Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Oh, Spring Thou Art Coming!

"Oh, Spring thou art coming! in fact thou art here. Oh, Spring. 
Grim Winter is going; in fact he is gone; oh, Spring!
Rejoice all ye maidens, rejoice all ye men;
 For Spring, gentle Spring has returned after a year of protracted absence. Amen."

   Wonderful things have been happening just in the last few days! We had so much snow and it was so bitterly cold at the beginning of this month, I thought we were in for another late spring, but what I seem to forget each year is that spring in Maine is completely unpredictable - and when it does  come everything happens so fast! The ground really didn't have a chance to freeze much at all this winter due to the deep snow cover from early November on. So, as the glaciers retreat, I am finding that many of my plants knew it was spring and have already been growing underneath the snow! The Snow Crocuses (Crocus chrysanthus) have truly been living up to their name...this is what greeted me on Sunday when the snow had just started to melt from off my herb garden!

The last couple of days have been very wet and cold so the flowers remained closed, but with the sunshine forecasted for today, I had high hopes!

And sure enough, this is what greeted me this morning as soon as the sun hit the gardens! 

Besides the crocuses, glory-of-the-snow, tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, and muscari, quite a few perennials are already up and growing! This is the wormwood...

And lovage...

Both of these are in the 'seed garden', which is almost entirely bare of snow now (the picture below was taken on Monday). I'm hoping to get some work done in it this will feel so good to play in the dirt again!  

We already have bare ground in many places, but there are still plenty of areas where the snow is quite deep yet. I still need snowshoes to walk in the field, most of the woods, and even parts of the yard. There is a river forming in the field behind our place...

...and into the woods. We had about an inch of rain on Monday so it was really flowing.

A large area in the woods is completely under water right now. This whole section is covered in Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) in summer.

And a closer look reveals that it's already sprouting!!

I went to the woods again this morning to do some more thorough exploring and see if I could find any super early flowers, especially Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) which I am determined to see in bloom this spring, but most of the woods are still under a couple feet of snow.

So, after wading around the swamps most of the morning, I came back very wet and muddy but still happy, and set out to find my snowshoes, which I had foolishly left behind! 😁

And now I need to get back outside. It's such a beautiful day it seems almost a sin to be in the house sitting at a computer, especially since the next few days will be very wet again, but I just couldn't wait to share the good news with you all! 😊

Monday, April 15, 2019

In a Vase on Monday: Bouquet in the Snow

Snow is the background for my flower arrangement this week as well, although I do have better things to say for the weather now! 😊 The snow is beginning to disappear from my gardens and already there are signs of life!! I'll be posting an update on that soon but for now, here's a little bouquet I made right in the snow (I guess this would be more appropriately titled "In the Snow on Monday")!

Last fall I brought in armfuls of flowers for drying with the intention of using them for arrangements during the winter, but as it turned out I really liked the way they looked just hanging on the walls in my bedroom, besides the fact that the kittens think my flowers and vases make wonderful toys, so that is where they've stayed! I can't even remember what inspired me to try this, but with the glorious 60-degree temperatures on Saturday, I was feeling like doing something, and since my gardens were still mostly covered, well... 😁

I wasn't sure how well Joe Pye Weed would dry, but it actually holds its color very nicely...the trick is to pick them when only a few flowers have opened. 

Goldenrod is probably my favorite late summer wildflower, although its appearance is bittersweet since it also means that our brief summer is almost over...ugh, I don't even want to think about that right now! 😃

Yarrow grows abundantly in our lawn...

Wool Grass and the very aptly named Pearly Everlasting...I actually still have a vase of Pearly Everlasting on my nightstand which has been there since last October. It looks as fresh as ever except that some of the flowers have been eaten by the pussy cats! 😁

An overhead view...

Hopefully, I'll have some fresh spring flowers to show in the next week or two. 😊  You can see all sorts of spring arrangements from around the world today at Rambling in the Garden!

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Spring's Progress

The great melt has begun and our glaciers are finally starting to recede! March was actually a better month than it usually is up here, but as soon as April arrived it almost seemed like winter had returned! We've had at least three measurable snows already, and one very cold, blustery day. Such things are to be expected here, but it always makes me feel a bit anxious. I think it's just that the coming summer looks so short in comparison with the winter I've just survived, that I feel cheated by every day that isn't spring-like! 😃 

Still, we are a little ahead of last year at this point. The top of my birdbath is visible now, which didn't happen last spring until April 21st! 

I'm looking forward to being able to sit here again! 

The view out the basement door...I just about have to lay down and slide in! The extension cord goes to the sump pump in the well house, which has already been flooding for over a week. There were around 12 inches of water in our snowpack, and we still have 8-10 inches (of water, not snow) to go!

A walk in the woods on April 2nd. This area is almost always wet, sometimes even when it is well below freezing. 

Pixie cups (Cladonia sp.) on an old stump that had just emerged out of the snow. I never really noticed these before, but after seeing a lovely painting by Edith Holden in The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady this winter, I'd been keeping an eye out for them!

And this was our April 4th...a day to be remembered! The wind blew at about 30 mph all day (with many higher gusts, of course) and we just about gave up trying to keep up with the drifting snow. Our porch steps were completely buried under a drift that was so wind-packed I could climb it and barely make tracks! When the snow gets that packed it's about the texture of styrofoam, only much heavier! My greenhouse also had a good-sized drift leaning on one side. It took me 2 days to get it cleared off. 

My father and I had to go down to our neighbor's, and then decided to make a quick trip into town. There were several total whiteouts which were quite scary! This is a picture I took on the way...

It snowed on and off the last few all I think we got another 6-8 inches. And it's the really pretty kind that sticks to everything and makes it look like Christmas! My father took this picture yesterday while out driving...I think it's a beautiful scene, but maybe not for April! 😃

But although I wouldn't guess it was April outside, all my new baby seedlings tell me otherwise! 😊 Normally I would have more than this by now, but I'm running a little behind schedule because of the strategies I have to employ to keep the kittens from destroying/eating everything! Even covering the trays with plastic lids and duct taping them down has not been enough. There's nothing they like better than to get ahold of a newly planted peat pellet and bounce it across the floor! 😁 And the cups are even more impossible as they simply tip them over and have the time of their lives playing in the dirt! When Nastya promptly decapitated the first pepper seedling that emerged, I decided I had to do something else. So I am now keeping my baby plants in another building when they aren't in the greenhouse. The only problem is that the building isn't quite warm enough for heat-loving seeds to germinate, so I still have to do that in the house. So, I've been hiding them on the top shelves in cupboards until they sprout, then moving them right out. It works, only I am limited to starting only 25-50 at a time (depending on the size of the cups)! 

I'm thrilled that I've been getting close to 100% germination on all of my own saved seeds so far! These are Heartsease (Viola tricolor)...

Tomatoes...I don't know what variety these are. Our Amish friends gave us some huge, meaty tomatoes last summer, but they couldn't remember what they were called either. I was amazed that they were able to grow something that size here! Needless to say, I saved seed and am very excited to see how they do in my garden! The poor things emerged just as it turned cold and snowy, so they didn't get to go out to the greenhouse until yesterday. The leaves had taken on a yellowish color from the lack of light, but they were already turning green after a few hours of sunlight yesterday.

Even the flamingo seeds sprouted! 😃 Actually, it's a Castor Bean seedling, grown from some of the seeds I saved last year. Every single one germinated, so if all goes well I'll have 12 plants this summer! (Don't worry, I've been keeping these COMPLETELY AWAY from the kitties)!

The seedlings emerge with the seed leaves (cotyledons) still encased in a thin, paper-like film (that's the best way I can describe it...I'm guessing it is the albumen?). Anyway, when the sun hits them just right, it almost looks like mother-of-pearl!

I wish I could say the same for the germination rates of the peppers, but I know that is asking too much. I'm not sure what the normal germination percentage is for them, but I'm thinking it's somewhere around 75%, and even less for some of the really hot ones. I'm growing 'Ajvarski', a sweet pepper from Macedonia which has become my favorite, and 'Fish', which is new to me. I must confess I'm growing these more for their looks than their taste, although of course I hope they are tasty too! 😁


And this is a Love-lies-bleeding seedling. These amazed me by sprouting the very next day after I planted them!

I also have Onion, Celery, Nicotiana, Petunia, and Heliotrope seedlings already growing. And up in the warmth and safety of the cupboards are Garden Balsam, Basil, and Blue Butterfly Peas. Those should be coming up in the next couple of days, and then it will be on to the next batch. As usual, I have soooo many seeds to start this spring! Yet to be planted are Hollyhocks, Spanish Mallow, French Mallow, Marshmallow, Cosmos, Calendulas, Four O'Clocks, Zinnias, Hops, Night Phlox, Horehound, Lemon Balm, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Broccoli...I'm sure there's more but I just can't remember them all!!

In the meantime, I'm still enjoying some indoor blooms from my Morning Glories. The plants have started trailing everywhere and are now twining around the curtain rod! And I'm more than happy to let them take over! 😊

I'm very excited to see how much our Spring progresses in the next few days as temperatures rise into the upper 40s and even up to 60 on Saturday! So I'm sure there will another update soon. 😊

Monday, April 8, 2019

In a Vase on Monday: I Don't Care for Pouting Skies!

   It seems that Spring is rather reluctant to come to northern Maine. We've had a long winter, with deep snow on the ground since early November (and a few dustings before that!). We still have a couple of feet on the ground in most places, and it's snowing again today! I've been inclined to be a little depressed about it, but...I've decided to take a lesson from one of my favorite flowers today instead and join Cathy at Rambling in the Garden for IAVOM. 😊  Needless to say, these lovelies were not found outside! I have a few pots of Heartsease (Viola tricolor) on the kitchen windowsill to get me through the winter. The only problem is that my kitties think they are delicious! 😁  But, they did leave me a few to share with you today...

I'm the little "Heart's Ease"!
I don't care for pouting skies!
If the Butterfly delay
Can I, therefore, stay away?

If the Coward Bumble Bee
In his chimney corner stay,
I, must resoluter be!
Who'll apologize for me?

Dear, Old fashioned, little flower!
Eden is old fashioned, too!
Birds are antiquated fellows!
Heaven does not change her blue.
Nor will I, the little Heart's Ease –
Ever be induced to do!
                     ~Emily Dickinson

Thursday, April 4, 2019

The Wonders of Plant Families

   As a mere beginner in botany, I may be jumping ahead of myself a bit right now. I'm still plowing my way through the structure of plants and sometimes my head feels like a complete muddle, but I think it will get easier once I have more real live plants and flowers to compare with! But I must admit I haven't always been focusing on the lesson at hand either. One of my main motives for studying botany in the first place was that I wanted to understand the plant families and be able to identify plants using an analytical key. So, now that I've become at least somewhat familiar with many of the terms used, I've been looking ahead in my books. At first, the key looked to me like it might as well have been written in Chinese, but I think I'm finally beginning to understand how it is used, and I am chomping at the bit for the snows to melt so I can get out there and experiment! 😁 
   Just yesterday I borrowed a wonderful book called Botany in a Day, by Thomas J. Elpel. (I can hear you thinking, "How many books does she read at a time? No wonder she's confused!").  😃 But this book really is quite helpful and is already giving me a clearer idea of how to recognize the plant families.  I've been fascinated by these families for over a year now, although I really knew nothing about how they were arranged, or why certain plants had been placed in the same family. Still, even without knowing the precise distinctions, I've become well enough acquainted with many of my flowers to be able to recognize their characteristics in another plant. And then there have been the times when I've been surprised by a name being seemingly whispered in my ear! The first time I saw Wild Sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis), for example, I had no idea what it was, yet the name 'Ginseng' went through my mind. It wasn't until a couple months later that I found out that it belongs to the Ginseng family (Araliaceae)! I definitely can't explain how that happened, because I don't recall ever having seen a picture of Ginseng before! 

Wild Sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis)
   The similarities that lead to such seemingly different plants being classified in the same family are extremely fascinating to me, although I am only beginning to understand some of them. I was quite surprised, for example, when I learned that the Borage family (Boraginaceae) includes the Forget-me-nots, Comfrey, and Heliotrope! Yet to a botanist's eye, these plants have many characteristics in common. Among these are the usually rough, hairy, alternate leaves, 5 united petals, with stamens attached, 5 separate sepals, and scorpioid inflorescence (the flower spikes curl, resembling a scorpion's tail). 

Borage (Borago officinalis)

Forget-me-not (Myosotis sylvatica)

Comfrey (Symphytum officinale)

Heliotrope (Heliotropium arborescens)

   The Rose family (Rosaceae) gave me another surprise. To me, a rose was a rose, and I had no idea that this family encompassed so many familiar plants, including the Spiraea, Mountain Ash, and even more surprising to me, the Strawberry, Raspberry, Blackberry, Cherry, and Apple...just to name a few! I'm finding it difficult to describe this family's important characteristics, so I will just quote from my copy of the Analytical Class-book of Botany (1855)..."Trees, shrubs, or herbs. Leaves alternate, or radical. Flowers regular, usually perfect. Sepals 5, rarely less, more or less united, commonly persistent. Petals 5, perigynous, sometimes wanting. Stamens numerous, rarely few, inserted on the calyx, distinct. Ovaries several, or 1, often adherent to the calyx-tube, and to each other. Styles distinct, or united. Fruit a drupe, pome, achenium, or follicle. A very important order of plants, native principally of the Northern Temperate Zone, distinguished especially by the great number of delicious fruits they afford. The Apple, Cherry, Plum, Strawberry, and Raspberry, are among the products of this order. Nor is it less rich in ornamental plants."

Rosa rugosa

Mountain Ash (Sorbus aucuparia)

Bridalwreath Spiraea (Spiraea prunifolia)

Alpine Strawberry (Fragaria vesca)
   But it did make sense to me when I learned that two of my favorite garden flowers, Sweet Rocket, and Stocks, were members of the Mustard, or Brassica family (Cruciferae).  If you've ever accidentally let some Radishes or Broccoli go to flower like I have, you'll understand! The 4 flower petals often spread in the form of a cross (hence the family name!). These plants have alternate leaves, 4 sepals, and 6 stamens, 2 shorter than the rest. 

Sweet Rocket (Hesperis matronalis)
Stocks (Matthiola incana)
   The Parsley family (Umbelliferae) is a large one, containing many of our favorite vegetables and herbs, such as the Carrot, Celery, Parsley, Dill, Angelica, and Anise. But it also includes some of the most poisonous plants in North America, the most infamous of all being the Poison Hemlock. These plants are characterized by their umbrella-shaped inflorescence, the flowers usually blooming on compound umbels. The leaves are compound and alternate, and the stems usually hollow and furrowed. 

Cow Parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris)

Anise (Pimpinella anisum)

Dill (Anethum graveolens)

   The Mallow family (Malvaceae) is another that has always been easily recognizable to me, but I was shocked when I learned that the amazing Baobab tree is a member of this same family! Professor Schleiden speaks of this wonder in Poetry of the Vegetable World (1853): "To those who have never been accustomed to look through the modes of external appearance into the essential internal connection of the variations of form, it will indeed seem paradoxical...that the wild Mallow, creeping over and adorning all the banks of our country lanes, is far more nearly allied to the old giant-stemmed Baobab, which has lived to six thousand years on the west coast of Africa, than to the wild Poppy growing beside it; and yet all this is undoubtedly true." But compare the next two pictures, first of a Hollyhock flower, and then that of a Baobab, and you will see the similarity!

Hollyhock (Althaea rosea). Close-up of the fused stamens forming a column around the pistil.

Baobab flower (Photo from

Spanish Mallow (Malope trifida)

French Mallow (Malva sylvestris)

   The Mint family (Labiatae) has always been easy for me to recognize, even without knowing what to look for! They are easy to recognize with their simple, opposite leaves, square stalks, two-lipped flowers (hence the family name Labiatae, from the Latin Labia, or lips), and frequently aromatic foliage. 

Mint (Mentha)

Catnip (Nepeta cataria)

Basil (Ocimum basilicum), showing the shape of the flowers.

Self-Heal (Prunella vulgaris) even better example, showing the characteristic two-lipped flowers, 2-lobed (or sometimes united) on the top, 3-lobed on the bottom.

  Oh, but these two are my favorites! This is the Touch-me-not family (Balsaminaceae). Of course, these examples are not only members of the same family, but also of the same genus. But the first is a native of North America, and the last is a native of India and China! 

Orange Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis)

Garden Balsam (Impatiens balsamina)

   Well, I could go on and on I suppose, but it's getting late and you are probably getting bored! 😃 But I actually learned a lot as I wrote this post, and noticed some things in these flowers from studying my own pictures that I hadn't noticed before! The Vegetable Kingdom is truly amazing!  😊