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Winter Blooms to Warm a Snowy Day: GBBD, January 2020

January 15, 2020

 

streaked cyclamen 2020Although the days are beginning to lengthen again after the winter solstice, my Maine garden is entering the coldest, snowiest weeks of winter, with three snowstorms this week. The garden is tucked in under a blanket of snow, enjoying its long winter nap.

pink cyclamen 2020At this time of year, I look to brightly colored indoor blooms for warmth and cheer; and my potted cyclamen (Cyclamen persica) almost never disappoint. On a sunny day, the reflective qualities of the snow magnify the light and the backlit flower petals glow like flames.

amaryllis first bud 2020As I enjoy the blooms on cyclamen, the first flower buds have appeared on my potted amaryllis bulbs (Hippeastrum), promising more dramatic blooms in the weeks ahead.

Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day is hosted on the 15th of each month by Carol at May Dreams Gardens. Visit her blog to enjoy January blooms from many gardeners.

A New Year for an Inconstant Blogger

December 31, 2019

Cover 2020I don’t normally make New Year’s resolutions, but I do enjoy using the New Year as an opportunity to get organized and make a fresh start. One of the places I’d like to get a fresh start is with this blog, where I have been an inconstant blogger this past year. The problem has not been with finding things to write about, but with making the time to write. The new year would be a good time to refresh my blog theme with a more current image from my garden and to recommit myself to at least two (and preferably three) posts per month.

While I get myself organized for a new year of blogging, here are some images from the past year in my garden as assembled in this year’s Jean’s Garden gift calendar for family and friends. (Click on any image to enlarge.)

January 2020 February 2020

January

February

March 2020 April 2020

March

April

May 2020 June 2020

May

June

July 2020

August 2020

July

August

September 2020 October 2020

September

October

November 2020 December 2020

November

December

Copies of this calendar can be purchased from Lulu.com.

Happy New Year!

A Single Bloom: GBBD, November 2019

November 16, 2019

snowy garden november 2019Unseasonably cold temperatures and our first snowfall of the winter have brought an end to this year’s outdoor garden season. At the same time, though, the flowering houseplants that provide my winter gardening fix are not quite in season. My potted amaryllis (Hippeastrum) bulbs are still boxed up in the basement for their period of enforced dormancy. And while my potted cyclamen are full of buds, they have not yet begun their winter flowering.

Fortunately, the first bud on my Thanksgiving cactus (Schumbergera truncata) opened this week, giving me a single flower (but, oh, what an extravagant flower!) for bloom day.

Thanksgiving cactus bloom

Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day is a monthly celebration of flowers hosted by Carol at May Dreams Gardens. Visit her blog to see other garden bloggers’ November blooms.

Late Bloomers and Falling Leaves: GBBD, October 2019

October 18, 2019

fallen leaves 2019In the month since I posted last, my part of Maine has had at least three mornings of below freezing temperatures and light frost. Cold-sensitive plants like morning glories, basil, and coleus have shriveled up and turned black. Garden paths are carpeted with fallen leaves from deciduous trees, and many perennial plants are also showing their progression into winter dormancy with brightly colored foliage.

fall foliage 2019

But just as early-blooming crocuses and daffodils are unfazed by spring snows, there are late bloomers in the garden who shrug off fall frosts. This is especially true of the asters and their relatives in the extended Asteraceae family. So, even as we move inexorably toward winter, I am still enjoying garden flowers.

In the entry garden, smooth blue aster (Symphyotrichum laeve) ‘Bluebird’ is blooming in the Blues Border, Bluebird with bees
alma potschke 2019
and the New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) cultivar ‘Alma Potschke’ is flowering near the front porch.
   

On the Front Slope, seed-grown New England asters are blooming in various shades of pink, lavender and violet.

lavender seed-grown aster violet seed-grown aster

Some of the flowers blooming in the October garden have been blooming for many weeks.

Coreopsis lanceolata began flowering in late June, coreopsis lanceolata october
Herbstsonne october 2019 and Rudbeckia x ‘Herbstsonne’ in early August.

vernonia lettermanniiIn contrast, Vernonia lettermannii ‘Iron Butterfly’ has just begun to bloom. Along the side of the driveway, the fringy yellow flowers of our native witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) are also beginning to open.witch hazel flowers

Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day is a monthly virtual gathering of garden bloggers hosted by Carol at May Dreams Gardens on the 15th of each month (although some of us habitually show up late). Visit her blog to see her own and others’ October blooms.

Aster Season: GBBD, September 2019

September 18, 2019

Ionactis linarifolia clumpI’m several days late with my Bloom Day post this month.

As we passed the Labor Day weekend, it seemed as though a weather switch was activated, bringing cool temperatures and an autumnal feel to my Maine garden. Blooms on the tall garden phlox (Phlox paniculata) that are the glory of the August garden are now fading, and members of the greater Asteraceae family have taken the stage. These include composite flowers like Coreopsis and Rudbeckia, but also flowers of Liatris and the many species of goldenrod (Solidago) that bloom around the edges of my garden.

Asteraceae

Although the daylily (Hemerocallis) season is largely over, there are still a few last buds waiting to open on late varieties like ‘Richard’, ‘Chewonki,’ ‘Autumn Minaret’, ‘Final Touch’ and ‘Rosy Returns.’ I even have one daylily, the very late-blooming ‘Sandra Elizabeth’ that has not yet opened its first bud.

late daylilies

I still have three species of Monarda in bloom. The scarlet M. didyma is a favorite of hummingbirds preparing to migrate. Its flowers, along with those of M. fistulosa and M. punctata are also loved by native bees (not surprising given their common name of “beebalm”).

red Monarda Monarda punctata September

Sedums come into their own in September, and these have been a favorite nectar source for my amazing bumper crop of monarch butterflies. (I have seen six newly-emerged butterflies in my garden in the past four days, all but one from chrysalises that I never noticed until I found a butterfly hanging on the empty chrysalis case drying its wings.)

sedum autumn fire 2019 monarch on sedum

Ionactis linarifolia with phloxBut the stars of the September garden are the true asters. The first of these to bloom in my garden is the flax-leaved aster (Ionactis linarifolia). This is a native wildflower that grows happily in my property’s sandy soil, and I have transplanted  several into the front slope garden. This one has seeded itself into a clump of moss phlox (Phlox subulata). It will be interesting to see if these plants can peacefully coexist in shared space. I hope so, since the phlox blooms in spring and the aster in fall.

The flax-leaved aster has been followed by a number of other wild asters that grow around the edges of my garden and occasionally pop up as self-sown seedlings in flower beds.

heart-leaved aster 2019 white aster 2019

But my favorite aster is our native New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae), which has just begun to bloom this week. For several years now, I have been growing the popular nursery cultivar, ‘Alma Potschke’ in the porch border, but I am not a fan of its coral color (and I notice that the native bees also avoid it if they have other choices). I much prefer the purple-pink color range of the wild asters. This past year, I planted eight seed-grown New England asters on the front slope, and I am eager to see what variety of colors I will get in their flowers as they bloom for the first time this year.

Front Slope NE asters

Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day is hosted on the 15th of each month by Carol at May Dreams Gardens. Visit her blog to see September blooms from other gardens.

The Magic of Metamorphosis

September 9, 2019

nectaring monarchOne of the things I love about gardening is that it connects me to the wonders and beauty of the natural world. This summer, I have had a front-row seat for one of nature’s magical processes, metamorphosis.

Metamorphosis is a process of development in which an organism takes on dramatically different forms over the course of its life. Metamorphosis is quite common in the insect world, where many types of insects undergo a four-stage process in which an egg (stage 1) is deposited by an adult; a larva (stage 2) hatches out from the egg; after a period of growth, the larva encloses itself in a pupa (stage 3), and eventually emerges as an adult (stage 4).

We can see this process in such insect groups as flies, beetles and bees, but we are most aware of it in butterflies and moths. Butterfly and moth eggs are deposited on host plants, and caterpillars (larval stage) that hatch from the eggs feed on these plants. Caterpillars go through a process of growth through successive instars, where they shed their old skin and grow a new larger one. When they reach the largest instar, they form a pupa (chrysalis or cocoon). Inside that chrysalis or cocoon, the molecules of the caterpillar are rearranged to form the adult winged butterfly or moth that emerges at the end of the pupal stage.

My front-row view of the process this summer was provided by monarch butterflies. Monarch populations have declined dramatically in recent decades, and just seeing one in my garden has become a rare treat. Last year, after not seeing any for at least six years, I saw two in my garden. At least one of these deposited eggs on milkweed plants, where I saw as many as five monarch caterpillars feeding. I was thrilled.

But that turned out to be the merest preview to this year’s monarch show. Although Monarch Watch has reported that monarch populations are down in the United States Northeast region this summer, that report does not match the observations of gardeners on the ground in Maine. Throughout the state, gardeners have been reporting larger numbers of monarchs than they have seen in many years, with abundant eggs, caterpillars, chrysalises and adult butterflies. I have seen as many as three dozen caterpillars feeding on a single morning, and I have seen more than two dozen chrysalises in my garden.

By the second half of July, I was seeing adult butterflies depositing eggs and caterpillars feeding on the butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) in my front garden. In late July, a few days after I saw my first-ever jade-green monarch chrysalis in the butterfly house at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, I spotted two hanging on low-growing foliage by my driveway.

 

fresh butterfly on butterfly weed butterfly weed caterpillars

In the weeks that followed, I got better at seeing the chrysalises hiding in plain sight on the foliage of plants. It got easier when monarch caterpillars feeding on the milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) by my back door began to pupate on the side of the house, leaving the house looking bejeweled.

pupating monarch house siding chrysalis

Since early August, I have seen a dozen and a half monarch butterflies emerge from their chrysalises, including four newborn butterflies yesterday and ten in the past eight days. And there are still six more chrysalises that I am watching. I never get tired of the wonderful process by which a fat striped caterpillar curls itself up and wraps itself in a case that seems too small to hold that much caterpillar and then transforms itself into a butterfly that unfurls from that same too-small case ten to fourteen days later.

Transparent chrysalisFor most of its life, the chrysalis is jade green. Then, a day or two before the butterfly will emerge, the chrysalis darkens, turning black and then becoming translucent so that you can see the butterfly wings folded up inside. When the butterfly emerges, it hangs onto the outside of the empty chrysalis case while it unfolds and dries its wings. Then it will open and close the wings to pump fluid into them and prepare to fly. Often, the new butterflies fly first to some nearby foliage where they continue to hang, alternately drying and pumping their wings. Eventually, they will flutter somewhat unsteadily off to more distant plants.

monarch emerging

The butterflies that emerged in my garden in the early weeks of August were short-lived insects focused on mating and depositing eggs. The ones emerging now, however, are the long-lived super-generation that will fly to Mexico, overwinter there, and then mate and lay eggs in the spring. Their offspring and their offspring’s offspring will make the trip north next year.

These butterflies are intent on finding nectar and ingesting calories to fuel their long migration. The flowers of fall sedum, with their nice big, flat “landing pad” blossoms are popular nectaring plants. I have also seen them nectaring on flowers of Liatris, Echinacea and Monarda. I’ve noticed, however, that the butterflies seem to disappear from my garden a day or two after they emerge. This may mean that there are not enough nectar sources for them and that they are flying off to better nectaring opportunities elsewhere in my neighborhood.

nectaring monarchs

I don’t know whether this year’s monarch abundance is a fluke or a sign of recovery for this species. I hope we will see a repeat performance next year. For now, I am enjoying the wonder and magic of metamorphosis.

Ten Years in Jean’s Garden

August 22, 2019

imageTen year’s ago today, I clicked “publish” and sent the first post of Jean’s Garden out into cyberspace. At the time, I had no idea how these ten years of garden blogging would enrich my life.

The first unexpected source of enrichment was the community of gardeners and garden bloggers that I was suddenly connected to. imageIn my early years of blogging, that experience of community was mediated by the now-defunct social media garden blogging site, Blotanical.com. Like most members of Blotanical, I signed up hoping to find readers for my blog. But the site was designed to encourage members to read one another’s blogs and engage in supportive interactions, and I jumped in with both feet. Blotanical connected me to an international network of knowledgeable gardeners and garden bloggers. A few of these I eventually met in person. There are others whom I have not actually met, but think of as old friends after years of reading and exchanging comments on one another’s blogs. Regular readers of my blog who are not themselves bloggers have also become part of my gardening community. For example, I now belong to a local garden club that I was recruited to by a friend whom I met through her comments on my blog.

bringing nature homeAs I interacted with other gardeners through blogging, I became a better, more knowledgeable gardener. Writing about my garden and gardening pushed me to become much more aware of what I was doing and why I was doing it. Garden blogs introduced me to ideas and debates in gardening that I hadn’t been aware of before and to books exploring those ideas. My garden reading shifted from garden narratives and essays to books on garden design to books of garden science. The book that influenced me most was Doug Tallamy’s Bringing Nature Home (Timber Press, 2007), which I reviewed in 2011. This book completely changed the way I thought about insects in my garden and introduced me to the case for growing native plants. It also pushed me in the direction of thinking about the garden as an ecological community in process rather than as a work of art.

The learning and thinking I was doing as a garden blogger further influenced the course of my life. As I did research and wrote about horticultural science, my confidence in my understanding and my desire to learn more grew. Without garden blogging, I doubt I ever would have used my time in retirement to become a Maine Master Gardener Volunteer or to earn my Certificate in Native Plants and Ecological Horticulture from the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens (where one of the required courses for the certificate was taught by Doug Tallamy).

back garden entrance - JulyJust as I have been changing as a gardener in the course of these ten years, so has my garden been changing. When I began blogging, I had three small flower beds at the front of my house and was focusing on developing a garden around the deck at the back of the house. The third of these back garden flower beds, the Fence Border, was in the process of becoming as I published that first post, and the Serenity Garden was just a germ of an idea.

Morning on the patioI was also just beginning to think about putting an addition on the front of my house when I retired and using that addition as an opportunity to completely rethink the landscaping at the front of my house. Today, that addition is five years old, and most of the new front garden is in place. This area at the front of my house is now my primary focus in garden work and in garden enjoyment.

It’s not just the size of my garden that has changed. My garden today is less controlled and more exuberant. My design process is as much concerned with creating habitat for pollinators as with creating beauty, and my new garden areas are more likely to include native plants. I’m also much more committed to choosing “the right plant for the right place,” rather than trying to change my garden conditions to accommodate plants that will never really be comfortable there.

Ten year’s on, I’m looking forward to more learning, more gardening, and more garden blogging.