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!

Twenty-Twenty

A Great Year for Gardening and Grandmothering

I’m not going too far out on a limb to say that 2020 has been a horrible year so far. Sickly, stressful, polarizing and divisive. Since March 13, 2020 I have worked from home and also had an opportunity to take temporary custody of my only grandchild, Hugo, who lives in NYC with his parents. There, at the epicenter of the pandemic, his parents felt their six and a half year old son might enjoy an extended visit in the southern Delaware countryside with “MiMa.” Both of us did our daily work virtually, and the extra time together concentrated on an outdoor classroom that included birdwatching and feeding, planting vegetables, planting and dividing flowers and learning about insects and pollinators. It was 11-weeks of that silver lining you hear so much about!

My grandson got a kick out of learning about the birds, recognizing the songs and in this case, rat-a-tat-tat of a red-bellied woodpecker
One of our favorite getaways was to go to Best’s Ace Hardware in Lewes and get some birdseed and some toys! Hugo can identify cardinal songs now, and he knows they prefer safflower seeds the most!

Working from home afforded me some extra time to water in the mornings, spend lunch time weeding, and when we were allowed to, visit some garden centers wearing masks.

My hydrangeas (currently 63 and counting) did not get the news 2020 was off to a poor start. I started seeing early indications that this would be a bumper year for hydrangeas. The best ever in my memory.

In my ever-shadier woodland backyard setting, I have lost the opportunity to flower garden. But this year, my husband and I took out three of our five concrete block raised beds (they worked but were unsightly) and used the area to create a pollinator garden. It is still a work in progress.

We added an arbor to differentiate the woodland garden from the pollinator garden. I’ve ordered two “Major Wheeler” native honeysuckles to flank each side. They will arrive in the fall. The arbor adds a nice touch I think! Photo processed through the Brushstroke app.
I moved this sign to the entrance of the arbor!
Another view of the new pollinator garden. My husband laughs at me when I lean back on the lounge and put the hose on. We don’t have irrigation, one of the big mistakes we made when we built this house. Soaker hoses are in the future! We left two sections of a split rail fence that we had to separate a dog run (I used to have a Great Dane) and I like the way it frames the space.

In the pollinator garden is an assortment of natives and non-natives. Echinacea, nepta (catmint) garden phlox “jeana”, various beebalm, senna, coreopsis, gaillardia, pink and purple Veronica speedwell, salvias, Shasta daisies, fennel, milkweed, butterfly weed (Asclepias), yarrow, false sea thrift (armería), stokesia, lavender, rosemary, cornflower, pokeweed, h.paniculata “Bobo”, solidago “Wichita Mountains”, drumstick alliums, and others.

Watering place for pollinators, filled with glass beads so they won’t get too wet!
A gazing ball is a nod to my childhood. A neighbor had one of these, and as a little girl, I thought it was magical. I might relocate this, however, just a few feet forward.
Drumstick alliums shifting from green to dark magenta. I saw these in the Maine Botanical Garden and wanted to add them to my garden! Bees love them!
On the other side of the yard I started Clematis “Jackmanii” The trellis comes from Lewes, at a little antique shop across from the blacksmith shop.
H. Macrophylla “Mariesii” this variety was variegated. It has experienced “revision” which means it has reverted back to mostly solid colored leaves. I think this is the result of too much sun. It is a temperamental bloomer, about 15 years old, this year it went bonkers!
Stoke’s Aster or Stokesia
H. Quercifolia or oakleaf “Syke’s Dwarf”
I wish I knew the name of this beauty, bought around 2005. Not knowing what I know now about Hydrangeas, I planted this in the front of my house with a southern exposure. It bloomed these glorious blue Lacecaps, but it minded the heat something awful. I watered twice a day. Thankfully, other trees in the front yard have matured and have provided afternoon sun relief.
Beebalm in the front yard. Powdery mildew is always an issue. Hoping to add wild bergamot to replace as it is native and less susceptible. Still, the pollinators enjoy the stand that is spreading each year.
This lovely was an unmarked Walmart rescue for $6.99. It’s second year in this spot, facing East, it has about a dozen blooms on it this year! I wish I knew the cultivar of this macrophylla!
This was our original pond that we built the first year we moved in. Last year however, we cut it in half.
I always wanted a “Lutyens” bench and a special place for it. It sits under a large red maple where we can enjoy the waterfall and watch the frogs. We kept koi for many years but had to resort to unsightly nets to keep them safe. All they did was catch falling leaves and the whole thing looked like a big mess. So we found the koi a new home and simplified the water feature.
Blue Herons still come by and visit, hoping for a Koi buffet. We spotted this beauty and her balancing act atop a hot tub privacy fence.
Another view of the Walmart rescue. In the back yard we don’t grow grass. No mowing, no fertilizing, no weed killing. Weed pulling yes! I am trying to establish a moss carpet. Tree and leaf droppings keep the floor mostly vegetative free. I would prefer to dress the ground with pine straw however. This is a bit too rustic for my taste.
Shasta daisies next to a cobalt blue birdbath filled with sedums and succulents. The succulents overwinter quite nicely.
I overwintered most of my pots in the garage. The spikes, geraniums, and lantana all overwintered! I only had to add the alyssum!
H. Arborescens “Incrediball” enjoy their third summer. I haven’t pruned these yet, I think I might do that next March to encourage bigger blossoms.
Another part of the shade garden. The Zen Den is at least 10 to 15 degrees cooler than anywhere else in the property. The Buddha honors respect for life, and all sentient beings. As a backyard wildlife habitat, insects, snakes, rabbits, possums, turtles, frogs, have all found a home here. I still swat mosquitoes though!
Enjoy your gardens! Bee Safe!

Our pond

When we bought our house, it was brand new. We had .75 acres and about half of that was the pie shaped back yard. In 2002, my husband began to map out a free-form outline for a future pond, which he began digging out during the summer and fall 2001. We estimate it to be about 5,000 gallons. We didn’t have one tree or shrub in our entire yard. We had no experience with ponds – knew nothing about filtration, liners, skimmers, etc. We figured it out all on our own.

Early pond. We ended up removing most of this landscape.
Early pond. We ended up removing most of this landscape.
A year later we added plants and bought four koi. Three of which still survive today. Figuring they were at least a year old when we got them, they are at least 12 years old! I also got the bright idea to buy some cheap goldfish, you know, the kind you win at a church carnival? Big mistake, for all they did was eat and poop. We also bought some other fish, none of which survived the year due to Blue Herons that would visit our pond, usually at dusk and dawn. Somehow, the koi knew how to avoid being served as dinner!

Later we added more plants. The only fish that reproduced were the goldfish. Goldfish and Koi, essentially both carps, are able to breed, but their offspring are rather muddy looking and sterile. We ended up giving away as many of these fish as we could.

In 2003 or 2004 we put stone from our deck to the ponds edge, so that we could have a patio.

We eventually created two garden paths from either side of the stone patio that converge to the shed. Most of the leylands shown here came down during the 2010 bilzzard.
2003-2004. We eventually created two garden paths from either side of the stone patio that converge to the shed.
Most of the leylands shown here came down during the 2010 blizzard

Garden path
We also carved out garden paths to the left and the right of the pond, which converged to a point at the garden shed.Backyard pond

We sculpted out a heart shaped garden path that points back to our storage shed
We sculpted out a heart shaped garden path that points back to our storage shed

Ichiban is one of our original four koi we bought in 2002. She is very friendly, lets us pet her and feed her. She is a piggy and a show off!
Ichiban is one of our original four koi we bought in 2002. She is very friendly, lets us pet her and feed her. She is a piggy and a show off!
A serious leak in 2009 forced us to drain the pond completely. We bought a kiddie pool to put the fish in, and it was a good time to weed out all the mutts. My husband put them in a cooler and took them to a natural pond nearby. I couldn’t bear to kill them. With fresh water, we decided to buy two more koi (after four years we had lost a white one due to natural causes). OhNo,  a pretty yellow gold koi, stayed in the pond for about two months before a Blue Heron got to him. We found him alive, but floating on his side with a puncture wound.The other koi was a butterfly or fantail, almost white with some pale orange coloring around the head. We didn’t want to lose “Choucho” too! That is when we decided to get a net. We bought copper hooks and put them around the pond and their purpose is to hold the net taught.Kou at feeding timeWaterfall

Once we put the net up, we also bought a lot of water hyacynths and parrots feather. That year, the vegetation just went wild. We could hardly see our fish, but the water was very clear. And something else happened, we started seeing babies! Breeding koi is difficult because they tend to eat their own roe. The combination of the net, lots of roots floating on the surface and vegetation in the pond for roe to attach, plus perhaps the addition of OhNo and Choucho (Japanese for butterfly)provided an ideal habitat to make koi babies. More than a dozen survived. We’ve given a lot away, but kept eight to enjoy. We see many of the characteristics of our original koi in this second generation. One in particular, we dubbed Rising Sun, for his nice round orange spot on the top of his head. I also like the name because it is one of my favorite George Harrison songs.  He’s very shy and quick and its hard to get a picture of him.

The pond net makes getting nice photographs difficult In the spring, the net catches various seed pods and leaves, and it can get kind of junky. We’ve got to figure out a way to vacuum this debris off. But it is necessary and acceptable if it means our koi are safe!

We changed the water in the pond this year (startling a mother mallard that nested at the pond’s edge and pump)  and I made my husband take out most of the plants that had overgrown their pots, and which had also accepted many weeds. He removed them under duress, but we needed a fresh look. So we launched this spring with one pickerel plant, and plan to get some more. We need the plant life to fix the nitrogen and help shade the pond. Algae is a problem, though the fish don’t mind it.

  

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!

Home for the Mallards!

Mother mallard duck

In 2002, my husband hand dug a large pond, approximately 5,000 gallons. We bought four koi, and have since enjoyed many days and nights in front of the pond.  In coastal Delaware, we are often visited by Blue Herons and as a result of their many visits, we’ve  had to put up a net.  I purchased 3 ft tall copper hooks (about eight) and placed them around the perimeter of the ponds edge, and we suspend the net on the hooks. This allows for the net to sit up approximately 18 inches from the water, so that frogs can come and go!  We drain the pond approximately every two years or so, and once, we had to replace the liner. In early April, while my husband was draining the pond and moving things around, he startled a mother Mallard duck. And she him! She  squawked and  dove into the water. My husband saw her nest, and counted 12 eggs!

We left her alone and on Friday, May 10, we saw her swimming in the pond and talking to her babies, encouraging each to take their first plunge in our fresh water! I’ll post more about this later!