Last week was eggs. This week is flowers.

Uvularia perfoliata, Bellwort

While the warm season grasses rise above last year’s stubble and the trees are beginning to leaf out in earnest, all of the ground layer of plants are grabbing sunshine while they can. The meadow is sporting blue eyed grass (Sisyrhinchium), violets, pussytoes (Antennaria), and wild strawberries (Fragaria). The cool season Junegrass (Koeleria) is already spreading its pollen, along with all the Carexes. In the woods, the violets are joined by a delicate carpet of bellwort (Uvularia).

The redbuds are wrapping up; as hot and dry as it has been, those flowers won’t last much longer. The dogwoods are well into their season. I’m hopeful we’ll get some of the rain forecast for the coming week, or these won’t last long, either. The highbush blueberries have only just gotten started. I don’t think the groundcover blueberries have opened yet.

In the greenhouse, I’ve transplanted the peppers into larger pots. It may be hot, but I don’t trust that we won’t have a sudden cold snap, and these plants take a long time to reach plant-out size. I’m not taking that chance. This year’s varieties are sweet peppers Super Shepherd, Sweet Banana, Corno di Toro, and Ashe County pimento, and hot peppers Jalapeño and Tiburon poblano–most of them aren’t locally available.

Today I also sowed the larger portion of the plants I’ll be setting out in three or four weeks. So many seeds! We’ve got six varieties of tomatoes (slicers Vinson Watts, German Johnson, and Illini Star; plums Illini Gold and Black Plum; and Pink Princess cherries), three varieties of tomatillos (Everona, Cisneros Grande, and Purple), and herbs Thai and Genovese basils, catnip, borage, parsley, and cilantro.

Daucus carota ‘Dara’ – OMG

I’ve started another several pots of the Daucus carota ‘Dara’ I flipped for two summers ago in hopes of actually getting a decent stand of them this year. I also started a bunch of Red Drummond phlox, something that came up on its own from a set of plants I purchased elsewhere and which I liked so much I located a source to start my own crop. And for the bees I’ve sown three marigold varieties (Jaguar, Spanish Brocade, and seed saved from marigolds that self-sowed in the garden a couple of years ago), Tithonia, and two varieties of sunflowers (Tiger Eye and Lemon Queen).

Later this week, I know I’ll be laying hoses and running water out to the garden, even though the outside beds won’t be in use for another couple of weeks. There’s only just so much hauling of jugs of water a person is willing to do, and I just doubled my watering duties.

 

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Chesapeake Bay Landscape Pro Level D!

I’m pleased to be able to announce that I have now been certified as a Chesapeake Bay Landscape Pro Designer – that is, I now carry a CBLP-D!  This is a distinct, more stringent certification from the entry level CBLP certification specifically geared toward those designing landscapes, and was accomplished after a several-month-long stretch of coursework and testing.

As I’ve posted before, CBLP is all about sustainable landscaping – not just native plants, but actually attempting to restore the natural functioning of landscapes so that they capture and control more stormwater (and thus benefit the Bay and all of us who live near and use it and its watershed).

How do you know what your watershed is?  It’s a safe bet that, if you’re reading this, you’re in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.  But the watershed is made up of many, many creeks and rivers.  Which waterways do your efforts benefit when you do a better job controlling stormwater and pollution coming from your property?  Check out https://cfpub.epa.gov/surf/locate/index.cfm and find your watershed address.  (As of this writing, at least, that page is still working.  Please join me in encouraging the federal government to protect this page and all the other citizen science resources!)

I still need to order them, but if you want one of my new business cards once they come in, let me know.  I’ll be happy to send you some!

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Egg-centric

I have this circular, seasonal calendar on the wall in my living room, and recently I moved it to the quadrant depicting a nest with eggs.  This time of year, everything is busy procreating – my chickens are popping out more eggs now than they will later in the year, and just ask anyone with allergies about the tree sex going on in their sinuses.  A pair of blackcap chickadees set up housekeeping in one of the trio of new nesting boxes I put in the little wooded area outside my garage; there were tiny noises coming from the box this weekend.  Tiger and Black Swallowtail butterflies are everywhere, along with skippers and Azures and Sulphurs, and I saw an Eastern Comma butterfly resting on the rail of my deck on Saturday.

Along with all of the fauna, the flora is procreating, too.  It’s just as well I don’t stress over whether the green in my yard is weed or grass; the chickweed and Glechoma (ugh!) are already in full bloom.  In the kitchen garden, the native violets (Viola sororia and V. sororia priceana) have taken over ground-cover duties.  I’d have a time of it if I wanted to remove them, but I enjoy those flowers.  I think they’re gonna get to stay.  And procreate.

(Ask me some time about the neighbor who wanted me to accompany him to the far side of the yard and identify the little blue flowers cropping up in his perfect lawn, as if I was Mother Nature incarnate, spreading seed just to piss him off!)

Soon enough it will be hot and dry and we will all be complaining about wanting to go back to spring.  While we’re here, then, take a moment to go outside and soak up the fecundity of the season.  The memory will carry you through to autumn.

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Garden year opens, 2017

Purple Rapa mustard greens

Even more than the first harvest, the planting of the first seeds of the year brings me great satisfaction. Seeds are such magical things – not only are they so tiny a beginning for plants that will eventually fill the shelves in my pantry, but I can plant specific seeds and get just the variety I wanted.

Today, I sowed seed for the first of the plants that will go into the big garden. Six varieties of peppers went into pots on the germination table: sweet peppers Ashe County Pimento, Super Shepherd, Sweet Banana, and Corno di Toro and hot peppers Jalapeño and Poblano. I also sowed two pots (Baptisia and Daucus carota ‘Dara’) for winter sowing, though I am very late getting these started. I guess I’m hoping we get a little more cold weather!

There are already crops growing in the greenhouse, winter greens intended for salad and chosen for their cold hardiness. We’ve got a good crop of both Purple Rapa mustard green mix (the photo at the top of this post) and Tokyo Bekana (below), a frilly, tender, sweet Asian green I am liking very much. The collards are growing more slowly, and my summer favorite Senposai has turned out not to like below-freezing nights. I have carrots and beets just beginning to reach above the soil, too.

‘Tokyo Bekana’ Asian greens

In another week, we’ll be starting many more varieties: tomatoes, sunflowers, herbs. I’m planning to test a method of germinating sweet corn that I hope will give me better stands.

No matter what else I do today, it’s a good day.

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Cool season

Carex pensylvanica and Nassella tenuissima along the path.

The other morning, it was 24F in my corner of the world, the second or third frosty morning in a row. The little garden behind my house – the one visible from the kitchen window, and called the winter garden because it’s the only one I spend much time with in winter – has an increasing number of native plants in it. There are several Carex pensylvanica in there, all self-sown.

On this particular morning, I happened to be checking the plants in the winter garden, looking to see which ones had survived the weather. I blinked, then leaned closer to the Carex. Damned if it wasn’t blooming.

Cool season grass (“grass”), yep.

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New Certification!

I’m pleased to announce that I am now a certified Chesapeake Bay Landscape Pro! The program involves a rigorous series of practicums (practica?) and testing, and emphasizes a dedication to sustainable landscape design.

So, what is sustainable landscape design, and why do you need it?  Essentially, sustainable landscape design aims to provide not only beautiful landscapes, but also landscapes that serve the invisible lives that share those landscapes with us (and without whom we stand no chance of life on this planet).  Sustainable landscapes feed soil, protect water and air, support the flora and fauna indigenous to the project site…and at the same time bring beauty, health, recreation, and solace to those people using the landscape.  Win-win, right?

Of course, climate change being the juggernaut it is, deliberately setting out to not only maintain, but to actively improve the conditions in which we live is becoming more and more important.  Let’s not kid ourselves:  the very air and water are at stake, here.  The combination of greed and a simple lack of education on what really matters – how what we do, the choices we make, affect everything around us – degrade everything we know and love every moment of every day.

All is not lost, however.  Changes we began to make two decades or more ago have made our water safer, our air cleaner.  It’s returned the bald eagle to a common sight along waterways.  It’s reducing sediment, nitrogen, and phosphorus in the water that runs off into the Chesapeake Bay, and increasing the numbers of native oysters in beds of native grasses replanted along the Bay’s shallow waters and the numbers of crabs and fish whose babies grow up in those grass beds.  It’s bringing the Bay back to you, and me, and everyone around us.

We must not give up.  We cannot simply shrug and say, Oh well, at least today is pretty.  Our children and their children won’t be able to say the same if we don’t work to make our landscapes truly sustainable.

I, for one, have hope that we can slow this juggernaut.  I think we can help all life adapt as inevitable change continues.  If you want to talk about sustainability in design, or want to see what your personal landscape can do to help with the greater battle, give me a call.  If you want to read up on the subject, allow me to direct you to Dr. Douglas Tallamy [Bringing Nature Home:  How you can sustain wildlife with native plants], Larry Weaner [Garden Revolution:  How our landscapes can be a source of environmental change], and Claudia West and Thomas Rainer [Planting in a Post-Wild World:  Designing plant communities for resilient landscapes].

Yes, it’s a pretty day.  Let’s make sure tomorrow is, too.

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Just a Step to the [South]

The ruins garden waterfall at Chanticleer

Hang onto your hats, Central Virginia folks! The weather’s weird this year, weirder than it’s been in a while. Thanks to accelerating climate change, it’s likely to continue being weird for the foreseeable future.

So, you may ask—why should you care? For any number of reasons, but specifically in a landscape vein, I think it’s important to note that climate change is pushing the temperature zones northward. Plants which were barely able to handle summer’s heat and humidity in years past are going to be even more stressed, and some will probably have to come off our list of reliable species for our zone 7A or B (depending on where you live).

Additionally, you should expect to get heavier, and more infrequent, rain (or snow) events throughout the year. This means longer periods without rain, too, so keep an eye on those plants in your garden which tend to droop anyway without moisture; water them, or replace them with something better adapted to droughts. Preferably native plants, please! Natives are already adapted to local temperatures and moisture levels and, while those things are changing, the natives are better positioned to do well overall than something not from our local area. In short, you’ll have to water and fertilize a native plant less, and you’ll spend less time fussing over it. Want low maintenance? Plant natives.

Seedheads of Andropogon ternarius

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War!

The motto of the insect world is kill or be killed.

The motto of the insect world is kill or be killed.

Hornworms to the left of me, hornworms to the right–the carnage was everywhere. Tomato plants raised denuded stumps to the sky, crying out for help. Frass littered the scene.

I surveyed the terrain and struck! One hornworm. Two. Three, four, in quick succession. Then, employing an old scout’s trick, I crouched and moved in closer.

The enemy thus revealed was appalling. Well-hidden, they had only to wait silently, they thought, for their natural predators to retreat once more, convinced that all was as it should be.

Woe betide those overconfident in their camouflage! I inched nearer, poised just so, and then snapped off a series of fast assaults. Eight-ten-twelve rapidly added to my coup. Fourteen. Sixteen. Eighteen!

At the end of that morning, under the pitiless bowl of cloudless July sky, I tallied my feat: four and twenty they numbered, brilliant in their sleek, striped skins, their lacquered horns raised uselessly against an unexpected foe. Dripping in gore, I escorted my prisoners to their ultimate fate.

And the chickens loved every one.

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A word of warning

Found my first tick today.  We did a series in the Virginia Society of Landscape Designers’ newsletter a couple of years ago, exploring tick diseases and treatment and the potentially catastrophic consequences if you become infected and it isn’t treated.  It wasn’t just a vague warning, either; VSLD has members and former members who suffer every day as a result of tickborne illnesses.

Don’t be the next bad case of Lyme disease in your town – if you’ve been outside, especially walking in brush or tall grass, check and double-check wherever on your body the ticks might hide.  If instinct tells you there’s something creepy-crawling on your skin, check it out.  Check your family members, too.

(DEET and products containing it are NOT SAFE; don’t poison yourself because you’re too lazy to do a good tick check.  If you have to use a repellant, make sure you check the contents, and their toxicity, before you apply it to any member of your family.  And yes, that includes pets.)

This is for real.  Please take it seriously.

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Do you speak for the trees?

If so, and if you happen to live within commuting distance of Baltimore, Maryland (and assuming you are of a certain generation that gets the central reference here), you might be interested to know that Blue Water Baltimore is looking to hire a Seasonal Forestry Lorax.  Yes, that’s right – you could be a Lorax.  You could officially speak for the trees!

One hopes you already do speak for trees and the other living portions of our ecosystem.  😉   But wouldn’t it be cool to get paid to do it?  And to know that you join the ranks of others deemed qualified to be a Lorax?

Here’s the actual job posting.  Please let me know if you apply – we need all the Loraxes we can get.

Seasonal Forestry Lorax

Blue Water Baltimore’s mission is to restore the quality of Baltimore’s rivers, streams and harbor to foster a healthy environment, a strong economy, and thriving communities. Blue Water Baltimore is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that takes on and accomplishes a wide range of work, and partners with a wide variety of organizations to accomplish its restoration, greening, and advocacy goals. Blue Water Baltimore is an equal opportunity employer. Our office is a LEED Gold certified green building. Read more at www.bluewaterbaltimore.org.

Position Description:

The Lorax will work closely with the Community Forestry Manager and other team members to conduct tree plantings with volunteers and monitor and inspect tree planting sites.  The Lorax will be responsible setting up projects, working with and directing volunteers, and ensuring smooth logistics for events.

Core duties:

Help set-up and run volunteer tree plantings
Manage and direct volunteers while planting trees
Summer: manage team of 2 high school youth over 16 to water and maintain trees

Skills:

Previous experience planting trees and/or landscaping or gardening
Previous experience working with volunteers or leading events
Ability and interest to learn tree identification and best practices to plant trees
Organized and motivated individual
Ability to work with volunteers and high school youth
Team player capable of working with others in an additive way

Other Job Requirements:

Valid driver’s license and ability to commute to office
Ability to lift 50 lbs. and work outdoors in occasionally adverse conditions, including cold, heat and bugs
Ability to work most all weekend dates in March through May, and October to November
Projects a positive, can do attitude
Dependable and on-time

Salary and Benefits:

$10-$13 per hour, commensurate with experience
Hours will range from 10-24 hours per week during spring and fall and then 40 hours during June to August, if funding allows position may become full-time

TO APPLY:  Please send cover letter and resume to employment@bluewaterbaltimore.org with Lorax in subject line. Posted 3/1/2016.   Position will remain open until filled.  Position could start as early as 3/16/16.

***

The Lorax, of course, is a book written by Dr. Seuss and beloved of children everywhere.  You could do worse than to read it again…or even for the first time.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Lorax

 

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