Saturday, April 30, 2011

Plants Attract Insects - Thank God

View from a St. Petersburg balcony.
Wouldn't a few potted plants be nice?
Balconies should be mini-gardens. I thought this was obvious. When I stepped out on the balcony at my parents' new condo in Florida, after admiring the view, I said, "It would be nice to have some plants out here." I already was envisioning an enjoyable trip to the nursery. What interesting subtropical plants would I find? Perhaps a saw palmetto would be nice. And some flowering Florida natives.

So I was unprepared when my Dad said, "Plants are discouraged here." 

What?! Why would anyone discourage having plants?

"Plants attract insects."

This remark stunned me to silence. 

I thought, "So? Why is that bad?"

At home, I see myself as a steward of a woodland garden that is friendly to insects and wildlife. (With an exclusion policy for deer.) Insects are a vital part of the food chain and eaten in large numbers by birds. And birds thrive in our garden. Last summer I counted 27 species that are regular visitors to the garden.

But how do I begin to explain my deep belief in living in harmony with all living creatures? Underlying my Dad's comment is the dominant view in our culture - insects are dirty and repulsive and to be excluded from our properties. So much so that we as a culture have been willing to poison our soil and water to eradicate insects that we find to be a nuisance. At least my Dad's prevention program is more peaceable - just exclude plants.

Oh, but when will we learn to love the web of life of which we all depend? 

Thursday, April 28, 2011

A Whole Lot of Peeping Going On

Baby cardinals, the day before fledging
Yesterday it happened. The first clue was incessant peeping at mid-morning. I moved slowly to the window and saw a brown-feathered baby cardinal standing on the rim of the nest looking right at me. He flexed his wings, took a little hop, and landed on a branch just inches from the nest. I was amazed at witnessing this – and a little worried. Had I scared the cardinal into fledging too soon?

Baby cardinal gets ready to leave the nest.
Two babies remained in the nest, one quite active and one more sedate. I was fascinated by what happened next. Mama cardinal flew into the camellia, hopped up to the branch where the bold Baby Cardinal 1 sat and fed him. She stuck her beak into his open mouth several times, ignoring the loud peeping of the other babies, then flew off. I saw this scene repeat itself several times. Mama clearly was favoring the first cardinal out of the nest.

Baby cardinal 2 practices using his wings. 
Baby Cardinal 2 responded with more activity. He opened his wings. He hopped. Soon he was standing on the rim of the nest. Still, mama cardinal ignored him. Suddenly, he, too took the leap. He flapped his wings and behold! He landed on a higher branch, about two feet from the nest. It took mama cardinal about two more feedings to take notice of him. I cheered internally when mama returned and fed Baby Cardinal 2 first.

Baby Cardinal 2 ventures out of the nest.
Meanwhile, Baby Cardinal 3 had gone for well over an hour without food. I was concerned, but what could I do? I had to leave the house for a couple of hours. When I returned, I checked the nest. Baby Cardinal 3 was now out, awkwardly clutching a branch above the nest.  It stayed there for quite some time. Mama cardinal was nowhere in sight. Neither were the two other fledglings. 

Baby cardinal 3. Notice the lack of tail feathers.
I left the window, reluctantly, to get some things done. The weather had been unsettled all day, hot and humid, with occasional brief showers. A thunderstorm moved in and torrents of rain pounded the earth. I dashed to the window to look into the tree and see how Baby Cardinal 3 would respond to the rain. He was gone.

I haven’t seen the fledglings since. Several times, I walked through the garden looking for them. I could hear peeping everywhere. I tracked the peeping to some large red tip photinias in the neighbor’s yard, but couldn’t see the babies. Later, my husband saw what he thought was Baby Cardinal 1, making short flights between a maple and two camellias, with mama observing.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A Beautiful Iris

A purple iris lifts its petals in praise of spring and creation.
Japanese roof iris (Iris tectorum), a must for the shade garden

Monday, April 25, 2011

Can You Identify This Rhody?

Can you identify this rhododendron?  It's blooming a week or two early.

The rhododendron has grown to the roof line. When we moved to our house seven years ago,  it was two feet tall. It didn't bloom for several years, and I thought it was in too much shade.

When it bloomed three years ago, I was stunned, not only by the gorgeous color, but by the size of the blooms. They're nearly the size of my head (ok, I have a small head).

But I need your help. I haven't been able to determine what variety of rhododendron it is. Do you know?

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Cardinal Nestlings, Two Days Older

The cardinal nestlings have changed noticeably in two days. I wasn't able to photograph them yesterday because it was chilly and rainy. Every time I looked, Mama Cardinal was on the nest, presumably keeping the babies warm. Today, the babies are darker and don't look quite so naked (see earlier photo). Still, they have a ways to go before they look like cardinals!

Baby cardinals nestle, with two on the bottom and a third in between and on top. 

Babies huddle quietly in between short bouts of peeping with mouths open wide.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Flowers, Love and Earth Day

Victoria Park Florist donated flowers to the NC
Botanical Garden Horticultural Therapy Program. 
A bucketful of flowers, slightly past their peak, has the power to transform someone’s day. We discovered this recently in doing horticultural therapy with men with severe brain injuries.

Fred cannot participate in most of our gardening projects because of damage to his hands. He often seems somewhere else, gazing into space and failing to respond to greetings or simple questions. Then a florist began donating flowers to our program.

When I placed the bucket of flowers on the table in front of Fred, he gave a rare smile. I began making small hand-tied flower arrangements, asking Fred to choose the flowers one by one as I placed them in the bouquet. He exhibited a nice sense of color and contrast, smiling almost the whole time. He even spoke a full sentence at one point. “I want the yellow one, there.” A small miracle.

Today we celebrate Earth Day. What more can we all do to share our love of flowers, plants and nature with others? I believe that love of nature in all its forms, not fear of destruction, is what ultimately will save us.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Baby Cardinals

Curious why the mother cardinal had stopped sitting on her nest, I took the screen off the upstairs window and peered into the camellia. To my joy, I saw three baby cardinals.

The wings are distinct on the baby cardinal. No awards for cuteness yet, however!
Baby cardinals sit in nest nicely shaded by a camellia branch.
Baby cardinal opens mouth wide for food.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A Walk in the Garden

The canopy is filling in, becoming greener each day.  I treasure this fleeting time of spring, when the days are warm and skies blue. The leaves are fresh green and new flowers open each day.  I'm spending as much time as possible outside, soaking up that too-short time between the last frost and the first mosquito. Here's some photos from the past week in my garden.

Entering the back garden

The pink azalea was spectacular this year.

Deer browse the azaleas in winter, creating a snow-capped effect

Woodland garden

Columbine (variety unknown),  one of several obtained
as  50-cent seedlings at the farmer's market last year

Phlox divaricata "Blue Moon"

Chrysogonum virginianum var. australe (Green and Gold) is my favorite groundcover,
spreading happily in poor soils and part shade.

Aquilegia canadensis (Eastern wild columbine)

Another of the surprise columbines from the farmer's market.

Iris tectorum (Japanese roof iris) spreads nicely in part shade.
I divided and transplanted them two weeks ago
and they bloomed without missing a beat. 

Tiarella cordifolia. One of my favorite Eastern woodland natives.

Iris cristata grows happily on slope shaded by oaks and hickories.

Ajuga reptans (bugleweed) and wild strawberry seeded itself under this hosta.

Monday, April 18, 2011

More Bluebird Activity

The bluebird babies are getting louder. Today while waiting for the parents to return with more insects, I heard a rustling and flapping sound from within the box, as if the babies were jostling each other for position. Occasionally a little head would appear trying to peep out, then quickly disappear.

A baby bluebird takes a look at the world outside.

The adult male and female take turns feeding the babies. It doesn't take them long to find insects in our wooded area. 

Top: Female bluebird
Bottom: Male bluebird, incredibly blue in the sunlight

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Creekside Meditation

Spring morning at Bolin Creek
Yesterday was the kind of day I'm happy to live in North Carolina. The air was softly fragrant with spring flowers. The sky was Carolina blue and the sun warm but not hot. I walked along Bolin Creek and ended up at a favorite spot for meditation. An inscription on a creekside bench reads: "Welcome life traveler. Have a seat, and let the sounds of Nature awaken your inner stillness ..." 

The high cries of red-shouldered hawks mingled with the rush of water over rocks into the still pool. 

On the walk back, I happened to look up just as a hawk was alighting on a nest of sticks in a dead oak tree. I missed the chance to photograph the hawk, but here is the nest. 

Later, while I transplanted ferns and epimediums into the woodland garden bed, our neighborhood red-shouldered hawks screamed overhead. Here's an old photo of a hawk perched on a low branch in our backyard. I count on them to keep the voles under control. 

Friday, April 15, 2011

Bluebirds Feeding Young

The bluebirds spend the day flying back and forth bringing insects to their babies. We sat on the porch this afternoon, just 10 feet from the box with the nest. I held my breath when a male bluebird alighted in a nearby maple, insect in mouth. The bluebird hesitated, looking at us. Several minutes passed in silence.  I sat motionless, practicing invisibility. Finally the bluebird flew to the box. A chorus of peeps started as soon as he landed on top. He flew away, then a minute later returned with an insect with large wings in his beak and disappeared into the hole to feed the babies. A happy moment. 

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Azaleas and Butterflies

I went to New Hope Creek to take a picture of my favorite sycamore tree and instead was enchanted by pinxterbloom azaleas. Tiger swallowtail butterflies danced on the pink petals along the creek. I had walked these streamside paths dozens of times, yet everything was transformed.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Cardinals Nesting

The cardinal waits, hidden in the camellia, for its eggs to hatch. 

Monday, April 11, 2011

Dogwood Blooms

White dogwood flowers
     floating on waving branches 
outlast cold rain gusts