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Wednesday, March 28, 2018

How to Make New Friends While Landscaping an Island

My boss assigned me the task of adding some plants to one of the four tiny island in our display pond. Visitors walk past it on a boardwalk about eight feet heigh and can look across it from two directions as the boardwalk winds across part of the pond.

Since we are also planning and preparing an acre plot to become a wildflower meadow to support monarchs and other pollinators, I wanted to add plants that would bring in butterflies, bees, and dragonflies. With that in mind, I looked for plants that would feed wildlife,  have one to three  seasons of showiness,  and would be happy in a heavy clay subsoil. AND I wanted all native plants.

I ended up choosing Red Chokecherry for a small tree, swamp rose for a big shrubby bush, blue mistflower to spread as a ground cover plant and provide nectar to fall butterflies, copper iris to provide lovely flowers, and make a great habitat for frogs, Texas star hibiscus for it's red flowers, cardinal flower for hummingbirds as well as pollinators. I added lizard's tail and pickeralweed to grow at the edges. (Click on each species to see the information on it from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Database.)

My boss approved my list, after some passionate discussion on my part. Then began the fun of finding all these plants. I was using the web page from the Georgia Native Plant Society, so reached out to one of its members, Ellen Honeycutt, who writes a fascinating blog, Using Georgia's Native Plants.  (And since many of these plants are native across the south, this will be interesting to many gardeners.) I asked her for sources, and she responded by telling me she had several of the plants I wanted in her garden and would gather them and ship them to me if I would pay for the postage. I responded that I would love to come help clean up her garden and collet them and bring them back.

So I went to get lizard tail, which she collected from a friend's garden, blue mistflower, which was coming up all over as tiny plants. She also had several pots of copper iris for me and offered me some Louisiana blue flag iris and swamp sunflower, as well as a native white violet. I filled up an old cat litter tray with mistflowers in little balls of clay, even adding a second layer stacked over the places where there were 'corners' at the intersection of the first layer of plants.  I also came home with three swamp sunflowers, which should provide nectar for butterflies in late summer and fall and are of special value to native bees.

I paid her back by potting up  twenty-four mistflowers for her to donate to the Native plant Society spring sale, as well as some other plants. We spent a totally enjoyable day talking plants and working together. Ellen had to go in and out to check messages for her work.  She mostly collects jobs during the day and then works evenings so she can spend more time in her magnificent yard where she showcases native plants. I'm looking forward to sharing more time with her.

One of Ellen's  pots of copper iris with a few mistflowers added - I got three like this

I also started looking for nearby native nurseries. The closest one is is Nearly Native Nurseries.  They didn't have all the plants in stock that I wanted or in the sizes I wanted. So I looked further and found another nursery, Night Song Native Plants, way up in Canton. This ended up being the first place from which I obtained plants.  I got the Red Chokecherry, and three gallon pots of blue mistflower, which were totally dormant. Katy threw in some Louisiana iris. I was excited because the red chokecherry was in bud. This is another wonderful place to get native plants.

I got to Nearly Native Nursery last, after I had started to work on the island.   I had already found out that owner Jim was a paddler and that he could use volunteer help. I told them I would stay and volunteer the day I picked up my Texas star hibiscus. I found Jim and wife/co-owner, Debbie, have a 6 acre plot stuffed with Georgia natives, including at least three species of dogwoods, mayhaws, azaleas, rhododendrons,  along with hundreds of other species. They have many display plants in their landscape, so it is really fun to just wander around. I had a wonderful day there with Jim and  Debbie. I also met a friend of theirs that was staying with them.  He and I spend the day potting up plants.  Debbie fed us the most amazing soup for lunch.  We had chicken, cheese, sour cream, hot sauces and other delicious we could add to customize it. I had so much fun, I told them I would be happy to come back.

They invited me back yesterday to clean up beds and pot up more plants. We had discussions on ways to get more information on native plants out to people, having them collect seeds for our wildflower meadow, and how I manage my vagabond life style. This couple will be another set of cherished friends. And all my gardening friends should use them. They ship.  They like their plants to go where they are native.  Yesterday Jim was shipping lilies to Chanticleer Garden in Pennsylvania.  (That is a garden I'm REALLY trying to get to, after two failed attempts.) And Jim's custom packaging is a thing of beauty, so you can count on them to get your plants to you in perfect shape.

After all my searching for the plants I wanted, I could not find the swamp rose. The one nursery that used to carry it said they got it from The Antique Rose Emporium which happens to be one of my favorite destinations in Texas.  When I called them, they said sure, they had it, but they also had a sport of it which bloomed TWICE a year. Which did I want.? Of course I chose the sport - I'm looking forward to seeing its fall blooms.

As soon as I started collecting plants, I started to plant them.  I was immediately in for a nasty surprise. Almost anywhere I tried to dig, I hit a rock, networks of roots, landscape cloth, or all three.  Plus there were lots of living stumps that I would have to remove or expect to grow over my new plantings. So that first shovel was the start of a few weeks of chopping out stumps, roots, rocks, and landscape cloth.  All but the rocks, had to be hauled off the island. Then I realized I needed to amend the soil which appeared to be clay subsoil. I had to go back and beg for same and I also went to the wooded areas around my house, and dug several buckets of humus.  Then I realized that I could  not clear a hole of rocks and roots, and have enough soil to refill around the plants. So I begged for and received permission to go buy topsoil and compost. All this had to be hauled to the island, starting on a steep downhill route, to a cement wall, to a drop of about 4 feet into six inches of water and another two to four inches of sticky mud, to the first island, ducking through shrubs to reach another channel, then the destination island. This is a hard route for an old lady, so I ended up calling for help.  Trent was my main guy.  He is young and very tall and strong. He hauled bags of trash off the island and demonstrated that he could leap from the island to the wall carrying a bag of roots I could barely pick up. But when we brought back a half yard of of wet, heavy compost and several bags of topsoil, I needed more help. So Trent and two other staffers came to my rescue.  I had about sixteen buckets of compost ready when they started a chain gang. Two of them hauled buckets to a third guy standing on the first island. They handed off to him, he went to the work island and dumped and and returned the empties to the mainland guys. I kept filling buckets until I got down to the REALLY wet bottom layer.  Then I switched to being a hauler while another guy filled buckets. We were done in about twenty minutes of intense labor.

My hero, Trent, taking on the stump I'd worked on for parts of two days with my
hand cultivator, a polaski, and my geared loopers


What should I do first?  Haul off roots and stumps, plant those poor lizard's tails
 that have been bag people for several days, or...

Before planting, you gotta chop out all the grass - making a future home for a lizard's tail plant

Hauling trash off island. - I did help haul but Trent took it all across the channel - notice I keep my weapon close
Still having fun - don't remember just why I was lying on the ground, either - although Alex took that picture also - this is later in the planting
So finally I was able to just mostly plant, with a little more rock removal.  I still had several days of work, finally finishing up Sunday afternoon. Now it's hurry up and wait to see how it all works out. And I've got great new Georgia friends.

A few plants have found homes while others anxiously await their turn- rocks too, are falling over each
 other to find their unique place

Order is restored - plants are in the ground - there are about 4 more mist flowers waiting for a home. but I was too tired to dig any more rocks up for them. 

Red chokecherry is in full bloom

The lizard's tails are getting perky

The copper iris are still a little tired 

The swamp rose has a lot of growing to go

The cardinal flowers are starting to leave their rosette stage - I got some dirt by scooping up mud -
that is what is on the bottom leaves

The Texas star hibiscus are arising from their dead state 

Mist flowers are looking the same as they did when I dug them up, in spite of living in a cat litter bin for over a week

Next year I may get plant a acre wildflower meadow for pollinators.  Still planning that.


Monday, March 19, 2018

Spring Begins Along the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Trail

March 5, 2018

I spent another cloudy day at Caraway Gardens.  I wondered if the wildflowers were starting to bloom along the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Trail which starts at the little cabin I wrote about earlier. From a long view, the trail looked dormant, but closer looks rewarded me with the first spring flowers.

Trout lily



A closer look at at a trillium flower

I loved finding a few colonies of May Apples, a plant I knew and loved as a child but haven't seen for many years. The first year plants produce one leaf. Two year old plants  produce two leaves and fruit at the juncture of the leaveas.  The plants don't produce nectar but do offer rich pollen.  Unless the seed is carried away from the colony, it will probably not grow successfully. Box turtles are believed to be the main dispersers of the seeds. For an interesting article on this plant, click here.

May apple 

I saw these a little green angels

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Rain lily

Red bud

Green and Gold

Rue Anonome

The trail went under a road beside a creek

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The trail blended into another trail near this lake

I thought my pants were fraying until I realized this was pollen


Whoops! My bad.  I can no longer tall the days of the week since I'm supposed to be off on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, but I'm consumed with getting a garden built on a little island so am not taking days off.   Had this all ready but didn't set it to publish Sunday. 

And I'm starting to build my itinerary that will take me from here to Louisiana, Texas, Arizona, and Utah before getting to Montana the second week of May. 

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Georgia's Little Grand Canyon

Most of my weekends have been rainy for the last few weeks. . But by February 27, I thought the rain and clouds would be gone, if I headed east.  I found Providence State Park which advertised itself as Georgia's Little Grand Canyon.  It sounded fun so I set off very early in the morning, hoping to be at the park for sunrise.  The sun and I were both late and I arrived to find clouds and fog.  I decided I didn't want to hike on the wet trails and thought I'd have time to visit nearby Eufaula National Wildlife Refuge before the sun planned to make an appearance. So I took a few pictures to document spring's progress and headed off. I didn't make it back until mid afternoon when I was in bright sunlight and often shooting into the sun.

The new pine cones are growing

The woods are full of white blooming trees and shrubs

Carolina jasmine was at its peak

Another wild fruit tree in bloom

 Providence Canyon consists of 16 canyons. They are growing wider while the bottoms, made of more stable clay and which  also being colonized by pine trees. are holding steady.  The pinnacles are also eroding and disappearing.

 I ended up hiking around the rim before running out of time, energy, and camera battery.  These canyons are the result of poor farming practices about 150 years ago which caused the soils to erode very rapidly, exposing the geologic record of up to 75 million years.

If you would like to learn more about the soils in this canyon, check out this article.