Forgotten and Found: Perennials

“No, my aunt wasn’t much of a gardener,” said the visitor.

“Oh,” I said, trying not to look disappointed.

Flame-haired and cheerful, the visitor chatting on my carport was the niece of the original owner of our 1960 home. She had popped by while driving home to Virginia from vacation in Florida. I wasn’t expecting her. I was in leggings and an old t-shirt and in the middle of laundry, but when she introduced herself I was curious to glean some house history.

Her aunt, now passed, was like a second mother to her, and she spent a lot of time at the house growing up. Her dad built the backyard patio and terraces; I took a photo of her there.

“This has always been a happy home,” she said. “You will make a lot of good memories here.”

“Thank you,” I said. “We love it here.” And we do. But I am convinced she was wrong on one point. A gardener once lived here, I know it.

IMG_1795
Bearded irises, established by the previous homeowner, bloom each spring.

We are only the second long-term owners of the home, following brief ownerships by two others. The yard still needs a lot of work, beginning with the weedy front lawn and ending with privet, wisteria and other invasive plants in the wooded back, but its potential is a big reason why we chose this house.

The patio and terrace walls, though in need of some TLC, are lovely and dappled with shade. Purple and white irises bloom in spring. Sprawling four o’clocks grace summer evenings with hot pink blooms and attract the occasional hummingbird in the morning before their petals close in the sun. I can’t plant anything without finding shards of broken pots or some other remnant of a garden past.

I have conjured up the idea that the past homeowner and I share a vision for this yard and garden. I did not want to hear she was not a gardener. Recently, however, I received a small sign that maybe my visitor had forgotten a few things about her aunt in her younger days.

IMG_4324
Goldenrod foliage, which I mistook for a weed for three years.

When tall, leafy stalks shoot up on the western edge of the front yard in summer, I usually pull them up, taking them for weeds. This summer I did not (laziness), and then late September came.

What I thought were weeds turned out to be goldenrod. The vibrant yellow flowers attract honey bees, bumblebees and other pollinators. At a time of year when summer flowers have faded and the leaves have not yet changed color, goldenrod is simply beautiful.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Now that I have found this established perennial, I will not forget it – at least as long as this garden is mine.

10-Minute Garden Fix: Acorn Caps as Mulch

Work some garden zen into your Wednesday. If you have an oak tree, you probably have lots of acorns on the ground this time of year. Collect a couple of handfuls of the loose caps, and use them as decorative mulch. It spruced up this pot of succulents quite nicely.

Vintage Fitz & Floyd with Zinnias, Boxwood and Creeping Jenny

 

This 1970s Fitz & Floyd kangaroo toothbrush holder was a $2 estate-sale find (thank you to the best estate-sale-scouting friend I know for taking me along on a lunch break). I figured the (C) FF mark on the bottom stood for something, but I was surprised to find it was Fitz & Floyd. The Kangaroo pattern is a bit whimsical, but it’s not – how shall I say this – as loud as the Fitz & Floyd I know, 1980s to present.

IMG_4196.JPG.jpeg

I could not find a listing or another example of the Kangaroo-pattern toothbrush holder online, though my search did turn up examples of soap dishes, bathroom tumblers, teapots and salt-and-pepper shakers in the pattern.

This arrangement includes:

  • Boxwood trimmings. It was time to trim them or the neighbors might start giving us sideways glances.
  • Creeping Jenny. Living up to its name, it’s never in short supply.
  • Zinnias. The two seed packets I planted this spring just keep kickin’.

Right now this arrangement is hanging out in the guest room, with the door shut and no one to enjoy it. Let’s just say cats and flower arrangements do not mix…and never will.

Photo of the Day: Taking Flight

Add the Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) to the list of butterfly visitors to our zinnias.

When I showed this photo to a co-worker at our frequented “cheap Mexican” lunch place, I learned she grew up calling zinnias “old maids.” It might not be the most PC nickname, but it makes sense. Their blooms last a really long time and even age gracefully, as is the older-but-still-beautiful bloom in this photo. 

Here are a few more pics of the Gulf Fritillary butterfly to show the nuances of its wing pattern.

Happy Saturday.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

 

Fungus Among Us

Lately, I find myself missing grade school, good old-fashioned K-12. I know there’s a lot of debate today about public education and what’s wrong with it. But as an adult with a job that only uses a narrow scope of knowledge and specialized skill sets, I find myself longing for the brain calisthenics of five to seven subjects a day.

Recently, I discovered a way to work a science fix into my life, as panacea to my decidedly unscientific profession. iNaturalist is a social network of citizen scientists, but it’s not social media in any sense you’re thinking of. It’s nerdy and fantastically free of political bickering and narcissism.  It’s just people, ranging from amateur nature enthusiasts to professional scientists, working together to document and identify species and biodiversity worldwide. If you check out the iNaturalist widget on my blog, you can link to my log of observations in various stages of the identification process.

That brings us to the title of today’s post, “Fungus Among Us.” This spring and summer has brought a lot of rain to Birmingham, Alabama, and the fungi are loving it. This morning I documented all the mushrooms that have popped up in my yard.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

No species IDs have come through on these mushrooms yet, but maybe I’ll eventually learn more about them via other iNaturalist participants.

Last weekend, I had luck with several IDs of my observations. This Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) is one of them. I must admit that before, I would have assumed any orange and black butterfly I spotted was a Monarch. Now I’m paying more attention to the details of the world around me, and it makes life more interesting.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I get a kick every time there is enough consensus among iNaturalist users and my observations become “research grade,” which means data uploaded by me can be used by professional scientists for all sorts of research projects.

The iNaturalist software identified this Common Five-lined Skink (Plestiodon fasciatus) on the first crack, without human help. However, for this observation to move to research grade, human users had to agree with the ID, which they did. (Warning, the artificial intelligence program used to aid amateurs with making IDs is pretty good, but it also suggested that a photo I uploaded of a pitcher plant was a bird. So a little common sense and the consensus of human users is essential.)

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Being a novice who hasn’t taken a science class since college geology, I didn’t think I would be able to contribute to the identification process; I thought I could only observe.

I learned about iNaturalist at a lecture held at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens, taught by Dr. John Friel, director of the Alabama Museum of Natural History. Dr. Friel told the class that part of iNaturalist is giving back to the system/community by helping identify the observations of others. That is to say, uploading and relying on others to ID your observations is “taking” from the system in a sense. Helping identify is “giving back.” iNaturalist only works because of the give and take of many.

I got the concept; I just didn’t think I could be of much help as an identifier. The aforementioned reptilian visitor to my yard changed my mind. Shortly after I learned what he was, I saw a photo of what was unmistakably another Common Five-lined Skink hanging out in the “needs identification” section of iNaturalist. I suggested the ID, and when other users concurred, the observation became research grade. In a very small way, I had helped give back to the system, and, frankly, it was a bit of a thrill.

On a closing note, I will leave you with this Reddish-Brown Stag Beetle hanging out on our window screen, who became a lot less freaky once I knew what he was. Woo-hoo for citizen science!

original-11

The Joy of Tiny Things

A friend recently gave me a tiny amber bottle she found at an estate sale. This August, zinnias, cosmos, and althea are in full bloom in my sunny front yard, and I have enjoyed displaying single blooms in this tiniest of vessels. Added bonus: This small arrangement is easy to tuck in visible but out-of-the-way places, such as on top of this canister against the kitchen backsplash. Our cats have not disturbed it at all, whereas a larger arrangement would never survive unattended.

IMG_3618.JPG
Cosmos
IMG_3653.JPG
Althea – bluberry smoothie
IMG_3655.JPG
Zinnia and Althea

 

 

Father’s Day Plant Sampler in Vintage Metal Box

Create a budget-friendly gift using a thrift store find, easy-to-propagate plants from your own garden, and found objects.

This tiny plant sampler makes a perfect gift for a nature- or garden-loving dad. The container is a vintage metal box (old-school filing cabinet style) that I found at a thrift store for 49 cents. It is approximately 5.5 inches wide, 3.25 inches deep, 3.5 inches high when closed, and 5.5 inches high when open. Plants include creeping jenny, ajuga, and two types of succulents. This arrangement also features smooth pebbles, lichen, live moss, and a found, vintage blue floor tile for a pop of color. A small branch props the lid open.

To make the card tucked into the inside of the lid, I repurposed some stationery that I never use, simply tearing off the side with my initials. I used watercolor pencils to create the block letters. The greeting says “Happy Father’s Day,” but you could use the same idea for any special occasion.

I put together this piece as a temporary arrangement, but will watch it to see how long it is suitable as such. I used plants from my own garden, all of which are easy to propagate. After their time as an arrangement is through, the plants can be transplanted to a new home.

 

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.