Bird Migration

Fall has arrived and we’ve started feeding the birds again. Migrating visitors like this female rose-breasted grosbeak are passing through. We must not have the right habitat for summer habitation but we see males and females regularly on their northern and southern migration treks. This female has been with us for several days eating sunflower seeds and peanuts.

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The last two of our hummingbirds left just before the remanents of Hurricane Florence blew through. We’ve had one straggler at a single nectar feeder we keep out. We may get more!

hummingbird 2018

We see cardinals in the neighborhood all summer. They visit us in the spring when the serviceberry trees are producing sweet berries but dine elsewhere all summer. Adults and several juveniles are happy visitors again eating their favorites….. sunflower seeds and suet.

cardinal 2018

We had an abundant robin population this summer with one pair successfully nesting in our doublefile viburnum. (The cat that ate the last nesting of babies three years ago in this shrub has moved away with its owners. Yippee!) Most of our robins have migrated but others are stopping for viburnum berries. This shrub will soon be berry bare.

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Other berries in the yard that attract birds are the blue berries of our tall juniper that aren’t really berries at all. They’re the spherical fleshy cones that are eaten by cedar waxwings, robins and even turkeys last winter. Our many chipping sparrows used the tree to roost all summer. They have migrated but we expect the white-throated sparrows to arrive this fall and use the evergreen as shelter from the cold.

juniper berries 2018

And the favorite of the phoebe are the dark berries of the viburnum dentatum below. These shrubs had a growth spurt this summer with the July rains and the three shrubs are loaded with juicy black berries. It’s also a favorite food for the catbirds that disappear deep into the growth. All we can see is a quivering shrub until they fly out with a mouthful.

phoebe 2018

Phoebe

I think I’ll miss the catbirds the most when they go south. We had plenty of them to keep us entertained this summer. It’s amazing that we can tell several of them apart either from behavior, friendliness, or their ‘meow’ when they see us. There is one we call ‘Screamer’ who wails continuously and follows me around the yard. He (she?) raises the pitch when I appear with fresh mealworms. Spoiled….

catbird 2018

And so it’s goodbye to our summer feathered friends and welcome to all migrators and winter visitors at the feeders.

Garlic Chives

They’ve been a powerhouse of white blooms and a bee magnet for weeks but their time has drawn to a close. They began to bloom for me in mid-summer just as the allium Millenium in the background had reached its peak of color.

Garlic Chives 2018

Garlic chives (Allium tuberosum) aren’t as common in gardens as regular chives (Allium schoenoprasum) but are just as easy to grow. Known in Asian cooking as Chinese chives with a flavor in cooking more like garlic than onions. We don’t use them as much as we should in the kitchen but the leaves are great for garlic butter spread, in soups, and salads. For us they mostly serve as an ornamental accent in a short walkway border and as nectar for insects.

garlic chives

These plants were a pass-along from a neighbor who grew tired of pulling up a multitude of garlic chive babies in her borders. The plant is a prolific self-seeder just like regular chives and a gardener must be on top of deadheading before the seeds are dispersed. For me, planting them in pots helps keep them contained.

Garlic Chives 2018

All those beautiful blooms have since developed late summer seedheads. But before the seeds dropped, I removed all of the dried seedheads. I first cut the few with seeds ready to drop and didn’t lose a one.

Garlic Chives 2018

It’s easy to deadhead the bunch. Just pull them together and cut… almost like a ponytail.

Garlic Chives 2018

The neighbor who passed along the garlic chives to me can see the pots from her window. Last summer she came over and took photos. She’d never thought of putting them in pots at her house and thought they were beautiful on our pathway.

PS: I didn’t offer to give them back.

The Itsy Bitsy Spider

grass spider web

Seeing these dew-covered spider webs draped like sheets over boxwood lets us know we are in transition from summer to fall. On wet mornings, dozens of webs can be seen covering a multitude of box, other shrubs, grasses, and groundcovers like pachysandra. The sight could very well freak out arachnophobes.

Sadly, some folks run for a can of  insecticide or a broom or the garden hose to make them just go away. But they should let these spiders be! The webs and spiders aren’t harming a thing and the spider will help out in the garden by eliminating insect pests.

grass spider 2018

We have to look hard to see the webs on a regular day but on a foggy morning or after an overnight dew, the webs stand out hortizontally over plants. It’s not a time to panic. It’s a time to marvel. Just look at the intricate architecture of each web. Amazing! And just wonder how long it took one female spider to spin such a web. I consider it a miracle of nature… really!

Some of the webs are large enough to connect several different plants and a flowerpot.

spiderweb 2018

Others are thin and sparse. Is this spider just beginning her construction or is she finished? Or perhaps she was caught up in the foodchain and no longer exists.

spider web 2018

Some of the spiders find a good location and build webs side by side… neighbors, you might say… with a wall of colorful hydrangea blooms separating them.

spiders 2018

Now we have to wonder who lives in these webs. The funnel on each web is a clue to her identity. Would you like to know who she is?

spiderweb 2018

She’s the shy spider from a group of funnel weavers called grass spiders (Agelenidae). When she feels a vibration, she dashes out of her funnel at lightning speed to capture her prey. Her web is not sticky so she must depend on speed.

funnel spider 2018

Winter is coming and the webs won’t be there forever. She’ll soon deposit her eggs in a sac and die. Her young will hatch in the spring and repeat the cycle, maturing to adulthood over the summer, mate, reproduce and die.

Maine 2018

Maine.  What’s the appeal? Maine’s rocky shorelines dotted with sandy beaches draw thousands of vacationers to Maine. And then there are folks like us who are drawn to the dozens of fresh water lakes where rustic camps dot the shoreline. Bliss for me is watching a thick fog roll in over a lake waterfront while sipping a morning cuppa joe.

Thompson Lake 2018

Coffee could be followed by a morning paddle through the fog, the only sounds being the paddle dipping in the water and the not-so-distant call of the loons. In this tranquil setting, this could be the most exciting thing you do all day!

Fog burning off Thompson Lake 2018

Our summer stay was on Thompson Lake, a seven-square mile lake surrounded by beautiful mountains. The lake is in the top 5% of the cleanest lakes in Maine. On our boating expeditions around the lake, we could see the bottom at about 30-feet deep before we headed out into areas where the depths were close to 120-feet deep.

Both in deep waters and around the parameter of islands were prime spots for the grands to try their hand at first-time real (or reel 😄) fishing. A lake fished for bass, salmon and trout, all our small fishermen caught were little sunfish that were all released to see another day.

fishing 2018

It was not uncommon to spot a bald eagle on one of the many islands or hear the echo of loons any time of the day. With a reported 20 pairs of loons breeding on the lake, we felt fortunate to have a pair with their tiny offspring foraging in a cove near our camp daily. What a sight to see!

loons 2018

Days were spent doing whatever we pleased. That could mean doing nothing at all or it could mean a venture inland. Unlike the summers of my youth on the salty shores of our grandparents’ rural cabin in Virginia where siblings and cousins played cards or Monopoly to pass an afternoon, this generation has modern options for afternoon lounging. All good….

Thompson Lake 2018

Evenings were spent enjoying all the traditional summer activities….sitting on the dock, listening to the loons, watching sunsets, and toasting marshmallows over an open fire.

Thompson Lake sunset 2018

I think I’m sold on these rural lake camps of New England where nature abounds. It seems each summer we are on a different lake but it’s all so similar…. quiet, tranquil where nature rules and we are allowed to enter and absorb it all for a short time.

Thompson Lake 2018

 

 

 

Cleome

Cleome. Some people hate it. I always loved the old-fashioned cleome in my Virginia garden. A prolific self-seeder, it was fun every spring to see where it chose to pop up in my large gardens. And to see the different colors of blooms was exciting, too, since the babies could vary from white to purple, quite different from the parent.

Complaints according to those who avoid cleome in the garden:
Nasty odor
Spines and thorns
Sticky excretion that could irritate
Tall and leggy later in the season
and a self-seeder

cleome 2018

All those criticisms have become passé with new varieties on the market. The hybrid cleome I grow is compact…. only a foot tall and an annual. No thorns; no odor; no seeds (sadly); smaller blooms than my Virginia plants but just as floriferous all growing season; bushier than my original; planted in my soil/compost border and seem to be happy there; still loved by insects; still visited by hummingbird moths and hummingbirds. No good reason I can think of not to consider it for your garden…. unless you just don’t like the color!

cleome 2018

 

I learned to love nepeta

There are certain plants I thought I’d never grow in my borders. Nepeta is one of those plants. Who in their right mind would want something in the mint family spreading in their garden? Then, of course, I became better educated about varieties while working at Rolling Green Nursery. I was still wary of nepeta but as I tended the plants, I was learning why so many gardeners asked for it.

It wasn’t until a Garden Conservancy Day Open Day in Maine a few years ago and I really met borders of nepeta that I actually fell in love.

Nepeta, Jonathan King and Jim Stott, founders and owners of Stonewall Kitchen

Home of Jonathan King and Jim Stott

Jonathan King and Jim Stott, founders and then-owners of Stonewall Kitchen, invited in the public to wander their home gardens. To make a long story short, nepeta and I have been together since.

I decided on ‘Walker’s Low’ that we sold at the nursery. It’s a very well-behaved plant and blooms for many months from late spring into fall. My worries about spreading like mint was unfounded. You will see a few babies during the summer near the mother plant. You can pull them out or let them go. I usually allow them choose where they want to go.

The plant starts out as a tidy rounded mound in the spring and eventually reaches about 15 – 18 inches tall in my garden. It is lacy and dainty and, yes, it can flop. No problem. Leave it or trim it. It will encourage re-blooming.

nepeta "Walkers Low" 2018

I planted drifts of nepeta along a garden path to soften the look of boxwood, to add some color, and to enjoy the aroma when brushed. It does prefer full sun but does quite well in my partly shaded location.

Nepeta is very easy-to-grow and the bunnies in the neighborhood steer clear. Not even a taste. Another good note is nepeta is an excellent source of nectar for honeybees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. Right now, with fading blooms in the late summer garden, our nepeta is doing the trick.

nepeta, bumblebee 2018