A Gardening Year

The adventures and misadventures of an heirloom gardener

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

First Day of Spring

March may have come in like a lion, but spring has come in with a gentle rain. We needed it. It has been dry for days. It is supposed to rain off and on for the next week. This will prevent me from getting anything accomplished in the gardens. It's beginning to make more sense why I have always waited until April to begin my gardening efforts. I have to cram a lot of activity into a short amount of time but March weather is just too iffy.

I'm also hoping the rain will thaw out the ground. I received a cheery email from Springhill last week that they had shipped my order. I called their Customer Service line in a panic. The ground is still frozen. I can't plant anything. They assured me that my order was still in Ohio and wouldn't arrive for a few more days and if the ground was still frozen I could always refuse delivery and they will re-ship the order.

I have new visitors to the new birdfeeder. House finches, both the male and the female. But still no woodpeckers. It's so frustrating because I can hear them every morning. They are close by.

Male House Finch

Female House Finch

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Home Gardeners' School

I attended the Home Gardeners' School at Cook College at Rutgers University today. Aside from the strangeness of being awake while the sun was out, I learned a lot.

My first "class" was Weeds in Nature: Invasive Plants of NJ. Among other things, I learned that my beloved butterfly bush is considered an invasive. And I have been correct for years about the honeysuckle vines. They are invasive also. I swear you can actually see them grow. I consider them the North's version of kudzu.

Next up was Shade Gardens. I was hoping for some inspirations for that extremely shady corner by my birdbath. It was taught by Judy Glattstein who has written 8 books on gardening. She had all the usual suggestions for plants for shade, nothing new to me. I did learn however why most shade plants bloom in the spring. It has to do with the amount of available light. The most amount of sunlight is available in the spring before the leaves come out on the taller bushes and trees. Boy, do I feel stupid. That is pretty obvious. I don't know why I never thought of it before.

There was a panel of speakers at lunch to answer gardening questions. I was amazed that they were all male. The audience was 90% female. Little did I know when I was marching for women's rights, that 30 years later I would be sitting in an auditorium with several hundred women while being talked down to by a bunch of men. I made note of this on the comments card they provided.

Choosing and Using Bulbs was next with Judy Glattstein once more. At the beginning, she promised to show us bulbs we had never seen before and where we could purchase them. I sat up and took notice. This is what I had come for. Sorry, Ms. Glattstein, but have you actually looked at any of the catalogs that clog your mailbox? All those "rare and unusual" bulbs you go on and on about have been available for years and not just from some obscure website that no one has ever heard of.

Attracting Beneficial Insects to Your Garden was the final and most satisfying lecture of the day. Seems that I have been correct for years about which insects are beneficial in the garden and have actually been growing a few of the plants that they favor. I now have a list of lots more, some of which I have been planning on trying out anyways.

I never realized how much I know about gardening. It was very gratifying. Today was the spring edition of Home Gardeners' School. It is also offered in the fall. I will definitely be attending that one also. I am hoping they will be offering classes on composting and attracting birds.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

More March Madness. Four days after the last photo, all of the snow was gone and the crocuses were blooming like nothing had happened. The resilience of spring bulbs continually amazes me.

Monday, March 14, 2005

First Robin of Spring

Ever since I can remember, I have looked for the first robin in the spring. For me, it has always signalled the official beginning of the spring season. Each place I have lived I have always seen the first robin in the same spot every year. In this house, it is in my neighbor's yard. I think that is because my kitchen door faces that way. I usually see it on my way out to the car as I leave for work. It is always a single robin.

This year, which has been exceptional in so many ways, was very different. I saw seven robins while I was walking in the park this morning at dawn. There was a flock of six and then a seventh a little further on leading me to wonder what he had done that the other robins were not speaking to him.

I did a little research and was surprised to learn that robins spend the winter here. The reason they aren't seen in their usual haunts is that their diet varies with the seasons. During the warm months, they eat mainly insects like grubs from the lawns. During the winter when insects are not available, they eat berries. They don't eat seeds which is why I have never seen them at my feeder.

I'm glad to see the robins are "back" but I'm also a little disappointed to have discovered that they never left. Some of the magic of the return of the robins is gone.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

March madness. Yesterday morning I was walking in a gentle spring rain, my spirits rejoicing that spring had arrived. The air was warm and had that special spring smell of wet earth. By evening the temperature had plummeted 30 degrees. The world was encased ice. It was snowing instead of raining. This morning, the crocuses by the shed that had been preparing to burst into bloom were barely peeking out of a snow drift. There were tracks in the snow where squirrels and birds had visited the feeders looking for something to eat but all the seed was frozen to the ground. It looks and feels like January. I know that it will be this way all month.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

The Rip Van Winkle daffodils have made an appearance. They are heirlooms that date from 1884 and are the strangest daffodils I have ever seen. I am eager for them to bloom. The weather was warm enough that I was able to start uncovering the gardens. The great poppy experiment has started. I was able to plant the corn poppies by the composter. The garden where I want to plant the mystery poppies is still covered with snow. Even gardens that appear to have no snow, have ice under the leaf covering. I uncovered the semi-shady garden and was disappointed to discover only one columbine. There were at least three last fall. I am hoping that the others made it through the winter and are just taking their time getting started. The last of the snow melted yesterday in the 60 degree heat. Of course, this is March and it is supposed to snow again today.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Spring has sprung

We have been having a stretch of warm weather, 40's and 50's. The snow from the last storm is melting rapidly so I had a chance to get a good look at the gardens yesterday. The first thing I noticed was that the daylilies in the orange garden have started to come up. I got all excited and ran over to the semi-shady garden to see if the bleeding heart was making an appearance. It was and right next to it, a columbine. It's one of the heirloom columbines called "Grandmother's Garden" that I have been trying to grow for a while. I checked the William Guiness columbine in the purple garden, but there is no sign of it yet. Spring is definitely on its way. Finally.

I saw the tufted titmouse again a few days ago. When I first saw it and was trying to make an identification, it didn't look exactly like the pictures I saw online. Those were of chubby little birds. The one at my feeder was very slender. When I saw it again, it was all fat and sassy. The poor thing had probably been having difficulty finding enough food before it found my new feeder. He shouldn't have any more problems getting enough to eat. I check my feeders every day and make sure they are filled. After every storm, I even put out more food on top of the snow for the ground feeders because the regular supply has been covered up. The birds are so accustomed to me doing it that mourning doves line up on the fence waiting for me to put out seed.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

The first crocus of the season. It is growing in front of the shed. Finally! I was getting discouraged. We had a Nor'Easter the night of Feb 28 - Mar 1. We were supposed to get up to a foot of snow, but in the end it was more like 6 or 7 inches. It just seems like spring will never get here. I want to start uncovering the gardens and get those poppy seeds planted. Believe it or not, I have more poppy seeds. I got a free packet of Corn Poppies with one of my seed orders. They are native to Europe but naturalized throughout the US so they should be easy to grow. I've decided to plant them in the garden next to the composter where I have been growing balsam so successfully for the last two years. The poppies should bloom before the balsam and provide color in the spring and early summer. But if it doesn't stop snowing, I won't be able to get any of this done. March is such a difficult month for me. Not winter. Not spring. And too early to plant much of anything. I can only gaze longingly at the bare beds and dream of the coming growing season.

The Thalia daffodils made their premier appearance yesterday.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Yesterday, I saw a very distintive little brown bird. He had a black bib. Aha! Surely I would be ble to identify this one. Sure enough, he is a House Sparrow. Although they are supposed to be very common, this is the first one I have seen. All the rest are just little and brown.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

The new birdfeeder was once again under siege on Saturday by the big brown birds. After many hours of research on the internet, I have decided they are European starlings in winter plumage.

Amongst all the starlings on Saturday was a small, gray bird with a distinctive "tuft" on his head. I think I have a tufted titmouse on my feeder. This is one of those birds that I am always seeing pictures of, but never actually see in person so I am convinced they don't actually exist. They are just a figment of someone's imagination designed to make me feel inadequate in attracting a variety of birds to my feeder. Up until now, I never seemed to get anything other the run of the mill little brown birds, mourning doves, cardinals and blue jays. Maybe my luck is changing. Maybe I will actually succeed in attracting hummingbirds this year. Maybe I should just be satisfied with a tufted titmouse.