Friday, November 21, 2014

A Miniature World of Mosses and Lichens

Our wood, cedar-shingled trashcan bin needs a new roof, however, I am having a hard time giving up on the old roof because there is fascinating little world of mosses and lichens on it.

I was so intrigued that I took a class on mosses recently at the Morris Arboretum to try to learn a little more about these plants in miniature. I learned that Bryophytes are one of the most diverse plant groups with over 20,000 varieties. (Fern-lovers would argue that they are the most diverse plant group.) Bryophyte is a collective term used for hornworts, liverworts, and mosses. The plants are usually composed of one-cell thick leaves and are non-vascular, which means the stems and leaves do not conduct water and nutrients. Mosses live on all seven continents, including Antarctica. Pretty amazing, right?! They can be found in a variety of conditions, from wet to dry, hot to cold, aquatic to terrestrial.

I won’t pretend to be able to identify mosses yet, however, here are some mosses that are growing on my trashcan bin. I got out my macro tubes to get these close-up shots.

Mosses only grow and reproduce when it is wet. They can even grow under snow and will often produce spores under snow. They are very good at drawing in water and will go dormant if they get too dry. I believe these pincone-ish bits are a kind of spore.

These are definitely moss spores.

Lichen are not moss and are more like fungi, but are photosynthetic plants. They have a different biology than mosses and are usually blues and grays. I am going to guess that this is a type of lichen. Looks like some sort of weird alien world when seen through the macro tubes.

From my online research, I think this variety is called British Soldier.

I think the red tips are where the spores are produced.

These mosses and lichens look like they are living in harmony at first glance, however, I believe they are more likely competing for space on my rotting trashcan bin roof.

There are also these tiny, little mushrooms. At least that is what they look like.

So much to learn about this strange, lilliputian world.

One of the books the teacher recommended is “Common Mosses of the Northeast and Appalachians (Princeton Field Guides).” I was trying to find a guide to lichens, as well, though. I found “Mosses, Lichens & Ferns of Northwest North America (Lone Pine Guide),” but I don’t live in the Northwest so I’m not sure that would be the best one for me. There are others that are only available used and are really pricey.

I feel like this whole new world of plants has opened up to me. It wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for the rotting roof of my trashcan bin.

Further reading:


Basic Moss Biology

Moss Reproduction

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Seems So Long Ago...The Flower Garden in September

One of these days I will catch up with these garden summaries. Now if I can just remember what was happening way back in September. I actually WISH it was September right now instead of the bitter, cold, windy day we have had today.

Ah yes, September was the month of getting stuff done before my class started. One of the many projects I accomplished was painting the back porch railing and replacing the back porch steps (Brian helped with the steps). We were tired of ending up with splitting or rotting stairs each year so we replaced the wood ones with Trex, which are made of 95% recycled materials. Not only is it earth-friendly to use, they also claim to have “ground-breaking green processes.” I like the sound of that, and I like the sound of not having to replace one or more of the steps each year anymore. The freshly painted railing and new steps look so much more attractive now and help show off my potted plants.

It also makes it feel a lot safer stepping out to snip fresh herbs for dinner.

From afar, the flower garden wasn’t looking too shabby in September, at least in parts. My favorite rose bush was still blooming and the yellow annual Melampodium was looking pretty great, as it usually does in the late summer.

The bit of lavender you see in the middle is Obedient plant, which blooms late in the summer.

Here is a closer look at the Obedient Plant (or False Dragonhead). I have to say, I would like to meet the person who named it the Obedient Plant because it is NOT very obedient. It likes to spread. However, it does add a splash of color in the garden at a time of the year when you need it the most.

An annual that added bright, red color to the garden is Summer Jewel Red Salvia. It started off kind of spindly in the spring, but filled out more in the summer.

This anemone is a hidden gem that you have to go hunting for to find. It is in the area I refer to as my Secret Garden, which is along the side of the greenhouse. If memory serves me right, this is Anemone tomentosa Robustissima. It isn’t the best spot for it because it doesn’t really get enough sun, plus it can’t be appreciated in the corner like this. No one puts baby in the corner! If I could find a better spot for it I would consider moving it. Anemone has a sort of whimsy to it that I love and I always get a little giddy when I see it starting to bloom each year. It really deserves a place of importance.

One thing that does NOT look pretty in September are the purple coneflowers. I can’t bring myself to cut them back because the goldfinches love the seeds. I did cut some back, but made sure to leave enough for the birds.

The side opposite my large flower garden has been filling in well. This was an overgrown mess a few years ago. My neighbor’s cat, BJ aka Stubby, photo-bombed this shot, which isn’t unusual. The low-growing, red foliage plants are a type of coleus that likes full sun. I think it is Solenostemon scutellarioides 'Stained Glass Copper', but I really need to double check that. It is described as being brick red in the spring and then turns a coppery color. Mine looked fabulous all season long and didn’t turn a coppery color until the end of September or beginning of October. They still looked pretty good up until our first killing frost, which was just recently. It can really stand the heat, too. I think I only watered these babies twice all season. Seriously. Not many annuals that you can say that about.

I mean really, look at that pop of color! Note to self: I have decided I want to plant more of these here and there throughout the garden next year.

That appears to be all I have to share in regards to the flower garden in September. Looking through my October photos, they really aren’t great. I took them on a bright sunny day with lots of contrasting shadows, which don’t make for good photos. I will see about getting some posted, though...hopefully before the end of NOVEMBER!!! Sheesh, it’s November.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Good Day For Some Fall Clean-Up

Was about to get out in the garden and work on putting it to bed for the winter, when I spotted one of my neighbor’s cats on my garden bench. Puss loves that bench. I often see her or Stubby lounging there.

You would think she would be going after the 15 or so birds that are hanging around the bird feeders, but looks like she would rather just sit and enjoy this pretty, fall day.

You can read more about my neighbor’s cats and their love for my garden here.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Remembering the Kitchen Garden in September

Desperately trying to catch up with my monthly garden summaries. I will get to November eventually! I apparently didn’t take many photos of the kitchen garden in September. Was too busy with physical therapy and getting stuff done to prepare the house for winter, I guess (sealing a flat roof, painting the back porch railing, replacing all of the back porch steps, etc). Had a laundry list of things to do before my class started the end of the month.

The summer months are always the best time of year for the kitchen garden. My spring-planted vegetables tend to dwindle by September. The exception was the Cherokee Tomato. I FINALLY started to get some of these dark-skinned beauties in September.

I didn’t plant Sungold Tomatoes this year, however, they decided to show up anyway. Must have reseeded from last year. They were still incredibly sweet and yummy.

The Alaska Nasturtiums and Bright Lights Swiss Chard light up the front of the kitchen garden with hot colors. I am loving how the red and orange nasturtium flowers bring out the red and orange stems of the swiss chard. These are still going strong even now.

Another colorful combo, this time in pink and purple. The Beautyberry bush never fails to amaze me with its bright purple berries. The Fireworks Gomphrena has bloomed all season. They are great as cut flowers and last a long time in a vase. These, along with the Cut And Come Again Zinnias that are also growing in the kitchen garden, make a great combo in a vase.

I planted some cool-season veggies in September: Escarole, Joi Choi Pak Choi, Leeks, Kale Redbor, Superdukat Dill (a tall variety), and Graffiti Cauliflower (a purple variety). I have never had any luck with cauliflower and broccoli, but never tried the purple kind, so thought I’d give it a whirl.

I also planted some spinach. You can see more Alaska Nasturtium and Sungold Tomatoes here, along with my feet. That is probably the most you will ever see of me on this blog!

The cool-season veggies are still doing well as we begin November. As I mentioned in a previous post, I hope to get them covered this weekend in an attempt to extend the growing season for as long as possible.

Favorite Plants: Solanum quitoense, aka Naranjilla

Don’t ask me to pronounce it and don’t ask me to touch it, but I’ll tell you what a unique plant it is and that it has tasty fruit. The first time I saw Solanum quitoense (Naranjilla) was last September at the amazing Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay, ME in their Burpee Kitchen Garden. It was in a pot with other fascinating, prehistoric-looking plants. I thought it was one of the coolest plants I had ever seen.

I bought my Solanum quitoense plant from the Unusual Tropical and Annuals Sale at The Scott Arboretum at Swarthmore College in the spring. I potted it up in a big, blue pot and put it in a semi-shady spot in the kitchen garden.

It was in either a three or six inch pot when I bought it and it obviously was happy in my big, blue pot and grew and grew. It is a dangerous-looking plant with large, purple spikes running along the veins of every one of the large leaves. Not the kind of plant to be triffled with.

The stems are even more scary-looking because they are literally covered in thorns. The flower buds and flowers are soft and fuzzy, though, and even the leaves themselves are delicate and somewhat soft to the touch. This is certainly a plant of contrasts.

From what I was reading, it is fairly common to have issues getting your Solanum quitoense to fruit. One thing I read said it can take six months. No problems like that here, mine has had fruit almost all season. The un-ripe fruit is green and covered in fuzzy little hairs.

Once the fruit ripens it turns a bright and cheery yellow color. Be careful trying to pick it, though, because you might get stabbed by all of the thorns around it!

I have to admit I was a bit nervous sampling the fruit from such a strange and threatening plant. However, I read that the juice from this unique and rare fruit from the Andes is considered “Nectar of the Gods.” Who can resist that???

To eat it, you wash off any leftover fuzzy hairs, cut it into sections and suck out the insides (or squeeze them out). You don’t eat the thick, tough skin.

It has been described as tasting “sweet and sour,” or like “citrus,” “kiwi,” or a cross between “rhubard and lime,” or “pineapple and lemon.” I personally would describe it as being a somewhat tart combination of kiwi and lemon. Very intriguing.

According to Annie’s Annuals, a plant can bear fruit for four years. It is a frost-tender plant, so I decided it was too cool and unusual to let it get killed off by frost and moved the whole pot into the greenhouse. That’s something my physical therapist probably wouldn’t have approved of considering how big it is, but to me it’s worth it for such a stand-out garden specimen. It’s a definite keeper.

The Growing Season Is Coming to an End

It is always hard for me to accept when the growing season is coming to a close. All of those fresh herbs and veggies from the garden, all the pretty flowers and lush green foliage will be gone. At least until next year.

This is the time of year when I scurry around trying to bring in all of my potted plants and garden decorations, as well as trying to put the garden to bed for the winter by cutting back and clearing out the old stuff. It’s a lot of work and unfortunately, I haven’t had enough time to get it all done yet. Plus, I had promised my physical therapist I would “be good” and not overdo it. So far I have managed to bring in 95% of the potted plants. They are warm and safe in the greenhouse. The other 5% are sheltered on the front porch, but should come in this weekend. As far as putting the garden to bed, well, that hasn’t happened yet. Hopefully tomorrow.

The succulents, aloe, and sedum from the back porch steps are all in the greenhouse now. Also inside are my two bog containers, which contain my carnivorous pitcher plants, Venus flytraps, and other water-loving plants.

The succulent wreath that I made in a class at Meadowbrook Farms in the spring could be left outside in a sheltered spot, however, if we have a winter anything like last year (which is what they are predicting), I don’t want to chance it. It is hanging in the greenhouse now.

As the weather turns cooler, the leaves begin to fall, and it starts getting dark earlier, it’s a good idea to keep a steady supply of fresh herbs in a vase in the kitchen window. I actually like to do this all year round so that I have some herbs within reach when cooking dinner.

It is an usually cold weekend, so I am wondering how much longer my herbs will last. I also wonder about some of the cool-season veggies that I had planted in the early fall – Escarole, Spinach, Kale Redbor, Joi Choi Pak Choi, Graffiti Cauliflower, Superdukat Dill, and Leeks. If I can get a row cover over them, then maybe they will survive a little while longer. Anything to keep those fresh garden goodies coming for as long as possible.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Gone But Not Forgotten

In March I posted about living in a construction zone and a tough decision. Read the post here. Well, the day finally came. They took our beloved tree.

We didn’t want to part with it. All that pretty fall color and dappled shade...the big tree just seemed to belong with our 133 year old house.

During the construction on our street, they dug down about 10 feet on both sides of the tree – digging through lots of big, old roots. The shade tree commission told us it was just a matter of time before it would fall or die and we didn’t want it to be a danger to the house or a neighbor’s property.

Of course, in typical fashion, things weren’t done in the best order. They put in the new sidewalk BEFORE taking down the tree. The sidewalk goes around the tree. They also redid the end of our driveway that they had torn up and cut it to line up with the curved sidewalk. We were told the stump would be ground, so what the heck?!

It sure will look stupid with a curvy sidewalk and no tree there. We were told that they would see if they could redo the sidewalk after they finish with the tree. We’ll see if that happens.

In the meantime, we are mourning the loss of our large friend. He was at least 50 years old or more and had plenty of living to do if it hadn’t been for the gas and electric company running all of these new electrical and gas lines underground. Poor tree.

Now it will be interesting to see what this does for the front yard. It will definitely be a lot less shady. Will it affect any plants? Will it affect what I plant on the porch? I have always had to do shade loving plants for the porch. Maybe that will change...

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Remember August? The Flower Garden in August

Apparently my philosophy is “better late than never” since I am notorious for being behind on posting my monthly garden summaries. I had posted pics of my kitchen garden in August, but not my flower garden. So here it goes...hopefully I can remember what was going on in the garden almost three months ago!

I think that end of July / beginning of August was actually the best time of the year for the flower garden this year. Here you can see catmint, roses, white David phlox, white butterfly bush, purple coneflowers, hydrangeas, and Black-Eyed Susans...

A couple of different hydrangeas, purple butterfly bush and Black-Eyed Susans here, however, the Susans didn’t do as well this year. Second year in a row, actually. This part of the garden is usually a mass of Susans. More on this later in this post.

Black-Eyed Susans, hydrangeas, white butterfly bush, purple coneflowers, white phlox again.

Joe-Pye Weed, purple coneflowers, white butterfly bush, white David phlox, roses, catmint, Million Gold Melampodium.

This hydrangea was actually here when we moved in, however, it was a wee little thing. Now it is a big, gorgeous highlight of the flower garden in July/August. I absolutely love it.

Here is the same hydrangea from the back. This was taken not long after I had finished the path back here. I am so happy with how the Christmas ferns and hostas have filled in. The hostas were rescued from the overgrown mess that was the other side of the back yard at one point. I wasn’t sure they would survive in this area, which is a mass of tree roots and very shady. The Christmas ferns were added on a whim and have done amazingly well the past couple of years.

This is the only other hydrangea that bloomed for me this year. It was a very bad year for hydrangeas in this area and the only thing I can think to blame it on is the incredibly long, cold winter we had. Everyone I talked to this year said their hydrangeas didn’t bloom this year.

The purple coneflowers and Joe-Pye Weed bring the bees and butterflies in droves. Once the purple coneflowers dried out and went to seed, which was late August, the goldfinches appeared, as always. They love the seeds.

This Joe-Pye Weed popped up like its name implies in a spot that I didn’t plant it. Purple coneflowers, White butterfly bush, and Agastache Blue Fortune are also in this shot. All of these plants are dependable workhorses in the flower garden each year. I ended up cutting out this unintended Joe-Pye Weed because it was blocking my view of the bird feeder from the back porch. I MUST be able to watch the birds when I drink my coffee on the back porch on summer mornings!

I am a big fan of the Black and Blue Salvia, but I really didn’t plant it in a great place and you never really notice it unless you are up close. The flowers are one of my favorite colors and I love the contrast of the dark stems and the bright green leaves. The hummingbirds like this plant, too.

I do not plant a lot of annuals in my flower garden, but Melampodium is one of the exceptions. I plant some variety of this annual every year because it has proven to be a reliable constant bloomer. It always looks its best in the late summer and fall. The trick is to keep it hydrated. I have two sections of these annuals and you can definitely tell the difference between the ones that were watered more and the ones that weren’t. Water makes them taller and fuller. This variety is called Million Gold. The dark leaves behind it are the Weigela. I honestly can’t remember if this is Midnight Wine Weigela or Wine and Roses Weigela. I thought I had planted the smaller of the two, which is Midnight Wine, however, it seems too big for that.

This is a new annual that I introduced this year as a ground cover in the front of the bed. I never expected it to do so well! It really spread and had a constant succession of blooms all summer. It is called portulaca grandiflora ‘Double Sunset Fire’. I had gotten it at the Unusual Tropical and Annuals Sale at the Scott Arboretum of Swarthmore College in PA in May. The bright magenta center with ring of yellow petals around it were a stand-out in the garden this year. They clearly like a sunny spot. They would shut their flowers at night and on cloudy days, as if they were too shy to show their faces when it wasn’t bright and warm. This would be a great choice for a rock garden.

Onto the vines. The morning glory vine takes over the arbor in the summer. The hummingbirds like the flowers.

This vine decided to mingle with the blue Plumbago ground cover.

The hop vine that grows up the shed was outstanding this year. It was literally covered in hop cones in August.

Maybe one of these years Brian will actually use the hops in his brewing. They make an interesting ornamental vine, though.

A newbie to the garden, a Passion Flower vine. I adore Passion Flowers due to their unusual appearance. It is a tropical vine, however, this variety of Maypop is supposed to be hardy to this area. We will find out!

Here is what is left of my sorry-looking Black-Eyed Susans. I have had these ever since I started planting this garden and they are usually a highlight in late summer. Not so this year and last. They clearly have a disease and also seemed to have white flies, or something like that. I sprayed it with an organic spray, but that didn’t seem to help at all.

The leaves were covered in black spot, or something similar. I should’ve taken a sample in a zip-locked baggie to my local garden center to see if they could offer any suggestions, but never got around to it.

Another plant that suffered this year was my purple smokebush. I seem to recall it had a problem in late summer last year, as well. The leaves started to wilt and then would dry out and fall off. Very sad. Yet again I meant to try to find out what was going on, but never got around to it.

The other side of yard has started to fill in. This is the side that was an overgrown mess a couple of years ago. I paid a landscaper to clear out the mess, then I created the beds and added plants. Some plants that I kept from the overgrown mess: the tree seen in the front, of course, a Miscanthus grass, and the tree wisteria. Everything else was planted by me. I was lucky enough to find the same kind of stone edging that surrounds the flower garden on the other side.

The section up against the screened-in back porch was all gravel and impossible to plant anything in. My solution was to use pots. I have three shorter pots of boxwood and two taller pots that I change out each year. This year I used elephant ears and bright yellow/green creeping Goldilocks Lysimachia. I had hoped the elephant ears would get really big, but I guess the pots constricted their size. Plants in front include oregano, sedum, thyme and sage. I like having herbs right by the back door for easy access when cooking.

Speaking of herbs, here are more by the back door: lots and lots of mint (used mostly for my iced tea and mojitos!), as well as lemon verbena.

The white Spiranthes Ladies’ Tresses bloomed prolifically in August and September in my two bog pots by the back porch. Interestingly enough, I also got a flower on one of my Pitcher Plants in August. That doesn’t usually happen this time of the year. Often they bloom late winter in the greenhouse.

So this “better late than never” girl will try to get September and October pictures up that it’s almost November. Sigh...November. That means the end of the garden for the year. Frost is threatening and it is time to bring the precious potted plants into the greenhouse – something I have meant to do the past couple of weekends, but got too bogged down with homework for my web design class that I take at night. I MUST get them in this weekend. Supposed to go down to 34 degrees at night!