Friday, June 15, 2018

Red Oak House Garden Notes no. 41 -- the cutworms get the broccoli and the grill goes on the fritz

Every gardener experiences successes and failures and must learn to go with the flow.

The first of the Zinnias I planted in April in the basement
Here at Red Oak House, the cutworms killed the heretofore vigorous broccoli. Mr. Green Jeans has replanted broccoli and protected the plants this time with milk cartons. On the bright side, the tomatoes look terrific, as does the rest of the vegetable garden, and for now, the beds are mostly weed free. The walleye are still biting, and, to our delight, we received over an inch of rain in the first two days of the week.

The tall bearded irises are vexing this year. I have only myself to blame as I had forgotten to order special fertilizer in a timely fashion and applied it late. I'm not certain this is the complete explanation, but I know it is a critical piece. I'm also struggling with increasing shade on the beds, a good problem to have I suppose. I'm going to have to decide whether to move all of the sun-loving plants into the two beds that receive (mostly) full sun and I regret that I won't be able to scatter these about all of the beds. Probably I'll give it one more year to see if timing the fertilizer correctly is the trick. That said, I do have lots of irises I need to divide come August.

Century Bound Iris

War Chief Iris

Badlands Iris

Vision in Pink Iris
One large and healthy looking iris (shown below) sent up many new flower stalks, but they shriveled up without opening. Shade? Too much heat? I just don't know. Everything around it seems to have had adequate moisture. A bitter pill to swallow.

Spirit of Memphis Iris
We ate the first fresh radishes Wednesday and the house wrens seem to be raising a brood in their home on our back patio. Sometimes when I get too close, one of the adult wrens comes exploding out of the house right into my face. Gets me nearly every time. Look closely below and you will see one of the adults peering at me through the top opening of the house.


Today, I turned to the page in my book Words for Birds and learn: "House Wren Troglodytes aedon. Wren is the modern form of Middle English wrenne and Old English wraenna and wraene, which were used not only for the bird but also to mean "lascivious." Why the Angles and Saxons thoughts this bird to be any more lascivious than others is not all clear. Troglodytidae is formed from the Greek troglodytes, meaning "cave dweller," and coined from trogle, "hole" or "cave" (literally, one made by gnawing), and dytes, "inhabitant." The word is thought to suggest the wrens' constant seeking for cover. The Troglodytes of mythical fame were a cave-dwelling people of Ethiopia. For the House Wren (Troglodytes aedon), adeon is Greek for "songstress," especially a nightingale. In the myth, Aedon, a queen of Thebes, was jealous of her sister-in-law who had many children. She plotted to kill her eldest nephew but by mistake slew her own son. Zeus relieved her grief by turning her into a nightingale. Some may think the call of the House Wren is comparable to that of the nightingale. House alludes either to the care with which the wren builds its nest or the ease with which the wren can be attracted to a nest-box." (pgs. 200-201)

My peonies are also something of a disappointment this year. I wait all year long, each year, hoping it will be better than the last, thus my occasional gardener's blues. I moved many of the peonies just a few years back and they are taking longer to get established than I would like. I'm trying to be patient, but these take up a huge amount of space in the perennial beds and they'd better carry their weight soon or else. Some large plants have just a few blossoms at most, and a few have none. I've read the advice of ND gardening expert, Don Kinzler, and know that at least one of my plants needs to be divided.

That said, peonies are bright color in the time when I await the daylily blossoms -- and have such heavenly fragrance.





The ninebark and viburnum are also blooming now, as is the large patch of Wood's rose, although I've noticed that the Wood's rose has far fewer blossoms than previous years. Again, the drought is the likely explanation.

Ninebark

Viburnum


My front yard hosta garden looks splendid this year. The message is that shade gardens, while subdued, are very pleasing. When I planned the hosta garden, I was looking for a Zen-like woodland vibe and I achieved that. Last week, I purchased more Praying Hands hosta and changed out the dirt in that area completely when I added the new seedlings to the existing plant. A previous owner must have had gravel on much of the front yard. Later, a thin layer of dirt was added and grass planted, so I've had to fight the gravel and poor soil, a battle I finally seem to be winning.


On other fronts, I'm very nervous that the city is going to make good on its threats and put a sidewalk across the front of our property. All shown in the photo below will be lost, including the first thing I planted when we moved in, a robust Taunton spreading yew. I sure hope not!


The grill is on the fritz, but Jim is working on it and had a backup in the storage area so all was not lost when it was time to make kabobs.


Oh, and those gazillion elm seeds I complained about. They are sprouting. More weeding, less blogging, I guess. And a stack of good books for summer reading!



Finally, the showstopper right now in the garden is the gorgeous tree peony that burst into bloom today. A Bartzella tree peony, it has become one of my favorite plants, both because of its yellow glory and because it was an exceptionally thoughtful gift from my friend, Bob. He must have known how I love the color yellow.



Now, we will end our week with some great Dakota live music, ala Chuck Suchy at the Co-op and the Cross Ranch Bluegrass Festival. The good life.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Red Oak House Garden Notes no. 40 -- It rains!

The days continue to grow longer here in the northern latitudes as the calendar progresses toward the summer solstice and our garden is proof of that inescapable rhythm. It finally has rained, although not much. Yet, we are extremely grateful for the precipitation, in spite of the fact that some of it fell as we were conducting our book sale.


I have no doubt that much of the death of perennials and shrubs I've observed this year is due to the constant need to irrigate with city water. Treated water is not nearly as beneficial as rain. On the bright side, a few plants I'd given up as dead are starting to show some life, and, as ND gardening expert, Don Kinzler said, one must have patience in a year like this. Sadly, my shrub rose is dead as a doornail.

I've resisted the urge to transplant two shrubs I have plans to relocate, given that this is the year our house is on the garden tour. Tweaking and moving is a constant way of life for the gardener. I keep a notebook throughout the year with my tasks for the garden.

Jim proclaims that the vegetable garden looks as good as it ever has and on Thursday last week we ate the first fresh lettuce. Jim also pointed out to me that the first blossoms are on the Bloody Butcher tomatoes, plants he sprouted from seed he had saved from last year's crop. Meanwhile, the weeds are thriving in every location and keep us on our knees in removal mode.


Bloody Butcher tomato blossoms


Last week, a hellacious wind howled through in the night and blew about a billion elm seeds from the neighbor's tree two houses over into drifts on our patio. Armed with a broom and dustpan, I scooped these up, knowing that next year I'll be pulling the sprouts from the perennial beds by the thousands.


We've also grown very weary of all of the pine pollen in the air, which drifts in through our open windows and coats every flat service in the house. Hopefully, the rain of the past few days will take care of that problem.



The dwarf iris blooms have subsided and the remainder of bearded irises show hints of blooms to come. Lilac time has come and gone, except for the Korean lilac we have in (mostly) shade that blooms late and does not bloom profusely. I put it there because I had the idea that the aroma would float into our bedroom and bring us pleasant dreams. And so it does.



In their place are the blooms of the anemone, bleeding heart, and violets. In one bed that has increasing shade as our trees grow taller, I've allowed the columbine to spread and am slowly moving the daylilies to sunnier locations. Yes, I know that Columbine can be invasive; after the blooms are spent, I'll take some action.


Bleeding Heart

Anemone

Violets

I hit up a neighborhood plant sale this past weekend and added two new daylilies and three new hostas to my collection. When I was weeding yesterday, I watched a sleek, chocolate-colored vole scamper through the flower bed. 


To replace the two vines that died or were killed by rabbits, I've planted a Trumpet vine and replaced the Autumn Revolution bittersweet. Shortly after this purchase, I discovered that the bittersweet vine that had been severed by the rabbits is sprouting from the root. It will take about five years for the bittersweet to grow to the size it had been. I'm going to carefully protect these with wire next fall.






Memorial Day has come and gone. We attended this year's program at the nearby ND Veterans Cemetery where all of the speakers praised the rain that was dampening attendees. Our priest, Monsignor Chad Gion (pictured below with Jim, veteran, US Navy) gave a marvelous closing prayer, encouraging us to "lead heroic lives."


These days, when we sit down for a spell on the patio, the goldfinches on the sock thistle feeder entertain us. Around the back of the house, I heard a robin pitching quite a fit, which tells me that one of its hatchlings must be on the ground. Our resident house wren pair cheers us each day. 


And another .30" of rain last night is so very welcome. The front yard hosta garden under the Red Oak tree looks marvelous this year. Jim is off to fish almost every day. June just may be the best month.

"If the light is in your heart, you will find your way home." Rumi



Friday, June 1, 2018

Walk on the Wild Side -- in the Bad Lands

While life at Red Oak House here on Missouri River is filled with many blessings and much happiness, as frequently as possible we refresh our spirits with visits to the Bad Lands of North Dakota. Which we did early this week, joined by our daughter, Chelsea, and Paul and Joe, our friends from Arizona (photo of Paul and Lillian below, pals since childhood).

Photo by Joseph Basco

We met on the veranda of the Rough Riders Hotel to make a plan. After a quick lunch, determining that Paul had not been to the Chateau de Mores since his southwest ND childhood days, we went there to tour. Joe had never been. Thus it was a good way to reflect upon the founding of the town of Medora and the colorful characters who lived there in the 1880s. When Chelsea was in college, she worked at the Chateau for the summer, as part of the interpretative staff, in period costume. I'm pleased at how much she remembers.

Photo by Jim Fuglie


It was a perfect late May day and the Bad Lands are very green right now. There is an array of wildflowers in bloom, including Prairie Ragwort and, my favorite, Prairie Smoke.




We spent the remainder of their two-day visit hiking Theodore Roosevelt National Park trails and driving the loop road. It was very interesting to observe the effects of the recent controlled burn, which, although it might seem extreme due to the fire's proximity to the road, close observation revealed a mosaic pattern that mimics the natural prairie fire process, effecting a relatively small percentage of the Park's total acreage.


Photo by Chelsea Sorenson of Wild Dakota Photos. The horses are her TRNP favorite feature. 
We observed many grazers taking advantage of the fresh green native grasses that had quickly sprouted in the wake of the fire, including a fine bull elk.

Photo by Chelsea Sorenson of Wild Dakota Photos

Day two found us taking a four-mile hike to the Petrified Forest on the Park's west side, a place neither Joe nor Paul had seen, and it was another pleasant day with temperatures in the high 70s. I pointed out to my companions that we were in the officially designated wilderness within the park. A couple of bison bulls were spotted and we gave them a sufficiently wide berth.





Prairie Smoke

Butte Candle
Although I'm fairly knowledgeable regarding prairie wildflowers, this one (below) had me stumped (although I thought it was likely a vetch). In all of the miles we hiked, I saw only this one large clump of this specimen. Later, I checked with friends, crowd-sourcing this on social media. One of my friends identified it as a Narrow-leaved Milkvetch (Astragalus pectinatus).


The dominant birds of the day were Lazuli Buntings, Bobolinks, Meadowlarks, and Yellow-breasted Chats. While we hiked, I taught the others some about the birds and plants, and confessed to being rather a dunce when it comes to rocks.

While we hiked and chatted, we learned that our friends had never been to the Elkhorn Ranch. By Godfrey, this must be solved, said we, and off we went. The ticks were thick there and a very fine specimen of a bull snake slithered across the trail. We were pleasantly surprised to find a few other visitors who'd made the trek.

Photo by Joseph Basco


Then, it was time to return to Medora, for pizza, followed by a farewell to our good friends and trail companions, until their next visit to North Dakota.



"My home ranch-house stands on the river brink. From the low, long veranda, shaded by leafy cotton-woods, one looks across sand bars and shallows to a strip of meadowland, behind which rises a line of sheer cliffs and grassy plateaus. This veranda is a pleasant place in the summer evenings when a cool breeze stirs along the river and blows in the faces of the tired men, who loll back in their rocking-chairs (what true American does not enjoy a rocking-chair?), book in hand--though they do not often read the books, but rock gently to and fro, gazing sleepily out at the weird-looking buttes opposite, until their sharp outlines grow indistinct and purple in the after-glow of the sunset." Theodore Roosevelt