Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Arrival of Winter - A Sign of the Season to Come?

Well, winter suddenly descended last week with a blast of strong wind that was followed a few days later by a thin blanket of snow.  This was enough of a shock to my system - I'm very thankful I don't live in south Buffalo, New York, right now!

While nothing too exciting has happened with this seasonal change, above and beyond earlier-than-usual cold weather with a couple inches of snow, it still seems like I ought to celebrate the arrival of winter with a brief post.  So here goes.

Since there was little transition between the relatively warm fall weather and a cold snap more typical of January than mid-November, quite a few trees and shrubs were caught with leaves in place.  Thankfully, we didn't get ice, so the leaves simply freeze-dried in place.  Some species, like cottonwood, have gone ahead and shed the remainder of their leaves.  Others, like the oaks, are still sporting a green coat.

This is the young Shumard oak that we planted shortly after we moved in.  I wonder how long the leaves will stay green this winter?

My aromatic asters were also still blooming when the cold hit.  Despite their late bloom cycle, this is the first year I've noticed any of their blooms getting caught by winter weather.  The purple is still obvious, 10 days after the cold originally hit.  How long will I have purple "blossoms" coloring the winter landscape?

After snapping a few pictures of the asters, I noted this grayish "growth" on the side of a basket sitting on the front porch.

Recognize it up close?  A praying mantis's egg case.  I'm actually rather surprised that I haven't found more of them, as I had many, many praying mantises in my gardens this year.  I feel rather lucky that all of the mantises I've seen have been the native Carolina mantis, rather than the interloper, the Chinese mantis.

In the back yard, I managed to catch a photo of a white-crowned sparrow hiding on the far side of a rose bush.  I was quite close, but evidently this little beauty felt safely hidden, because it made no move to flush while I stood there.

The most unusual sighting was the set of little tracks going across the driveway, between the redcedar hedge on the south side and the Rose of Sharon on the north side of the driveway.

With the obvious marks of the tail dragging, I'm quite sure it's a rodent of some sort.  Perhaps a hispid cotton rat.  I really don't know how to tell different rodent tracks apart, but I do know that I've got plenty of cotton rats around!

I didn't get out to take photos until 2 days after the snow fell, so I have no glorious shots of snow, quietly sifting out of the sky, or sitting heavily on the branches of the trees, but there was still enough snow around to document the start of winter.

Each year is so unique - I wonder what THIS winter will bring?  Is this early snow the sign of much more to come?  Or is this the only snow we'll get all season?  There's no way to know so, as always, we'll take the new season, day by day, week by week, month by month.  Suspense - natural style.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

"Where is Your Wild?"

A meme on Facebook this morning showed a backpacker overlooking a beautiful vista of mountains while standing alone in an alpine meadow.  The caption read, "Where is your wild?"

Well, here is MY wild!

Our front tallgrass....

a patch of smooth milkweed in our yard....

one of the front gardens, needing some "manicuring," when we got back from vacation this summer...

and the draw, with the path into the back, last winter.

All of MY favorite "wild" is within the 10 acres that we live on.

All of us can nurture the wild locally in our cities and neighborhoods and yards.  We don't have to drive halfway across the country to some national park to experience "the wild";  we just have to cherish and value "the wild" that occurs right under our noses.

Where is YOUR wild?

Friday, November 07, 2014

Aromatic Asters - Summer's Last Blast

I love many, many plants, but if pressed to name my favorite, I think it would be aromatic aster, Symphyotrichum oblongifolium.  Since these are the last perennials to start blooming every year, these plants look like nothing more than small green shrubs for much of the summer.  Additionally, in my garden they tend to suffer from lace bug damage, so their leaves often look light green and somewhat mottled when the summer gets hot and dry.  I grit my teeth and ignore it.  It won't hurt the plants and I'm darned if I'm going to spray.  Sometimes I start questioning how many I have in my gardens, but...

...then they burst into bloom.

They bloom and they bloom and they bloom.

Talk about the garden going out with a splash each year!

Insects love these flowers.  As I walk down the front path while the aromatic asters are in bloom, I'm usually surrounded by a happy hum of bees and by clouds of butterflies and skippers rising and then settling back to feed.

The predatory insects are well aware of how many pollinators are visiting.  It's easy to find wheel bugs, praying mantids, and ambush bugs hidden...often with an insect in their grasp.

One of these days, I'll try to collate a list of all the insects I've noted on aromatic asters.  Until then, I'll leave you with one simple question - have you added any to your garden yet?!