garden tour in photographs, May 3

starting in the back yard

back yard and under the apple tree

entrance to the meditation garden

meditation garden

front yard

bottom of the front yard, the corner near the potting shed, otherwise known as the red squirrel delux winter condo

the square garden (it’s no longer square but can’t shake the name) and the view out over the barnyard field

part of a bigger history

Right now the garden is awash in blossoms originating in Turkey; at least as far as I remember from my reading, tulips and narcissus from Central Asia, cultivated in Europe and now part of a thriving garden industry, making themselves comfortable in my northern New York garden. In the latest issue of the National Wildlife Federation magazine is an article about using native plants. It says that non-native plants can change the soil chemistry, and make things harder for local plants and soil life. *sigh* Three of my staple garden plants are narcissus, peonies, and Daylilies. None of them native. Daffodils start off the year in April and May. Peonies flower in June and Daylilies dominate in July and early August. No, I don’t plan to dig these all up and plant natives exclusively. But I will probably limit new plants to natives from here on out. I plan to visit a native-plant nursery in Fort Ann, New York as soon as I get the chance. It’s called fiddlehead Creek and the website is This is the back yard on April 28.

What I meant about being part of a bigger history is that what I plant and how I garden is part of national and even global trends. I guess that should be obvious, but somehow I used to think of gardening as a private pastime, outside of politics and worldly concerns, a personal hobby. Scientists, environmentalists and writers like Doug Tallamy in his Bringing Nature Home have changed that attitude. Tallamy points out that what we do in our gardens impacts songbirds, insects, pollinators, amphibians, etc. I can’t go back to blissful ignorance, after that. And of course knowing what’s a native and what’s not is not easy. As I have mentioned in previous posts, some non-natives have naturalized and act like they’ve always been here! It will take patient study to learn this new information about the garden plants: flower catalogs tell us the scientific name, sunlight requirements, soil requirements, zones, height and so on, but often do not tell us native, non-native, invasive, and so on. The solomon’s seal in the photo above, I believe I am safe in saying, is a native. But this lovely little yellow primrose, which I just checked on, turns out to be native of Turkey.I promised a report on the Cooperative Extension Workshop, and I’ll do that soon.

Cornell Cooperative Extension workshop coming up!

mid-April meadow with brambles

Here is the description posted on the website of the SLC Cornell Cooperative Extension: “Young Forest Habitat Management Workshop to be held in Canton, Saturday, April 29th, 2017. Location: Cornell Cooperative Extension of St. Lawrence County, Learning Farm classroom- 2043B State Highway 68, Canton, NY 13617. Program and lunch: 9:00 am – 12:30 pm. Young forest habitat walk: 12:30 – 2:30 pm. The Saint Lawrence Valley provides a patchwork landscape of forests, wetlands, and grassland essential to the survival of at-risk bird species such as Golden-winged Warbler, American Woodcock, Brown Thrasher, and many others. Individual and family land owners are encouraged to attend and learn about habitat needs of songbirds, game species, and other wildlife. Resources are available to help you manage your land for young forest. Expert Presentations From: Audubon New York, USDA – NRCS, NYS DEC, Clarkson University, and local land trusts. For more info, visit:

I’ll have to leave early to attend the Climate Change rally in Potsdam, but I’m excited to attend the morning part of the workshop. It sounds perfect for my interests related to our property.  We have brown thrashers and woodcocks around here and I didn’t know they were at risk. I’ll take notes and report back!

a not very ecological morning

Leave the soil alone, disturb it as little as possible, since you are not the only one living there. That’s the basic idea, which I completely ignored yesterday. Starting at 7:00 am I got out my gardening gear and re-organized the meditation garden. That’s a nice re-design for us, but a major disturbance for the insects, not to mention the various plants I dug up and moved! The meditation garden is a small squarish patch tucked against the Southeast corner of the house and the woodshed. Here is a “before” picture:

looking at the garden from the west

At first I thought I’d remove the lower path:But that made an awkward sharp turn just as you enter the garden. I explained to David that this would be good fengshui since bad spirits and too-fast (dangerous) qi would be slowed down by the curve. He didn’t go for it, and I didn’t really like it either. So on to plan B. First I re-established the lower path, then I removed those nice cinderblocks on the upper path. Once the cinderblocks were out I added three wheelbarrow-loads of composted horse manure/hay. I didn’t like the rock wall on the lower path and removed them. Later I ended up putting a row of bricks there, and built a somewhat higher rock wall to gently terrace the garden, which still slopes. I dragged a long rotten branch to add some interest. The cinderblocks were useful to stabilize the bottom of the bed.   

here it is from the eastern end, looking southwest.

This morning I took a photograph, which includes the blue gazing globe I put in for more decoration.

In the front yard, I’ve been a lot more ecological. Other than removing stalks I haven’t done much to it. Daffodils, pulmonaria, phlox, centaura montana, cimicifuga and other plants are pushing up through the thick layer of maple leaves. I took these pictures of the front yard this morning:

leafy front yard

In this picture I’m showing the row of ten American Highbush Cranberry shrubs we planted last week along the side of the front yard along the driveway. We planted them for bird cover and bird food.

Last week we planted a lot of trees. Ten white oaks and ten red oaks went out at the side of a hay field. Ten highbush cranberries along the driveway, and ten elderberries in our fruit orchard near the veggie garden. We also planted ten hardy plum trees and ten crabapple trees throughout the yard. Why so many, you ask? Because we ordered them from the Cooperative Extension and ten is the smallest quantity allowed! These should eventually make our yard very bird-friendly! And speaking of that, I received my official certificate in the mail from the National Wildlife Federation!

How coo, is that! I hope the spiders, insects, and other critters I disturbed in my renovation of the meditation garden (where we never meditate, by the way!) will not tell on me!

I’m planning for my annual Mother’s Day potluck garden party. It’s May 14 at 3:00 pm. So far it has been a very good year for daffodils: not too hot, plenty of rain.

a Mary Oliver/Annie Dillard moment

I saw the toad’s sides move slightly in and out with its breathing. I thought, it’s like a poem by Mary Oliver who writes long poems about things like how grasshoppers jaws move. Or it’s like the Annie Dillard essay in her Pilgrim at Tinker Creek book, where she writes more than I thought anyone could about a moment when she confronted a mink (or a muskrat or otter?) and held its gaze for a few minutes. I was cleaning up last year’s stalks and leaves in the back yard, and had been at it for several hours already. I saw a toad hopping desperately out of the way of my heavy shoes. I immediately stopped and sat down to watch it and to take a breather, look around me.  And of course I whipped out my camera!I know I should leave the old stalks and leaves and other duff as mulch, but I just can’t bring myself to follow that advice. Here’s the back yard garden in early April:And here it was a week later with green peeking through here and there:I got out there with my leaf rake and nippers, and it looked nice and neat. This was taken on April 16. Now the daffodils have started blooming and the yard is full of yellow blossoms.In the front yard I raked the top-most small bed:

But for the rest I have allowed last falls’ maple leaf blanket to stay. I did remove stalks, (phlox, peonies, etc.). The daffodils, bluebells, and other plants are having no trouble pushing up through the layer of leaves. It’s hard to resist the rake but so far I’m managing it. When I raked that one part of the top of the front yard, I found a beautiful metallic blue bug:In the back yard I did a little adjustment of a rock wall. When I turned one rock over I found a big spider, which was happily unharmed but so absolutely still that I confess I poked it gently with a twig–sure enough, it was alive but didn’t do more than a little flinch.  I carefully replaced the rock and moved away–after taking a picture!I should carry dimes to put next to things for sizing. Anyway, another beautiful creature we saw in the woods–a small green snake. As usual, the cats teach me about the proper way to enjoy a warm Spring day:The horses are enjoying the new grass.



Spring at last! and a few thoughts on blogging.

On one of the first days of April we joined a group of nine hikers for a six-mile road walk along the middle branch of the Grasse River. We were lucky with the weather. Sunny, cool, no bugs yet. We walked along a dirt road through woods, three miles up and then back.

still a bit of snow around

beautiful river and woods

at our turn-around point we stood on a small bridge looking out over a wide wetland area.

on the other side of the bridge the river continued on over huge rocks

Here I am with my trusty walking stick looking at the biggest of the waterfalls we encountered.


Back at home in our own gardens, we were able to take our first real garden tour on April  4th. Small red and black box elder bugs were out by the thousands, running around on errands that looked urgent. Here’s one of them. 

Down in the vegetable garden David uncovered the mini-greenhouses where kale and spinach grew all winter, astonishingly. The cats were thrilled to accompany us. I later found a tick on my hand–so tick season is also here.

The first snowdrops are blooming. We have a few crocus up but I move things around so much I keep disturbing them so I don’t have a lot of the smaller spring bulbs. 

Everywhere you look are the usual suspects peeping up through the dirt, like these baby perennial ornamental onions:Mostly the garden is a brown raggedy mess, as is usual for early April.

blogging thoughts

This year in my garden blog I’d like to do something different. In past years I’ve mostly blogged about what plants are blooming and what garden renovations, expansions, or re-designing projects I’m doing. This year I want to focus more on the garden as a whole eco-system. I’m not sure myself what that means yet but I want to pay attention to native plants, native insects and pollinators, what birds and amphibians might live here, and how we all interact. I want to learn which plants are native–I don’t even know that for some of my plants. Here’s an example. Most of us recognize the tall woolly mullien, or verbascum thapsus, which is a wildflower. I thought it was a native, but I found out it was introduced (and has obviously escaped cultivation!) from its native Europe/Asia/ Africa. When I try to find information about it (using the internet, what else?) I find a lot about how it grows, its benefits as a garden plant, and what medicinal uses it has for humans, but it is not as easy to find out its ecological functions. How does it interact as a member of an ecological community? Does it crowd out other native plants (making it an invasive)? One source claims it is not “competitive” enough to count as invasive. Is it a host plant for insects, or a source of food or nectar? I love the woolly leaves and since it is so well-behaved I like to leave it where it wanders into the garden. Like this lovely specimen!

So I will blog as I learn, and I’m planning to change my garden blog sub-title to something that reflects the different focus.of course there will always be photos of the cats…

enchanted “forest”

I have been spending my outdoor time in the woods, letting the flower beds continue their “down time” rest. This past week we had some rain and a warm spell, so the stream that runs between the beaver pond overlook and cedar hill was running fast. Here’s a picture of it:cedar-hill-morning-sunAnd a few more:looking-toward-juniper-clearingIt’s a trick getting across without getting my feet wet.mossy-rock-in-streamI saw a small snake sunning itself by the stream. Can you see it in this picture?first-snakeHere is a close-up of it. It didn’t move at all but I could see it was alive and well, soaking up the sun.snake-close-upOne of the magical spots on the property is a giant maple tree that is completely dead as far as leaves and sap is concerned–but it certainly has a lot of critters living in it in various holes. Here is a picture of it:the-old-mapleAnd here is the big mossy shelf of rock this tree stands on:mossy-shelf-and-old-maple

I ran across a branch festooned with lichens, moss and such:pretty-frillsHere is a picture of what I call “Dragon Bone Ridge”:dragon-bone-ridgeThis whole area has ash and maple trees primarily, and the leaves form a deep cushion underneath. It’s open and there’s no need for trails here. But in windy weather I stay away, because there are a lot of dead branches very high up. The floor of the woods is covered with dead branches, large and small.beaver-pond-overlook-groveSlowly as I spend more time out there I’m starting to think of it not as a series of trails but as passages or hallways leading from one big room to another. And the rooms are picking up names. There are some major attractions–the giant old maple, the big graceful red oak, the old beaver pond, the giant yellow beech. There are named areas, like cedar hill, dragon bone ridge, juniper clearing, cedar patch, hop hornbeam grove. It’s wonderful getting to know this very small corner of the world. I want to make an illustrated map of all this eventually.

I heard the first red-winged blackbirds on February 28. Sugar maple season is here, also. Spring is coming!