Thursday, April 29, 2010


4-29-10 SHORT HILLS: We got 2.6 inches of rain in the three day storm. Since the rain stopped, it’s been cool, but warmer today, and windy, windy enough to shake branches out of the trees, but no real damage so far. I did more pruning and moved some overgrown flagstones to a new site.

It’s time for my yearly rant about grass. We live in NJ on the side of a hill, a mesozoic basaltic ridge actually. A hundred or so years ago, the hillside was a deciduous forest. The trees and soil soaked up heavy precip and the ecosystem was stable. Now we have suburbia with houses, streets, sidewalks, driveways, patios, terraces all of which shed rain water which pours down the hillside necessitating sewers. Most of the trees are gone, partly replaced by grass which absorbs less rain water than trees.

We are toward the bottom of the hill, and a lot of our topsoil has been lost to erosion in spite of terracing I have done to reduce and slow runoff. Grass grows poorly in our yard because it is heavily treed and thus shady, and because four big active dogs turn it into a parade ground.

The situation could be helped with tree pruning, top soil, sod, fertilizer, herbicides, fungicides, pesticides, etc, but I won’t go there. Firstly, I’m too cheap, I prefer the trees as they are, I won’t use any –cidal chemicals because of those dogs, and ourselves, and fertilizer runoff contaminates rivers and streams.

As for top soil, the organic layer on the surface of the soil, there is a regular on-going deposit of organic matter happening—leaves, twigs, spent blossoms, bud casings, grass clippings which people rake up and take away. But not here, I let it all pile up, including the fall leaves, and let it decompose.

As for what grows in the yard, everyone is welcome as long as you can thrive at under three inches. Come on in! We do have some grass, plus crabgrass, dandelions, wild strawberry, clover, sorrel, onion grass, plantain, moss, ivy, virginia creeper and dozen of other weeds whose names are unknown to me.

About a year ago there was an article, I think, in the NYT about what the author, sorry I don’t remember the author’s name, called “freedom lawns”. The idea is to do what I do—nothing, and let it take care of itself except for mowing.

New blooms: honeysuckle bush, wild strawberry, wild garlic mustard, lily-of-the-valley.

"Freedom Lawn" Those trees are about to leaf and blot out the sun.

Why worry about grass when you can have an azalea?

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Attack of the Giant Wisteria.

4-25-10 SHORT HILLS: Rain today, at least an inch so far, with more tomorrow and Tuesday. I have done more pruning of the driveway junipers. Every time I look at them, I find another broken branch. I have taken carloads of pruned broken branches to the dump.

Yesterday Judy and I were in Brooklyn to see Maggie perform in the Packer School production of “Grease”. It was nice to hear the music again, and we thought the production was excellent. Before dinner and before the show, we had a tour of Val’s container garden on her third story terrace. Everything is off to a good start, but what were most impressive were the neighbor’s wisteria engulfing apartment buildings.

These wisteria are covered with flowers, mine have never bloomed in spite of all the recommended maneuvers to encourage flowering. I cut them back to the ground last fall, but here they come, all shoots and leaves again.

New blooms: bridal wreath [deutzia], may apple.

These wisteria pix are taken from Val's third-floor terrace. The vines are growing from the ground.

In the lower right foreground is the top of a maple tree.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Shade Trees Casting Shade.

4-21-10 SHORT HILLS: Spring is racing ahead here—trees are in leaf, except beech and ash, the yard is shaded again, the grass is filling in, the mud is drying up. The storm that dumped 1.6 inches of precip in Vermont only left 0.5 inches here.

New blooms, since I was last here: yellow lamium, pink lamium, sweet woodruff, barberry, burning bush, azalea, Carolina allspice, French lilac, three more viburnums.

Kerria makes quite a show.

What could be more lurid than an azalea?

Monday, April 19, 2010

VT Wrap-Up.

4-19-10 VERMONT: The storm ended without any extra rain today, just another 0.1 inch last night. Today was cool, dry, breezy and ocasionally sunny. I finished up the April chores. I did a fence patrol and cut cleared some dead fall on the fence, nothing huge, and tightened up a sagging segment. I finished the veggie fence and staked it in place. I did pruning on lilacs and apple trees now that they have broken out of bud phase. Add in peony and delphinium supports for the flowers of June.

Some perenials and biennials that seem late to awake: tiarella, valerian, epimedium, mallow and some hostas. Serviceberry and star magnolia are about to bloom, I will probably miss them. Back in May, NJ tomorrow.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

April Being April.

4-18-10 VERMONT: It continues to rain. No more snow, yet, at least today the rain is showery, and I did get outside for a while. So far, we have had 1.5 inches of precip with more falling. With temps in the forties, the snow is melting, and all the perennials are popping back up.

I oiled all the house door latches and hinges, pasture gates, barn doors and garage doors. I braced some fence posts and braced the pasture gate posts and did a bit more set up on the veggie beds. Judy and I got all the benches and outdoor furniture and the boat out of the cellar and barn into their usual habitats.

New blooms: dandelion, actually a couple days ago, pulmonaria.

Friday, April 16, 2010

February in April.

4-16-10 VERMONT: Big surprise this morning, two inches of wet snow. Rain was predicted, but snow only at higher elevations, etc, etc. Now, mid-morning, it’s rain and about 40°. Snow is sliding off the roof and thumping on the deck and ground. It’s hazardous to step outside and stand by the door.

Yesterday, in the sun, I started prep work on the veggie beds. I pulled the black plastic cover off, dug up the old corn roots and weeds, added three wheelbarrows of soil to fill holes, fertilized, limed, reset and repaired the soaker hose and recovered the beds. The plastic cover suppresses weeds, warms the soil, conserves moisture and keeps the veggies off the dirt. I need to do a bit more there, but it’s under the snow now. I buried that dead fox yesterday that I mentioned last fall now that the ground, and fox, were thawed out.

Another surprise this morning was a pair of ducks on the pond, Common Mergansers, this is a bit south of their usual range. Perhaps they were blown in by the storm. We also saw Evening Grosbeaks at the feeders for the first time this spring. Hummingbirds usually follow those Grosbeak, so I put out the hummer feeder this morning.

Snow Surprise.

Common Mergansers.

Evening Grosbeak.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Fun Day in the Sun.

4-14-10 VERMONT: Another sunny warm day, but the steady NW wind made it feel cool. I clean up the driveway and moved a couple wheelbarrows of gravel back to the top of the drive that were plowed down hill, re-built culvert walls that were plowed off, spread peat moss on the blueberries and fence roses, finished the marten house platform, found a bit more clean-up to do, re-built a small section of stone wall, started putting out plant supports, set up the boat mooring post in the pond, and filled holes in beds and lawn mostly dug by a certain dog, a bad dog. You know who I mean—Gus.

New blooms: red trillium.

Sam knows how to pose while backlit.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Quail Nest Kerfuffle.

4-13-10 VERMONT: After a run to the garden store for fertilizer, 150 pounds worth, I did the initial application to shrubs and perennials. I finished what clean-up was necessary and did more work on the marten house platform. I weeded the new day lily bed and put snow shovels and winter gear away.

Walking around the pasture with Sam and Chloe, I almost stepped on a nesting quail, at least I think she was a quail. She was scared. I was terrified. She and the nest were invisible. I hope she goes back to incubating.

New blooms: bloodroot.

Can you see the nest and eggs?

How about now?

Monday, April 12, 2010

Frog Season.

4-12-10 VERMONT: There was a dusting of snow a few days ago, but all the snow is gone, even the piles. The pond is ice-free. A few years ago, there was ice and snow lasting another two weeks into the season. Today was sunny, breezy and cool.

I arrived mid-afternoon and got to work doing some yard clean-up, filled the bird feeders, put out rockers and benches, finished setting up the flower bed barriers, did a bit more work on the marten house stand and started putting winter equipment away.

The frogs have been celebrating spring, both ponds have developing egg masses. They have at least three different patterns. Some float on the surface, other are fastened to bottom weeds. The clumps vary in size from softball to golfball. The matrix that holds all the tadpoles ranges from clear to opaque and grey. I guess these are species differences.

In bloom: Hellebore, wild ginger, pachysandra, vinca minor, daffodil, forsythia, snowdrop, crocus, primrose.

Canadian Wild Ginger. Who do you suppose pollinates these flowers that lie on the ground? Ants? Beetles?

Oriental Hellebore, pretty red flower that hangs downward.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

March in April.

4-10-10 SHORT HILLS: The weather change was dramatic. We had a T-storm with 0.4 inches of rain. Now we have cold and blustery with 45°, half of what we had three days ago. I am caught up here, for now, time to go to Vermont.

New blooms: apple, mertensia, dogwood, first snowball viburnum.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

July in April.

4-8-10 SHORT HILLS: Yesterday set a record high temp in parts of the metro area, it was 90° in some spots or July in April. We’re supposed to get a T-storm tonight and cooler weather tomorrow.

I’ve done more pruning the last few days and sorted out the mess of crushed bamboo. Where bamboo is native, there are no big overhanging trees that lose big branches to heavy snow storms. Here big ash tree branches fell on the bamboo, with the snow, and flattened them. Many shoots were broken, but others were just knocked over. I went through all the stands of bamboo yesterday and today, cutting down the broken shoots, but was able to uncover many and stand them upright. If they stay up, it’ll all work out fairly well.

New blooms: grape hyacinth, redbud, dandelion.

Saucer Magnolia.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Eighty-four Today!

4-6-10 SHORT HILLS: Two more beautiful days, even with a three-minute shower this morning. The ground barely got wet. Actually, I watered the plantings from last fall, all of them are alive, but a few seem slow to come around. It was in the mid-eighties today!

Yesterday I did a lot of pruning and took a carload to the dump, and today I cleaned up the pool area and took down some dead junipers along the pool fence.

All the trees and shrubs are leafing out except the ash trees and the rose-of-Sharon, both of which need a lot of encouragement to take the plunge into spring, or spring into leaf.

New blooms: violet, kerria, pear tree, marsh marigold, trout lily.

Marsh Marigold is at home midst the pachysandra and vinca minor.

Trout lily. I guess the mottled colors and shape of the leaf look like a fish.

Magnolia's big week.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

May in April.

4-4-10 SHORT HILLS: Another pair of pretty, warm, sunny days. I am all caught up on fertilizing for now, and it’s time to get back to pruning and trimming.

New blooms: anemone, blood root, clatonia, squill, saucer magnolia.

Blood root. The roots have a red sap. Could that be the source of its name? The petal arrangement is two sets of four petals. The Vinca minor flower next door looks tired.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Concrete and Macadam.

4-2-10 SHORT HILLS: Wow! Three nice days in a row. Our sump pump is still running, if less frequently, and the yard is still semi-liquid in spots. The packysandra opened and the saucer magnolias are threatening.

I used this string of dry days to rebuild the driveway drain. I tore out the crumbling drain well and poured new walls on Wednesday, put down new blacktop on Thursday and finished it up today along with repairs to the curbstones and stonewall on the side of the drive. Back to the garden tomorrow.

New blooms: packsandra.