May work

May work.

I don’t have time to write posts. I have garden work to do. The weeds are growing so fast that I can’t keep up with them. The area we mow and call a lawn is due to be mowed yet again. The birds are too busy to come to the feeders, so it’s impossible to get photos of them. Everything is in a hurry to grow and grow and grow. It’s May.

When I’m working and when I’m not working, I worry about the weather. Is the frost date really past. Seems funny to think about frost dates when we’ve already had several 80° days. Shall I plant the tomatoes and peppers out now or wait a while. Shall I take them out to the picnic table during the day to let them get used to the outdoors. Shall I cover them with row covers for a few days if I plant them out. What if I lose them all. I could leave them inside, but they are growing too. And getting leggy, as can be seen in the photos above. They could get stunted by being in those little pots too long.

Next year, I will have a better indoor system for starting plants. Right now, there’s just not enough room for them under the grow light. Wait. Can’t dream about stuff now. Have to work.

May has not been perfect weather-wise. We’ve had several 80° day, as I mentioned above. It’s been very dry. On May 16, we had 1″ of rain in a wonderful thunderstorm. We could still use more rain. Today is May 19. For the last 2 days, the fog is thick. No sunshine. A little rain, but not much. Our only significant rain seems to come from thunderstorms rolling through, not from 2-day soakers, which is what we need. Blossoms have been beautiful but short-lived, what with the unseasonably warm days and dry weather.

I’m sorry to say that there are no new photos of the birds. They aren’t coming to the feeders as much, which is good. I see them every day, but often not close enough to identify them. I hear them every day too, but I don’t know their songs well enough to identify them that way. I wish I did. Even when I see them close-up, I don’t get photos of them. Maybe next year I’ll figure out a way to take summer bird photos.

There are some tidbits of news about the birds. I see a pair of bluejays quite often. I don’t know, of course, if one of them is the lone jay that spent the winter in my garden. I hope so. I hope he/she found a new mate.

Two young sprightly robins spend time in the garden. The big old robin of the early spring is gone. I haven’t seen any robin nests, so whether the robins are nesting here or perhaps in the park, I don’t know.

I saw a pair of black-capped chickadees perching for a second in the magnolia tree. So sweet. Wish I had photos.

The house finches still come to the feeders. One day I thought I saw a female house finch with eye disease, but I haven’t seen her since. Perhaps I was mistaken, or perhaps she died.

I hear woodpeckers in the park in back of my garden. I put new suet in the suet feeders, but they seem to have no interest in it. That’s good. Too many insects to eat to bother with suet, I presume.

Weeds have kept me busy in May, as I have already lamented. They are getting way ahead of me like they always do. On the bright side, I identified 2 weeds this month. Hairy bittercress (Cardamine hirsute) on left and Corn speedwell (Veronica arvensis L.) on right. Please see the post Weeds of May for all the exciting details. You think I’m kidding. It was exciting.

My new resolution for next year’s vegetable garden is to not plant anything other than onions and leeks before May 1. Nothing grows in April. No peas, spinach, lettuce. Might as well wait for May 1 to plant these early spring crops.

I’m taking photos of the raised beds in the vegetable garden, but there’s not much point in showing photos of just-planted beds that look empty. Plus the beds are covered with weeds and need my immediate attention. What am I doing sitting here writing a post when I should be out weeding. Oh dear.

Once I get the garlic, onion, and leek beds weeded, I will mulch them with salt hay. With drip hoses under the mulch for irrigation, they should be set for the next 2 months until harvest time.

But I’ve saved the best for last. The May blossoms. Mostly gone now, but beautiful while they lasted.

The old pear tree.

The little flowering dogwood (Cornus florida).

Spiraea (Spiraea x. vanhouttei). The photo on left looks something like an octopus with waving tentacles. I think spiraea bushes are special.

My grandparents had spiraea bushes like these in front of their farmhouse. They had old school benches arranged under big old cedar trees with the spiraea as a backdrop. The extended family would sit out in the front yard after a Sunday dinner of home-grown chicken with potatoes and peas, topped off with banana cream pie. I don’t remember that the menu ever changed, but no one ever complained. Good memories. There seems to be a good bit of nostalgia in the choices of plants I make for my garden.


The redbud tree (Cercis alba), which has white blooms, seen at a distance behind a little river birch.


Trumpet honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens “Alabama crimson.” A blossom can be seen in the photo above. Care must be taken in choosing honeysuckle because Japanese honeysuckle (L. japonica) is invasive throughout the eastern U.S. Trumpet honeysuckle, however, is not invasive. This one is taking possession of a stretch of metal fencing to the side of the vegetable garden. I had to water it regularly the first year or so, but now it is totally self-sufficient. Hummingbirds are said to like trumpet honeysuckle, but I have seen no evidence of that. One year, I tried keeping a hummingbird feeder, but never managed to attract hummingbirds on a regular basis. Once, a hummingbird sitting on the top branches of the pear tree attracted my attention out of an upstairs window. I hurried down to change the water in the feeder, but the hummingbird flew away. Was that bird telling me to do a better job maintaining the feeder. Maybe. I gave the feeder away and decided that the hummingbirds had to depend on the flowers in my gardens, not a sugar-water feeder.


Perennial lupine (Lupinus perennis) or wild lupine. I’m quite proud to say that these were started from seed planted directly into the garden. Because of their long tap roots, perennial lupines resent being transplanted. I love that term. They resent it. When the blooms are turning to seed pods, cut them off and a second round of blossoms may be your reward. I like perennial lupine as much for their palmate leaves as for their blossoms. Once established, they need very little care.

Columbine (Aquilegia vulgaris). These were brought from a previous garden. They have established themselves and reseed prolifically every year. What a joy. 

Blue iris and a sedge were brought from the same previous garden. This serendipitous little flower garden is usually neglected and often overrun by weeds, yet it has established itself in such a lovely fashion. Again, what a joy. Such things are a gardener’s reward. Nature says, OK, we’ll give her a little bonus for all that work. Something like that.

Lilacs (Syringa vulgaris). Every year, I threaten to tear this lilac out because it’s growing out of an old stump, which is ugly. But the blossoms are so lovely that I guess I should leave it for another year.

Its variant or cultivar name is “President Lincoln,” which is why I bought it in the first place. It’s my Lincoln lilac, or Whitman lilac, since Whitman wrote the poem.

When lilacs last in the door-yard bloom’d,
And the great star early droop’d in the western sky in the night,
I mourn’d–and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.

The poem is about Lincoln’s assassination. Whitman knew that spring could bring sadness too.

It seems to me that lilacs should be a native species here, but they aren’t. They are native from southeast Europe to East Asia, according to the American Horticultural Society.

The lilac has a soft fragrance that’s pleasing. I also always think of an old farmyard out on the plains that is now deserted, on which a huge beautiful lilac shrub is still growing among the weeds. My mother lived there as a child and was alway delighted to return and see the old lilac still growing as she remembered it, only larger. So, for many reasons, I need a lilacs in my garden.

The old magnolia tree (Magnolia fraseri), or ear-leaved umbrella tree, is quite unusual for this area. Its blossoms are also unique, as can be seen in the photo at left above.

According to Andrea Wulf’s book Founding Gardeners, George Washington requested an umbrella magnolia from his nephew George Augustine Washington in South Carolina for its huge leaves and white blossoms. Also according to Wulf, Thomas Jefferson planted umbrella magnolia near wild crabapple at Monticello. In the spring the pink blossoms of the crab apple competed with the enormous white flowers of the umbrella magnolia. Sounds lovely. I want a native crabapple tree. I think. Always something.


Here is a photo of an illustration on the flyleaf of Wulf’s book. A  red-winged blackbird is perched on an umbrella magnolia, with the huge leaves, the white blossoms, and the upright red cone-like fruits depicted. Just like mine, except that the tree doesn’t blossom and bear fruit at the same time. Artistic license at work.

I once lived in a house with a huge mulberry tree out back. The neighbors hated that tree and wished it was gone because birds ate the mulberries and pooped purple during the fruiting season. White poop. Purple poop. I couldn’t understand the fuss. I liked the mulberry tree because its thick branches provided wonderful cool shade on hot summer days. I read once that while Benjamin Franklin was in Philadelphia helping to frame the Constitution, he stayed in a house with a mulberry tree. The weather was extremely hot in Philadelphia at the time, so Franklin often invited other founding fathers to sit beneath the mulberry tree in the afternoons to deliberate in its shady coolness. Whenever I think of my old mulberry tree, I seem to see Franklin holding court in its shade. I wonder if he was ever bothered by birds.

Well, I’m happy that I took time out from May work to notice May beauty. Between working my fingers to the bone and basking in May beauty, I neglected to publish this post until today, June 5. Good grief.

We had a wonderful 2″ rain on May 31, which went a ways toward alleviating the drought, although New Jersey is still short on rainfall for the month. The rain, which caused some flash flooding in the region, was a remnant of the terrible storms in Texas and Oklahoma last week.

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