Monday, May 31, 2010

An Abundance of Mountain Laurel & the Value of a Friend

I counted 17 mountain laurel shrubs on my property today. Yup. Seventeen. It was easy to count them now, because they're in bloom. I never realized there were so many. I can't claim responsibility for planting them because they were all here when I moved  in 15 years ago.  There used to be 18, but, sadly, one died due to being completely shaded out by evergreens.

There are mountain laurels to the north...

...and to the south... the east...

...and west...

This one is my favorite. Its flowers remind me up frosting on a pink cupcake. It has become dome-shaped, like many of my rhododendrons, due to deer grazing.

I asked an old friend of mine if he would help me change the battery in my lawnmower. It's a rechargeable Black & Decker with a battery that's lost its ability to hold a charge in this, its fourth mowing season. I really can't complain since I mow about an acre of my acre-and-a-half here.

My friend R. had indicated he might be able to come tonight. Instead, I received a phone call mid-day from F., an old friend of his, offering to come over and help with the mower. Though both F. and I have been friends with R. for over 20 years now, I never really knew F. and had only met him once or twice, years ago. Now he's living in my hometown, quite close by.

This is actually the second time he's been to my house. A month or so ago, I had a sudden, complete clog of my kitchen sink. While trying to loosen the pipe below the sink to clear the trap, a section of copper pipe came off in my hand, totally rusted through.

It all happened on a Friday, and I suffered through the inconvenience of washing dishes in the bathroom sink (and breaking a glass on the tile floor in the process) so I wouldn't have to pay top dollar for a plumber to come out on the weekend. Actually, since I've been out of work for months, I didn't relish paying a plumber at all, so I called my friend R. to see if he could help. He and his dad came over and spent some time on it, but the pipe replacement he attached still leaked. He left, but next day guessed it.... F.over to see if he could improve on R.'s work and still help me avoid a plumber. He did get the pipe replaced and installed properly, but the clog remained.

So I caved and called a plumber. I figured that while he was here, I might as well have him fix a leaky toilet that had been out of commission for over a year too, so the whole deal cost me $300 ($80 for the clogged sink). Most plumbers around here charge $100 an hour. And why did I get a college education?

So, back to the mower. After a few minor issues and a bleeding cut on his hand, F. got the battery in there and it's working fine. As before, he refused to let me pay him something for all his trouble. But R. must have told him I was a big gardener, because he asked me if I might have any bee balm. He enjoys watching the hummingbirds. I don't have bee balm, but I did have an extra hummingbird feeder, which I offered to him with instructions for sugar water-making. He accepted it as "payment," though Ron had a great idea that I plan to follow up on. I'll share some produce from my garden with him. My only concern is that F. won't be conscientious enough to change the sugar water every 3 or 4 days to prevent mold and possible sickness to any hummingbirds who drank it. I tried to impress upon him the importance of keeping that water clean.

I've been enjoying huge salads from my garden in the last few weeks. I imagine it will bolt soon. Tonight for dinner I had greens with toasted sunflower seeds and walnuts, cherry tomatoes, a sliced hard-boiled egg and teriyaki chicken slices from the most incredibly tender chicken breasts I discovered at Costco. They're pre-cooked, frozen, and take just 4 minutes in the microwave to heat up in the teriyaki sauce. Mmm, really good salad.

I usually add feta cheese or chopped cheddar, but I figured I had enough protein here. But guess what? I'm still hungry! Time for peanut brittle ice cream!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

A Visit to the Bellamy-Ferriday House in Bethlehem

Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial start of summer, seemed an appropriate time to knock off the first of at least four Connecticut gardens I've been wanting to visit this season.

We headed for the Bellamy-Ferriday House in nearby Bethlehem. To get there, we passed through Woodbury's antiques alley and then headed north on Rt. 61, a lovely secondary road that meanders through some pretty country. We were pleasantly surprised to see we had the place all to ourselves upon our arrival.

Thanks to an Entertainment Book coupon I had, admission for the two of us was just $4. We skipped the house tour and headed for the main attraction behind the house.

They may not be natives, but Chinese peonies do look lovely when planted en masse. I have fuchsia peonies in bloom now, but here at the garden, we also saw pink and white peonies.

Here's a view of the back of the house with the central garden.

Siberian iris lent striking bursts of color.

I was quite excited to see generous plantings of the mystery wildflower that is thriving in my lawn. Thanks to the plant ID cards, I learned it is Ragged Robin (Lychnis flos cuculi).

When it's done blooming, I think I'll transplant them to a sunny perennial bed. My research told me it's a European wildflower that has naturalized in the United States. It''s partial to damp or wet meadow, likes full sun and attracts butterflies.

I've been wanting to get some red coral honeysuckle for my garden. It's a native, non-invasive and attracts hummingbirds. I don't know if this is red coral though.

A vacant one-room building intersects a mowed walkway along the perimeter of the Bellamy-Ferriday property.

The Bellamy-Ferriday House is named after two different owners of the property who played a significant role in shaping its character. Joseph Bellamy was a local pastor and a leader of the Great Awakening religious movement in the 1740s and is the person responsible for building the house around 1754.  Later, in 1912, New Yorker Elizabeth Ferriday and her husband, Henry, purchased the property as a summer home. It was the Ferridays' daughter, Caroline, who restored the house, filled it with antiques and maintained the beautiful gardens.

Lupine and white irises.

I always feel so inspired after visiting little gardens like this.I have so many perennials in need of dividing. But what I really need to do next is figure out how to replace the battery in my lawn mower!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Garden Impostors and Interlopers

Let's take a walk in the garden and see what's blooming.

These ground phlox look lovely against the stone wall.

 Here's another shot from the driveway.You can see some hyacinth leaves sticking up out of the phlox and behind them, astilbes.

Does anyone recognize these wildflowers? They've sprung up here and there in previous years and are quite delicate. I try to mow around them in the lawn.

The mountain laurel blossoms are ready to open.

Can you guess why this azalea has both pink and white flowers? Actually, there are two shrubs planted so closely together that the branches intertwine and appear as one.You might say they're garden impostors!

My many rhododendrons are in full bloom as well. 
I have beautiful views of them from north, south, east and west-facing windows!

Here's another view of those ground phlox. 
You can see a wayward basket of gold is growing from between the stones in the wall
and a fern has sprung up from a crack between the asphalt driveway and the stone wall.

I'm happy to report that everything I plan to eat this summer has been planted in the vegetable garden. The potatoes, both red and russet varieties, are already coming up and some have been mulched. I see no evidence of the terrible slug infestation I battled last year.

Tomato and bell pepper seedlings are in. I've been enjoying a variety of red and green lettuces here and there, and have also planted acorn, spaghetti and zucchini squash plants. I hope I'll have better luck with pollination this year. 

Having loved my homemade pesto sauce so much last year, I bought five more basil plants this year and hope to freeze some.

Cucumber hills have been seeded as well as yellow and green string beans. I put up three tripod-like structures for the beans and some vining annuals, including rudbeckia, morning glory and, just for fun, some miniature Halloween gourds which will look nice filling a bowl this fall. The poles are made out of long branches I pruned from my burning bush in late winter. They stand 5 to 6 feet high.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Two Nights of Frost...Survived

Waldo being silly.

Nothing escapes Luther's notice.

Just hangin' out.

Channel 8's meteorologist predicted possible frost these past two nights, so I covered up all the vegetable seedlings (lettuce, potatoes and squashes) with an assortment of buckets, flowerpots and trays each night, then uncovered them in the morning. It looked a little odd, but hey, it works.

I am hoping that particular chore is one I'm done with for the rest of the growing season, although I know it will remain chilly for the remainder of the week.

My frost indicator is the roof of my family room, which is clearly visible from my bedroom or upstairs bath windows. Yep, it appears we had a frost both nights, although somehow, a lone squash seedling yet to be planted in the ground, as well as two basil plants, were overlooked as I covered everything up last night but survived the frost seemingly none the worse for wear.

I'm also looking forward to the end of daily watering of newly planted grass. I think the end of the week will be the final week of such careful tending to.

I'm into my third week of Census work. I had a tough time of it yesterday. My assignment area was a neighborhood fronting the river, mostly vacation homes, where not only were half the homes unmarked, but many of the streets lacked street signs as well. Because it's a mostly seasonal community, there were few residents around whom I could use as a proxy for the vacation homes.

I was pleased to see that the two false indigo (baptista?) that I divided and transplanted last fall are alive and well in their new location. I had read on someone else's blog that this plant dislikes being moved and has a tap root, which can make dividing a bit tricky, but apparently what I did worked. I also see that one of my favorite plants, the blue milkweed, also divided and moved to a new location last fall, is already a foot high and the new plants have flower buds. I love those blue flowers. Very pretty.

A mulberry tree volunteer just a few years old has grown quite rapidly. It did not have many berries last year, so I'm hoping this year it will rally and go nuts.It's close to 20 feet high already. The gooseberry already has small green berries; I've checked it a few times for black inchworms which almost often time their arrival to devour all the new leafy growth, but so far haven't seen any.

The grass has been growing so rapidly that I've had a hard time keeping up with it. I can't let it get long because tall grass quickly drains the power out of the battery of my mower. It took me 4 consecutive days to mow the front lawn when it normally should take 2!. Today, I mow the back.

During my census work of recent weeks, I've visited many different homes. It is clear that the homeowners of some are simply too busy with work to tend to their yards; many have overgrown grass and shrubs. I take pride in keeping my place (relatively) tidy, and visiting other homes served as confirmation that I do indeed have a nice yard! It's always a work in progress, of course.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Hummer(s) Have Returned

Much is in bloom in May. The daffodils and crab apple blooms faded and gave way to pink and white dogwoods. Once they passed their peak, doublefile viburnum and azalea began dazzling the eye. (Still to come: mountain laurel and rhododendron.)

Doublefile viburnum in bloom
Little more than a two-foot-high stick when planted,
this doublefile grew quickly, reaching this size in about 8 years.

A closeup

White azalea in bloom
This shrub is about 6 feet high.
A vigorous grower, I often wonder how high it could get it I didn't prune it back.

A closeup

After a few weeks of faithfully refreshing the sugar water in the hummingbird feeder, I spotted a ruby-throated hummingbird at the feeder this past week. An old friend has returned.

I haven't been around Owl Hollow much to observe the goings on because I recently began working for the Census Bureau. I find the work very enjoyable. I can essentially make my own hours, I work on my own and I spend a lot of time tracking down addresses on streets and in neighborhoods I've never visited, even after 15 years in my hometown. I've enjoyed chatting with all sorts of people.

So, assorted projects at Owl Hollow have been put on hold for about six weeks, or until the Census work runs out. However, on the same day that I first saw the hummingbird, I also spied a lone coyote in the far corner of my yard. My neighbor lets his lawn go in that corner each year, and it was there that I saw the coyote from behind, quickly coarsing through tall grass. He paused and turned his head as if listening for something, then hurried on. It was mid-day on a sunny afternoon.

He's welcome to feast on the plenitude of field mice around here, as far as I'm concerned, though my neighbors who live behind me don't share my benign interest. A few years ago, coyotes killed their family pet. My neighbors live in the woods, and were in the habit of letting their two dogs, a German Shepherd and a retriever, out each morning while they got ready for work. One morning, the Shepherd returned without the other dog, and they found it later, not far away. The carcass had been fed on; they never heard a thing.

Wild turkeys have been frequent visitors this year. I often hear their baritone gobbling in the woods; at times, I'll look out the window and see a lone tom trodding regally across the lawn, perfecting his fan display and generally looking fine. At other times, I'll see a few hens preening themselves. Yesterday, I saw a turkey find a small spot of dry dirt near my vegetable garden. He rolled around in it, fanning up the dust through his feathers for insect control and looking very much like a dog rolling around in the grass.

There's danger of frost this Sunday and Monday nights, which means I'll have to spread the tarp, assorted flower pots and other impromptu frost-protection coverings those evenings and then take them off in the morning. It's tedious, but the 2-week head start I've gotten on spaghetti and acorn squash will be worth it in July when I'm enjoying these warm weather vegetables two weeks ahead of my neighbors!