January 28, 2013

No whining allowed on a bright winter day


Do you find yourself complaining about winter when it drags on past January? I have to be honest: I do. But Jen at Muddy Boot Dreams and a group of like-minded garden bloggers are asking us to suspend the crabbing, at least for one day each week this winter.

Their theme this week is "structures in winter." And gosh, structure is so easy to spot without the distraction of foliage and flowers.


Whether we're talking the structure of snowmobile and ATV tracks on an ice- and snow-covered lake;


or the structure of that same ice/snow layer exposed at the edge of the beach;


or the man-made structures brightening winter trails...they're all eye-catching in the stark winter landscape.

I have to admit, I've been less than excited about photographing my own garden this winter. I guess I have a bit of cabin fever. So it was good to head over to the lake this past weekend.

On Saturday, the air temperature was in the mid 20sF (-3C to -4C). After the arctic blast we had last week, the weekend weather felt balmy and springlike--perfect for celebrating the beauty of winter.


And taking a walk out on the lake.


Don't worry, the ice was very thick as you can see from this picture near the shore. An ATV almost went through the ice the next day...but that was out in the middle of the lake where the ice was much thinner.


Anyway, I enjoyed seeing the ice shacks lined up across the lake, and hearing the ice expand and contract along the shore.


And then I took a short hike.




It's always a pleasure to see the bright red of the Black Raspberry canes and the Red Twig Dogwood, and the bright blue sky.


And the ice shacks like happy flags celebrating the joy of winter sport.

I waved goodbye...


Watched the afternoon sun lower in the bright sky...


And said a prayer of thanks for the bright beauty of winter. No whining...just simple gratitude. No more cabin fever...at least for one day.

To find out more about the "No Winter Whining" meme, visit the group's Facebook page. And add your own link!

January 24, 2013

Plant of the month:
False Rue Anemone

As I gladly watch the deep freeze of 2013 recede, I'm now seriously ready to move out of hibernation and into spring planning mode.

One of the most exciting plans is to spend more quality time in the woods with my camera and the local native wildflowers (sounds thrilling, right?). Last spring sped by way too quickly for me to capture many shots--a lot of the ephemerals appeared and disappeared within days during our early, unseasonably warm spring.

I did manage to get a quick glance at a patch of Wild Ginger (Asarum canadenseand False Rue Anemone (Enemion biternatum) before the drought hit. And I'm looking forward to welcoming these natives back to the garden.

Wild Ginger and False Rue Anemone

The Wild Ginger will have to wait for its special month until I can get some decent shots of its unique ground-hugging blooms. So it's time to highlight its frilly companion on the right in the photo above.

False Rue Anemone, a member of the Ranunculaceae family, looks a lot like Rue Anemone. The flowers and foliage are similar. The main differences are the deeply lobed foliage and always-five sepal blooms of the "false" version. Click here for a nice comparison of the two plants. I hope to get some better shots of the blooms next spring, too.

While False Rue Anemone seems rather common around here, I was surprised to find out that, while it's native to the lower 48 U.S. states, it's uncommon and even endangered in many states. Click here for a map of its common distribution today.

A few fun facts about this woodland beauty, culled from the University of Illinois Extension and the Robert W. Freckmann Herbarium:

  • Appears and blooms in early to mid-spring, goes dormant in summer, and reappears in autumn. (Apparently it's evergreen through the winter, but I couldn't see it under the ice and snow in my garden.)
  • Grows in partial shade, open woods, and thickets; prefers moist, well-drained sites.
  • Thrives in USDA hardiness zones 3 through 7.
  • Appears as an erect, 4" to 16" perennial, with slender stems; roots are small tuber-like masses.

While I realize we have weeks of winter left (and I'll try to enjoy them day-by-day), knowing these beauties will greet me in April will make the wait easier.

False Rue Anemone
I'm linking in with Clay and Limestone's Wildflower Wednesday (sorry I'm a day late) and Elephant's Eye on False Bay's Dozens for Diana. Thanks, friends, for hosting these excellent memes!

January 20, 2013

Wild adventures and misadventures: a book review

Extreme adventures can be invigorating, but obviously they also often bring great peril. If you're a natural risk-taker, you know this firsthand.

Some of us prefer to balance a few personal adventures with a healthy mix of reading or watching movies about others' exploits. A well-written account of a great adventure can almost make you feel like you've been there...as in the book, "The Wild Muir: Twenty-Two of John Muir's Greatest Adventures."

Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: The Yosemite Association
Amazon price: $9.36

Muir often found himself in perilous situations, and nearly lost his life numerous times! For example:
  • After walking from the Midwest to Cedar Key, Fla., he developed malaria and typhoid, and was bedridden for three months.
  • When hiking a glacial peak in Alaska, Muir's companion slipped and dislocated both shoulders. Muir placed himself precariously underneath the man on a precipice to rescue him and drag him to safety.
  • During a windstorm in California's Sierra mountains, Muir climbed to the top of a 100-foot Douglas Fir for a better view of the storm. He remained in his "lofty perch for hours," dismounting only after the storm had passed.

Photo by Francis M. Fritz [public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons.

Crazy man. Here is Muir's reasoning for his risky tree-climbing adventure:

"...when the storm began to sound, I lost no time in pushing out into the woods to enjoy it. For on such occasions, nature has always something rare to show us, and the danger to life and limb is hardly greater than one would experience crouching deprecatingly beneath a roof."

As nutty as this type of behavior may sound to those of us who are more cautious, it also brings benefits. Muir's essay about his experience at the top of that tree was published in Scribner's Monthly and was republished many times. And it helped establish him as a respected nature writer for the major magazines of his day.

"...my eye roved over the piny hills and dales as over fields of waving grain, and felt the light running ripples and broad swelling undulations across the valleys from ridge to ridge, as the shining foliage was stirred by corresponding waves of air."

"...the colors were remarkably beautiful. The shafts of the pine and libocedrus were brown and purple, and most of the foliage was well-tinged with yellow; the laurel groves, with the pale undersides of their leaves turned upward, made masses of gray; and then there was many a dash of chocolate color from clumps of manzanita, and jet of vivid crimson from the bark of the madroños, while the ground on the hillsides, appearing here and there through openings between the groves, displayed masses of pale purple and brown."

Throughout the book, short explanations set the scene for each of the 22 highlighted adventures. Lovely black and white scratchboard illustrations help tell the stories. If you enjoy the adventure genre, you'll enjoy these true-life essays about John Muir's most harrowing experiences.

(Note: Patricia of Woodlouse House mentions that many of Muir's books are available for free download as Kindle books on Amazon. I also noticed that many are also free in text format on the Sierra Club's website.)

I'm linking this post to Holley's (Roses and Other Gardening Joys) Garden Book Review meme. Check it out!

January 12, 2013

All the pitiless weather

“…a tourist’s frightened rush and scramble through the woods yields far less than the hunter’s wildest stories, while in writing we can do but little more than to give a few names, as they come to mind—beaver, squirrel, coon, fox, marten, fisher, otter, ermine, wildcat—only this instead of full descriptions of the bright-eyed furry throng, their snug home nests, their fears and fights and loves, how they get their food, rear their young, escape their enemies, and keep themselves warm and well and exquisitely clean through all the pitiless weather.”

~John Muir, "The Story of My Boyhood and Youth"


Long considered the "father of the U.S. National Park System," and the founder of the Sierra Club, John Muir's influence and footprint stretch to all corners of this continent and beyond. But his humble beginnings in the New World were on a farm about an hour from my home.

I learned about John Muir in grade school. But lately, I've realized I want to learn more. If everything goes as planned, this year I'll visit three geographical locations significant to Muir:

1. Fountain Lake Farm, just 57 miles north of Madison, Wis., and mere minutes from our summer cottage. Now designated John Muir Memorial Park, it's a state natural area and a national historic landmark. We drive by the park several times each summer, and have hiked there in the past.

2. The Gulf Coast of Florida. In 1867, John Muir spent seven weeks on a "thousand-mile walk" from Indianapolis to Cedar Key, Fla. In March, we plan to vacation near Cedar Key. Hopefully we'll find time for a roadtrip to Muir's historical marker.

3. San Francisco, Calif., home of the John Muir National Historic Site. After traveling to California in 1868, Muir resided in that state for most of the remainder of his life, until he died in 1914 at the age of 76. The Garden Bloggers' Fling is set for June 28-30, in San Francisco. If I can scrounge up the funds, I'll be there.

This confluence of opportunities, plus my own interest, are steering me toward a John Muir theme in the months ahead. It's not difficult to find information about this beloved U.S. naturalist. Muir, himself, wrote 12 books and numerous essays, magazine articles, and published letters. And hundreds (thousands?) of books have been written about Muir.

Living in the state where the young Muir, his siblings, and his parents first settled after emigrating from Scotland, I feel a little pride and connectedness to Muir, as do many Wisconsinites.The land where the Muir family first settled hasn't changed much. The wildlife is similar, with the exception of passenger pigeons, now extinct, and several other species--including wolves and cougars--which, although on the increase, aren't as prevalent as they were in Muir's day.

I hope to include at least one post per month about Muir during 2013. And during these cold months, Muir's words about his first winters in Wisconsin ring true:

“It seemed very wonderful to us that the wild animals could keep themselves warm and strong in winter when the temperature was far below zero.” And regarding the “paradise of birds”: “Comparatively few species remained all winter—the nuthatch, chickadee, owl, prairie chicken, quail, and a few stragglers from the main flocks of ducks, jays, hawks, and bluebirds. Only after the country was settled did either jays or bluebirds winter with us...The brave, frost-defying chickadees and nuthatches stayed all the year, wholly independent of farms and man’s food and affairs.”


*Facts listed here courtesy the Sierra Club

January 07, 2013

We have roots!


The Holly is long gone, the decorations are put away, and the Christmas cookies have been devoured. But the Ivy still lives!



One of my recent posts about Holly and Ivy showed how to make a very simple holiday wreath. On Dec. 6, I placed a few cuttings of Ivy from my front porch planters, along with some store-bought Holly, into a Grape vine wreath.


I placed the clipped ends of the Ivy into a floral water tube (which you can buy at most floral supply or craft stores).


I tucked the water tube into the wreath. (It's barely visible, and was even less so with Holly covering it.)


I had simply hoped to keep it alive through the holidays. But lo and behold, more than a month later and after a few water changes ... we have roots!


I think I'll keep the Ivy going as long as possible in the wreath. Later, I might stick it in a pot with soil for an indoor plant. Or, if it holds on long enough, I'll plant it outside in May.


I wonder if the Ivy in the outdoor pots (still evergreen and alive under the snow and ice!) will survive the next several weeks of winter ...


(I'm linking in a little late with Garden Bloggers' Harvest Day at The Gardening Blog.)

January 01, 2013

The best and the worst of 2012

In the spirit of celebrating the transition to a new year, here's a quick look at some of the "best" and "worst" performers in my garden during 2012, along with a few other categories:

Most fleeting
Sanguinaria canadensis

Big deal, you say? Bloodroot is nearly always one of the most fleeting spring ephemerals in any garden. True, but this year the Bloodroot bloomed for about one day (and about a month early) so my camera missed it. The photo here is from 2011. Usually Bloodroot blooms in April for at least a couple of days.

Never fails
Cosmos bipinnatus

The delicate, but surprisingly sturdy Cosmos is native to Mexico. In my garden, it's an annual that I must plant from seed or seedling plants. I miss it in the years when I don't plant it. And when I do, it never fails to produce spectacular blooms, no matter what the summer temperatures, precipitation, or soil quality.

Best performer
Rudbeckia hirta

I know from reading other garden blogs that Black-Eyed Susan is a reliable native for most U.S. gardeners, even during drought years. Mine seemed especially prolific and healthy this year--maybe because I watered regularly while drought and heat kept the leaf spot in check.

Surprising display
Mystery Rose

I have no idea what type of Rose this is--maybe a double Rosa rugosa variety? These Roses were well-established when we moved here. In past years, they've been prone to foliar insect damage, and since I don't use systemic insecticide, the plants usually look pretty ragged by the end of June, when I clip them by half their new growth. I've been planning to dig them out and replace them with a less insect-prone variety. But this year they surprised me with incredible blooms in June and again in September. Hmmm...this will now be a tough decision.

Most difficult to re-establish
Clematis 'Nelly Moser'

I am sad to report that despite my continued attempts to re-establish Clematis plants on two south-facing trellises, they are not behaving. This is what they looked like several years ago--before I pruned them too severely. Remnants of the plants always reappear in early spring, but they never grow larger than a few inches--probably because of the dense shade from the Oak trees. If I could just get them to grow a couple of feet tall before the trees leaf out, maybe they would stand a chance. They were so stunning I can't give up on them!

Most disappointing
Solanum lycopersicum 'Better Boy'

Definitely not a good year for Tomatoes of any variety here in my neighborhood. No rain for two months straight will do that. Even though I watered my vegetable garden, it wasn't the same as continuous good soaking rains from summer lightening storms. Still, I ate my last Tomatoes--picked green in October--in November! Unheard of in a normal year in this USDA zone 5 garden! In every other year, Better Boys have produced plentiful, lush, tasty Tomatoes. They'll have a place in my 2013 garden for sure.

Most pampered
Hydrangea macrophylla

What a cry-baby! Nearly every night when I came home from work this summer, my Hydrangeas were droopy and seemingly dying in the heat and drought. Even after soaking them with water, they struggled to survive. Someone mentioned they probably would have simply gone dormant if I hadn't watered them. But I'm a softy, and after all that tender care I now have some beautiful dried blooms to show for it.

New favorite
Lablab purpureus

I won't spend a lot of time here talking about my new fascination with Hyacinth Bean vine because I'm afraid I'd bore you. But it's the perfect plant for my arbor because of its fascinating foliage, dainty lavender flowers, and unique burgundy seed pods. I planted the vines from seed, and I saved some seeds to plant this spring.

Prettiest bloom not in my garden
Magnolia stellata

Just a few blocks from my house are a pair of Star Magnolias. Every year in late autumn, the fuzzy, plump buds fascinate me. And every spring they burst, nearly overnight, with the first mild weather. Nearly a month earlier than usual--in mid-March 2012--I captured them in various stages of unfurling. When I look back at those photos, I get so excited for spring!

What's in store for 2013? Who knows? But it surely will be filled with more joys, disappointments, and surprises. Here's to another year of gardening! Cheers!

(I'm linking in with Bumble Lush's "Best and Worst" meme. Check it out!)