April Showers

I have lots of new changes and additions to our backyard habitat woodland garden this year! I love to tour the garden after a good rain. It’s April 15 with my iPhone in hand! Take a look!

I often enter the garden from our garage. It opens to a walkway that passes by some raised beds built with concrete blocks. We’re taking those down now as they’ve become uneven and unsightly. So this is the entrance that visitors rarely see, but I do! So I found this trellis, stained it and bought a clematis to grow. It covers a gas valve on the side of the house!
Directly opposite the new trellis is this lovely Lilac shrub, now about six years old and at least 6-7’high. It was a gift from a friend – a cutting! It took a while to really come into its own, but patience is now paying dividends!

Beyond the raised bed section is an old dog run that I converted over to a perennial, pollinator garden. This area is the only part of our backyard that received more than 4 hours of sun. Although I started out with different plants, most of what I admired from the Master Gardener demonstration garden, I am adding blue and yellow flowers to dominate (my UD Alma Mater colors). New this year are delphiniums seen lower left. Everything is coming up wonderfully. The two sections of split rail fence are vestiges of a dog run I had for my Great Dane who has since passed. Last year I added some climbers, and we added an arbor to distinguish this area from the main back yard.

Part of the full sun pollinator garden
Delphinium
We moved this bench from the main back yard. A pollinator needs a place to observe all the activity, right? Accented with my blue and gold theme!
We use a dolly/hand truck to move this giant pot into the garage for the winter. We’ve been able to overwinter this elephant ear now for three years. I planted blue, yellow and white container plants around the pot this week. Can’t wait for it to fill in and add more UD colors!
As we leave the pollinator garden to the main back yard, we set this arbor in last year. It is flanked by peppermint azaleas, now just coming into bloom. I have also planted Major Wheeler native honeysuckle to grow up on the arbor. It is starting to send out vines!
Looking back through the arbor to the pollinator garden in progress.

In the middle of the yard, we removed a very mature River Birch. We had four, now we have three. The tree was too close to the house. I could have opened a River Birch nursery, with all the seedlings that erupted inside our gutters alone! It also dumped a lot of debris into our medium-sized pond. I left the stump kind of high, as I thought I might carve out a bowl/splinter. Right now the stump is weeping profusely. The sugars from the sap are spilling over and turning colors. The removal has opened up quite a bit of sunlight now!

A $15 River Birch bought at Lowes ended up costing us $1885 to remove 17 years later! The area around the roots and the significant root gullies are quite soggy now but the hosta around the tree base are loving it.
This unknown cultivar macrophylla was one of my best performers. It grew under the River Birch so it got dappled afternoon sun. I am a little concerned that this year of additional sun might harm the hydrangea, so I added these parasols, designed for peonies. We will see how she does this June. I may have to plant a smaller tree to give this some additional shade.

Two years ago, we reduced our pond by half. We had koi, and herons, and then ugly nets to try to protect the koi, and ugly leaves collecting in the nets. The ugly wasn’t worth it. We found homes for the koi, removed the net, placed a bench under a Japanese re maple and now we are serenaded by bullfrogs. We added a second trellis/arbor to mark an entrance to our deep-shade section.

With the increased sunlight from the missing River Birch, we can now plant some flowering plants by the waterfall. I could never grow anything there due to the deep shade. It will be so rewarding to add color to this area now!

Lutyens bench by the pond
A second identical arbor marks a pathway to the shade garden which is not yet in its full splendor. To the right, we have a stone walkway to what we hope will be a permanent

One thing about a shade garden, and a pond, are mosquitos. They love me and I am highly allergic to them. It is hard to enjoy the backyard we’ve created. Although we are vigilant in preventing any standing water, and use mosquito dunks in the pond, they do well here. Unfortunate! So I’ve been nagging my husband for a screened gazebo. They are quite the investment. We are looking at $7 to 8K to get a 12 x 12 structure. With Covid last year and this year, we weren’t sure what would happen with our incomes, so we wanted to test out the concept before we commit.

This is a 12 x 12 Alvantor tent. It is not perfect, but under $400 – a big difference that $8,000! We bought it in September and kept it up until early November and then tucked it away. The top is not waterproof, so we have to tend to it immediately after a rain storm. It is not what I want, but right now, we can sit out and see and listen to the waterfalls, the wind chimes and enjoy a glass of wine, mosquito free. We are going to try a different flooring this year. I am still not giving up on a cedar-type gazebo!!

Fall 2020
Hot waterblue lobelia in the shade garden
Cultivating a carpet of moss on the shady side
In another month, ferns, hosta, and other shade loving plants will fill in all this brown.
Hydrangea quercifolia “Alice” first spring in the ground. Purchased at Willey’s Farm in Townsend, Delaware
Part of the shade path. About 30% filled in
Columbine Aquilegia “Songbird Bluebird”
Dianthus Bleeding Heart
Merritt’s Supreme in partial shade. I covered it during our late frost last week. It seems to be doing okay!
Viburnum in the shade garden. Freshly washed with rain, the aroma is supreme!

Bleeding Hearts

One of the earliest bloomers in the garden is Dicentra spectabilis, or Bleeding Heart. Although it is my intention to introduce as many native plants as possible, I didn’t have the heart (pun intended) to remove these dainty Asian natives.

I love the low-lying, soft-leaved plants and the overall graciousness of the plant. My garden sports a white variety, but I haven’t seen it bloom yet to my garden, and I am not exactly sure where I planted it, so it is possible it didn’t survive the winter.

A nest for mallards!

While doing some spring cleaning on our pond, we startled a mother mallard who rushed in the pond, exposing a dozen eggs she has been incubating
While doing some spring cleaning on our pond, we startled a mother mallard who rushed in the pond, exposing a dozen eggs she has been incubating

Here she is in the pond, probably scared to death that we would harm her clutch
Here she is in the pond, probably scared to death that we would harm her clutch

Often, usually around our dinner time, she would leave her nest, likely going off to her home region to feed. She would never leave longer than two hours, however.
Often, usually around our dinner time, she would leave her nest, likely going off to her home region to feed. She would never leave longer than two hours, however.

We would come by everyday to check on her. She stayed so still! She seemed uninterested in any of our attempts to eat
We would come by everyday to check on her. She stayed so still! She seemed uninterested in any of our attempts to eat

Here's a blurry picture (I was so excited) of some of the chicks leaving the next to hop in the water!
Here’s a blurry picture (I was so excited) of some of the chicks leaving the next to hop in the water!

935293_458883750856423_647026854_n
As I’ve mentioned, we have four large koi (and several of their babies). They were each curious about the other. The koi made some soft nibble inquires into tiny duck feet, which caused a minor commotion!

946877_458883580856440_886204326_n

All 12 eggs hatched! Once the last of the ducklings too their plunge, she gave them lessons in our pond! She made all kinds of grunts and quacks.
All 12 eggs hatched! Once the last of the ducklings too their plunge, she gave them lessons in our pond! She made all kinds of grunts and quacks.

393037_458883567523108_2144698254_n
Mother mallard was quite hungry and eagerly fed on some pieces of white bread I offered her. She even took it out of the kois’ mouth when they tried! After all they had their own food, and she didn’t seem too interested in the koi pellets.

The ducklings stayed close to their mother. Because we had recently refilled our pond, we didn't have a lot of plants or pots that she could rest on. Mother was hungry and eagerly took several slices of white bread
The ducklings stayed close to their mother. Because we had recently refilled our pond, we didn’t have a lot of plants or pots that she could rest on. Mother was hungry and eagerly took several slices of white bread

Mama climbed up to the only water plant we had in the pond at that time, a large pickerel. She liked resting there and called for her ducklings to stay close
Mama climbed up to the only water plant we had in the pond at that time, a large pickerel. She liked resting there and called for her ducklings to stay close

As I was taking pictures, my husband ran out to Ace Hardware to get a bag of cracked corn. We figured she was hungry. The babies nibbled at the bread I was offering, but mostly the mother consumed the bread. She must have been starving, staying close to her clutch as they began to emerge.

Here’s a video:

After about 5 hours of this incredible show, the mother mallard climbed out of the pond, with her ducklings closely following. They exited out the back yard, went through a gap in our fence and traveled to points unknown. I did some reading about mallards, and it is common that they abandon their nest, but I wasn’t sure if that meant our pond too. I guess it did. There were a couple of things that might have factored in her decision to leave. 1. Our presence. 2. Our net. This net had confused her as she would always fly in from wherever she visited to feed. She’d bounce on the net for a while before figuring out how to return to her nest. 3. The koi. She might not have appreciated sharing the pond, though I doubt she would have that privacy in nature. 4. No pond plants. She seemed to really like perching on the pickerel, but there wasn’t enough room for the duckling dozen.

I have heard that mallards will return to the location of a successful nesting, so we hope to see her again soon!