Entries in spring garden (14)

Sunday
Mar262017

An Answer for Dying Dogwoods?

When we moved to our property in 1985, I was enchanted by its abundance of native dogwood trees, Cornus florida.Many of my dogwoods were mature specimens with thick trunks and widely spreading canopies. Each spring fluttering white blooms frosted the woods. Anticipation of the sight brought me eagerly through the winter, and when the dogwoods blossomed I knew spring was firmly entrenched.

However, recent years have hit my dogwoods badly. Dogwood anthracnose, dogwood borers, powdery mildew and drought stress have left dogwood skeletons standing forlornly throughout the eastern US. The drought we experienced last fall has been brutal on local dogwoods. Lou has cut a half dozen dead dogwoods from the property already this year, and recently I identified several more dead ones. 

When I looked out over the garden this week, I noticed a scattering of white blooms, a pale shadow of former glory. In past years this spring view was covered in dogwood blooms, where now only a sprinkling of dogwood blooms show. Lou wants to plant new dogwoods. At first I refused, thinking new ones would likely succumb to the same problems as the old ones. However, a local nursery owner pointed out that hybrids are much more resistant to disease and insects than Cornus florida. Many of these are hybrids of Cornus florida/Cornus kousa. The Kousa dogwood is native to Japan and China and is more disease and insect resistant. Kousa dogwood is a pretty tree but its blooms appear after the leaves have appeared, so lacks the impact of our native dogwood. The hybrids seem to have the best of both worlds. 

Dr. Elwin Orton of Rutgers University has spent about 40 years developing hybrid dogwoods. His Stellar series includes several sturdy varieties, including popular 'Stellar Pink' and the highly anthracnose resistant 'Appalachian Spring'. Dr. Orton also developed 'Hyperion', which is known for its rapid growth and vigor. 'Red Pygmy' is a dwarf red hybrid.

Other plant breeders are working on additional hybrid dogwoods to take the place of our dying ones. I planted a 'Stellar Pink' several years ago. It survived last year's drought, though bloom production is less this year. I told Lou I will look at more hybrids and make a selection to replace a few we lost. However, I don't think anyone has come up with a dogwood that can survive without water. So these will have to be planted in the garden where we can take good care of them.

Sunday
Mar122017

Close Encounter with a Hawk

I recently was pruning a shrub when Lou, who was standing nearby, whispered, "You have a visitor."A Red-Shoulered Hawk, photo taken in my garden on another day

I looked around, and not ten feet from me on a low tree branch, sat a large hawk. My heart thumped a bit, for he was clearly watching me. Sizing me up for prey? I doubt it; I would have been more than a mouthful!

He was nearly level with my head, and for a few moments I found myself locking eyes with him, briefly transcending the gulf that naturally separates humans from wild creatures. Finally, in no hurry at all, the hawk lifted his wings and took flight.

My garden is blessed with several predatory bird families, including both hawks and owls. I am thankful, for they help keep the vole and chipmunk population down. Voles have been the nemesis of my garden, destroying the roots of many valuable plants.

The chipmunks are much cuter than the mousy-looking voles, but they are cohorts in crime.He just looks innocent!They have dug an extensive series of underground tunnels for themselves, and the same tunnels are also used by the voles who want to snack on my roots.

This was not the first time predatory birds have shown an interest in us. An owl once followed Lou around the garden, flying from tree to tree to keep him in sight. Maybe his nest was nearby; maybe he was just curious!

It is always a delight to be outside this time of year, as the birds and other creatures go about the business of building nests and making babies. A symphony of twitters, chirps and calls of all sorts greets me every morning. New life is emerging along stems and branches, and many plants are blooming. Spring's verdure seems premature this year. We are expecting freezing temperatures this week, but the birds are telling me: No worries; spring is here!