Sunday, May 31, 2009

Grass Cutting Ruminations

I've never really liked cutting grass, although I do admit that using a riding mower takes several strenuous hours off the job. Given my preferences though, I would prefer to doodle around in the flower bed. The only real good reason for cutting grass is to keep snakes at bay.A fellow I used to work with long ago said snakes were scared of lawn mowers. I found it amusing and wondered how many snakes were in his sample. I suspect it is not lawn mower phobia that keeps them out of the yard, but short grass that is not as easy to hide in. Mice like taller grass, too.
Saturday evening about dusk I was cutting a little grass and I thought it was just delightful. The gardenias had perfumed the air and the lightning bugs were out in good numbers. I suppose my cutting may have stirred them up. It is a good time for sitting on the porch and smelling gardenias and thinking about all that is right with the world.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

What kind of Bird Nest Is This?

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Several days ago while I was pruning my Sasanqua bush, I accidentally cut off a large limb that was holding a nest. I felt bad about it and propped the limb and nest back in the bush.But... the bird never returned. I have had the same experience once before. I guess there is just too much disturbance to allow the incubation to continue. Once when we were having the house painted, the painter found a nest on one of the porch columns. He carefully removed it to a nearby rock till he finished and then returned the nest to the column. The mother bird returned to the nest and hatched her brood.
I have no idea what kind of bird laid these eggs. I thought it might be a cardinal but was unable to find any pictures of them. If you have an idea what they are, please let me know,

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Evening Primrose

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These two Oenethera are different in some of their habits, but the flowers have the same characteristics. That's how you know they are evening primroses. I grew the yellow ones 2 years ago. They are apparently biennial because they didn't bloom til the second summer. They close in the day and open in the evening. They are real charmers and wonderful to enjoy on an evening garden stroll. I had no flowers from them last summer but this year there looks like there will be a bumper crop.One of the tallest plants this year is already four feet tall.
The pink primroses (Oenethera speciosa) are a familiar sight blooming along the roadside and in waste places. I made the mistake of collecting some seed from a particularly beautiful patch several years ago in Waverly. I cast the seed into my rose bed and have fought them ever since. This year, I said what the heck and let them grow and they were beautiful. They die back after blooming anyway. Now I wonder why I wasted so much effort trying to eradicate something so hardy and beautiful. I even made cut flowers of some and they held up as well as day lilies. Mother always called these pink ones cornbread flowers. She never said why, but I assumed it was because they are so plain and simple. Here in the deep south these primroses are a staple, just like cornbread.

Sunday, May 24, 2009



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This is probably Tradescantia virginiana, known to many as wandering jew.There are many types of wandering jew, and even if you are not a plant aficionado most people are able to recognize a few kinds. The purple variety planted commonly now as a perennial ground cover is called Purple Heart, and there are many kinds that are planted in hanging baskets. Many of these hanging baskets can withstand the winter out of doors in the basket and come back the next year. Who would guess this succulent easily broken plant would be so hardy? So when you put your plants in for the winter, don't allocate precious space to jew because it can take care of itself.
The first picture of the white tradescantia was given to me as a cutting by Mary and Guf. They had a plant of it growing by the patio and I admired it. While they were hunting a shovel, I took several cuttings and was on my way. Tradescantia root so easily, there is never a need to dig them. The white variety may be common but I had never seen it before.
The second picture of the purple one has been in the same place in my yard for quite a few years. I originally noticed it when it was much smaller and started mowing around it, and it has certainly thrived and increased in girth (sort of like me) I am thinking of rooting several and making an entire flower area devoted to these two colors. They certainly would require minimum care and bloom early to late, literally for months. They grow in a variety of environments from shade to sun, and are not fussy about poor soil.
The other interesting thing about Tradescantia is its use as a bioassay.There are not many good bioassays and they have stopped using canaries in coal mines. Some of these plants have blue stamen hairs (not the stamen itself, or the pollen) and when the plant is exposed to ionizing radiation (like gamma rays -x-rays), the cells mutate and turn from blue to pink. I remember hearing this a number of years ago and believe it was discovered by accident in a lab where gamma rays were in use.

Friday, May 22, 2009

What tree frog is this?

I caught this tree frog on my porch last night. I think it may be the largest tree frog I have ever seen. I looked through some pictures but was unable to determine what its name is. Maybe a Barking Tree frog? If you know, please let me know. I put him outside and he leaped away into the dark.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

One of God's Little Perfections


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This is a green tree frog (state amphibian of Georgia), also known as Hyla cinerea.They eat mostly insects and worms. Their calls can be heard on rainy evenings during the warmer months. The male is smaller than the female as in many amphibians, and he has a wrinkled throat indicating the pouch used in vocalizations. They are typical inhabitants of ponds and other aquatic areas. Why was this one in my sister's storage room? I saw it out of the corner of my eye and thought it was a leaf. I was so pleased to see who it really was. I released it outside on the clematis vine. I really like green tree frogs. They are so small and perfect, and The shade of green depends on the temperature and lighting.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Lyre Leaf Sage

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Lyre leaf sage is a herbaceous perennial and like all members of the mint family, almost impossible to eradicate. So don't try, just enjoy it where you see it and keep it in check with the lawn mower. Don't let it get in your flower beds though, because it reseeds like a house afire. The genus and species is Salvia lyrata, and you can tell immediately that it is a mint because of its square stem. The colors in my yard vary from purple to lavender and even white. Oddly, last year almost all the ones in my yard were white. This year they are lavender. Click on the picture to see a better view of the flowers.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Dog Hobble

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This is a picture of doghobble in bloom that I took in the Smokies. Its proper name is Leucothoe and there are about 45 different kinds. It is a member of the blueberry family as can be seen by the shape of the flowers. The shrubs have a habit of weeping over and rooting wherever they touch the ground, so they have accumulated common names like doghobble and witch hobble referring to the almost impenetrable thickets they form. You really could loose a good coon dog in one of those thickets, or a bad witch.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Beautiful Privet

The blooms on the privet bushes are fading now, but they certainly were glorious this year. I suppose there will be a bumper crop of blue berries this fall, to help them in their quest for world domination. Spreading by both berries and underground runners, they cannot fail in the hospitable southeast. Their genus is Ligustrum and they are a smorgasbord board for wildlife. The flowers attract all kinds of bees, wasps, and other pollen eaters, so beware ye that are allergic to stings. However, the insects are usually so busy at their tasks that even if they bump into you they will get up and fly on without stinging. The berries are eaten by all kinds of animals and birds and they help in the dispersal of the seeds, leaving seeds along fence lines and the few other places where privet is not already. In Winter deer browse the stems to bareness depending on other available foods, but they never damage it enough to kill it.
It is for sale in many nurseries, especially the variegated variety.And there are many varieties and species out there. Some imbecile had them planted at Tiger Town, sculpted into small trees. Cute. Although I guess they are cheap, or should be. The main expense would be in planting, and they are not likely to die or have to be replaced.
They are generally for sale on ebay. Once I emailed a seller on ebay and said I was glad someone had found a way to get rid of their privet, but got no answer, Imagine that!
Originally the common name privet came from "privacy hedge" because it was usually planted as a screen around the privey.
Just like the invasive Wisteria, I am usually not aware of how much of it is around until it flowers. And like Wisteria, it is beautiful when it flowers. But harden your heart. It is in a class with kudzu, forcing native vegetation to the brink. In forests it competes with trees as well as other understory, reducing forest yield and taking the water and nutrients for itself.
In my experience the best way to rid yourself of it is to not let it get started in the first place. It is easy to pull up when it is small and when the ground is wet. Goats love it and if you keep them fenced in with privet they will destroy it with repeated browsing, but it takes a while. I got rid of a good bit of it around my house by hiring someone to cut it down while I followed them painting the stumps with a toothbrush dipped in a shrub killer. I used it undiluted . This concentrates the herbicide to a small area and puts the poison where you want it to go.
Killing the large plants of course does nothing for the zillions of seed that lie in wait for their chance. I pull up small seedlings in the yard all the time. I have observed that running over them with a mower just flattens them out and they grow horizontal. So... Remain Vigilant!!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Salomon's Seal

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Solomon's Seal is a common enough sight in early spring blooming in the Smokies. It appears calm and elegant to me, although those are strange words to apply to a plant. Nevertheless... I have a variegated one in my woods garden here in east central Alabama. There are quite a number of species with variations in number of flowers, hairiness of leaves, etc. It was formerly in the Lily family but has been reclassified to the Ruscaceae. They are frequently sold for the garden, but I seldom see them in woods around here. I suppose it is because of livestock as well as the current population of deer. I did read that they are poisonous, so maybe it is a habitat destruction issue. As for poison, they are listed as edible with proper treatment (maybe like poke weed?) and as a medicinal herb and we all know medicine is poisonous.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Balloon Fair

The Balloon Fair

Hannah is coming.
I should be used to the coming and going,
But I’m not.
The hurried excitement, anticipation,
A balloon of joy fills in my chest.
We will take long walks.
She will help me in the greenhouse.
We will sit on the porch in the evening
And listen to the July flies.
We will begin winnowing out the collection of the years,
The house, the memories, the attic, the dreams, the barn.
Far too soon, I feel the emptiness begin
The balloon starts to deflate.
She is going .
The balloon hangs like a left over party favor,
Drooping on its stick.

Thursday, May 14, 2009



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Lest we forget how beautiful the time of dogwoods is....

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Trillium in the Smokies




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These were Trilliums that I saw in bloom in April in the Smokies.
The first Trillium above in T. grandiflorum. It certainly is grand! These were blooming in abundance everywhere. The third picture may give you an idea about how abundant they were.
I believe the second picture is T. cernuum, commonly called nodding trillium. I saw lots of these Trilliums with a lavender ovary, but none of them were nodding. So... maybe they are not cernuum. You tell me!
The last picture is of yellow trillium, T. luteum. It has a light lemon fragrance, so they say. It's hard for me to bend over that far. It does best in limestone or basic soils, so it's main range is in the midwest.
There are several other trilliums in the Smokies, but these are the ones I saw on my last visit.
Trilliums produce only the 3 leaves associated with the flower. These leaves are necessary to produce food stores for the plant. Picking them can seriously injure the plant and it may take years to recover. They grow from a bulb and the bulb is usually deeply buried in the soil, making them difficult to move.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Happy Mother's Day

This was on the Writer's Almanac today. Wendell berry is one of my favorite poets.

To My Mother by Wendell Berry

I was your rebellious son,
do you remember? Sometimes
I wonder if you do remember,
so complete has your forgiveness been.

So complete has your forgiveness been
I wonder sometimes if it did not
precede my wrong, and I erred,
safe found, within your love,

prepared ahead of me, the way home,
or my bed at night, so that almost
I should forgive you, who perhaps
foresaw the worst that I might do,

and forgave before I could act,
causing me to smile now, looking back,
to see how paltry was my worst,
compared to your forgiveness of it

already given. And this, then,
is the vision of that Heaven of which
we have heard, where those who love
each other have forgiven each other,

where, for that, the leaves are green,
the light a music in the air,
and all is unentangled,
and all is undismayed.

Saturday, May 9, 2009


Squawroot, Conopholis americana,is a parasitic plant that grows on the roots of trees, usually oaks. It lacks leaves. This is the bloom stalk.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Two Dicentras



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Squirrel Corn and Bleeding Hearts belong to the same genus, Dicentra. Their kinship can easily be seen in the shape of their flowers. Their leaves are similar also, but their choice of growing conditions vary quite a bit. Squirrel corn grows in the shade of deciduous trees under moist conditions. These Bleeding Hearts you see here are growing on a rock cliff on a road cut. The bleeding hearts I have grown here in Alabama were minuscule compared to these in the Smokies, But then Buckeye become a giant tree there.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Bishop's Cap and Squirrel Corn



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The first two pictures are of a small plant known as Bishop's Cap (you can see the resemblance to a fringed cap), or specifically, Mitella diphylla. It flowers in the Smokies from late April to early June. It is a tiny flower best seen from up close. The third plant is Squirrel Corn or properly, Dicentra canadensis. Its common name is derived from the small tubers on the rootstock that resembles grains of yellow corn. Dutchmen's britches look a lot like Squirrel corn except the flower stalk in squirrel corn is erect while it is nodding in dutchmen's britches. Sometimes squirrel corn and dutchmen's britches are found growing side by side. These pictures were taken on the Chimney's Picnic Area Trail in the Smokies. This is the only place I have ever seen squirrel corn growing.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Visit to the Aquarium

On our recent trip to the Wildflower Pilgrimage in Gatlinburg we visited the Ripley Aquarium. It was GREAT! I had been to the one in New Orleans several years ago and was impressed with it, but over time my memories faded. The one thing I do remember was the seahorse tanks. The same thing impressed me at the Gatlinburg aquarium. In fact I was so impressed that I used up the whole memory card in my camera taking videos. Strangely my videos were a lot better quality than my stills, which were all blurred. I guess the fish (and shark, and turtle) moved too fast??
Here is another one
and here
Here are the jellyfish
And the sea dragons
and lionfish

Or you can just go to You Tube and search goldhillplantfarm

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

A Little Something Martha Would Like!




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This is a swell present I received for my birthday. I thought it was nothing short of amazing. And beautiful, too. Take about a teaspoon of the crystals in first picture, put them in the dish and start adding water. Those crystals just keep gobbling water and swelling up more and more. I added water till no more was absorbed and the dish was full of a gel matrix.
Next take a half cup of water and soak about a tablespoon on wheat seed in it.
Spread the soaked seed on top of the gel matrix and keep adding water everyday. The seed must not dry out. I began to see the wheat germinating. In about a week I had a dish full of grass for a lovely table arrangement.It would have been better if I had sowed the seed thicker but I will know for next time. If I had scheduled it better I could have hid an egg in it for Easter. See, I told you Martha would like it!And I do, too.
It is lasting really well

Monday, May 4, 2009

What Should I save?

There is a lot of talk these days about preserving data,pictures,etc and how that should be done. It seems like it is an ongoing process that needs to be repeated at least every 15-20 years even under the best of circumstances. There are whole industries set up to do this and keep you updated on the latest technology as the types of media are constantly changing as well as the formats of the media. I do believe that this is worth doing, but it is a job for libraries and museums and perhaps some professionals, and not something to worry individuals with.
I seriously doubt that anyone in the future will devote much of their valuable time to sorting through my photos, whatever format they are in. Family will doubtless pull out a few and save those, but they will have plenty of their own to deal with. The fact is that digital cameras and computer storage has made photography so cheap, easy, and yes -good- that everybody I know has a computer full or half full. Mine are much better organized also than the closet I have stacked with boxes of prints, separated by year, if at all. I seldom to never go through the hassle of dragging those boxes down and pawing through them. At least looking at them on the computer requires a lot less effort. The point is there are just toooo many, so they can't be that precious.
A few nights ago I was watching a program on the history channel called "Life After People". The main point of the show seemed to be that all our precious objects, like the Empire State Building, the Golden Gate Bridge, all kinds of monuments,the Constitution, the Sistine Chapel, all great human works, it seems, require constant upkeep. Without this upkeep, they slowly deteriorate.
I thought of all the stuff in my house that I am "keeping". For what? It certainly is a housekeeping nightmare for me. If I am going to "keep" anything for posterity, what should it be? I immediately thought of a bank commercial of a few years ago that said money was flat and meant to be stacked up, so I guess money would be a good and easy? thing to save.
Photographs might be a good thing to keep, but as I have pointed out, they need to be judiciously weeded so that the number is not overwhelming and the reasons for selecting the chosen ones are obvious. Nobody would want to save my honeymoon pictures taken in Mammoth Cave because not even I can tell top from bottom. Not only that, but color pictures deteriorate sharply after about 25 years. Black and white lasts the longest, but they need to be done professionally to last. Currently black and whites are run through the same chemical dips as color and therefore do not last any longer.
I want to save my grandmother's quilts because of the countless hours she put into them. They bring up her memory sharply to me,but I do not know if I am really prepared to do what it takes to keep them in good condition. They need to be stored in cotton sleeves or pillow cases, not allowed to touch wood, aired and refolded in different places at least once a year to keep the fabric from weakening.
Pottery, ceramic, glass. and metal keep well if stored carefully. On the other hand, things that have come to me from previous generations get much of their value to me from their having been used, not simply stored. I have a pie plate from my grandmother that is crazed with brown marks across the cream colored surface. Hundreds of pies were baked in that plate and when I hold it I can feel the family bonds that held the eaters of those pies, even as they hold me.
My parents had a hoosier but when daddy made the new cabinets, the hoosier was sent to a cow shed where it rapidly fell apart.I wished at the time that I could have kept it, but my circumstances prevented me from claiming it. It is just hard to say what the next generation might be interested in.
I garden but a garden will not last one year without the gardener. The trees will persist for years, but most of the annuals and perennials will perish shortly. Daffodils, narcissus, crinium lilies, and old timey petunias are often seen around old home sites in the south, but not much else.
So what is really worth passing on? Maybe a knife, a vase, a few pictures but the best we can hope for is to live one or two generations in the memory of those who knew us. If we can pass along some of the traits that we believe are best in ourselves, that make us better examples of good living, that is all we need worry about.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Encore Azalea

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This picture is an example of why I do not care for encore azaleas. Now, I guess it could be my poor growing conditions, but I believe that being in constant flowering mode must exhaust the plant so it never does well or flowers much at any one time. Many other people have made comments that theirs are not much of a joy either so I am at least in a big company of complainers. If you have grown them, what do you think?

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Red Buckeye

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The red buckeyes (Aesculus pavia) have certainly been beautiful this year. Mine is starting to fade now though. The first picture is of the little buckeyes forming. Buckeyes usually do not make many seed. They do not set many seed and of those they set, some will abort before maturity. I suppose this derives from the specific growing conditions it faces at the time.
When I was growing up buckeye seeds were touted as a good luck piece and lots of folks carried them in their pockets or purse or with a hole in it on their key chain. The seeds are beautiful, so slick and chocolaty. Now they are used in natural landscaping or simply to glorify their creator in the woods.
To have anywhere near a successful germination rate, the seeds need to planted outside immediately after harvest. Last year when I was harvesting I noticed at least half of the seeds had tiny holes where a worm(s) had apparently made it's exit.These are still good for charms but will not germinate. I suppose something lays it's eggs in the flower and it lives in the seed till becoming a larvae and exits into the ground to pupate. That is how pecan worms do, and I guess applies here. If anyone knows anything about what insect this is or how to treat for it, I would appreciate the info.
Here in east central Alabama and southward, buckeyes are shrubs, but in the mountains (Smokies) they are huge trees. Wonder of wonders.
Once Hugo brought back some HUGE buckeye seeds from California. I planted them and actually got a plant. However it has struggled along and never even bloomed. Maybe it would appreciate better soil than that in farmed out Alabama. I hesitate to move it, because in my experience buckeyes do not move easily and usually succumb.
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