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Gardening With Exotic Plants

Thursday, August 28, 2008

It occurred to me, looking at my photos, that pretty much everything I shot this morning was an exotic plant. Collective gasp. I've got natives, and I've got exotics, and I don't get my panties in a bunch about being true to one or the other. I go for pretty and useful, fragrant and beautiful, and as long as it doesn't take over, and it's one or more of those attributes, it gets a place in my garden.

A stroll around the yard on a sunny morning... Here's a variegated bougainvillea vine I've had for several years. I've discovered a few things about growing bougainvilleas in Ohio.

One: They will drop all their leaves if a cold draft blows into the greenhouse.
Two: They will grow more if you wait around.
Three: They will only bloom in the greenhouse, starting in January, and they quit blooming the minute I bring them outdoors in May. That has to be OK with me.
Four: They love a lot of food, and their favorite is Jobe's Plant Spikes. You can't give them too many Jobe's.
Five: They love water, too.
Six: I love these plants, though they are a bit fussy; I have two and they are both enormous, and they remind me of Mexico, and thinking about Mexico makes me happy. Especially in January.
This is a funny little abutilon, or flowering maple, from Africa, whose name is Abutilon megapotamicum. I got it as a cutting from a friend many years ago. The rabbits ate it down to stubs twice this spring, and this is its first bloom. I like the flower form. It's related to hibiscus, actually.Purple heliotrope is a year-round must for me. It smells like cherry vanilla candy. Mmmm. I can't pass it without stooping to sniff, which is why it's planted right on the edge of the raised bed. Gotta get those things up right under your nose or you miss what's wonderful about them.
Speaking of sniffing, a gardenia opened this morning. Show me a more heavenly scent, a better-rounded, more complex earthly delight than the aroma of gardenias. I will plant the flower. Or I probably already am growing it. (Tuberoses are in bud!!)

This little hosta, Baby Tears, is just going nuts this year. One-foot-tall gnome for scale. It's the smallest hosta I know, but knowing hosta freaks, they've come up with something tinier by now.Speaking of going ape, here's Fuchsia magellenica, from southern South America. It's a perennial fuchsia and the hummingbirds love it when it finally gets going in late August. There's something utterly disarming about having a fuchsia come up after the snow melts, having lived through the winter, and throw out little red and purple ballerina flowers all summer.
It's so vigorous this year, I'm wondering if it's planning to die, like the other three that used to be in this garden bed. I'll take some cuttings into the greenhouse this fall, just in case it has something up its sleeve. I've read that in California, this fuchsia can make a 6' high hedge!

It wouldn't be a Zick garden without Russian sage and Mexican zinnias, mixing together in perfect exotic harmony. I've had to individually cage each zinnia I've planted this year, no thanks again to the rabbits. But oh, they're worth it.
I hope you've enjoyed this little garden tour. How I'll miss them all when frost comes. I'm rolling in beauty right now. And we got three inches of rain thanks to the hurricane, so I won't have to water for a couple of weeks.

I'm in constant motion these days, delivering and fetching kids, rehearsing for a Swinging Orangutangs gig on Sept. 5...we play 9-2...AM; taking lessons, taking kid to lessons; recording commentaries. I'm tired, and so are the kids--the first couple of weeks of school are murder. I guess we'll get used to getting up at 5:45 but it hasn't happened yet. Ahh, country life.

Garden Tour

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

At this time of year, the planters I started in late April are overflowing with blossoms and growth. This is the part of the yard next to the Bird Spa, and my big north-facing studio windows. It might otherwise be kind of dull , but I've made sure it isn't.
I love those chartreuse sweet potato vines. Did you know that if you dig in the pot after frost, there are little potatoes in the soil? You can save those in your refrigerator over the winter, and you won't have to buy a plant next year. Plant propagation: Bill calls it my only vice.

The geranium in the blue pot is "Vancouver Centennial," a true dwarf with a lovely cushiony growth habit. This particular plant hasn't bloomed in three years, but it's the gorgeous small bronzy leaves I'm after. As an added bonus, it roots like crazy from cuttings, and never drops a leaf when brought inside for the winter. It's a good, good plant, a Victorian treasure. The tall fuchsia in the blue pot is "Gartenmeister," an erect fuchsia that hummingbirds adore.

The pot under the birches has coleus, Gartenmeister fuchsia, sweet potato vine, and a new begonia called "Bonfire." I loooove this begonia. Here's a spring shot of a planter just getting going.
A closeup of the hot-orange flowers.
The same planter, in August.The silver-leaved begonia in the upper right of the planter is "Looking Glass," a Glasshouse Works treasure that's all over my house now. It's the perfect turtle terrarium plant, the perfect bathroom adornment. Gorgeous and willing.

Some gerania, viewed from the top of our tower.

Thanks to the rotten lousy rabbits that infest our yard, I can no longer plant my beloved gerania in the ground. I must keep them in pots at least two feet off the ground, clustered like refugees. If you're a geranium, you have to be on a bench, pedestal, or in a hanging basket. The leporids have thus decreed.
Who are you looking at, Mether?
You, with the spotty tuxedo and the Michael Jackson glove, who said you would keep the bunnehs under control.

But the bunnehs cannot be caught. I try and try, and I patrol the property tirelessly. But the bunnehs run into the briars and I cannot follow them there. You would not want me to scratch my eyes.

That is true, sweet Chet Baker. I did not mean to be harsh.

I have to tell you a Chet Baker story that happened today, on the first rainy day in about a month. Chet had been sleeping, swaddled in blankets, all morning on the bed. I had to leave the house at 11 AM, and I'd be gone until 7, and I wanted him to go out before I left. So I took him outside. Here is a transcript of what happened.

Zick: Go pee pee, Chet. Just go.

(Shakes and looks up at me miserably).

C'mon Chet. Just go pee pee and you can go back inside.

(Dithers, flaps his ears, looks around, shivers.)

(raised voice) GO PEE PEE, CHET BAKER!!

Moves over and hikes his leg on my pants.

You want pee? I'll give you pee.

I jumped out of the way just before the stream started. And laughed hysterically all the way back inside. What a goofball! He's never done anything remotely like that in his life. But oh, did I laugh!

Dog Massage

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Brookstone sells these little massagers that are tons o’ fun for sore necks and shoulders. Sometimes you can rook your kids into working on your back while they’re hanging over your shoulder waiting to use your laptop, kind of a bribe/reward/timewasting thing.

Chet Baker is into appliances. He likes to mess around, playbowing, when we’re using hairdryers, vacuum cleaners, brooms and rakes. If it makes a lot of noise, so much the better. He is bombproof. This is a dog who pops balloons and play balls for the joy of the explosion, who will grab a paper grocery bag and shake it ferociously to make his own thunder.

So Baker showed some interest when Phoebe revved up the battery-powered massager. He poked me with his toenails and wurrfed.

It would be fine for you to use that on me, Chet Baker.
Ahhhh. I did not know that Brookstone made a Boston terrier massager. That is an innovative store.

The rump is a good place to concentrate on. Dogs store a lot of tension in their bottoms. Especially when they are trying not to fart.

I hope you will massage me again soon. Thank you, Miss Phoebe.
I will now give you a dog hug. Mether calls this a Toddler Hug. She says that I am just the same size and weight as a toddler. She seems to think that is a good thing. What is a toddler, and why would Mether want one? She has you and Liam, and she has me, Chet Baker, her little black son.

I am very kissable.
As I was finishing this post, Chet wandered into the studio, leapt up on my lap, straddled the laptop and positioned himself for a good massage. Coincidence? I don't think so. He got the telepathic picture from me, two rooms away, and came to get his massage. Now there are short black hairs all over the place, keyboard, mousecracks, nuhhhhh.

Update: He is becoming a real pest about the massager. He comes up and stands with his back to you, looking back over his shoulder with a come-hither smile. And when you run the massager over him, he turns his head back and rolls his eyes, or arches his back and raises his head way up and yawns--the ultimate sign of doggy ecstasy. What have we started? And, more importantly, can I come back in my next life as Chet Baker, with a houseful of obedient flunkies waiting to massage my back? Dogs have it SO GOOD.

A Summer Place

Monday, August 25, 2008

All right, blogpeople. Is Percy Faith's theme from "A Summer Place" now playing in your head? Are you back in the sixties? Good. Whilst getting my teeth cleaned today I heard Elvis sing "Suspicious Minds" and rocketed back to the backseat of our '67 VW bug, beige, waiting for my mom to come out of the A & P. It was hot, and I fantasized that the car might start spontaneously rolling away with me, helpless, flapping my arms, to end my short life in a terrible fiery crash. I believe now, being a mother, that such unpleasant childhood fantasies are completely normal.

Some summer scenes from Indigo Hill, things I see almost every day, but never stop appreciating.

A nursing doe, caught first thing in the morning.
She and her fawn dawdle awhile, then tell me they've seen me
leaving just the slanting golden light.
The same meadow, from towertop:
And looking to the north, also from the top of the birdwatching tower. (For newcomers to the blog, we have a 42' tall tower built atop our house). You can see the hayrolls stacked along the road. Oh, I love the faded-denim blues of summer hills.Four titmice, points of the compass. It's hard to get a picture with four titmice in it at once, much less arranged just so. They're jumpy little things. Being a photographer at a titmouse wedding would be really frustrating, awful.

Hummingbird Gardening

Sunday, August 24, 2008


It had to happen, sooner or later. The hummingbirds are leaving us. I had been running two "World's Largest" Perky Pet feeders, which hold about a gallon apiece. I was making nectar about every three days, which tells you that I had a whole mess o' hummers here, maybe 10 or 15 at one time. By the timeworn formula, multiplying the number I could count times six, I had from 60-90 birds using my feeder. But they all started to depart on August 22, and I'm down to one feeder, and I fill it about 1/10 full...sigh. I already miss the humming masses.

While the hummer numbers were at their height, I took a lawnchair out to the cardinalflower beds one sunny morning, and fired away. The beds were in shade, with bright sunny background behind, so there was bounce light, but nothing direct. I liked the moody result--different from most hummingbird photos, which tend to be bathed in sun or (worse) flash strobe. Blaaa. I think a hummingbird's wings should blur, because that's how we see them in real life.

But I played with exposures and ISO and managed to freeze the bird's wings for one shot:
and then I relaxed and let them blur as they should. This is a young male, evidenced by his heavy throat streaking. Catch those green streaks in sunlight, and you may see a ruby glinting at you. I absolutely love this shot, of a bird feeding from my bee balm:
It's a gauzy fairy, suspended in air as if by magic. I was mercilessly baking my bee balm in a full-sun bed when I conferred with my garden landscaping friend Tim, oracle of all things planty. "You're cooking it. That's why its leaves turn yellow in mid-summer." So I dug it all up and put it in the north-facing moist cardinalflower bed in the shade of my heirloom lilac. It's the first time I've ever transplanted anything and not had it wilt. It was as if the bee balm had come home at last. I can't wait until next year. It ought to come roaring back. Monarda is a top fab fave of hummingbirds.
A lot of people are surprised to find that ruby-throats like to perch rather than hover when they're feeding. You have to hang around and watch them for awhile to get that simple truth.
Would you run in place while eating if you had a choice to run or sit down? Would you stand at the sink and gobble something down if there were a table and chair nearby? (Mothers are disqualified from answering). No, a normal person wouldn't, and neither would a hummingbird. Witness this:
and this:
See the white cardinalflower pollen on his snoot? He's been making seeds for the plants.

I keep these little wire cages around my cardinalflower, even though they're pretty much self-supporting, because the hummers love to perch on them. They're great for watching for rivals
below and above.
The Lobelia cardinalis that I've got here are all seed children from a couple of plants from Land Reformers Nursery here in southern Ohio. They specialize in Ohio-grown native plants. I've bought lots of cardinalflower over the years, but the only ones that have survived and prospered and made babies are the native ones from Land Reformers. Hint: When they go to seed and the capsules ripen, I break them off and lay them where I want more cardinalflower. Keep them watered and the soil open, and you should have more next year. They bloom in their second year of life. What a marvelous plant.
They are beautiful, and they attract the beautiful, and they bloom when everything else (of a cultivated sort) is gasping its last in the garden, when all the wildflowers go crazy in the meadows and streambanks.
Ahh, the gift of hummingbirds and cardinalflower. I savor them while I may.

Twilight at the Beaver Pond

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Although I've had some wonderful experiences with large wet rodents during daylight hours lately, in general, if you want to see Castor canadensis, you've got to get out at twilight. (I hope you appreciate my delicate choice of words.) So Chet and I timed our walk so night would be falling as we reached the beaver pond. Baker: Wait, Mether. I have business here.

It's about a 45-minute hike to the pond, so we set out when the sun was slanting low, confident that we'd find our way back by using the roads rather than our tenuous woodland path. I took a lead along for that part. Chet runs free in the woods and on little gravel roads, but if we're near pavement he's on the lead. He knows that, too, runs up to me and grabs at the leash as we near the county road.

We broke out of the flowery woods and onto the place where a stream flows right across the little dirt road. Chet loves to wade there, but he was disappointed to find it dry this evening.
After a well-watered start, our summer has dried up like an old prune. For once, though, they got it right up there: Rain when things are growing; stop raining when things are dying. Generally the southern Ohio weather gods do the converse.

We got to the pond and marveled at its full-summer beauty.
Emergent aquatics have taken over one bank.
Everywhere was the clunk of green frogs; there are two in this photo, who I didn't perceive until I stepped closer, and both launched into the water with their sweet froggy EEP!
I was actually shooting for the beaver food on the well-trammeled bank. Imagine eating bark as your staple diet. Well, I don't have to imagine it...I love Grape Nuts and Fiber One. I bet bark would be cheaper and just as nutritious. Is the root of nutritious ...nutria?

Beaver highways led up from the pond into the woods. They're whaling on the trees all around the pond.
This highway crossed the road, leading up into the mystery of the woods.
To be truthful, I heard, then spotted the beaver immediately upon coming on the scene, but I've saved him until the end for dramatic tension. What you hear in the twilight sounds a little bit like a baby crying, but it's the beaver, muttering and commenting on everything he does. Watching him, I thought of a big, wet guinea pig, weee weee wee ooga ooga ooga.
He chomped noisily on his sticks, peeling the bark off them, sounding like a giant mouse somewhere in the wall.
He swam closer in a big loop, complaining the whole way. Chet stood riveted on the bank, not moving except to tremble. Good boy.
At the closest point, he rared his hinders up and slapped his tail on the water--ker SPLOOSH!! just to let us know he knew we were there. Then he went back to chewing and mumbling. Oh, it was wonderful. This is my best photo. I know they're not fabulous, but it was dark, folks, and the Chimp doesn't use flash on unsuspecting crepuscular animals.

I could hear a second animal somewhere near the bank, but never saw that one. This must have been Boss Beaver.

It was more than time to turn for home. It is so delicious to walk at night. But it's something that mothers rarely get to do, because children get antsy when their mother is out there somewhere in the dark. Thank you, B., for taking the kids camping, and letting me stay home to wander a little.
The lights of a nearby farm twinkled, and the moon rose over the tulips.
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