A Frosty December Morning

I knew that it was a frosty December morning outside. As the sun rose up through the spruce and oak trees, every glistening bit of frost was lit up like tiny lights. More enchanting than snowflakes it seemed. Every moment that went by the sun got a bit higher. It highlighted every leaf, every branch and everything that had been kissed by this frosty morning coating.

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So much to capture before the sun melted all of this thick, natural glitter. The small scalloped leaves leftover on the low growing perennials. The oak leaves left on the lawn. Acorns and beech nuts scattered on the ground. Hydrangea blossoms left on the branches.

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Even what seemed to be weeds in the field turned into diamond studded treasures at dawn.

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Goldenrod in the field.

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The last of the rosebuds still suspended upon the shrubs. Buds that had formed in November when the days were unusually warm. They dried in place, preserved before they could fully open.

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Rosa rugosa…
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‘Heritage’ rose.

Bold red winterberries looked as if they were coated in a sweet, sparkly  coating. So striking against the grey and brown landscape. Some of the only color left around here.

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Winter berries…

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Structural elements in the garden looked beautiful as well. The chicken wire that we used as a pea fence, the trellis and the arbors. All shining in the morning sunlight.

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The farm was aglow with frost too. Fence posts and electric wires dipped in this dazzling December frost. The cows breath was steamy as they reached for their hay through the cold metal bars.

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Every shrub and bush was touched by this frosty morning. As the sun rose, the ice crystals began to melt. I dashed around the garden for a few moments trying to capture the essence of this frosty December morning.

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The field grass appeared to be spun silver. As if one could ball it up like yarn and knit it into a fine metallic cloak. Then, all at once the frost began to disappear into mist.

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The frosty rail.

Just wanted to share this gleaming beauty with all of you this week. The seasons change and with them come endless dramatic phenomena. Since that busy morning that I captured these photos, we have had two storm systems float through. It has really become quite messy. Soon there will be garden planning and seed orders to think about. But, for now there is a welcome rest from gardening outdoors. Until next time…

Hilary|Everlongardener

Magnificent Milkweed

You are probably wondering how anything with the word ‘weed’ in it could possibly be magnificent. For butterflies, bees and a host of other insects, milkweed is a major source of food. Of course, most gardeners know the importance of keeping such wild species of plants around. The more pollinators that you can get into your garden the better! I think that once you find out about milkweed you’ll agree that it truly is magnificent!

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On one of our evening walks we stopped at a large mass of milkweed plants. The sun was low in the sky and rays of light were bouncing off of the plants leaves. The bees were buzzing in and out of the tiny pink blooms. They worked quickly as if in a hurry to finish before sundown.

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Bees were buzzing!

The sweet scent of the flowers was heavy in the air on that warm evening. We searched for Monarch butterfly caterpillars. There were none to be found. Just the bees and a Japanese beetle or two.

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Evening sun…

Every time after that we searched for the butterfly larvae only to find nothing.

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Lovely pink blooms.

Each year at our local library, the children’s librarian raises many Monarch butterflies in jars for the children. Some years ago she was able to find some to grow in the wild. Last summer she couldn’t find any. After contacting a Monarch butterfly organization, she was able to obtain a quantity of larvae. Each child that signed up named their caterpillar. As the days and weeks went by the larvae would one by one form the ‘j’ shape and start the process of metamorphosis. When we stopped at the library we had to check on ‘Rockland’ or this year the name of choice was ‘Snake’. This year our little guy didn’t make it but our dear librarian found some in the wild to use as replacements.

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Library larvae!
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Our little caterpillar!

One day, we got the call that our morphed butterfly was ready to be released. The library has a dreamy little garden in it’s front courtyard. There we let our female Monarch butterfly ‘Snake’ go. She didn’t take off immediately. She flitted around the library garden with a male butterfly. Landing on hot pink zinnias, tall verbena and prickly purple cone flowers. The late afternoon sun made the whole occasion quite serene. One of the butterflies landed on my sons arm and stayed a while. Finally we let them be. Leaving them so that they could start their long journey southward.

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Beautiful Monarch butterfly!

Benefits of Growing 

Do you have room to allow some wild milkweed to grow on your land? If you do, you will be providing much needed food for the Monarch population as they stop to take in nourishment along the way. Many native plants are being removed from modern landscapes. By supporting native plants and allowing them to thrive, pollinators have a steady supply of food. Farmers are encouraged to leave large shafts of land for native plants to support the very pollinators that are responsible for pollinating much of our food sources. One third of it to be exact! Truly magnificent.

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The wind blown seed stage.

How to Grow 

If you already have a stand of milkweed near your house, little needs to be done to keep it going. In fall, the seed pods will mature and a multitude of seeds will come out of them. Equipped with their own parachute of sorts, the wind will simply carry the seeds to a quiet resting place where the seeds can take hold. This is how the plant reseeds itself on it’s own.

Starting a new patch is quite easy. Seeds and even plant plugs are available through mail order or online. Seeds grow best after going through stratification or a cooling process. Normally they will go through this process outdoors. It is possible to speed this up. “Place seeds into a container of moist soil, cover with a plastic bag and refrigerate for at least 3 weeks.”-Growing Milkweed. Milkweed does not like to be moved once planted.

The most common milkweed variety in the New England area is Asclepias syriaca. There are many attractive cultivated types that are useful in borders and perennial beds. We have Asplepias tuberosa that makes a dazzling orange show in our July garden. Bees and butterflies alike flock to this plant. Because it is derived from a wildflower plant, it is also drought tolerant. For more ideas for attracting pollinators go here. I even came across a native pollinator preserve called Peaked Mountain Farm in Dedham, Maine.

Butterfly weed is a pollinator magnet!

If you happen to do any clearing this fall, take notice if you have any milkweed plants. Collect seeds or cast more in other areas if you wish. Maybe next year you will find a few Monarch caterpillars! All because you grew magnificent milkweed!

The gardens here are pretty much demolished after recent high winds and rain. Trees are down everywhere. Many lost power and are still without it. We only lost it for a day so no complaints here. It’s always a good lesson to stay prepared for anything that might come our way. Keep those flashlights ready and some gas for the generator. The weather has now taken on the familiar chill of fall. Feels normal now after an above average fall. The smell of wood smoke drifts through the air at night and blaze orange is the color of the month. Thanks for stopping by Everlongardener this week! Don’t forget to subscribe below for weekly seasonal gardening info.

Hilary| Everlongardener

Beau has legs as long as his body now!

Walking Into October

My father walks every morning around the property. He generally walks in the early morning, shortly after sunup. He says he wants to walk Beau, the new puppy, around the field. I figure that he shouldn’t. The puppy is very strong and he still pulls a lot. He says he wants to leave right them. So, I bargain for 10 more minutes to quickly down my tea and toast. We make our way out the door into the crisp October air.

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My son wants to go but changes his mind when he realizes that his ‘Paw Patrol’ sneakers would get wet. The sun breaks out over the wooded horizon. It fills the fields with golden light, sending each dewdrop into a dazzling display. On morning walks in October you can see the world awaken before your eyes.

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Sun is creeping up…

As we walk, we talk about the old dog. The one we miss so much. The predictable one. We try to remind ourselves that he too was once a puppy. That he too used to be trouble. That he used to scratch at the door and get us up at night. We say what a good dog he was. We wish he was still walking here with us on this October morning.

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Beau!

We mention the good qualities of this dog. He pulls on his leash. He stops in the middle of the path to sniff were the resident skunk dug holes the night before. My father again wants to walk the dog. I say ‘not yet’. There is much more training to be done.

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Stunning leaves!

We are quiet for a while. As we walk under an old rogue apple tree, my father inspects to see how many the deer have taken. Not many of them are missing. The apples are small and yellow. Their scent is sweet under our feet. The pup nibbles on one.

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Apples everywhere.

We walk to the old well to see how much water we have. The water table is so low. Not like when we were inspecting it last spring. Then the water poured out even through the ice. We chat about the drilled well. Thankful that it’s there. Maybe next year the garden will do better. Maybe next year the beans will climb higher. There’s only so much you can really do for a garden. We will keep trying. The puppy urges us onward.

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Asparagus berries.

The brown Queen Anne’s Lace blossoms stand at attention waiting for the next frost. The asparagus berries shimmer in the sunlight. The fallen crimson leaves are bright against the evergreen boughs. The red dogwood branches reach out, they would take over the whole field if allowed. The lilacs are heavy with seeds. As we pass through the orchard the smell of apples is strong. Many of them have scabs, not much for eating. The deer have been at these ones. I check each tree to see how they are doing.

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October sun!

I secretly think about when I was a kid, rambling these side roads on bikes with my friends. Off in the woods playing ‘Robin Hood’ or something. Swinging in my aunt and uncles big barn. Running in the cool afternoon air. Not a care in the world. How I used to think those days would go on forever.

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Here it comes…

I pass the leash to my father. Someday, when Beau has better manners, he can take him out alone. Right now the fall air and the scents of critters are keeping his nose busy. Autumn seems to me such a reflective time of year. A time to close the door on so many warm weather activities and ponder the months ahead. A time to make plans for the things to come.

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Spectacular morning light!

With the warm weather we’ve been having, it’s been an excellent time to get outside. The seasons come and go so fast. I tend to wish October and November would just keep going. I love this time of year! There’s almost too much to do. In the garden, the greens are steadily growing and the larger greens are having a second wind due to cooler weather. Some of the veggies have been pulled out and added to the compost pile. We will gradually be putting the gardens to bed. Just a few Fall ramblings and reflections this week. I hope that all of you will be able to get out to see some of the turning leaves!

Hilary|Everlongardener

 

A Gallery of Spring Wildflowers

Spring has been slow this year. I usually refrain from complaining too much about the weather but I have to say that it’s hard to ease into late spring when the heat is on in the house. When every other night your husband says he needs to build a fire to take the edge off! A few weeks ago, it barely got out of the forties on some days. Our Maine landscape is finally a lush green color everywhere you look! On a recent walk with my son I found that my neighborhood is full of spring wildflowers. Would you like to see a few?

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Although I love designing flower gardens and growing a yearly vegetable garden, there’s something about the flowers that appear every spring. As if spring is not really here until we’ve seen our favorites. Like these flowers above, called Bluets or Quaker Ladies. Probably the first to appear in May. Within a ten minute walk from my house I found such diversity that I couldn’t stop trying to capture what I saw. Many of these spring wildflowers go by several different names. I will be using common and scientific names throughout this post. A few of our wildflowers have been introduced from abroad years ago and have naturalized here.

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Euphorbia growing along the road.

Introduced from Europe in the 1800’s, Cypress Spurge or euphorbia cyparissias, is not in a traditional flower form. Each yellow umbrel is made up of many clusters of petal-like bracts. This vibrant, low growing plant has been cultivated into countless varieties over the decades. As a cultivated perennial, it can make a huge show in a home garden.

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My little protected area of Lady’s Slippers.

Since our land was cleared years ago, the Lady’s Slipper orchid was only spotted on occasion. Now, with parts of the forest going untouched, our small patch has grown to be a tiny grove of flowers. Each plant grows two leaves and only one stem with a flower.

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A rare patch of white flowers.

Last year, we had a rare appearance of two white Lady’s Slippers. I don’t think we will have any this spring. These stunning jewels of the forest get their name from the flower resembling a woman’s shoe.

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Lady’s Slippers on the side of the driveway.

I can’t recount how many times I’ve tried to photograph these unique blooms. If you ever get a chance to walk the trails at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens this time of year, you will find several breathtaking displays of Lady’s Slippers. I’ve never seen so many in one place. If picked or over-collected, these frequently spotted orchids could easily slip into the rare category over time. For more specific information on our Maine orchids, go to Lady’s-Slippers in Maine. You never know what you might see on a hike in the Maine woods!

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Dainty wild blueberry blossoms.

Once I passed the blueberry field, I noticed that our low-bush blueberries were in bloom. A flower with a sweet promise of blueberry pies, muffins and jams. Our local blueberry fields put on a continual color show. Right now, the fields are green and white. Soon the blooms will turn into tiny green berries that will ripen in August.

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Purple violets.

At my neighbors farm, the ditch was full of purple violets. One cluster after another, untouched by the weed trimmer. Violets come in several colors including, white, yellow and blue. There are many different kinds of violets making it hard for the untrained eye to identify them. In times past, a small bouquet of purple violets could mean love or faithfulness and white might signify innocence, purity and chastity. I’m not sure what a fistful of dandelions means but I receive this all the time a small person I know!

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The fragrance is overwhelming!

Lily of the Valley holds many memories for me. The scent is strong and can transport you mentally to another place and time. This spring bloomer can make an excellent ground cover but will take over any flower bed. They are often found at the base of old steps or a stone foundation. Pull individual stems from the plant to create a tiny, aromatic bouquet!

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Happy forget-me-nots on the roadside.

I’m so drawn to blue flowers! Forget-me-nots love to lace their way through moss covered areas with dappled light. Often, they can be spotted along the edge of a brook. They can be found in shades of pink and white also. I can’t tell you how many bunches I’ve picked. Forget-me-nots work wonderfully with bleeding hearts. Each flower has 5 petals and a bright yellow eye. Multiple flowers rest atop each stem. These small blue blossoms make excellent flowers for pressing.

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Blue bead lily.

This blue bead lily or Clintonia borealis, can be found hiding in among forest trees. A perennial forest plant named for the blue berry that appears after blooming. Each flower stem will have 3-6 lily like flowers bloom from it. Once established, the blue bead lily will grow in clumps to make a nice show of yellow long into June.

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Star flower is from the primrose family.

This fragile woodland plant is such a dainty spring wildflower. Almost insignificant until you get closer and find it has a delicate beauty about it. This North American perennial blooms in May and June and travels by rhizomes.

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A native rhododendron.

I have rarely seen the native deciduous rhododendron. I happened to capture this recently. Rhodora, rhododendron canadense is a member of the heath family. It prefers bogs and rocky slopes. For some great information on this wild shrub, go to Rock Gardening Maine Style. I would love to see this naturalize near my gardens but it probably won’t happen. If you see one of these, be sure to take a few pictures.  I won’t say that it’s rare to spot the rhodora, but I don’t see it often.

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Buttercups are now emerging from the lawn.

Buttercups are often considered a troublesome weed in a lawn or garden, but along a country road they are lovely. We will never forget the old childhood question about liking butter! But who doesn’t like butter? Our common buttercup, Ranunculus repens, is in the Ranunculus family. If you’ve ever battled it’s tenacious root, you know how tough these guys are. The flowers petals are very shiny and bright. They make excellent flowers for pressing.

These are just a handful of flowers that we see in our area. There were plenty more that I haven’t spotted yet. If we are able to look beyond the cultivated garden beds, we can see a whole world filled with some of the tiniest flowers. Many of our wildflowers are protected so find out before you pick! Plant names change over the years so if you know that one of these names has been changed, just give me a shout. I’ve been playing around with a new site called Go Botany. This is a wonderful new website for plant identification especially for New England. The site is easy to use and helps you quickly find individual plant types by category. It has the capability to identify over 1,200 native and naturalized plants. I also utilize an older book called Spring Wildflowers of New England by Marilyn Dwelley. I hope you have enjoyed taking a walk with me this week. I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to share these treasured blooms with you. Thank you for coming along!

Hilary|Everlongardener