Birding from the Car

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What on earth is this mess? Actually it’s a bunch of weeds almost obscuring a garden near the restrooms in Elizabeth Park.

The Park clearly needs more volunteers. But actually, perhaps not. While I was sitting in y car waiting to meet a friend, I was watching this weedy patch and the goldfinch were just loving it! They didn’t even seem to care that I was snapping photographs, or that folks were driving in the parking lot.

In fact the only thing that seemed to drive them away was when folks–some with excitable children–started to queue up for the bathrooms.

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The “fluff” from these flowers is what they were after. As you may know, goldfinch are late nesters. I suspect they may have been lining their nests with these seed puffs. The fact that there was a seed at the end of the “fluff” almost seemed to be an inconvenience. The finches seemed to be wiping the seeds in the study stems of these weeds in an attempt to knock it off. Apparently, it is not tasty–at least not to the goldfinch.

So next time you a have few minutes to wait, sit quietly in your car. It makes a great “birding blind.” You never know what you’ll see!

Bonsai As I Have Never Seen It

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A few decades ago, I used to practice (and I do mean practice in the most rudimentary sense of the word) the art of bonsai. I had several–mostly tropicals, but a few evergreen types like satsuki azaleas and even a few nursery specimens that I had turned into bonsai myself. I was fairly proud of those.

(And no, that is not one of my bonsai. All of the images in this post are from the bonsai show at Elizabeth Park in Hartford July 8-9 of this year.)

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What happened? One exceptionally bad house sitter. I came home and found–despite extremely careful watering instructions, and plants grouped together by watering needs–over 33 of my plants dead. Returning from a lovely vacation is difficult enough. Returning to a massive plant die-off is devastating.

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So that was the point at which I decided that either my bonsai hobby had to go or I had to stop traveling. So I no longer practice bonsai with the exception of a couple of ridiculously hardy plants which I am not particularly attached to.

The photos I am including in this post are photos of perennials–an alpine strawberry,  a true geranium (pelargonium species) and three hosta, all of which are done in bonsai style called mame.  It’s bonsai in smaller pots, or miniature bonsai.

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What’s interesting about this is that I don’t remember any of this when I belonged to a bonsai club several years ago. But I absolutely love it!

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I am still not necessarily willing to attempt it on any sort of large scale. But if I find a hosta seedling, I might just begin training it. What have I got to lose?

Composed Flowers

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We hear a lot about “composite flowers” as being great for our pollinators. When they talk about composites, they often talk about things like daisies, cone flowers, sunflower and other flowers with a central disk and a ray of petals radiating from that disk.

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Even these lovely “weeds”–fleabane is the correct name for them and they are in the aster family so you might want to leave them for your pollinators because the tiny little bees adore them–are a fabulous little composite flower. Such a tiny miracle of nature.

I’m here to propose a totally different sort of “composite”–or perhaps I mean “composed”–type of flower that is excellent for our pollinators.

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This photo above is of a great, underused native called veronicastrum. Maybe it’s the name the puts everyone off. The common name is Culver’s root, which isn’t much better. It is native to my part of the country, the eastern seaboard, basically. And normally, it is quite tall, towering over my head. This year it’s stunted–probably only 3′ or so. That’s what 2 1/2 years of drought will do to a native perennial.

What’s great about it is that all these individual spikelets bloom for weeks on end–and sometimes secondary spikelets will form further down the stem, prolonging the bloom time. I have seen several types of bees and solitary wasps all at the same time on this one perennial.

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This of course is our native milkweed, asclepias syriacus. It’s great for our monarchs but what a lot of folks don’t realize is that many bees like it too.

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Finally here is oregano. Notice all the tiny florets. Mine is constantly covered with bumblebees all summer long.

Obviously I don’t use this for cooking or I wouldn’t let it flower. I have some oregano that I use for culinary purposes (meaning that I don’t let it flower) in my vegetable garden. But from what I understand, these flowers are edible too. I would just hate to disturb the bees!

What A Difference A Year Makes!

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See these mushrooms? They’re all over in my lawn. They’re all over in everyone’s lawns!

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Here are some more. You know what this means. It means it’s been raining. And this is a wonderful thing. For the last two and a half years, it wasn’t raining–or snowing much–or even sleeting or hailing.

For the last 2 1/2 years, our lawns were like tinder, our trees lost their leaves, our gardens dried out, I lost many, many established perennials and shrubs, our evergreens died, or got diseased so that we had to remove them–it’s been a really tough time here in the Northeast and it’s not over yet.

And while we haven’t had a plague of locusts, we have had a plague of gypsy moths that threaten to kill many of our large deciduous trees.

You may think that I am harping on the drought and its after effects. But many, many folks come to New England for the fall foliage. And in many places. our landscape is going to be forever changed by these years of drought.

The backdrop of evergreens that set off our blazing fall colors is slowly being killed by disease caused by drought.

The oaks and maples that cause those beautiful colors are being ravaged by the gypsy moths. Fall tourism may never be the same in places, particularly in parts of Massachusetts. It will remain to be seen.

Have any of you heard about any of this in the news? I doubt it.

And I doubt my neighbors have heard–or seen–that it’s raining. On days when it’s raining–even on days when we get an inch or more of rain–they run their lawn sprinklers. One neighbor runs his twice a day, and the second time is at 1:30 in the afternoon! Talk about a colossal waste of water!

But that’s why I put the pictures of the mushrooms up. You know that I don’t irrigate my lawn so you can tell how much rain we’ve had just by the presence of mushrooms all over my yard.

Some of my neighbors have larger mushrooms than I do but somehow it didn’t seem wise to go around photographing them, particularly while I am walking the dog. That could just lead to catastrophe, in more ways than one. So you’ll have to take my word that the mushrooms are larger on other properties (which I guess is something like the grass being greener….)

In any event, with all these mushrooms around, it seems to me that some of these irrigation systems could be given a rest. You know, encourage the grass to develop deep roots for the next drought. But why be forward thinking, I guess?