June reality check

June reality check.

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In January, anything was possible in garden dreaming. By June, the stage has been set. The table has been laid. Whatever cliche fits best, the truth is that reality has set in. It’s not all bad. Plants are blooming and growing. Most of the vegetable garden seems to be thriving. Not much harvesting yet. The point of this post is that results of past dreaming and decision-making are coming into focus. Some stunning successes, like the blue irises above that I transplanted into a sunnier location last fall. Some failures, mostly by omission. If dreams are never planted, they won’t have much to show for themselves. It’s all in the grand game of being a gardener. I’m only starting to realize the possibilities.

But reality is hard. I forgot to plant spring beets. Big deal. I’ll plant them in the fall. But beet greens would taste good right now. Tonight for supper. Nope. I forgot to plant them.

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On a harsher note, hemlock woolly adelgids infested the eastern hemlocks in my garden, raising concerns about the proper means of control and also the realization that another native species is under attack by an invasive insect. See the post Hemlock woolly adelgids for more complete information on woolly adelgids.

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Japanese knotweed is becoming more obtrusive in the local parks with each passing year, as can be seen in the photo above. Japanese knotweed puts in an appearance in a corner of my garden, behind the shed, every year. So far I control it by pulling small shoots out as soon as they appear. Yet that means the Japanese knotweed rhizomes are invading my property. How much longer will the local parks be places where we want to spend time when they are overrun by Japanese knotweed and mugwort and who knows what else I’m not aware of yet.

Well, I am aware of the bear sightings in our neighborhood. Maybe when people are afraid to walk in suburban parks, or to let their pets or even their children play on their own property, maybe it’s time to take action concerning the bear population in New Jersey. Just a thought.

But back to a June reality check. Since the old apple tree succumbed to the October snowstorm in 2011, we’ve been thinking about privacy. Our neighbors, who are lovely people, would like as much as we would to find a solution to the fact that we look into each other’s kitchen windows every morning and evening now that the apple tree isn’t screening our every kitchen movement. Something should be done, but which tree would be best for screening. Each season that we don’t make a decision about that is a season when growth isn’t happening.

The sugar maple tree in the front of the garden has girdled itself, according to the tree service representative, and is dying. The tree service rep says this sugar maple has lived an unusually long time. Now, we will take it down, get rid of the roots, and replace it. With what. I’m committed to native species, but which ones will best visually screen and perhaps even serve as a noise barrier for the increasing traffic noise from the street. It’s not easy to figure out answers to these reality checks on our lives in the gardens. Doing nothing is not good. Making the wrong decisions is not good. Kind of like life in general, come to think of it

I regret that I completely lost track of the birds this summer. I feed them sunflower seed and suet. I listen to them every day. I see them but don’t usually find time to take photos or use binoculars to identify them. So this is a disappointment. During the winter months, I was so sure I would follow each and every species of birds through the mating season. Maybe next year.

I wanted to learn about the insects in the gardens. If I knew more about the insects, perhaps I would have greater insight into spraying for hemlock woolly adelgids. I don’t know anything about the myriad insects in my garden. So important and yet so unknown. Maybe next year. But in the meanwhile, what harm will be done to beneficial insects by spraying for hemlock woolly adelgids. What harm will be done by doing nothing and allowing hemlocks to die. What other options are available.

I have neglected the compost piles so far this season. I’m throwing lots of green stuff into the piles, hopefully with a minimum of weed seed, but I haven’t had time to get ewe poo compost from the local sheep farm, which I usually add to the compost piles with excellent results. So little time with so much to do.

I have become quite obsessive about weeds in my garden. Identifying them and learning the best way to eradicate them without herbicides. My utopian dream is to have a weed-free garden in 7 years. That takes work. It also takes time away from other garden projects. I still have a long way to go to even approach weed-free status.

Yet it’s only fair to note in a reality check that wonderful growth and blooming are happening in the gardens, thanks in part to actions taken in the past. But also thanks to so many other things. Good soil. Ample sunshine. Gentle rain in a timely fashion, nearly 3.5 inches of rain in June. Organic gardening practices. Good sources of seed like Johnny’s Selected Seeds. Good information and insights from naturalists and gardeners, from Thoreau to Leopold to Stein to Pollan and many others. Gardening would not be so rich a lifestyle without reading authors who have written eloquently yet realistically about growing stuff.

As in other months, photos of the month’s blossoms must be included. They are a celebration of the garden and as much a part of reality checks as any dire reports of doom and gloom.

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Daylilies (Hemerocallis fulva). What would June be without the daylilies. Mine came home in my pocket as a couple of tubers pilfered from the roadside. I know I shouldn’t have taken them. I don’t usually do such things. It was a long time ago. Anyway, that’s what I did, probably 20 years ago. Today, the descendants of those tubers grow by the front fence, by the back fence, by the side fence, and by the back door. Once I threw a bunch of roots by the back fence, meaning to dispose of them later. By the next spring, they had somehow righted themselves and grown into the soil. They are now blooming, even in a shady area. Daylilies could be considered invasive. Be careful where you plant them.

Today there are many cultivars of daylilies, but I prefer the common orange ones as in the photos above and below. Some things just can’t be improved on, in my opinion.

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Daylilies bloom for only one day, but that’s OK because there are many buds on each stalk, so they each bloom in turn. They are something of a mess as they are drying back. In the fall, the dry leaves and stalks can be pulled out and composted. Daylilies aren’t lilies, and they aren’t native, but they sure are pretty.

 

Gloriosa daisies (Rudbeckia hirta). Seeds for the gloriosa daisies came from Wildseed Farms, in Fredericksburg, Texas. Wildseed Farms website describes gloriosa daisies as upright annuals or short-lived perennials. I would say that most of mine reseed themselves as annuals since they relocate within a certain small area from year to year. I have not planted gloriosa daisy seed for many years, yet here they are. Kind of like weeds, but in a good way. Wildflowers. They are certainly showy. They stay upright pretty well except in a heavy rain.

 

Staying on the Rudbeckia hirta theme, here are 2 from Johnny’s Selected Seeds. Indian summer, in the photo at left above, and Prairie sun, in the 2 photos at right. Rudbeckia are perhaps better known as black-eyed susans. These are back for a second year in my garden, as self-seeded annuals, I think. I’m not sure. They might be perennials. Both are charming. The Prairie sun is aptly named as it seems to glow against a green background, perhaps because the center is an almost florescent yellow-green. Both Prairie sun and Indian summer rudbeckia are welcome in my garden in perpetuity.

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Some plains coreopsis (Coreopsis tinctoria) survives from the wildflower seed I threw into the old apple tree area after the 2011 October snowstorm brought down the apple tree. The coreopsis is pretty. It’s native to the southern U.S. This batch got flattened by a recent thunderstorm. If I cut them off, they probably will grow back. These coreopsis are in the middle of the worst weed patch remaining in the garden. If I can get that weed patch under control this summer, I will be making progress on the weed situation.

 

Purple coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea) were started indoors from seed maybe 10 years ago. The seed takes a long time to germinate, which makes them tedious to get started. The coneflowers are now thriving in the front flower garden, alongside the vegetable garden fence, as seen above, and in the old apple tree area. Once they get going, they are indestructible, although it is true that individual blooms last longer and more blooms are produced for a longer period of time through a wet summer than through a dry one.

Purple coneflowers, or echinacea, are native to the Midwest and southeastern U.S. Bumblebees love them, as you can see in these photos. Birds enjoy the seed. I usually leave the seeds on the stems through the winter for the birds. The coneflowers in the old apple tree area grew after I threw some seed pods into the area in the early spring. That was certainly easier than starting them indoors. When wildflower seeds get thrown around, something is always bound to happen. Echinacea (Eck-kin-NAY-see-uh). I never remember how to pronounce it. They have medicinal qualities, of course. I haven’t researched that. Maybe next year.

Last year I planted seed from Johnny’s Selected Seeds for a hybrid echinacea, or coneflower, called Cheyenne spirit. It grew readily, as you can see in the photos above. They are now growing in the front flower garden. They sport a mix of colors and are interesting, but I have mixed feelings about them. When the common purple coneflowers are so satisfyingly beautiful, why did I think it was necessary to grow hybrids. I could pull the Cheyenne spirit coneflowers up and dispose of them. Maybe. They are kind of pretty in their gaudy hybrid way, but bumblebees don’t seem to care for them.

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Long ago I planted sunflowers, which remind me of the High Plains where I grew up. Then the deer invaded my garden. They love sunflowers almost as much as they love sweet corn, it seems. So I stopped planting sunflowers. A few years ago, however, our deer population was diminished by Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD). Now, I rarely see deer in the local parks and have not had deer in my garden for several seasons.


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When I started feeding black-oil sunflower seed to the birds, sunflower plants grew under the feeders. Really pretty ones. Big-headed sunflowers as well as the branching Maximilian type seen above. American goldfinches went crazy over the seeds in the sunflower plants. It seems they like fresh food best, just as we do. This year, I transplanted many of the little sunflower plants that came up in the vicinity of the bird feeders to the old apple tree area of the yard. With the apple tree gone, the sunflowers thrive in the heat of the sun. Should be lots of fresh sunflower seed for the goldfinches this summer. I wish the deer population well, but I hope they don’t become overpopulated again, for their own sakes as well as for gardeners like me. I also hope that they don’t discover the sunflowers in my garden again.

Bee balm (Monarda didyma) can easily become invasive. The bumble bees as well as many smaller bees, wasps, and flies love it. This patch of bee balm is between the forsythia and the blueberry bushes. The patch is maybe 4′ in diameter. I try to let the bees and other insects enjoy the blooms for as long as possible. Then I cut the blooms, hopefully before they have a chance to go to seed, and dispose of them. I use the same technique with a patch of lambs-ear, which can also spread far and wide, like into the neighbors’ lawns, unless care is taken. So far so good. But back to bee balm, which is lovely in its own right and delightful because of the beneficials it attracts. Some year I will learn the names of all those buzzing creatures.

In Birds and Blooms magazine, Sally Roth wrote an article titled “The Value of Milkweed,” concerning milkweed (Asclepias spp.) as a host plant for monarch butterflies. Adult monarchs lay their eggs on native milkweed, which then serves as food for the larva. Milkweed has been decimated in the Midwest by the advent of Roundup Ready corn and soybean monocultures. Roundup Ready crops have been genetically modified to tolerate the herbicide glyphosate, or Roundup, but the herbicide kills everything else, including milkweed.

According to Roth, numbers of monarch butterflies arriving in Mexico, where they overwinter, dropped from 60 million in 2012 to 33 million at last count. One of the reasons for this decline is a lack of milkweed on their migration routes.

I remember common milkweed (A. syriaca) growing in pastures when I was a child. I don’t have a photo of the common milkweed at present. I remember it as a fairly nondescript plant, green with white blossoms. Once, after my cousins and I played with the milky liquid in the milkweed stems, I broke out in a rash. Ever after, it was duly noted that I was allergic to milkweed. Since I’m not allergic to anything else, I wonder now if perhaps a mountain wasn’t made out of a molehill with my milkweed allergy. Still, I guess I won’t go out in my garden and play with milkweed, just to be on the safe side. I should also note that I remember seeing pastures literally covered with monarchs during their migration. It was a common occurrence. Good old days.

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Roth and others are calling upon gardeners to plant milkweed to help the monarchs. Hopefully, it’s not too late. I planted pleurisy root, or butterfly weed, (A. tuberosa) from seed bought from Johnny’s Selected Seeds. A photo of its orange blossoms can be seen above.

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I bought some swamp milkweed (A. incarnata) from a local nursery, seen above with its pink blossoms and a bumble bee. These 3 milkweeds–A. syriaca, A. tuberosa, and A. incarnata–are the most common. They are native species.

Milkweed can be invasive–it’s a weed, after all. According to a USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service Plant Guide for common milkweed (A. syriaca), milkweed spreads via rhizome as well as seeds. Its seeds are carried by what looks like silk and float in the wind as a means of dispersal. Its blossoms are attractive to all butterflies, but monarchs use it particularly as a host plant for laying eggs. If I get to see a monarch caterpillar on my milkweed, summer in my garden will be a success.

Goodness. More June blooms than I thought when I started this post.

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Borage (Borago officinalis), or starflower, was planted from seed outside the vegetable garden fence a few years ago. Although officially an herb, borage has such lovely little blue edible blossoms that it is worthy of a mention for blooming in June. The seeds were from Johnny’s Selected Seeds. I planted them several years ago, and they have reseeded themselves since then. The blue blossoms taste like cucumber and are pretty additions to a salad. Like most herbs, borage has medicinal qualities. Insects like borage. It’s pretty and easy to grow. What’s not to like.

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The last June blossom I’ll mention is the lavender, also an herb, but I think of it as a beautiful blossoming flower. I love lavender. It’s not a native species. It’s English, don’t you know. Oh well. So far, I have not been successful in starting lavender from seed. The 3 plants that are currently growing in my garden are from local nurseries. There are 2 munstead lavender plants, one of which is seen in the photo above. Munstead is supposedly the most winter hardy lavender.

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Also 1 hidcote lavender plant, which I bought just the other day and know nothing about. The hidcote lavender is overshadowed in the photo above by a cilantro plant that is going to seed. The cilantro will soon be coriander, which I can harvest or let go to seed for the next cilantro crop. Good for the insects, and pretty besides. To sum up, the cilantro plant will be gone shortly, and the hidcote lavender will have more space to grow.

If I ever take up an arts and crafts hobby, it will have something to do with lavender. Maybe next year.

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The above photo is a corner of the gardens where the columbine and blue irises made such an unexpectedly lovely showing this spring. It doesn’t look like much now, at least not in terms of blossoming flowers, and there’s way too many weeds in there that I can’t let go to seed. But this is a corner that I want to nurture. Put a short wire fence around it to keep Daisy and her friends from running through it. Get rid of the weeds. Then watch how it develops. I never planned this corner. Just haphazardly planted stuff that I brought with me from a previous flower garden. It has made itself beautiful in a rather serendipitous fashion. This summer and fall I need to subtract weeds and perhaps transplant a few more blue irises. Then next spring, watch and see how the corner continues to develop itself.

It’s strangely wonderful that focusing on a month’s many blossoms can put into perspective all the frustrations and worries that seemed so important at the beginning of the post. Not that hemlock wooly adelgid or Japanese knotweed have disappeared or aren’t of concern, but just that nature manages somehow to be good for the soul, no matter what the problems.

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