Saturday, April 23, 2011

Discovering Native Plants & Sustainability...

I can understand why it is important to plant Native plants, have diversity amongst plantings in the garden, and help remove invasive species. I just want to look a little deeper into these things and get to the guts of why they are so important and help anyone reading this to also gain a better understanding.

Here are some of the resources I am looking at right now to try to figure out the big picture:
"Plants for a Livable Delaware" University of DE, DE Horticultural Society
"Delaware Native Plants for Native Bees" Delaware Department of Agriculture
"Non-Native Plants of Delaware" Delaware Fish & Wildlife
"20 Woody and Perennial Plants List" (shortened title) Doug Tallamy
"Native Plant Sale" Delaware Nature Society
Sustainable Landscapes University of Delaware

With all these resources - I think I will be busy for a while (haven't even researched ecological gardening which falls right into this in a more broad sense). 
As I get into it, I will keep posting tidbits and insights here on my blog. There is SO much information out there…

Monday, April 11, 2011

New Little Flower...

Meet Thalictrum "Pink Pearl".
She joined our garden just recently.
I received an email that there were a few of these new double bloom (will read up on that - it is a new hybrid) available at the local garden center direct from Mt. Cuba. I just happened to be on my way to the post office and to pick up the kids, so I stopped in and picked up one.

And since it is a native plant, if it lasts this year and comes back next year, I'll be happy to see it in bloom with this blood root:
Thanks Kim for showing me what a blood root was a few years back. I will always think of you whenever I see them every spring!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Touring The Herbarium At DE State University...

One of the very best things about being a Master Gardener Training for New Castle County, DE is that you meet some of the most interesting people and get to see some very cool stuff.
Do you know what an Herbarium is?
I pictured it as a greenhouse where they grew herbs…
Ha! Shows what I know (or what I knew rather).
In the photo above is Dr. Susan Yost. She taught our MG training sessions on Botany and Plant Identification. A few of us got together after the class to see if she would show us around the Herbarium one day.
She was kind enough to schedule us in for a tour of the Claude E. Phillips Herbarium, located at the Delaware State University, in Dover, DE in amongst all her other University responsibilities (Thank You Susan!) She is one of the nicest people I think I have ever had the pleasure of meeting in all of my travels and experiences. She is just so laid back and easy to talk to & was happy to be called Susan, and not the formal Dr. Yost. She expresses her knowledge in a way that makes you feel like you can understand it, and that it is not something that is over your head. If you don't quite "get it" she looks for other ways to help you understand (by visual representations - drawings, photos, books, actual plants, etc). In my opinion, that is what makes an educator a great teacher...
 Here are some of the display cases in the front hallway to the Herbarium.
 They showcased plant material, photos, information about the plants…
AND BEADS! Yes - a whole collection of beads and jewelry made from seeds and other natural plant materials. Can you just imagine the smile on my face when I realized they had these!
I've seen beads from seeds at bead shows, but when you sell at bead shows, you rarely get out of the booth to really "look" at other vendor's items other than a quick glance.
 This two photos above and below go together. The tiny skulls were amazing!
The collection of beads & necklaces were donated by Ruth Smith.
I wonder if I have ever met her at a bead show? I believe she lives is in the mid-atlantic region somewhere as do I (and the bead shows I used to sell at). So I wonder if we have crossed paths…
I may try to find her contact information and just let her know that her donated pieces are wonderful!
Here Dr. Yost is showing our group some of the pressed plants from the collection at the Herbarium. The oldest specimen is from 1799 - the year George Washington died (amazing!).
There is also at least one plant in the collection that is believed to be extinct. It has not been seen in 40 or 60 years - I can't remember exactly.
Here she is showing us a very old book from their book collection.
It is called The Ferns of Great Britain and Ireland by Thomas Moore, and is from 1855.
You can order some prints here.
There was also this photocopied explanation of the printing process that they used to make this amazing book. These ferns could have been real (well, they are impressions of the real fern), but were prints of actual ferns.

I highly recommend going to the website to find out more information about the Herbarium. There were other MG trainees with me that had cameras, so I did not take too many photographs with my iPhone. I am happy that I do have these though…
What a wonderful place! I feel more enlightened knowing that a place like this exists!

Oh, and one thing that I loved about this building is that it the air was crisp and dry (no fungus or mold is welcome) and there are no insects welcome either. And it was like an atrium with a huge glass pyramidal roof that let in a ton of daylight. Perfect for a an artist studio space! Which - when you think about the work that they do there, and the collection that they keep - it is perfect. I wish there were spaces like that available to artists around here…

What a wonderful afternoon that was!
Thanks for stopping by and learning a bit about it...

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Take A Long Walk With Me...

I have every intention of explaining what I am learning through my gardening training - and how I feel it will guide me through the way I view my garden as an ecosystem. 
Right now there is so much information in my brain I am having a hard time formulating a thought without going off into a million tangents because right now everything is coming together for me. 
My brain is a very exciting place to be right now!
Hellebore April 1st in a bit of snow. What a great trick to start off the day!
Let's walk a bit shall we? First - the state of my garden and wooded area as it is right now, and how my training is helping me understand what is happening in more scientific terms.
Native Violets and Fern Fiddle Head peeking through.
There are little buds pushing through the soil in the garden.
The spring pruning has been done on the woody plants.
A wave of cats mint - purple and green when growing...
Just a few areas are left to clean up from last years garden.
I like to remove the large items in the spring before new plants grow so that they are not in competition for the soil nutrients (they get cut then into the compost pile).
Feed the decomposers or feed the plants - decisions need to be made on what to leave in the garden.
Mulching with wood mulch by the way takes nutrients from the soil.
Decomposers need nutrients to function.
They break down the mulch by taking nutrients from the soil & mulch, which takes away the nutrients from the soil in which your plants are growing…
If I were to mulch, I would probably choose to use my compost pile soil first to amend the soil a bit, and maybe add a bit of organic fertilizer of sorts in with any wood based mulching that I were to do.
I do not consider myself a "lazy gardener" because I leave things from the previous season in my garden all winter. In fact - quite the opposite. I am a garden helper by letting things stay and decompose in my garden and in the woods that surround it. The smaller plant particles are broken down into nutrients your plants need to grow by organisms living in your soil.
Your soil is your garden foundation.
You should have your soil tested to establish a base line, then once established, test it every three years to see how it stands.
Who doesn't love something beautiful to look at in the middle of winter anyway?
The thing about being a "garden helper" - you don't always get to have just your favorite visitors in the garden.
Chloe and I discovered vole runs from under the snow in the grassy areas and garden areas. I hope the foxes from the woods & garter snakes that live in the block wall will help us take care of that problem this spring and summer. I just learned that voles can have up to 100 young in a season - eek! They love eating on over wintering plant bulbs and trees if not enough plants are immediately available.

Speaking of pests. The Brown Marmorated Stink Bug, which is an exotic "true bug" from China that was accidentally introduced into SE Pennsylvania a few years ago is a common sight in our house and garden here in Northern DE. You can tell it by the 5 white triangles. There are native stink bugs out there too - some beneficial. So please be aware of what you are doing when trying to rid your garden of these pests. Research to control their population is ongoing
And through our woods - another house is being built.
Above is the 1st house built last year, and now the 2nd is having it's foundation being poured...
Within a few days, structure built, windows & plywood up & roof on - seriously a few days!
And now you can see it - standing there huge and all…
At least it has a lot of stone on it. It's probably quite energy efficient too.
Lots of windows facing us though, which is a good reason for us to work on that wind break and privacy evergreen area up there…
A quick note on wind breaks - staggered 3-4 rows of trees - not a monoculture! 
40% of wind should actually get through. 
Also consider that this area will be wildlife habitat.
How will they benefit the most from your design out of need?

Now to tie something together - the woods, the soil, and overall wildlife habitat.
One of our tall ladies. Unfortunately struck by lightening two summers ago.
She provides habitat for a lot of organisms during her healthier days, and now her dying days as well…
She will not fall alone though. This particular thunderstorm brought lightening that hit her neighbor as well, and his boughs are already breaking and falling…
Soon, I will stand in this spot, no longer looking up through their branches. I will be looking up at clear blue skies. Which means there will be areas for new growth in our mature, full shade wooded area…
Eventually she and her neighbor will join this other fallen tree.
Different kinds of insects will love her even more. The birds will enjoy those insects.
And eventually the organisms in the soil will thrive on her remains…
Then from those organisms in that soil that break the last of her down, the nutrients and minerals will become available to new plants so they can become strong and provide habitat and food for future generations of wildlife & organisms that need them. 
It is a beautiful cycle…
Here is a photo of our bird feeder iron tree.
We quite enjoy giving our feathered and furry friends something to eat.
There are areas for water to puddle here as well.
A little more into the woods and you see a pile of leaves to the far left (my leaf matter pile, turned compost bin). The tall tree behind the pile is the "he" of the two lightening stricken pair. The "she is the dark brown tree in the center of the photograph. Right between them is the place where his branches are falling - right where I started a brush pile 5 years ago. I hope any larger falling boughs will avoid hitting this pile directly as many critters are using it as a place of refuge.
This is what the floor of the woods looks like in areas.
It is littered with yard waste - black fiber paper used to keep weeds down, dumped into the woods is being overtaken with Garlic Mustard which is an invasive plant and I am removing plant by plant. The twigs will serve better function for the wildlife in a brush pile. And we can then walk through with higher hopes of avoiding deer ticks that carry Lymes disease and getting stuck in sticker bushes or overgrowths of poison ivy.
This is a selection of what I have been able to pull so far…
In all of this area so far.
Talk about gaining "activity points" with weight watchers - Pshew!
I've got additional gloves and hoes & rakes for anyone that wants to help…
My plans are clean it up, then replant it to support a healthier ecosystem for our backyard and family.
These woods and garden are part of our family.
We are giving so much to one another constantly…
And Thank You for taking a long walk with me through the woods and garden…
Stop back soon to see how things are progressing and what else I've got to teach you...