Previous month:
January 2013
Next month:
March 2013

February 2013

Signs of Spring

Outlines of the rhodiesThere is a perceptible change in the light levels here in the garden at the end of February. Last nights dusting of snow outlined and frosted the garden dressing it up for a photo op. Morning sunWhile the weather is still quite cold with temperatures hovering just above freezing during the day, the buds on trees and shrubs are getting fat with expectation. I know I am expecting warmer weather soon. SunriseThe garden is still covered with a good six inches of snow and the high plowed piles will be around for a while but the brightness of morning comes a bit earlier and evening much later. There are very few snowdrops visible as most are still buried but this small clump by the house is showing a bit of white. SnowdropCan blooms be far behind? What signs of spring are you seeing in your garden?

Shattered Grasses

Grass bent in the snowFebruary is a time of broken plants and delayed dreams here at Ledge & Gardens. Heavy snows have shattered the once stately grasses and they lie bent, broken and ragged. Grass seed headsThe small grasses are invisible wrapped tightly under the white blanket. Folded grassThese grasses are usually burned in March but only time will tell if the sodden lumps left after the snow leaves will ignite.  Windowsill gardenThe noticeably longer days have unfulfilled promise and only the indoor garden provides a bit of greenery to keep the spirits up. Today, the wind is howling outside. The hyacinths are giving off a spring scent. The seed catalogs are still arriving. What are you doing to keep sane during this month of February?

Winter Interest

Pine treesI know everyone is tired of hearing of the big Northeast snowstorm. That it made such a splash on the news is good in a way. It means that there were no school shootings or major political incidents. I will take weather hype over those stories any day but I am tired of it as well. I am also living with the aftermath. New England should have snow in the winter and it does but not usually over 20" at a time. Alberta SpruceTwenty inches of snow is fairly impossible to walk through. The EM had to get to the tractor in order to plow. The barn is a good 300' from the house. I had to poke a hole in the snow cover over the fishpond. That is only fifty feet or so away from the walk but it was quite a chore to get there. There is a circulator in the pond but that much snow capped it which could cause the fish to die. SedumI left the seedheads of Autumn Joy sedum for winter interest but they have disappeared in most of the garden. These by the shed are visible due to the high winds blowing the snow off their location.  Gardening is a regional activity and winter interest means different things to different people all over the world. Winter interest in Texas can mean blooming bulbs. Winter interest in Florida can mean gardenias and orange blossoms.
Cornus with clouds
Cornus with clouds of snow
In Buffalo, winter interest can mean trees and forced bulbs in the indoor garden. I have a better sense of a more northerly approach to winter interest at this time in mid-February. My attention is drawn to the garden accents which are spread around the garden. BirdhouseThe colorful birdhouse on the hook in the long border adds pretty contrast to gray and white. Orange globe and barnThe orange globe in the sunny border is warming me with its glow. Blurry GlobeSo, what is keeping your garden interesting at the moment? Is it inside or outside? Is it man made or natural?  Oak treePerhaps it is just the trees which come into their own this time of year. Whatever it is, please share it as I need a bit more winter interest when the snow is more than knee deep.

Naked Plant ID

Silhouette of treeNow that I have your attention, you are probably shivering at the thought but there is no need to undress. The plants, trees in this case, are already in their bare form and if you can brave the cold this time of year and have the desire to increase your identification skills there are many opportunities to do so.  I took a course in ornamental tree identification many years ago as part of my college curriculum. I loved it. When I saw in the Audubon brochure that there was a tree identification class available this past Saturday I decided to attend. My previous course covered ornamental trees and shrubs which did include some natives but I feel that my skills at identifying those trees along the roadside are not what I would wish them to be. I do know many of the woodland trees but some I just can't identify. Winter tree identification has a language all its own.
Terminal bud, leaf scar lenticels
Terminal bud, shield shaped leaf scar and lenticels (dots on stem)
Bud scales, bud scar, leaf scar, pith, lenticel, growth rings and then there are the buds themselves. Are they clustered or single? Sticky, smooth or velvety? Much of this course was review for me at least with the terminology but it is challenging to re-acquaint oneself with those terms. Books on Tree IDI have quite a few books to help me in my cause. Gray's Manual of Botany is a wonderful key if you know all of the language. Years ago I bought Native Trees, Shrubs and Vines for a class and never used it. It cost $79.00 twenty years ago and it is a wonderful book whose time has finally come. I also own three of Michael Dirr's books. His Manual of Woody Landscape Plants is still used by many college students. Seeing Trees is a gorgeous book on trees written by Nancy Ross Hugo with photographs by Robert Llewellyn. It is informative, fun to read and the photographs are incredible. No Kindle or Nook would properly do them justice.
Opposite branching
Opposite branching on a red maple
I usually start with the basic outline of the tree and then move on to the bark. A closer view of the tree's branching structure will show if the branching is opposite or alternate. There are fewer genus of trees exhibiting opposite branching than alternate. Maple, Ash, Dogwood, Horse chestnut and those in the Caprifoliaceae family all have opposite branching. Furrowed barkThe bark of an ash is deeply furrowed and quite beautiful while that of the paper birch can easily be identified by the sheets of peeling white. Paperbark birchI have many different types of oaks on my property. White oak and pin oak along with some red oak. Quercus palustrisThe pin oaks are easy to spot as their lower branches dip toward the ground while the basic form of the tree is pyramidal. Trees are quite beautiful in their nakedness.
Many have buds which are quite distinctive. Most of us can identify a flowering dogwood from the fat flower bud.Tulip tree seed head The Tulip tree has this distinctive seedhead. Every endeavor requires one to start at the beginning and no matter what your skill level there is always a new plant to learn. I would bet that Michael Dirr would know all of the trees on my property but for the rest of us there would be something new around each corner. Do you have any desire to know your neighborhood trees? It would be fun to learn together.