Monday, February 23, 2015

Bread-eating Buteo

It's not a great picture to be sure, but the story behind it perhaps makes up for it.
The hawk shown here moved into the neighborhood a month or two ago - it's then that I would occasionally hear it and see it lording over the local woodlands. It often roosts at the edge of the woodland in back of the house. It's big: when seen near crows, it's conspicuously bigger. Is it a nearly mature red shouldered hawk?
It's hard to get close to this bird: when I see it roosting at the edge of the woods, it generally flies when I come into view. But recently I've gotten to within five or ten feet of it. How can that be? It happens when the hawk comes down onto our deck to eat, get this, chunks of donuts I throw out for the other birds. Times must be tough when these top predators are reduced to eating donuts!
Now might be the time to put up a  platform for feeding hawks.
The photo was taken with my Canon SX700HS with the zoom lens maxed out. The hawk was maybe seventy feet away at the time. I took the photo from inside the house through a less than pristine glass door. When I went out onto the deck to get another picture, the bird flew immediately. It's been back several times since. I guess I'd better buy more donuts. 

Friday, February 13, 2015

Primula obconica

Although I’ve known about Primula obconica for most of my gardening life, this is the first time I’ve had one in the house. It was purchased at one of the big box stores two weeks ago. These are not garden plants here. Although  primroses as a group are generally very cold adapted and most species flourish in areas with extremely cold winters,  Primula obconica is generally treated as a greenhouse or house plant in areas with freezing winter temperatures. I’m uncertain about just how much cold it will actually tolerate: as a wild plant it almost certainly occasionally experiences freezing temperatures. This one has already been moved to one of the cold frames: temperatures down into the 20s F are predicted for tonight, and later this week typical winter weather will return. After closing the cold frames later today I’ll make the additional concession of covering them with a tarp. But other than that the primroses and cyclamen now blooming in the frames will be on their own.

The paragraph above was written a few days ago and is now ready for an update The temperature this morning was about 10 degrees F (that's about minus 12 degrees Celsius!). Late in the afternoon I went out and removed the tarp to allow the sun to warm things up a bit inside the frame. I did not open the frame. But I could see that all looks well inside the frame: this raises hopes that it might be possible to establish Primula obconica in the frame - or at least to enjoy it for much longer than if it had been kept inside a warm house.  

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Ruscus aculeatus ‘Christmas Berry’

Ruscus aculeatus, the butcher’s broom of old books, is nothing new in this garden: it’s been here for decades. The original form grown here is the one distributed by Woodlanders as ‘Wheeler’s’.  There are ten plants, and not a one of them has ever been particularly reliable about fruiting. ‘Elizabeth Lawrence’ and ‘Christmas Berry’ were acquired a few years ago: these fruit heavily and can be very ornamental. That's 'Christmas Berry' in the image above. 

These are definitely not plants to cuddle up to: they are unpleasantly spiny, the dried pieces sold for Christmas decoration being especially so.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Helleborus niger and bees: a delightful prelude to things to come

Yesterday afternoon, after things finally warmed up a bit, I went out to check on what was happening in the cold frames. The Algerian iris is blooming, and the primroses purchased a while back are in fine form and very colorful. But what really caught my eye were the two Helleborus niger. These are in full bloom, and the flowers are particularly handsome now because the cold frame provides such good protection. In our climate they certainly don't need cold frame protection, but the cold frames mimic a good snow cover, and that's what these plants are adapted to. Blooms which mature in the open garden generally show signs of the battle against the elements; those which mature in the cold frame are lush in comparison.

As I was admiring the hellebores, I remembered something which needed attention inside the house and left to take care of that. When I returned a few minutes later, I had a nice surprise: bees had already found the hellebore flowers. It's so good to see bees again: for years we seemed to have none. I made a five minute video of the bees visiting the hellebore flowers. A brief snippet of this can be seen below. Be sure the volume is up: you will then be able to hear the buzzing of the bees.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Spring in Washington

This morning at 6:52 A.M. I was awakened by the call of a male northern cardinal; it was not prolonged and it sounded as if he was warming up - but it was a trial run of a sound which will soon become very frequent in the garden.
In his  Spring in Washington, published nearly seventy years ago, Louis J. Halle records the January 22nd day he left his home at daybreak and was greeted by the sound of a cardinal calling in a tree across the street. He wrote
"The mathematicians reckon that spring begins March 21, but the mathematicians are a month behind the season the year around. For those who observe the first signs, spring comes earlier than others know. Before the end of January, while the scenery remains desolate and the sun leaves no warmth, the first sparks are already being enkindled in the breasts of songbirds. As I left my home at daybreak January 22, under a cloud rack becoming visible, in a dead tree across the street a cardinal was singing cue-cue-cue-cue-cue-cue, rapidly, all on one pitch and without variation. "
This wonderful book has been my generous companion for decades: who would have guessed that so much pleasure could be bought in a used book store for 50 cents?

Later in the morning Biscuit wanted to go out, and as I opened the front door I got a real surprise: the front lawn was spangled with starlings and robins. A flicker flew out of a nearby tree, and I could hear a blue jay calling from the back yard: the birds are on the move!

Here are some of the robins: