, like the hollyhocks ready to get a jumpstart on the growing season. Technically, I suppose, hollyhocks don't qualify as wildflowers, but these are the old-fashioned single bloom species that have been here forever, so that I've come to think of them as natives in my garden. 

While it's much too early for any wildflowers or natives in my area, you need only look around to know that there will be plenty later in the summer. I haven't taken advantage of the weather to do any garden clean-up yet. We could still be hit with a blizzard or some sub-zero temperatures, so I hate to remove any leaves or plant debris protecting tender shoots and leaves--that's my excuse rationale,anyway, and I'm sticking with it.  Seedheads of Monarda above(though not our native Monarda fistulosa), goldenrod, and asters, along with other natives still standing tall throughout the garden, will soon release their bounty, ensuring another generation in the coming season.

Even after hungry finches have had their fill, there will definitely be plenty of echinacea seed to go around.

I'm hoping, though, that self-seeders will not be the only natives this year.  Seeds of Downy skullcap Scutellaria incana, Cutleaf coneflower Rudbeckia lacinata, and "yellow coneflower"--which I'm hoping is actually the gray-headed coneflower Ratibida pinnata--are being acclimated to Illinois winters in hopes of producing some sturdy offspring this spring.

While I wait for the seeds to germinate . . . I have been practicing a little with my new camera.  I've been wanting a new camera for a long time, and a few weeks ago I finally bought myself a belated Christmas present.   I'm not ready--and may never be--to purchase a digital SLR, nor can I afford one right now, so I purchased a Nikon Coolpix 500. It is still a digital camera, but has so many more features than my old Sony Cybershot.  The two photos of the seedheads above turned out pretty well, I thought, but I'm still trying to figure out how to use the macro setting without half the photos turning out blurry.  What has me excited right now, though, is the zoom capabilities--finally, I can get a decent close-up of a bird from 30 feet away.  In other words, I can actually snap a picture before he has a chance to realize there's a human nearby! 

Having the new camera was perfect timing for this past weekend's Great Backyard Bird Count.  I could take photos and count birds.  One sparrow in the dogwood tree . . .

Two sparrows in the dogwood tree . . . whoa, hold that camera steady!

Three sparrows in the dogwood tree . . .

 I think you get the idea.  This was my third year to participate in the GBBC, but it was such a disappointing result that I'm not sure I'll even turn in my count--a grand total of 10 sparrows.  This year I have seen very few of the usual species that visit us each winter.  No dark-eyed juncos, which are usually plentiful, no chickadees, no nuthatches, nor any of the other visitors that occasionally come for some nourishment during the cold months.  I suspect it has something to do with our mild winter.  One nature columnist in the newspaper mentioned that many birds that usually migrate from farther north have stayed put this winter because of the warmer temperatures.  The lack of snow cover may also be a factor--the nearby fields still have grain and seeds easily accessible to foraging birds, though this is just a guess on my part.

While the weekend's bird count was pretty much a bust, I was happy to finally see this male downy woodpecker come to the suet feeder a few weeks ago.  The Downys come every winter, and I had begun to worry even they wouldn't show up.

Not only did he make several visits, but his mate also came along.  Impressed that I can identify their gender?  Don't be; it's very easy--notice the lack of a red cap on this female.

Even more exciting was a visit from the red-bellied woodpecker, which appears much more infrequently here than the Downys.  I think this might be a female, too.

As if to tease me that the Bird Count is now over, this morning I heard a familiar call and looked up to see a cardinal high above in the locust tree.  Ah, I love my zoom lens!

I'm glad I didn't have my head in the clouds all morning, though, because look what I spied below--the first hellebore bud!   Yes, it won't be long until spring is here for real.

For other thoughts on wildflowers, be sure to visit the champion of natives and pollinators, Gail at Clay and Limestone.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

February Bloom Day

A belated Happy Valentine's Day and Happy Bloom Day to all!  Yes, it is time once again for the monthly celebration of what is blooming in (or out) of your garden, hosted faithfully for over five years now by Carol of May Dreams Gardens.  I'm glad it's Bloom Day, because I've been a little under the weather for the past week and haven't felt much like blogging.

Speaking of the weather, here in the Midwest we've been reminded that winter is far from over, despite rumors to the contrary.

A week and a half ago, I was taking advantage of the mild weather and sunny skies to take a walk.  I happened to look down and to my surprise saw these daffodils emerging in the garden.

Looking across the driveway, I also noticed some spots of yellow scattered underneath the pine trees.  Dandelions in February??  No, they were yellow crocuses in full bloom!  Looking through the photo archives and old blog posts, I confirmed that these were indeed at least a month ahead of schedule. 

Just when I was beginning to think spring might arrive early this year, Mother Nature brought us back to reality.  The very next morning the crocuses had closed up and everything was covered in hoarfrost.   The yarrow, which was showing signs of green growth on the balmy Sunday, was an interesting arrangement of silver and white on Monday.

The butterfly garden, which has looked more like a mass of dried-up weeds most of the winter, once again looked rather eye-catching with the white plumes of goldenrod.

So once again, we must turn indoors for any signs of blooms this February, which is not that easy, since I'm not much of a houseplant person.  I do have a few blooms, but mostly what I have is foliage.  Notice the amaryllis on the right which has very tall leaves--I measured them at 31 inches!--but not a single bloom.  This happened a few years ago, too, and I'm not sure if it's because the bulb wasn't chilled enough this fall or something else, but I was certainly disappointed not to see the pink and white blooms I had last year. 

The paperwhites next to them seem to be in a race to see who can grow the tallest, but at least they are blooming!  This is the first year I've grown narcissus indoors, and I have to say they're the easiest of any bulbs I've tried to force.

That's it for any blooms here this February, but while pickin's are pretty slim, I know it won't be long till some real blooms appear once again.  Several containers filled with seeds are sitting outside waiting for the snow to melt and the sun to warm them up.

Hopefully, it won't be long until the icy "blooms" on the clematis turn to real ones instead.  

It is another gray February day here in the Heartland, but somewhere the sun is probably shining and real flowers are blooming--check them out at May Dreams Gardens.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Waiting for the Circus to Arrive

The calendar may say February 1, but if I didn't know better I would think it was April.  Today's high temperature is supposed to be in the low 50's, and yesterday it got up to 61 degrees, warm enough that I quickly shed my coat while running errands around town.  It looks, feel, and smells like spring! 

Days like these make me eager to see blooms, of course, but also to see some of my usual spring and summer visitors.  The bumblebees, like this one enjoying the white salvia in the Arbor Bed last year, will probably be among the first to arrive.

Going through old photo files the last few weeks, I realized I had intended to do a reprise of 2010's Cirque du Prairie, but never got around to it.

While 2011 did have some acrobatic performers like this balancing bee  . . .

. . . or the mantis trapeze artist, 

. . . most were content with less death-defying activities. 

A variety of performers, however, kept the show interesting.  Some were so small they often went unnoticed until downloading photos onto the computer.

Others sent the audience searching through books and websites to find their names.

While there were plenty of bees in last summer's show, the circus appeared to have been downsized in other areas, perhaps another victim of the poor economy.  Butterflies, especially, were fewer in number in 2011.

Still, some of the usual performers showed up, like this Buckeye and the swallowtail in the previous photo.

And the Tiger Swallowtail, which found my new delphinium as captivating as I did.

The stars of the show, the Monarchs, finally showed up in late summer and early autumn.  You might notice a theme here, besides the obvious one.  Favorite perches for photo shoots were the coneflowers and the cosmos.  Agastaches and zinnias were also popular.  As I plan this season's garden, I am making sure to allow space for all these bee and butterfly magnets.

Moths also found the cosmos appealing.

Red admirals made a brief appearance, but somehow escaped the photographer.  However, I did manage to capture this unusual visitor--though not very well--after following him around the garden for awhile.  It was the first time I had seen this particular butterfly in my garden, and I still haven't identified him.

A brief visit by a fritillary was also welcome--it's not often that they visit my garden.

Some visitors avoided the spotlight, but left evidence of their amazing talents.

Although there weren't as many butterflies seen this year, the hummingbirds were numerous. This lovely lady (?) even was kind enough to pose for a long while, as long as I didn't get any closer.

Much to my delight, she was soon joined by a friend.

 A hot and dry summer in Illinois also means a multitude of grasshoppers, though not quite this size:)  This giant grasshopper was part of an exhibit of insects crafted from natural materials at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, which I visited in November.  I'm not particularly fond of grasshoppers, but I'm glad the ones in my garden weren't this Kafkaesque:)

Digressing for a moment,  I wanted to add a note to my last post.  One of the elements you won't see much of in my new Arbor Bed, or any of my garden areas, for that matter, is garden art.  Although I admire artfully placed objects and whimsical additions to others' gardens, I am too cheap frugal to spend much on decorative touches and not creative enough to come up with my own.  Even when I do have something, it takes me a long time to know how and where to place it.  Dear friend Beckie gave me these garden gnomes early in the summer.  I'm not much of a gnome person, as she knows, and stuck them under the arbor bench temporarily...which is where they stayed all year:)

However, some garden visitors enjoyed this placement. 
I rather like the more natural look of this garden "art," don't you?

Even better, the art exhibit changes periodically:)

Ah yes, Tarzan, Toby, and the rest of the furry clan are eagerly looking forward 
to the 2012 edition of Cirque du Prairie.  Maybe we won't have to wait long--I just saw the first bee flying around here today!