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Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Armchair Gardener

 This weekend has been quite mild and I had planned to get out in the garden today and do some cleanup.  But when I looked outside this morning, I was dismayed to see overcast skies and the sort of drizzle that the English weather I grew up with is famous for. The gardening will have to wait...

So what's a gardener to do when the weather outside isn't suitable for gardening?

One of my favorite things to do is sit and read gardening books, magazines, or any of the myriad seed and flower catalogs that show up in the mailbox at this time of year.

Garden Gate is a magazine I've subscribed to since last year.  I love the garden plans and in some cases they'll offer regional variations, so you can get the same "look" using plants that are suitable for your area of the country.  That's something that has frustrated me with other magazines and catalogs -- falling in love with a plant, only to find it's not suited to my zone.

Gardening Made Easy is an easy-to-browse book. It has a section on garden styles -- formal, romantic, modernist, cottage garden, cook's garden etc. as well as lots of lovely garden plans. There are also informative how-to sections, such as how to divide perennials, how to start vegetable seeds etc.  Experienced gardeners probably wouldn't get much out of the book, but for an enthusiastic beginner like myself, the book is a comfortable blend of inspiration and practical information.

One of my favorite books this winter has been Projects for the Birder's Garden.  My husband rolled his eyes when he saw the word "projects", thinking it would mean a list of honey-do's a mile long. But actually many of the projects are very simple - like making tray feeders and bird baths from clay plant saucers.

For sheer eye candy, it's hard to beat Birds and Blooms.  I get the magazine every other month and love browsing through the glorious photos (while all the time wishing I could take photos like those). The magazine combines two of my favorite topics, so it's a win-win for me!

What are your favorite gardening magazines or books?

Words and photographs by Jayne Wilson, Green and Serene, Jayne's Country Garden.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Project Feeder Watch

One of my favorite pastimes is watching the birds in our garden, although due to my work schedule I don't get to do it nearly enough - usually only on Saturday and Sunday, while I'm sitting in the dining nook having morning coffee.

I'd heard of Project Feeder Watch before, and thought I was too late to participate.  However, although it started back in November, the season actually runs through April 8th.  So I decided to go ahead and order the kit

The kit includes a calendar for you to keep track of the days on which you participate.  I had wondered how my data would be useful, given that I can only watch a couple of days a week, but the calendar allows that to be taken into account when you submit data.

You also get a poster to help you identify the birds you see in your backyard.

You can submit paper tally sheets, but I'm planning to enter my data online.

I'm looking forward to getting my kit but in the meantime, I got the camera out as I was watching the birds in the garden this morning and snapped a few photos.

The first few photos were taken from inside the dining nook, through the windows. Not great photos I'm afraid, because I was shooting through the wooden blinds, and you can see a reflection of the blinds in the photo.

As always, clicking on the photos will allow you to view a larger version.

The Chipping Sparrows have been with us most of the winter.  They are by far the most populous birds in our garden.  The American Goldfinches just showed up last week, causing me to have to make a special trip to the store to get some nyjer seed. I may have wasted my money -- they seem to like the regular patio blend birdseed just fine.

We also have several resident pairs of Northern Cardinals in the trees around our home.  This female doesn't mind sharing with the goldfinch.

No birds in this photo -- just a wider shot of the location, taken from out on the patio, so no reflections.

The red-bellied woodpecker, "Woody", stopped in for a visit. It's quite amusing watching him feed from the fence, and even funnier watching him on the back wall, where all I see is his head poking over the top, while his body is hanging off the other side.

I don't think I've ever captured a Carolina Chickadee on film before - they always grab a nut and then flit back either to the tree behind the fence, or up in to our pine tree.  I had the camera on the tripod today and just snapped.  

I also caught the back end of a new bird for me -- a Tufted Titmouse.  I saw him for the first time just yesterday. He came and went several times this morning, but this was the only photo I got.

Further along the fence, lots of Chipping Sparrows, or  LBB's--Little Brown Birds--as my dad would say, jockeying for position as usual.

A little later in the day (I wrote most of this post this morning) I happened to notice all sorts of activity on our pine tree.  We have two suet feeders out there and I'm used to seeing "Woody" and a couple of downy woodpeckers out there.  But today I was seeing different birds.

Is this a Carolina Wren?

Back at Thanksgiving, when my dad was visiting from England, he told me how the birds in his garden loved peanut butter.  So we spread some on some knot holes on our pine tree, but I never saw any bird take notice till today.

Knowing that the peanut butter was dried up and almost inedible by now, I ran out and smeared some fresh peanut butter on the tree.

In a couple of minutes, my visitor was back! 

Pine Warbler perhaps?

And finally, also at the behest of my dad, who said the birds loved the nut feeder in his garden, I put up a nut feeder shortly after Thanksgiving. It had stayed at the same level until earlier this week, when I noticed the level start to go down.

Earlier today I noticed a Tufted Titmouse on it, but didn't get a photo.  A few minutes ago I managed to snap this Northern Cardinal having an afternoon snack.

If you haven't already, it's not too late to participate in Project Feeder Watch.  Learn more about it and sign up by clicking on the button below.

Words and photographs by Jayne Wilson, Green and Serene, Jayne's Country Garden.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

New Year's Clean Up

We were blessed with absolutely gorgeous weather this weekend so I made the most of it and spent time outside, planting daffodil bulbs and doing some general clean up.

I haven't grown daffodils in 20-something years, when I stuck some in the ground at the first house I lived in when I moved to Texas. Those did.. okay... and that's about all you could say, so I just didn't bother again.  But I've always like daffodils, they're such sunny, happy flowers, so when I saw some supposedly especially for warm climate gardens in WalMart, of all places, I grabbed a couple of bags of bulbs.

We'll see how they do and I can take solace in the fact that, at $5 for 12 bulbs, at least I didn't spend a fortune if they fizzle. 

I planted them in the relatively new bed I created in September, as well as in around the trees in the front garden.

As I was planting them, I was able to use some of my very own Black Gold -- compost!!

Since I only started composting in October, I was thrilled to find I actually had some usable compost!

After I planted the bulbs, I got on with some clean up -- which involved trimming back the dead sweet potato vine, as well as several other plants that had died back in the freeze.

It was exciting to see signs of new growth already...

At the base of most of the milkweed, there was a flush of new green leaves. Most of them I just trimmed back to make the front look tidy, but a couple I had to pull out because they were growing in inconvenient places.

Underneath the seemingly dead chrysanthemums was healthy new growth waiting to be uncovered.

Behind the utility boxes, the hollyhock that I had to cut back to the ground last summer because of rust seems to have made it through the winter frosts with no problem.

I didn't think these were perennials and wasn't expecting it to come back at all after it bloomed its second year.  Does anyone know if it will bloom again this year or will I have to wait till next year to see it bloom again?

And finally, this chrysanthemum was blooming, even underneath all it's dead stalks from last year.  I took this photo as I was part-way through trimming it back, I was so amazed to see flowers!

Several times throughout the morning, I found myself smiling at the thought of, "Where else would I be planting and weeding on New Year's weekend with the sun on my back and a glass of ice tea in my hand?  Only in Texas!"

Happy New Year everyone.

Words and photographs by Jayne Wilson, Green and Serene, Jayne's Country Garden.