A farmer’s field of sunflowers in bloom in 2015. This is one of three fields the farmer uses for sunflowers, planting only one field each year.
If you like to take photographs—and, I think, particularly if you think of yourself as a photographer—you might find it difficult simply to drive past a field of sunflowers. I’ve seen dozens of gorgeous photographs taken by other photographers of these magnificent fields. What’s more, I’ve stopped two or three times a year for, perhaps, seven years to try to capture the quintessential sunflower field photograph.
I haven’t gotten close. Turns out, I’m not all that skilled a photographer. Still, I’ve nabbed a few decent photos of sunflower fields, and I’ll continue to stop and shoot whenever the opportunity arises.
Just three days ago I had such an opportunity. Never mind it’s mid-winter in central Pennsylvania. I took a side road to the grocery store, turned onto a side road of the side road to photograph a stately oak tree in a farmer’s field, and unexpectedly came upon a field of sunflowers.
In the spirit of raising spirits (seems to be a thing this time of year), I decided to photograph the sunflowers and share them on my blog. Mid-winter sunflowers can be quite striking. I hope you agree. So nice that only six weeks remain until spring.
A field of sunflowers in winter isn’t particularly eye-catching. I was surprised to see the farmer hadn’t harvested the seed heads from this field; there were plenty there for song birds. I captured many photos and left longing just a bit more for spring.
I had no idea what type of insect this was; I’d never seen one until it appeared in my garden in 2015 and I haven’t seen one since. The famous entomologist, Herr Google, leads me to think it’s a Grapevine Beetle, also known as a Spotted June Beetle. I enjoyed capturing photos of it, but I wish I’d run a lint brush over it before I started.
While heavily drugged after surgery last spring to remove a tumor from my pancreas, I gave myself ten “seven photos in seven days” photo challenges. So far, I’ve posted seven. This eighth post reveals seven of my favorite bug photos from 2015. Some are of baby bugs—caterpillars rather than winged adults. I pointed that out in case anyone feels baby butterflies and moths don’t qualify as bugs (I suppose it’s a stretch but there are many definitions of “bug”).
I hope you enjoy my bug photos. It’s a seven-day/seven-photo challenge, but all the photos are here in a single post.
I love to see cabbage butterflies in my garden, though they have seriously diminished my excitement for growing broccoli (I hate the part of preparing homegrown broccoli where you float the broccoli crowns in salt water for an hour so the worms die and float off the food.) The “antique white” of this butterfly delightfully complemented the delicate lavender color of my… lavender.
Since moving to Pennsylvania 21 years ago, it seems I’ve heard in five or six summers that this was the year of the seventeen year cicada. In one of those years, there was actually an abundance of the magnificent insects in our area, though they did not inundate our living space and crunch under foot. Every year we hear the cicadas’ buzz, and I often find visitors in my small kitchen garden. This one was resting on a tomato stake in my plot at the community garden.
I first saw wasps like this one in 2014. I was able to find photos online that identify it as a great golden digger wasp. Many of them started frequenting my garden when the marjoram was in bloom. The wasps show no interest in me, but focus exclusively on the marjoram’s delicate flowers.
For 18 years, I’d harvest wild black raspberries in meadows up the street from my house. Each year I’d also inspect milkweed plants in those meadows for evidence of monarch butterfly activity. Finally, in 2015, I found the caterpillar in this photo. Sadly, but for one building lot, the meadows are all gone. The landowner subdivided the land and there are houses on nearly all of them. No more milkweed. No more black raspberries. I wanted to live on a farm far enough from the nearest neighbors that we wouldn’t see the light on the pole in their barnyard. We bought a house on the edge of town 21 years ago, but town is an invasive weed that has grown in around us.
I’m not particularly fond of grasshoppers, but they tend to make themselves available for decent photos. This one lingered on my garden’s rabbit fence near the tomato patch.
I love having dragonflies visit my kitchen garden. The main attractant, I think, is the “rain garden” I dug several years ago. I haven’t completed the project; I still need to line a ditch with gravel, lay perforated pipe in the ditch, and fill around the pipe with soil. Oh, and I should come up with a few rain-garden-appropriate plants. Still, in heavy rains, the collection pool fills and as it drains, moisture holds on at the bottom for days after the rest of the garden has dried.
In mid-October, I harvested about two-and-a-half gallons of fingerling and red-skinned potatoes. I’d left the potatoes in the ground way too long; rodents had tunneled under the tubers and had eaten many of them—perhaps almost as many as I harvested.
October 23 was the community garden’s “drop dead” date. I received an email at the beginning of October telling me I had to be done with my plots by the 24th; management would mow the plots and plant barley on that date.
I couldn’t get motivated to take things down in the weeks leading up to the 24th. The average first frost date in this area is October 21, but forecasts were for warm days into November.
Unfortunately, I had a chemotherapy session scheduled for Monday, October 17th. The Friday, Saturday, and Sunday after chemo are particularly brutal: my muscles feel as though I’ve been marching for a week without rest, I feel as though I should be sleeping, and my digestive tract is making me guess whether and when access to plumbing might be necessary.
I’ve been trying to establish a new variety of winter squash using seeds I harvested from a hybrid that happened accidentally in my small kitchen garden several years ago. These are the fruits from this year’s effort. Sadly, I believe the discoloration on the skin is black rot. The flesh is still edible, but black rot is systemic meaning it can live in the cells of the plants. Seeds from these fruits are likely to carry the disease, so it would be wrong to share them with other gardeners. I’m afraid disease has made my new squash variety a dead-end.
Nope. I didn’t let chemo dictate my behavior. I’m deadline-oriented, so naturally I waited until the weekend to finish taking down my community garden plots. It was a forced march.
Back on October 10th, I had dug potatoes and harvested squash and sorghum seed heads. Much remained. Tomatoes and peppers were at various stages of ripe, sorghum stalks still stood, canna lily roots still supported leaf and flower stalks, and tomato trellises needed to come down.
My Small Kitchen Garden Falls
On Sunday morning (probably more like early afternoon), I drove to the community garden and dragged myself, painfully slowly, through the remaining tasks. The worst of it was removing tomato trellises.
With hanging string trellises, some 68 7-foot lengths of binder twine hung from a wooden support structure. At home, I’d simply cut the strings off the trellises and let them drop to the ground along with the tomato plants they supported. They’d winter under leaves and rot into the soil through the 2017 growing season (I don’t till the soil).
I harvested about 2 gallons of sweet peppers on October 23rd. I’m afraid they’ve remained in the bag you see in this photo and have experienced many too warm days and several too cold days. I hope to feel well enough this week to work through stuff I harvested on October 23. With luck, I’ll find a few still-usable peppers to put up in the freezer.
At the community garden, it seemed risky to leave the binder’s twine wrapped around the tomato plants. A mower blade would most certainly catch the twine and wrap it around the mower’s drive shaft. I didn’t want to create extra work for someone else, so I untwisted the binder’s twine from the tomato plants… this took more than an hour.
I disassembled the wooden support structure for the hanging string trellises and loaded the wooden stakes into the bed of my pickup truck. Then I harvested the sorghum stalks and loaded them into the truck. Finally, I dug the canna lilies. It felt as though I’d worked for twentyten hours, though it was closer to three.
Tomatoes and peppers would have continued to ripen for another three weeks. It made me sad to have given up on them so early, but rules are rules, and the community garden is an awesome resource—particularly for a gardener challenged by illness. Photos tell the story of my last day of the season when I took down my vegetable garden.
From a package of “Festival Mix” cayenne pepper seeds, a plant produced purple peppers that turned red when fully ripe. Sadly, the plant was laden with under ripe fruits when I had to shut down my community garden plots.
Some of the last tomatoes on my vines this October were the mystery paste tomatoes I acquired years ago from a local gardener. I harvested these along with Roma, Stupice, and a few varieties I couldn’t identify, and left them for three weeks in a bucket on an end table in the living room. Finally, a few days ago, I sorted the rotten tomatoes from the healthy ones. If all goes well, I’ll process the ripe ones this week and serve up the green ones as fried green tomatoes.
The first variety of tomato to ripen in my small kitchen garden was also one of the last to produce viable fruits. I harvested these Stupice tomatoes on October 23 just before I tore down my hanging string tomato trellises.
A theme of this article is that my community garden plots didn’t agree with the mid-October cease-and-desist order. This sorghum seed head makes the point: the seeds aren’t ready! I had already harvested any ripe seeds, but there were many young stalks at various stages of the reproductive cycle.
When I cut the mature sorghum stalks, I discovered emergent shoots; more shoots from each plant than had grown to harvest. This leads me to think that in the tropics, sorghum may be a perennial. Perhaps you can harvest the seeds to make flour or porridge, cut mature stalks to extract sugar, and then wait four months and do the whole thing again.
Another holdout against the cease and desist order: a squash blossom. I believe this flower was on one of my hybrid-derived squash plants, but there were also flowers on the zucchini I had planted back in May! In fact, on October 23, I harvested two beautiful zucchini squashes from six-month-old plants. In past years, I’d started a second planting of zucchini mid-summer after the spring-planted vines had withered.
Despite bacterial disease, aggressive hornworms, and disgusting tomato fruit worms, many of my tomato plants were trying to remain relevant on October 23rd. There were at least a dozen blossoms through the tomato patch, and many buds about to open. Sadly, it all had to make way for the mower and seed-planter. I hope to garden the same two plots next season. I may be grumbling for having been forced off of my normal gardening methods, but it’s all for the good of the soil. I truly appreciate the quality effort with which the county manages its community garden.
I started six tomatillo plants from seed and they were very happy in the community garden. I’d never grown them, and was impressed at how prolific the plants were. I harvested mid-summer and canned many pints of salsa verde which, by my estimation, is more about the onions and peppers than about the tomatillos. Unfortunately, chemo has suppressed my sense of taste, so I’ve no idea whether the salsa verde tastes good. The tomatillo plants continue to grow and produce, and I may have left more than 100 fruits to rot in the garden. It seems unlikely I’ll plant tomatillos in next year’s garden.
It has been a hard season. I’ve faced two huge challenges to maintaining my kitchen garden:
1. It has been unusually dry this year. What little rain we’ve had came over a two-week period in August and did more damage than it did good.
2. I had major surgery before the season started to remove a tumor from my pancreas. Subsequent chemotherapy failed, and an alternative chemotherapy regimen has kept me weak and nearly constantly uncomfortable with gastric distress.
I had some help from my wife and some friends. My wife prepared one end of the main vegetable bed where I planted peas and carrots. She erected trellises for the peas, and we both harvested when peas were ready.
When my wife was away, a group of friends visited one weekend and removed an enormous amount of weeds from the main vegetable bed.
All 68 tomato plants are still growing well, but late summer brought quite the onslaught of tomato fruit worms. Most tomatoes remaining on the plants are getting devoured, but I’m still harvesting about a half gallon of decent ones every four or five days. This is a single, unusual tomato on a plant that usually produces pepper-shaped fruits. It looks as though two tomatoes merged at birth.
What truly kept me in the game was signing up at a community garden. There I got two 10’ x 20’ plots where the garden’s management applies composted manure, plows it in, and plows again a week or so later to stop the first growth of weeds—all before gardeners have access to plant.
It was crazy easy for me to plant my prepared community garden plots. The soil was loose and raked smooth; I had only to press seeds into the soil or set seedlings in holes I could dig with my fingers.
The community garden helped me manage the dryness challenge as well: There are faucets and hoses that reach every plot and I was able to water my plants every 2nd or 3rd day.
I’ve gone rather light on blogging about the garden. The cancer has diminished many activities that used to be easy or even fun. Rather than catch up on all the most interesting moments of the season, this post is about where the season’s ending. Photos tell the story.
This was a typical harvest—three gallons of tomatoes and a few sweet peppers—about every three days until august. I’ve canned gallons of tomato pieces, whole tomatoes, and tomato sauce. Oh, and chili sauce and salsa in which tomatoes are a major ingredient.
Happily, the dry season discouraged common tomato plant diseases. I saw no early or late blight on my plants, though late summer rain fired up some bacterial disease that worked its way up the plants from the ground. I pruned affected leaves for several weeks, turning the tomato patch into a rather weird landscape.
My tomato trellises top out close to seven feet. The plants have grown three feet above the trellises… though this photo shows them a bit shorter. Tomatoes in the highest growth won’t ripen before frost, but there are a few just below the seven foot level that have a chance.
By early July I had grown squash seedlings under lights indoors and I planted them out at the community garden. One hill of neck pumpkins has barely performed; I must have set it on a bad patch of soil. Still, there are two rather tiny neck pumpkins maturing on the vines.
Three years ago, without asking permission, my garden cross-bred a neck pumpkin with a fairytale squash. Unknowingly, I harvested seeds from a hybridized neck pumpkin and planted them in the next season’s garden. They produced gorgeous squash that I hoped I could stabilize through two seasons. Last season, they seemed to breed true. However, seeds I planted this year have produced three distinct varieties of fruits. The variety in the photo is the most prolific. The skin becomes creamy brown when ripe, a bit lighter than a butternut squash. Perhaps this version will breed true for next season’s garden.
I don’t recall where I got it, but last winter I picked up a packet of cayenne pepper seeds. It was a mix of seeds that would produce peppers in a variety of colors. Purple cayenne peppers, I think, are cheaters. The fruits start out purple but ripen to a bright red. Other colors in the packet were red, yellow, and orange. Sadly, I failed with cayenne. The plants were prolific early when I was dealing with a bumper crop of tomatoes and sweet peppers. Most of the cayenne peppers ended up in the crisper drawer and became anything but crisp.
A first for me, and still in progress: sorghum. I bought a packet of one hundred and fifty seeds and planted them in a tight square at one end of the bed. The plants have flourished. The seed heads are full and, I’m sure, ripe. Everything I’ve read suggests harvesting the seeds as close to first frost as possible and leaving the stalks to get some frost bite. Then harvest the stalks and squeeze the sap out of them to boil into syrup. Frost may be two weeks away, so I won’t be messing with the sorghum right away. In fact, my next big harvest needs to be potatoes. The above-ground parts of my potato plants never stopped growing until they were overrun by squash plants.
On a whim, I reserved several canna lily roots that we didn’t need to complete our “Hawaiian corner” behind the rock garden this year. I stuck the spare roots in my community garden plot among squashes, onions, and potatoes where the cannas wouldn’t interfere with other plants. It was quite late in the season, so the cannas are late bloomers, but there have been several flower spikes so far. In a few weeks, I’ll pull the roots and save them for next year. Knowing how many we need behind the rock garden, I’ll set aside a few extra to add flare in next year’s community garden plots.
My mom said she loved bluebirds, but she was frustrated that she never saw any in upstate New York. Because of this, I believed bluebirds were rare. Then I moved to central Pennsylvania and here bluebirds seem quite common. This one spent a lot of time at the community garden where I had a plot in 2015. I especially like this photo because I think the bird is pretty, and seeing it makes me think of my mother.
Yes, I’m still trying to live up to the photo challenges I gave myself while heavily drugged after major surgery. This one features birds.
My parents maintained a “life list” of birds they’d seen. I suspect most of those were birds that visited the feeder outside their kitchen window. I never became a “birder,” but I did develop a love for feathered creatures. I used to offer seeds on a large feeder in our front garden about six feet from the picture window in our living room.
When my kids were young, we’d watch the feeder and immediately consult a field guide when we spotted a bird we couldn’t identify. I was taken aback one day when I couldn’t identify a visiting bird and my oldest child asked, “Isn’t that a nuthatch?” Indeed it was.
Last year, I captured far more than seven bird photos. My favorites may not be National Geographic material, but at least one of them deserves an “awww.”
While working in my new rock garden last summer, I heard a familiar whirring and looked up to see a ruby-throated hummingbird getting nectar from the flowers of our canna plants. As is usually the case, I was wearing my camera and captured a few decent photos of the hummingbird in action.
Robins are the omnipresent “native plant” of northeastern birds. We mark the seasons by their coming and going. I find them especially entertaining when I’m turning soil in my garden. Invariably, a robin watches, ready to pounce on exposed worms when I retreat far enough from my work. I made friends with this robin when I made a planting bed for black raspberries: I collected grubs and left them where the robin had to spot them. It did spot them and seemed to relish every one.
Seagull, right? No! It’s a kittiwake. I had no idea until my Ethiopian son announced his intent to spend the summer in Alaska studying Kittiwakes. His professor, apparently, scoffed at the term “seagull.” I photographed this kittiwake while waiting in line to board a ferry to the Statue of Liberty. We hosted two Japanese students for nearly three weeks last summer and took them into New York City, for a hike in the woods, and to experience a local county fair among other adventures.
While building my rock garden last spring, I heard a wet thud in the grass behind me. When I looked hard enough, I spotted this very young bird on the lawn. After a moment, I also found its sibling and looked up to see their nest had tipped onto its side. This is a baby house finch. I set up a step ladder, laid the nest flat on a branch, and used twine to tie that branch to the one above it so the nest couldn’t flip up a second time. Then my wife passed the young birds up to me and I returned them to the nest. Within a few hours, the parents were coming and going as if nothing had changed.
This adolescent house finch perched in our lilac tree one day while I was poking around among the heucheras, violas, and primroses beneath it. I quite like having house finches in the yard.
Not a stellar photograph, but I couldn’t leave it out. I spotted this red-tailed hawk perched way closer to me than they typically approach and was pleased it remained as I captured a dozen or so photos. Just a few days ago during my morning dog walk, a similar hawk soared out of a tree with a squirrel clutched in its claws.
Heber Dreher stands next to one of his many planters. “Consider the lighting where you’ll set a planter: Full sun? Partial shade? Full shade? Select plants accordingly. Determine the ‘front’ of the planter and put shorter plants there; don’t let tall plants overshadow short ones.”
I have the good fortune to be friends with a gardening enthusiast named Heber Dreher. He lives in Lewisburg on Edward Circle, and his yard is fabulous. I asked if he’d let me photograph his gardens and capture some thoughts about his methods. We spent a few hours chatting the other day.
Heber acknowledges a professional landscaping company can deliver an attractive garden, depending on how much you’re willing to spend. But if you won’t have time or motivation to care for the garden, include a maintenance contract in your budget. Commit yourself or your landscaper to control weeds, prune, clean things up in autumn, prepare beds and plant in spring, and replace failed plants. “If you don’t maintain a garden,” Heber warns, “It’s going to look bad soon.”
Whether doing the work yourself or hiring a landscaper, Heber suggests you start by learning some basics on your own. For example, know your hardiness zone and refuse plants rated for warmer zones. “Pay attention to cold hardiness of plants your landscaper installs,” Heber suggests. “Make decisions with your contractor. They make more money when you call them to replace poorly-chosen plants that fail in a cold winter.”
Photos provide a virtual walk in my friend’s garden. Each includes a thought Heber offers about his passion for his craft.
Heber has created intense drama on the path from his driveway to the front door of his house. “Use perennials with different shades of green to make the garden interesting,” he suggests. For other colors, he stages flowering perennials whose blooms may or may not be short-lived, and he mixes in annuals that tend to bloom steadily through the season.
Immediately out the door from Heber’s kitchen, a brick patio features a koi pond with a low waterfall. “I wanted a plant that would fill in the cracks around the pond’s edge. Evergreen Pachysandra worked out beautifully.” Low trees, tall perennials, and tropical plants isolate the patio, providing a place to relax with drinks or an unhurried meal.
A stone path leads from the patio, through foliage, to the lawn. “I’m planting much more in containers than I used to,” Heber says. “Container plants require less water, they’re easier to fertilize, easier to control, and it’s easier to preserve tropical plants such as Elephant Ears and Canna Lilies indoors in winter. Another advantage: you can redesign your garden mid-season simply by moving planters from place-to-place.”
A cul-de-sac in Heber’s lawn ends with bonsai trees on pedestals rising above a dense mix of perennials. Heber encourages you not just to start digging. Rather: plan. “Learn what you like then plan your own garden. Learn enough so you can be relatively sure the pieces of your design will work together.” He suggests not to do too big a first project. “It can be overwhelming.”
There once was a tennis court in the yard, but no longer. The space holds a garden whose mix of plants can all at once look unkempt and breathtaking. Looking back on this Bloom Day along what might have been a walking path, there was a dramatic swath of Asiatic and day lilies aglow with noontime sunlight.
On Garden Bloggers Bloom Day this month, I visited Chanticleer Garden with my wife. I captured many photos, but none specifically with Bloom Day in mind. Still, several are appropriate, and I offer them here by way of participation in the Bloom Day tradition.
I first visited Chanticleer last year and was completely smitten. A family from Philadelphia had established the property as a summer home and had eventually settled there. The original house still stands surrounded with ornamental plantings. Caretakers have developed themed gardens throughout the property and a variety of benches and chairs invite visitors to relax and blend in.
Part of the fun of Chanticleer is that people who design and manage the gardens also design and create furniture and other appointments you encounter throughout. There are beautiful wooden benches, chairs, and tables; stone chairs; and metalwork that are both decorative and functional. You’re welcome to carry in a picnic and eat at one of the picnic tables or, on Friday evenings, choose a place on the lawn for a relaxing dinner.
Rather than tell you all about Chanticleer, I encourage you to go there. I love the gardens and offer a few more observations in comments about the photos in this Bloom Day collection.
One hydrangea flower cluster popped out at me along a border. I remember seeing other hydrangeas, but this is the only one I photographed. Even in my own yard where I tend to examine progress daily, I don’t remember seeing hydrangea flowers all at once in so many phases of opening.
When I visited Chanticleer last year, it was with the Garden Writers Association on invitation to see a new feature that, unfortunately, wasn’t quite ready for visitors. This is a wheelchair-accessible path that changes a rather steep plunge from the back yard of the main house down to several other themed gardens into a gently-sloping walkway. The new path, now open, is attractive in its own right and leads you past several eye-catching plantings.
Looking back at the new wheelchair accessible path from a lower section of it: there’s a lot to consider.
Gardeners at Chanticleer use birdbaths or similar containers to create decorative displays where plants might not otherwise grow. In an area they call the Pond Garden, there’s a short, overgrown path that leads to a locked shed. At the trail’s end, a planter holds tiny water lilies several of which were in bloom during our visit. This is a macro photo—that blossom is about the size of a dandelion bloom. You can see the edge of the planter in the top-left of the photo.
Overlooking the Pond Garden, the hillside is home to a meadow of native flowering plants. A path winds up the hill through the meadow, kept masterfully so you almost have to wonder: is it really a path?
For the dozens of public gardens I’ve visited, and many more private gardens, Chanticleer’s Gravel Garden is my favorite. A stone stairway blends so well with the flora it challenges your sensibilities: should you walk here? Do. Slowly.
Years ago I discovered that ordinary objects standing on the lip of a pond assume new character. A stalk of flowers, a bird, an alligator – each somehow becomes more impressive against an azure (or even muddy) background. Between my home in Lewisburg and my childhood home in Ithaca there’s a boat launch and recreation area I enjoy visiting. I caught this photo last summer when I stopped on a trip to Ithaca.
This is number six of ten photo challenges I gave myself while heavily drugged during recovery from major surgery. Of all the photo challenges I’ve seen on line, the “nature” challenge is most common. “Nature,” in my opinion, covers pretty much everything there is. Granted, humans mess around with nature quite a bit, but that is our nature. Choosing to label ourselves and our deeds as unnatural is nothing more than conceit.
I shoot many photos of stuff that catches my eye. The ones in this collection show nature in various forms. Upcoming photo challenges also will show nature, but they’ll be narrower categories: Birds, Bugs, Critters, and Farmscapes.
Here, then, are seven nature photos in seven days—all in a single post.
Goldenrod frustrates me. It’s gorgeous in meadows of central Pennsylvania in late summer. However, having captured goldenrod in hundreds of photos, I rarely find any of those photos remarkable. This one makes the point: I think it’s pretty good, but I’m still looking to capture THE goldenrod photograph. Late summer isn’t all too far away…
An art teacher – a family friend – at the high school I attended was a master of a water color wash method of painting. His works had the look of Japanese paintings, but with more depth and, sometimes, more color. While coaxing a masterpiece out of a wet canvas, he once explained: “If I put three birds in a painting, I can call it ‘Trinity.’” Here: thistle heads, not birds. But I’d never name one of my photos Trinity.
Along the road at the boat launch and recreation area I mentioned earlier is a beautiful swamp. It seems every time I stop there the sun is low on the far side of the swamp. It can result in intense backlighting that hides many details while illuminating others.
I fiddled around a small tree next to the student union at Cornell University last summer and came up with this photo. Apparently, this is the fruit (or flower?) of a Chinese Dogwood tree, not that it matters. I love the “soft focus” that leads my eyes from the red fruit back into a forest of unripened fruits.
Here’s a super cheap photographic device that nearly always delivers: Put an interesting leaf between your camera lens and the sun, use a small aperture, and focus tight. Take enough such photos in your lifetime and you’ll eventually come up with art. This is the back side of an elephant ear leaf that grew near my rock garden in 2015. If I were a bit smaller, I think I’d enjoy hiking in that landscape.
Nature happens across the street from the Cityslipper ranch. Many evenings, I grab my camera, mount it on a tripod, and capture the sunset. A gorgeous sunset is a terrific way to end a day.
In 2014, I bought a packet of zucchini seeds in early august and planted a few to fill a hole in my vegetable garden. One of the resulting plants produced very light-skinned fruits that I referred to as “blond zucchini.”
On a zucchini plant that unexpectedly produced blond fruits, I accidentally created a hybrid cross with a dark green zucchini. I collected and grew seeds some of which gave rise to blond zucchini plants. I collected seeds from the blond zucchinis of that 1st generation and plants are growing now on my plot at the community garden. This blond fruit is the 2nd generation descended from the original hybrid… but it’s not the only color of fruit to come from those blond zucchini seeds.
Whenever possible, I hand-pollinate my squash plants, and this was no exception. Unfortunately, when I pollinated my first blond zucchini, I used a male flower from a plant that produced dark green fruits. Before being pollinated, the blond zucchini looked like all the other zucchinis I’d every seen.
So, at the end of 2014, I had collected seeds from a blond zucchini that had been cross-pollinated with a traditionally dark green zucchini plant.
2015 Zucchini Experiment
In 2015 I started 4 seeds I’d saved from that first blond zucchini of 2015. Low and behold, one of the plants produced more blond zucchinis! Sadly, however, the other plants produced dark green fruits. I saved seeds from the 2015 blond zucchini, hoping they might grow into plants that produce blond zucchini.
Of four seeds I planted from my 1st generation blond zucchini, two plants are producing familiar dark green fruits. It’s likely that blond is not the dominant color.
I planted seeds from the 215 blond zucchini in April of 2016… four seeds in all.
Did I get only blond zucchinis? NO! Two plants produce dark green fruits—the classic zucchini we all know and love (loathe?) One plant produced blond zucchinis. The fourth plant produced a new shade of fruit: a yellow-green squash that wouldn’t even pass for a cross between the blond and dark green varieties.
So… given many more years to mess around with descendants from my original zucchini hybrid, I’m not confident I’d ever arrive at a stable “blond” fruit… but I’d keep trying. Of course, now that there’s a yellow-green descendant, I’d also try to develop a stable version of that.
Here’s how it looks so far:
Original hybrid cross between dark green and blond fruits resulted in plants that produce dark green zucchinis or plants that produce blond fruits.
One seed from the 1st generation blond zucchini grew into a blond zucchini plant. Two seeds grew into dark green zucchini plants. The fourth seed grew into a yellow-green zucchini plant. Clearly, there’s more than one gene involved in determining the color of fruit a zucchini plant produces. It would be very satisfying to develop a line of blond zucchinis that breed only blond zucchini plants, and another line of plants that breeds only yellow-green plants. I’ll keep messing with them and see where it gets me.
1st generation from hybrid blond zucchini resulted in plants that produced dark green fruits or plants that produce blond zucchinis.
2nd generation: seeds gathered from 1st generation blond fruits resulted in plants that produce dark green fruits, plants that produce blond fruits, and plants that produce yellow-green fruits.
Perhaps I’ll do some research on zucchini breeding. My first very casual research suggested that neither dark green nor blond is a dominant genetic characteristic and that these colors may result from a mixture of several genes (rather than a single gene controlling the color). If that’s the case, the best I might hope is to produce a Zucchini Carnival Mix where the seeds from any of my hybrid’s descendants could produce dark green, blond, yellow, or even some other color I haven’t yet observed.
I’ll keep playing and see where it gets me. In a few days, I’ll harvest one very mature blond zucchini and one very mature yellow-green fruit. I’ll collect seeds from them and immediately start them in the garden. Before first frost I’ll have a third generation of fruits descended from my original hybrid… and, perhaps, even more colors to report.
It seems likely I could package seeds that produce a “harvest mix” or “carnival mix” or some-such—any of the fruits in this photo could produce seeds that grow into all three colors of zucchini. Heck, there might be a few other shades of zuke in those seeds; perhaps I’ll coax them out of the next generation.
Garden? Challenge? What? This photo is among my favorites because it shows my dad’s garden in spring. My dad is obsessed with trees and he gathered acorns in autumn of 2014. He stored the acorns in his refrigerator and planted them in his garden in spring of 2015. During one of my visits, I found about a dozen young oak trees had sprouted and my dad had potted several to plant at the farm where we’d raised horses and bees when I was a kid. My dad was 95 years old and starting oak trees, presumably to harvest for lumber in about 60 years.
Early this year while heavily drugged with painkillers after major surgery, I gave myself 10 photo challenges and delivered on four of them:
The distractions from chemotherapy and from gardening season getting underway derailed my effort to post the remaining six challenges. However, after having reviewed all my photos from 2015 and having selected candidates for each challenge, it would be wasteful not to publish. So, here are seven garden photos I feel are kind of special. Captions explain why.
I travelled west twice last year and got to visit with one of my favorite gardening buddies, Bren Haas. Among the many beautiful garden features she manages is a pond across the drive from her house. The rocks, lily pads, and snake grass at one end of the pond beckoned me to pull up a chair and sit with a cold drink—it was a beautiful scene.
During my visit to Cultivate ’15 (a hort industry conference in Columbus, Ohio), I left the convention center and “discovered” Lincoln Park. The park includes some excellent gardens and a conservatory which was closed by the time I reached it. I captured many photos in the park and particularly like this one which reveals the conservatory almost as an afterthought for the lush foliage in one of the park’s large plantings. I’d planned to tour the conservatory this year during Cultivate ’16, but my pancreas had other ideas.
From hundreds of photos of gorgeous spaces at Longwood Gardens, this “trial garden” spoke to me. Gardeners assemble these patches to try out plant combinations of varied colors and textures and they ask visitors to identify favorites. Later, the most-liked combinations might appear in a show garden elsewhere on the property. I love purple, and apparently even more when it rises above clouds of silver-green.
Since we’re already at Longwood Gardens, here’s one of my all-time favorite gardens. There’s a courtyard you reach by walking through Longwood’s huge conservatory. The courtyard contains several water gardens and when I was there, water platters painted an other-worldly landscape. I had never seen a water platter in person, and I was instantly smitten.
Back at the Cityslipper ranch, I captured a wet moment in my new rock garden. I was moistening soil with the hose on a sunny day when I snapped this photo looking vaguely toward the sun. The rock garden was a bit of a mess with young succulents and weeds aplenty, but I love the photo. This year, many spaces have filled with aggressively spreading stonecrop. I enjoy lingering, plucking weeds, and pinching back the fastest spreading succulents to preserve space to grow into for the slow growers.
One of the most sublime visions I’ve experienced: a stone stairway at Chanticleer garden. If you can fit only one public garden into your remaining life’s plan, visit Chanticleer and Longwood Gardens each of which is about 30 minutes west of Philadelphia. Did I say “only one?” If you truly can fit only one garden into your life’s plan, you’re not trying hard enough.