Field of Science

Signs of healthy garden

It was a busy gardening week, lots of shrubs to clip back, lots of leaves to clean up, lots of planting and moving (new location for kitchen garden).  And halfway decent weather too.  One sign that we have a healthy garden is how many desirable plants are reproducing.  Bloodroot is suddenly popping up all over, sometimes in amusing places.  Ramp seedlings are also appearing in lots of places (are the fruits/seeds ant dispersed?)  Trillium grandiflora and Hepatica acutiloba  have both produced seedlings, and we take that as a good thing.  Now here's another sign.  While cutting back a Kerria shrub (lots of winter die-back), TPP collected these poking up through the leaf mulch.  Oh, did they make a delectable sauce.  These are the black morel (Morchella angusticeps) and in another location a volunteer orchid (as yet not identified with certainty (missed the flowers)) is returning for another season.  Organisms just keep finding our gardens.  Mostly this makes us happy.

Friday Fabulous Flower - species tulips

Some time back Mrs. Phactor bought a collection of mixed species tulips and they have done quite well.  Quite a few people seem confused by the term species tulips, but they are basically wild flowers from a different place, real species with scientific names.  They would be called "wildflowers" in their native habitat.  These are not big plants or big flowers, but they are pretty tough, and quite handsome; they seem to naturalize well.  Let's see, top to bottom. Tulipa tarda, T. turkestanica, T. urumiensis, and T. humilis.  However the flowers tend to close when overcast or for the night.  They do well in well-drained rock garden situations.  They flower just after crocus in a sunny bed. These are all natives to the middle east, and at least one botanist thinks tulips may be the "lilies of the field" 
in all their splendor as real lilies in this region are not very colorful.

Dinosaur kills man in Florida

This was not the article's title, but it should have been.  TPP's academic alter ego has had the great good fortune to have studied botany in a number of tropical forests.  So when the article says a man in Florida (the state attracts a certain sort - sorry Sis but 'tis true) was killed by a bird, my mind immediately thought cassowary, which is crazy because it also said Florida (some good pictures on this blog from Innisfail).  A long ago study site in far northern Queensland (a bit further north than Innisfail) had cassowary, and TPP well remembers his first encounter. On some muddy ground were these dinosaur footprints like those on display at the Field Museum in Chi-town.  And your hand could not cover one of these.  The same day TPP came close to being pummeled by fruits falling from the canopy that were about the size of large baking potatoes (Faradaya a liana in the mint family) and it was hard to believe that a bird dispersed these fruits after being told that cassowary ate them whole.  And that's when you see the dinosaur foot prints in the mud.  As the sun set, in the gathering gloom, this 5+ foot tall black bird suddenly appears in your clearing and it is quite astounding, because the only thought was dinosaurs did not all go extinct!  And yes, it could kick you to death.  So the mention of cassowary still triggers vivid memories, and you wonder what the heck a guy in Florida was doing with one of these birds that in my opinion should remain in the wild.

Ugly spring weather

The old boys in the neighborhood of TPP's youth always said, "If it doesn't snow on your peas, you didn't plant them early enough".  Well, no problem, the peas have been snowed on.  At this point more snow is hoped for because it will be good insulation for the predicted over night low, and that is always the worry, not the snow, but the low temps that always follow the night after the snow. That is the way of weather here in the great upper Midwest.  Enjoy those magnolia pictures TPP posted because the magnolia flowers are going to get frozen.  Plants close to the soil surface will be OK, but the flower buds are showing on the pear tree, and they may freeze.  It's always something.  This snow event is just a bit later than it was last year, so this is not so unusual.  TPP may cover a couple of plants but not much point in doing so, but it might save the fern-leafed peonies.  Pretty depressing stuff.  Lettuces and broccoli should be OK, they be plenty tough. 

Some of you may know that TPP is a bit nuts when it comes to Magnolias or other magnoliids.  This was a tough winter and the polar vortex brought in a blast of very cold air and until plants leaf out and/or bloom you don't know the extent of damage.  Most of TPP's plants look OK. So far the freezing damage seems limited to an upright growing Cephalotaxus (plum yew), a not at all hardy hybrid magnolia, and an Ashe magnolia a long ways from it's home in the pan handle of Florida (what do you expect?).  The latter may still sprout new shoots from a well-mulched base.  Around here star magnolias are the earliest, and the blooms often freeze.  TPP's is planted in a cool, shady place (probably to shady), but that holds back flowering just a few days which is often just enough.  Presently Magnolia loebneri 'Leonard Messel', known for its frost tolerance, is earliest (one parent of this hybrid is a star magnolia and the other is M. kobus.).  Just a day or two later and the willow-leafed Magnolia salicifolia, opens.  The flowers are generally a little smaller in diameter than star magnolias, and with fewer, wider tepals, and they have a lovely fragrance.  Most of you have never seen this species as it isn't in the trade and has to grow to tree size to really flower well.  TPP was patient, and now his tree looks lovely.  Loebneri also looks a bit like a star magnolia, except it's tepals are pink on the outside especially this variety.

Friday Fabulous Flower - bloodroot

This is a totally up to date posting because bloodroot is flowering presently in our woodland gardens, a bit late as it usually flowers in March, and without any doubt this is a favorite simply because it is so dang cute.  For the longest time only one small clump of bloodroot grew in our shady areas.  And the clump got pretty big, then after a number of years, bloodroot is suddenly coming up almost everywhere.  Apparently ant seed dispersers are doing their job.  
It also is an early flowering species, a true harbinger of spring, although another wild flower has that name locked down.  Sanguinaria canadensis is a member of the poppy family and like many members it has colored latex, in this case a bright orange-red.  It's possible that the name derives from the old doctrine of signatures, the blood color a sign or signature of the creator to indicate the plant's use or value to humans.  Lots of plant names bear witness to such beliefs.  

Gardens in front yards are OK

Talk about misplaced values.  So you don't have much of a yard and your house faces south, or like TPP almost the whole back yard is shaded.  So what do you do?  Well, you plant your vegetable garden in the front, but then  you are informed that this violates an appearance code in your town.  However, the good news side of this situation is that Miami Shores which sounds like a chi-chi sort of place, changed its mind and now allows vegetable gardens in front yards.  Great cheers for this glimmer of gardening enlightenment.  
Where did the idea come from that a monoculture of grass is aesthetically pleasing, but a hedge row of zucchini squash isn't?  Now TPP thinks that such gardens must be well attended and not allowed to turn into an unkept mess.  Having grown up in a part of New York where citizens of Italian background were plentiful, many cultivated favorite vegetables using their entire yard.  And they were lovely and well cared for.  TPP has considered front yard vegetable gardening, but there are already a lot of plants there, and mostly sun remains a bit of a limiting commodity.  
One of our neighbors just died, too young, after being ill for a long time, but his yard was rather small, and eventually all the lawn disappeared into a diversity of garden plants; OK no vegetables, but also no grass.  The only difference would be whether you cultivate a tomato or two versus a magnolia.  Tough choice.   

It's April - time for election blues

TPP is feeling very out of sorts this morning.  Local elections outcomes were almost exactly the opposite of how they should have come out in my opinion. That's the trouble with being an reasonably well-off, educated elite; being liberal just seems to come naturally.  So after reading some election "vote-for-me" propaganda TPP decides this conservative type is not the type to be supported, so naturally he garnered the most vot. What bothers TPP the most is knowing how many people out there think completely differently.  It was a bit like seeing a bumper sticker that said, "I think, therefore I vote GnOPe".  Really? How depressing is that? This is why TPP more or less decided that writing about politics at this point in time is too depressing and something TPP doesn't need more of in his life.  Wonder if this guy thinks the noise from wind turbines causes cancer?  No wonder they devalue land so much.