Sunday, June 28, 2009

New York

I spent last weekend and half the week in New York City with my daughter. It was our first time to visit. She had to work. I played. I was asked before I left what plays I planned to attend. I made no such plans, and did not see any. I also did not visit any museums. It rained every day we were there, and due to our location and her working hours, there just was not time. Our hotel connected to Grand Central Station. That was pretty cool, and I enjoyed exploring it at different times of the day. The morning we flew out we went there for breakfast, as I did most days, and we got to see the thousands of people coming in from the trains headed to work. Watching that mass of humanity move through was fascinating for both of us. Just like rush hour on a freeway, everyone was moving at the same steady clip. I studied the flow for awhile and saw that the pattern of movement was just like water. If one person moved to the side to go around an obstacle like a kiosk or trash can, or take a short cut, others quickly followed, creating a new "stream" of humans. I liked New York, and would like go back.

Our last afternoon in New York we walked to Central Park. It was nice to see some green leaves and flowers. We actually bumped into a man from West Monroe while there. Our last evening we took a cab to Little Italy for dinner. That was an adventure. Elisabeth documented our trip in pictures here:

Back home on the hill, it is hot. My poor pot plants are all getting plenty of water, but it is so hot that some of them are getting their roots cooked. I am working hard at keeping those areas on the grounds watered that have promise of flowers to bloom, and those that have already bloomed, so I will be able to harvest seeds.

Tomorrow morning I will go in for a Bravo pH test set up. It is a high-tech method of monitoring gastric reflux. They tell me I won't feel a thing. If the same nurse puts the IV in my hand as last time, I know I will have a sore paw for a couple of days. Otherwise, I suspect I will sleep all day after Terry gets us back home.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Road Trip & What's blooming this week

Indian Blanket, Gaillardia pulchella, is blooming around the house at Kalorama, and there was lots of it blooming on Texas roadsides this past weekend.

Terry and I visited in College Station, Texas this past weekend. There is really no direct road from here to there, and we love to travel the back roads. After we left Interstate 20 near the Texas state line, I programmed our GPS unit to find the shortest route. That always brings up a disclaimer that there may be unpaved roads involved, but that was not the case this time. We did travel down miles of county roads that were in great shape and when the trees were not meeting to form a canopy over the road, the roadsides were covered with wildflowers that were thick and natural, not planted by the highway department. However, when folks asked us which way we came, we didn’t have a clue. I studied a map later on and tried to figure out our route, but was not ever sure about it.

I have spent every spare minute since we returned watering this hillside. The temperatures hovered around 100 degrees south of Palestine, TX. It was not that hot here, but it hasn’t rained a drop in weeks and it shows. I am leaving tomorrow for Little Rock to join our daughter on a trip to New York City this weekend and next week. It will be a first for us. She will be working most of the time, and I will relax and play.

While working around the garage and the fountain areas, I have found two resident speckled king snakes. Neither is anywhere near what I would call full grown. The larger of the two lives out at the garage. It was staying inside a roll of pond liner that had been lying near the garage. I disturbed it when I moved it to store it inside. The snake seemed quite confused when I moved the roll, and kept coming back to where it used to be. It finally moved on into one of the garage bays. I have not seen it in a few days. Today I discovered a slightly smaller one is probably living in the brick wall surrounding the fountain patio. It is very shy and races away into a hole as soon as I come around. I hope to get a picture of one or both. I have also seen a gigantic Texas rat snake around the garage. I always look up before I walk into any of the bays or rooms, expecting it to be hanging out in the rafters. The last thing I want is a snake falling on my head.

There are a few more things blooming this week, and most of the flowers from the past few weeks are still going strong. There will be even more things blooming in July.

Purple Coneflower,
Echinacea purpurea is just beginning to bloom.

Turk's Cap is a member of the hibiscus family. It is adored by hummingbirds and is one of the most dependable summer flowers there is. The little twirled petals always remind me of icing flowers on a cake. The pollen is magenta colored, and ruby-throated hummingbirds will appear to have bright magenta patches on their faces after feeding on a few hundred Turk's Cap flowers.

Prairie Coneflower,
Rudbeckia grandiflora, is yet another in the black-eyed susan genus. It is a more refined plant than the common black-eyed susan, but smaller than the giant coneflower in a previous post.

This flower also is called Prairie Coneflower, but it is related to Mexican Hat. This is
Ratibida pinnata. The ray petals are lighter yellow than the black-eyed susans, and the cone part starts out gray-green before the tiny brown flowers pop out. They always remind me of badminton birdies. These plants are from seeds collected around Olla and Urania, Louisiana on US 167 before the road construction to create a four-lane highway. There are some interesting plants and were some pocket prairies around there at one time.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Blog Slacker

What I feared would happen when I jumped into the blog pond has happened. I have become a blog slacker. I have been nudged twice this week about it, so here goes. My reason for not posting is that there was just not much going on.

I have been working hard at getting ready to leave home for awhile. It finally got dry and hot enough that I was able to get all of the grass mowed at one time. In fact, it was so dry by the time I finished that I was so covered with dust each time I got off the mower I had to hose myself down before entering the house. The last three days I have been working on setting up the automatic watering system I built last year for my container plants. I cobbled it together from parts I found at the big box stores and the irrigation supply in hopes that I could keep stuff alive while we traveled to Canada last July. It worked out very well, and I used it most of the rest of the summer when I went away for a few days, or when I would just get so busy I couldn’t maintain the hand watering on schedule. It is very important when temperatures reach the 90’s that plants in containers be watered every day, and at the same time of day. The pots need to be flooded with water, not sprayed at. It takes time and care to do it right, but the reward is fabulous plants.

On the wildlife front, I have seen some neat things, including more turtles going to and fro across the yard to lay eggs and returning to the pond. I have seen the juvenile red-tailed hawk out in the meadow near the old log cabin site. It is as big as an adult, and I have seen it hunting in the grass out there a couple of times. One time it caught a big green grasshopper, and then didn’t seem to know what to do with it. It is not cut out to run, but it did sort of lumber across the grass in search of something else it saw moving. It is too far away to get a picture, but the action is way better than a picture would be.

We discovered we have a young speckled king snake living in the garage area. He was living inside a roll of plastic I had in front of the garage. He was pretty confused there after I unrolled it to get him out and then put it away. He crawled off into the garage and I haven’t seen him since. He had been hanging around the bottom of the big pine tree by my shop door, and I had seen him crawling around in some of the nursery stock plants near the garage. We are hoping he hangs around. Copperheads are what I usually see out there, so I am always scanning the ground in that area. I have also seen an enormous rat snake out there this year.

My husband reported seen some strange ducks in irrigation puddles beside a corn field he passes frequently. I rode with him one day with the camera and got some pictures. They turned out to be Black-bellied Whistling ducks. Once only known from south of the border and occasionally in South Texas, they are moving north in a hurry. They are cavity nesters like wood ducks, and have already been observed using wood duck boxes south of Collinston after the wood ducks had hatched. Terry had been seeing 4-6 ducks at a time. A friend of ours who is doing bird surveys for a bird atlas project checked out the area about the time a crop duster flew over. She counted a total of 17 once they started flushing out of the corn field.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

What’s blooming this week on the hill?

The daylilies are starting to bloom. Daylilies are of special historical interest here at Kalorama. The second owner of the property, Mr. Nathan Bolton, was a journalist by profession but had a real passion for daylilies, known botanically as Hemerocallis. He did quite a bit of breeding work with them, and named and registered three varieties with the American Hemerocallis Society. As far as I know, there are no pictures of the three, but there are descriptions in the AHS database. His first introductions were in 1951. One was named “Baron de Bastrop” and terminology describes it as Orange-Red Dark, solid in color. The other entry that year was “Mary’s Old Rose” described as a medium red with some sort of splotch, stripe, or other color variation that involves all petals. In 1953, he introduced a medium yellow named “Mary Bolton,” (his wife) that was listed as an evergreen early season re-bloomer. Possibly this would be an ancestor to the popular “Stella d’Oro” that is so common in landscapes today. Based on those descriptions, if the daylilies blooming right now include any of his introductions, the one pictured here is most likely “Mary’s Old Rose.”

As long as I am featuring one non-native plant, I might as well include another. Several years ago, the late Virginia DeForest, a great plantswoman who happened to live up the road from me gave me a bulb division off of her Clivia plant. Clivia is surely one of the most elegant tropical plants around. It can be contrary when divided, and neither of us expected it to bloom the first year. I got it a fine Italian clay pot, because they like to get pot bound and live in the same pot for many years. Much to my surprise, it did bloom that first year and every year since. This last year, it sprouted lots of new bulbs from the base, and has now rewarded us with two bloom spikes.

The big showy wildflower that is added to the list of things blooming over the past month is giant coneflower. This plant has lovely large silvery leaves that look like collards or cabbage when they first come up. They send up a flower stalk that can grow well beyond six feet. The plant, Rudbeckia maxima, is native to western Louisiana and eastern Texas.

And, the last item, though fruiting instead of flowering, is a turtle; a red-eared slider to be exact. I have been seeing these girls traipsing around the top of the hill for several weeks. Unfortunately, there are also lots of them squished in the roadways around here. They are the most common freshwater turtles in the state. They are the ones you see sunning themselves on logs in ponds, creeks, and bayous. The females come up to dry ground, dig a hole, and deposit their eggs. They will bury the eggs and head back to the pond they came from. Eventually, if the eggs survive marauding raccoons, possums, felines, canines, and snakes, the baby turtles will hatch and head back to the pond where momma lives. A turtle about the business of egg laying is an easy target for the camera, so I got lots of good close-ups of the action.

The tiny red patch behind the eye is where the term red-eared comes from.

This is where the action is. She has crawled nearly a quarter of a mile up the hill from the pond, and still has enough water under her shell to generate mud to pack around the eggs. The tiny green flecks on her shell are duckweed plants. This was a fairly large slider. Field guides stated they grow to 11” in length. She was every bit that if not more.