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Another Photo Challenge? Birds!

Bluebird

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.”

Ruby-throated hummingbird

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.

Robin

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.

Kittiwake

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.

House finch fledgling

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.

House finch adolescent

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.

Red-tailed hawk

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.

 
Small Kitchen Garden – Another Photo Challenge? Birds!

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Heber Dreher’s Garden

This post originally appeared in a slightly different form in the Sunbury Daily Item, the newspaper for which I write about gardening, cooking, and most recently, about being a victim of pancreatic cancer. Here’s a link to the Daily Item’s website.

Heber Dreher in his garden

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 Dreher's front entrance walk

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.

Heber Dreher's patio and koi pond

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.

Inviting garden path

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.”

Bonsai in the garden

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.”

 
Small Kitchen Garden – Heber Dreher’s Garden

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Bloom Day at Chanticleer Garden

Tennis court at Chanticleer

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.

Blooming Hydrangea

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.

Accessible garden path at Chanticleer

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.

Accessible garden path planting at Chanticleer

Looking back at the new wheelchair accessible path from a lower section of it: there’s a lot to consider.

Tiny water lily blossom at Chanticleer

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.

Water lily blossom at Chanticleer

One of the ponds in the Pond Garden had quite a collection of water lilies.

Hillside meadow at Chanticleer

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?

Gravel Garden at Chanticleer

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.

 
Small Kitchen Garden – Bloom Day at Chanticleer Garden

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Nature Photo Challenge 2015

Flowers on river bank

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

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…

Thistle trio

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.

Swamp tromp

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.

Chinese Dogwood

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.

Elephant Ear or Colocasia

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.

Sunset at the Cityslipper ranch

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.

 
Small Kitchen Garden – Nature Photo Challenge 2015

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Zucchini Breeding Surprises

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.”

Blond zucchini descended from a blond/green cross

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.

Dark green zucchini descended from a blond/green cross

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.

Yellow-green zucchini descended from a blond/green cross

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.

Zucchinis descended from a blond/green cross

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.

 
Small Kitchen Garden – Zucchini Breeding Surprises

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Gardens Photo Challenge 2015

Dad's oak tree garden

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:

Waterscapes
Landscapes
Blossoms
Food

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.

Bren's pond garden

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.

Lincoln Park in Columbus, Ohio

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.

Longwood Gardens trial plot

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.

Longwood Gardens water garden

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.

Rock garden at the Cityslipper ranch

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.

Rock steps at Chanticleer Garden

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.

 
Small Kitchen Garden – Gardens Photo Challenge, 2015

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