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Freebies

 

Woodrow enjoys hanging out with the spider lilies on our creek bank.

Lately I’ve been enjoying some of the humble plants that came with my land.

We bought most of our 6 acres, a parcel at a time from our neighbors, Eddie and Margurite Chestnut. 

Margurite was (and still hopefully is) quite the gardener.  She planted her own yard to the nines but we also notice remnants of Margurite’s landscaping through the woods and along the creek. 

I’m not sure if these plants were deliberately planted or if she just dumped out yard waste and it took root. 

At any rate some of the plants like English ivy are quite annoying.  

Others are not too invasive and are mildly entertaining – like the occasional clump of cast iron plant. 

And then there are those that we are quite fond of like the spider lilies which recently blossomed profusely. 

This was a good year for spider lilies.  I had never noticed them along the creek bank but in late winter we initiated a massive privet clearing effort that allowed the sun to come in.  The results were spectacular.

I do love wildflowers and even though the spider lily (Lycoris radiata) is not native, it does not seem to displace indigenous plants.  Hopefully it is helping to hold the creek bank. 

Maybe spider lilies are less offensive to me because they stay below ground for a great part of the year.  When the leafless blooms burst from the ground in early autumn they are like beautiful party girls popping up out of a cake.

Our most common bushy aster is blooming now in the Bee Meadow.

I’ve also been admiring our most common aster.  Years ago Sidney McDaniel identified it as Aster dumosus.  It has since had a name change to Symphyotrichum dumosum.  On the internet I recently learned that it is called bushy aster or rice button aster.  We just always thought of it as “our” aster.

It is a white frothy little thing that appears any where there is a little sun and lack of mowing.  It glows in the late afternoon light.

Last Sunday we had some very enjoyable company – our friends Danny and Rebecca Brantley.  We were all sitting out along the creek burning a small stick fire for amusement.   We talked about life and laughed at each other’s stories.  

The spider lilies were waning.  And the bumblebees were foraging on a bushy aster nearby.  Their gentle buzz almost put me to sleep

That’s reason enough to love a bushy aster. 

It reminded me of a line from an Ian Campbell song that Kate Wolf recorded “In the park, the dreamy bees are droning in the flowers among the trees…”

Spider lilies for days and dreamy asters – that’s a lot of free entertainment.

Old Paint

I often sang verses of the old Woodie Guthrie song ” I ride an old paint….” when I was perched atop my geriatric Craftsman riding mower.

I bought Old Paint as a used mower and she served me well for at least eight more years.

Old Paint and I are working on a trail beside the timber bamboo.

Most people use a riding mower to cut lawn grass.  Old Paint was more like a mini-bushhog.   Together we forged new trails all over this disturbed 6 acres. With Old Paint I could attack a privet thicket or horse my way through a briar patch that left me looking as if I had tangled with a mean cat.  It was almost magical!

My technique involved cowboy-ing over small Chinese privet.   Then when I had some work space, I could come back and remove the large ones with my trusty Japanese pruning saw.

Once established I would mow the trails two or three times a year to maintain.

Late one night I was listening to a gardening podcast from the West Coast.  The host was one of the Garden Rant ladies and Billy Goodnick was the guest.  They were quite entertaining as they bashed the lawn and all that it stood for.  I agreed with most of their comments.  The consensus was, however, that anyone who would own a riding mower was ecologically irresponsible and should perhaps be put in the stocks.

I would love to give the Ranting Ladies and Billy Goodnick a tour of my land.  We could wander past the bee meadow that was planted after Old Paint chewed up the resident privet.  We could walk the woodland trails that were formerly choked with privet and Chinese wisteria and observe the native vegetation creeping back in.

We could admire the “Bottom” – a wetland formed by city drainage.  The Bottom has reached a state of balance where the native vegetation dominates and mowing is no longer necessary.  It is a beautiful place but it was here that Old Paint made a fatal encounter with a cypress knee.

Old Paint still has a good engine but her deck was compromised and she will no longer mow.  She is heading out to pasture and will now pull a small garden wagon around the place

So I just got a new mower last week.  It is a Zero Turn shiny red thing.  It has a heavy duty deck that will hopefully survive encounters with a few cypress knees.  It rides smoothly and can cut close to desirable plants.  This is a bonus because I do not have enough upper body strength to use a weed-eater.

I like the newbie but it seems way too fancy.

And what song will I sing while I mow now?

 

Wrenching

Steve is working the weed wrench.

I have been m. i. a. for about a week  now.  Due to a failed attempt to upgrade WordPress, my site was locked down until a kind person fixed the problem.

I am glad to be back in business!

This morning two other kind people, Steve and Terry, began working in my back garden.

They hauled in some gravel to go between the stepping stones and define the walk.

The powerful jaws clamp around the stem of an unwanted plant.

The biggest maintenance problem in a shade garden is that all sorts of shade loving woody plants sprout.

They are looking for a home in the southeastern temperate deciduous forest.  So… if other stuff is planted, they will claim the space.

Quite a few years ago, I discovered my wood’s propensity to revert to the forest.   On a whim, I bought a woody plant puller from New Tribe.

The taproot on this unwanted tree is about 3 feet long.

The plant puller is a wonderful thing – especially if wielded by someone with upper body strength.

It works like a fulcrum.  The ground level jaws attach to the crown of an unwanted plant.

Then the plant is wrenched out of the soil.  The tool is especially effective if the offending plant has a tap root.

And so, this spring, my friend Steve has cleared an abundance of privet.

He knows how to work that weed wrench.

It is grand!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Fine Saw!

The pruning saw takes a rest while I ponder our next project.

It’s rainy and cold here today.

I ventured forth late this afternoon and found that a titi (Cyrilla racemiflora) in the side yard had lost a limb.  The Cramoisi Superieur rose that had been using said titi for support was sprawled on the ground.  I think that is what they call the “Domino Effect”.

I decided to disentangle the two plants so that I could coerce the rose back onto her trellis.

The titi limb had to be removed first.  It was still attached to the tree and was over 3 inches across.  I headed up the hill and quickly returned with my trusty Japanese pruning saw.

In a matter of minutes, the titi was left with a smooth beautiful cut and the rose had been gently placed back onto the arbor.

I was quite impressed with myself.  You probably figured that out since I just described myself as if I were a Superhero.

My friend Pete is using the Japanese saw in a two handed grip to remove the top from a damaged sweetgum tree.

However, I was even more impressed with my saw and so I decided to make the saw the subject of this post.

This wonderful piece of equipment is a Bakuma Kariwaku saw.  It is made in Japan.  The only place I have seen the saw for sale is at Lee Valley Tools where it is marketed as a “Long-Blade Japanese Pruning Saw”.

The saw has a long handle and a replaceable blade.   The long handle makes it easy to use with two hands.  That is a great benefit for someone like me who has limited upper body strength.  The blade has very sharp teeth which quickly cut dry or green wood up to 6 inches in diameter.

I have used all kind of pruning saws over the years and this is far superior to every name brand (more expensive) saw that I have ever owned.

I have cleared a lot of privet with it and used it for fine detail pruning in my landscape.

The only problem with the saw is that the handle is black and it is easily camouflaged in dried leaves or other debris.  I bought the brand new one pictured here because I temporarily lost my old one.   I looked for it for days.  When I finally gave up and ordered the new saw I found the old one immediately, of course.

My new saw is shiny and it cuts like a dream.  I already have lots of miles on it.

And in the midst of pruning and clearing season, I could not bear to be without it!


 

New Year’s Garden Resolutions

I love winter flower arrangements like this one with sasanqua camellia, 'Autumn Pearl' narcissus and 'Miss Patricia' holly.

I’ve had an enjoyable and productive New Year’s Day.

I studied the birds at my back-yard feeder and listened to their chatter.

I spent some quality time with friends, husband and dawgs.

I ate my black eyed peas for Prosperity.

I worked on a clearing project and had a nice meander through the woods and the garden.

Throughout the day, I made a few Garden Resolutions.

I resolve to make more flower arrangements.

I vow to kill privet.

I resolve to spend more time on the nature trails and in the garden.

I’m off to a good start having already hit a lick at two out of three.


 

December in Mississippi

This is the site of my latest privet eradication efforts.

Oh yeah – today was one of those lovely sunny December days that we enjoy here in the Magnolia state.

I worked for a while this morning on my latest privet clearing project.

It is coming along nicely, if I do say so myself.

Now that most of the privet clutter is gone, I can see the lay of the land again.

It is a low drainage area or “Bottom” full of sweetbay magnolias and ironwoods.  The native plants should really thrive if they don’t have to compete with privet.

Woody relaxes with the catch of the day, his prized deer antler.

Richard and I went out on a golf cart ride this afternoon.  I wanted him to inspect my work and to be amazed at the space.

He was.

We sat in the golf cart and just gazed as if we were at at drive in movie.

The sun was shining and we stayed out until the shadows became long and the temperature began to drop.

The dogs had a grand time.  Especially Woodrow who headed out toward the deep woods and came back with a deer antler in tow!

Buttonbush

The otherworldly buttonbush flower is very fragrant.

Back in the day when I was publishing a nursery catalog and a gardening newsletter, I was always on the prowl for the perfect photo.

I was also working as a Horticulture Instructor.  My office at the community college was across the hall from the Photography Instructor, Cecil Adkins.  Cecil slipped me a key to the darkroom and spent hours critiquing my work and helping me to hone my skills.

One day as I was lamenting that I was unable to get a stellar butterfly shot, Cecil advised me to “Find a buttonbush in bloom.”

I did and as Cecil had predicted, butterflies were drawn to the flowers and were quite enamored of the nectar.   They were so mesmerized that I was able to ease in close and take the shot of my dreams.

Before that, I had pretty much taken buttonbush or button willow (Cephalanthus occidentalis) for granted.  It was, after all, one of those plants that anyone can grow.  It was a pioneer that could colonize disturbed areas and fill the void.

Why would I admire or want to grow a plant that was so easy?  Like Groucho Marx, “I refused to join a club that would have me as a member.

After I took the perfect Butterfly photo, I began to appreciate Buttonbush a little more.  After all it is a fairly attractive shrub.  It is large with coarse textured foliage.  It is often found in sunny moist locations but will adapt to well drained soil.

It is sometimes called honeyball or honey bells because its fragrant globular flower heads smell like honey.  The flowers are attractive to all sorts of native polllinators – not just butterflies.  They also appeal to hummingbirds.

After flowering, the seed are a food source for ducks and other water birds.

Plants mature into thickets that provide nesting sites for many songbirds and serve as a host for sphinx moth caterpillars.

Buttonbush grows rapidly and is widely appreciated for its ability to prevent erosion.  Young plants are spaced about two feet apart when used for this purpose.

Unrooted hardwood cuttings can also be pushed into the soil in winter.  The cuttings root in place and start to control erosion and create habitat as soon as they begin to grow the next season.   I may try this tactic next winter when I begin the new phase of privet eradication along the creek.

The national champion buttonbush is over 20 feet tall and is located in Buttonwillow, California.   Follow the link to check it out.  It is quite impressive.

I’m not sure if the town was named Buttonwillow because of the champion tree or if it is mere coincidence that the national champion Buttonwillow grows in Buttonwillow?????

One thing is certain.  I would love to see this behemoth in bloom.  There’s no telling how many butterflies and hummingbirds would be in attendance.


 

Home Again

Peter Loos poses beside the privet pile a.k.a. prospective bonfire.

As a reward for all our hard labor, Pete and I went out of town to hear Government Mule play in Oxford.  It was a grand time!

I came home late this afternoon – tired and glad to be here.

There was just enough light so that I could see the newly cleared privet patch.  I ambled through  the area and studied our work with a grateful heart.

Even after settling, the brush pile is huge.

When the weather is favorable, we’ll have a killer bonfire.

The Privet Whacking Continues

Peter Loos struggled to clear this privet ridden area along my creek.

Yesterday, I went off to my consulting  job leaving my house guest Pete to his own devices.

When I came home, I was delighted to see that he had continued the privet (Ligustrum sinense) eradication project we started the day before.   He had moved down the creek to the worst privet thicket on my land, in fact.

I will have a lot of work maintaining this area after the growing season starts.  Right now, however, I am really digging the privet free space.

I am finding a few tenacious ebony spleenworts and Christmas ferns in the area.  Today I hope to plant 8 red buckeyes (Aesculus pavia).

The buckeyes should thrive along the creek.  I anticipate that the buckeye grove will be a great place to watch hummingbirds in the early spring.  I always see the first hummer of the year either on a red buckeye or a trumpet honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens).

A Lovely Day Spent Whacking Privet

I'm planting palmettos to screen the dump that came with our land.

My friend Pete and I spent the day clearing around a ravine that the previous owners filled in with garbage.

As the dump has settled, the lay of the land has become evident again.  It’s beautiful terrain.

Like most distrubed sites in the South, it is being claimed by Chinese Privet.

We eradicated enough privet to make a righteous burning pile.

Then to partially screen the dump, I planted 18 home grown gallon sized palmettos.

Most people would wait and landscape the dump when they were through with everything else.

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