A Link to Nepal

View of the mountains from the road between Pokhara and Kathmandu

View of the mountains from the road between Pokhara and Kathmandu

Nepal is an incredibly rich and diverse country with a landscape that ranges from the jungles of Chitwan on the Indian border to the highest mountains in the world.  In between are all stages of beautiful rivers and terraced hillsides.  There are 6000 species of flowering plants, 900 species of birds, and over 600 species of butterflies.  But even with all of that diversity it was the wonderfully friendly people that left us with indelible memories.  Their small land accommodates a great many cultures and traditions but seems to rank tolerance very high on their scale of values.  I’ve put on SmugMug a set of our images from 3 weeks in Nepal.  Here are a few samples.

A young mother who was happy to have me photograph her child

A young mother who was happy to have me photograph her child

Little girl at Boudhanath Stupa

Little girl at Boudhanath Stupa

Green Sapphire, Heliophorus androcles, wings closed

Green Sapphire, Heliophorus androcles, wings closed

Baby Elephant in elephant grass

Baby Elephant in elephant grass

Asian Pied Starlings

Asian Pied Starlings

Osbeckia stellata

Osbeckia stellata

Annapurna South reflection

Annapurna South reflection

Beginning the New Year

Mardi Gras Apricot Hellebore showing first gorgeous buds

And so the year begins — with a flush of color and many green things poking up through the winter landscape.  Our New Years day was in the fifties, following a pretty warm December.  The Daffodils are waking up all over the yard and presenting their promise of blooms.

Daffodils on the rise

And Trout Lilies have begun to show their tips in the leaves.

Trout lilies rising up

The Japanese Quince is covered in blossoms and buds.

Japanese Quince in early spring attire

The Camellias (both Fall and Spring bloomers) have never really ceased blooming.  Our double Flowered Pink is a japonica but seems to be intent on finishing its spring bloom early.

Double Pink Camellia

There’s even an Anemone coronaria that is proving why they don’t seem to last here on Ball Rd.  It’s way early for this plant.

Anemone coronaria in bud

By the end of New Years Day the sun set in glorious fashion against the horizon leaving a promise of interesting things to come.

Sunset for 1st Day 2012

But all of this growth seems not to have paid much attention to the weatherman.  As I sit today, there have been snow flurries, the daytime max is going to be around 31 degrees with a prediction of 16 degrees for tonight.  It’s like a quick slap across the face for the plants that have forgotten about winter and then like a tease the temps should go up to the fifties again by the end of the week.

In a post script I should mention that we had a curious visitor last week.  A small Cooper’s Hawk was in the garden sitting on the ground.

Cooper's Hawk all fluffed out

When we approached him he was very loath to be disturbed by us.  We wondered whether he was sick.  Then after posing in very hawk-like fashion he lifted off into the air with all his capabilities seemingly in place.

Cooper's Hawk (immature)

It did give me a chance to try out my new camera… 🙂



A Little Drop of Rain

Rainbow at Busch stadium on July 4th

It rained yesterday.  It wasn’t as dramatic as the rainbow we saw on July 4th in St. Louis where we basking the afterglow of a wonderful marriage celebration for our ‘third’ son.  Nor did it have the news impact of the flash flood that hit Frederick with an inch and a half of rain in 30 minutes on July 8th.  Nope.  This was just a gentle rain that fell in the morning for long enough for us to notice that it was really raining and to actually penetrate the dry ground and begin to help the plants.  And it was particularly satisfying because I had only just finally gotten the peppers, eggplants, squash, cukes, and annual flowers planted.  Since this is about 2 months late for them and for the corn that finally got into the ground this morning we shall have to wait and see what the outcome is likely to be.

Once again we have been dealing with really dry weather where it seems like every summer thunderstorm drops its rain on somebody else.  However, the constant hand watering has finally caused me to reconsider our approach to watering.  For many years (let’s say nearly 40) I have acted under the mistaken impression that on the East Coast it was up to Nature to water my garden.  I gave the weather gods the chief responsibility for making certain that all the plants had enough water.  This was probably because, compared  to California where I was raised, the water seemed abundant here and it actually did fall from the skies a fair amount.  When the water didn’t come down however, I complained about dead plants and only reluctantly pulled out the hoses when plants were drooping.  We also have the problem that too much watering will dry up our well and that has implications for washing, showering, and drinking.

This year I came to the brilliant conclusion that if I water during the middle of the night in small amounts it should (a) help the plants, (b) not drain the well, and (c) reduce my daytime labor.  To this end I’ve rigged up 7 watering stations around the yard and garden with timers set to go off for 15 mins on the hour all night long.

Hose manifold leading to timers

Even though we’ve only been doing this for a short while I can already see that this is going to improve my time and attention to other parts of the gardening process if I don’t have to spend 2 hrs every other day dragging the hose around the yard.  Now your may well ask what took me so long to come to this solution and for the life of me I don’t really know.  But running a water pipe out to the garden certainly made this easier to do.

As far as brilliant insights go, I am batting two for two this week.  We normally keep our compost bucket underneath the kitchen sink.  For some reason we let it get pretty full and found that fruit flies were having a sexual orgy down there.  At least they produced a lot of babies that were rapidly spreading to the fruit bowl, the wine bottles, the glad and lily flower vases, and any place with sweet or fragrant substances.  In the past this kind of infestation has been really hard to eliminate.  Basically it involved getting rid of all the attractive things and spraying rooms on a regular basis.  However, when I found them on the beautiful gladiolus and lily displays I knew we needed another solution.  So here is what I did (and I want full patent rights on this solution).  I sprayed the inside of the vacuum cleaner and then vacuumed the little buggers off every surface where they had settled.  The vacuum wand can actually pick them right out the air.  It took about two days of going back over the same areas and sucking them out of the air until there were no more to be found.  I did put a plug on the end of the vacuum while it was not in use to make sure they didn’t appear again from inside the machine.  The process worked so well that I didn’t even have any left to take a picture of for this posting.

Speaking of bugs, has anyone noticed that the population of stinkbugs is dramatically decreased from last year.  I don’t know of any reason why that would happen but the reduction is most welcome.  Last year we would find multiple stinkbugs sitting on the door waiting for it to slide open and this year nary a one.  Let’s hope that a natural solution is evolving.

I suppose that one explanation for reduction of all bugs in the area is the little flock of guinea fowl that walked through our yard the other morning.

Guinea fowl

We had never seen them before but apparently Guinea fowl are widely raised because of their appetite for ticks and other insects.  They are welcome to come walking here anytime they like.

I had one major loss when we returned from St. Louis and two successes to report.  This year my kids had given me a rare Chinese tree, Emmenopterys henryi, as a gift.  I had potted it up and it seemed to be doing well.  When I returned it had just up and died.  I inspected the corpse and could see no reason – the soil was moist and everything around it was doing fine.  I’ll have to give it another try I guess.  On the positive side of the ledger, the Oconee Bells (Shortia galacifolia) planted this spring all have developed new leaves and seem to be growing just fine, something I did not see with last year’s attempt at the Shortias.

Oconee Bells (Shortia galacifolia)

In somewhat the same vein, I have planted Gloriosa Lilies many times and never managed to get a growing plant, let alone a flower.  This time, along with all the other much delayed plantings, I put the Gloriosa in the ground just before we went to St. Louis.  This time the effort was rewarded with a little plant that seems to be coming on nicely.

Gloriosa Lily (Gloriosa superba)

The Birds are arriving at the Mulberry Bar and Grill

Pair of Cedar Waxwings

On Wednesday of this week I had been planning to drive to Cape May for an overnight to check out the migrating bird populations.  Cape May is a wonderful place for bird watching and general photography.  But as I walked around the yard on Wednesday morning the air was cool and the birds were singing loudly — in the end I decided to forego the 4 hour drive and just enjoy the local environment.  I went over to the Worthington Farm at Monocacy National Battlefield Park and did some bird watching for a little while.  In no time I found  an Oriole, a couple of Bluebirds, a Warbling Vireo, and a couple of Indigo Buntings.  This was the first time I had seen either the Vireo or the Buntings at Worthington.

Baltimore Oriole at Worthington

Warbler Vireo at Worthington

Indigo Bunting at Worthington

When I came back I took at little walk in our woods and spied a Pileated Woodpecker but he refused to pose for the camera.  They are big colorful birds but I find them camera shy.

The next morning I was delighted to find that birds are eating at our mulberry tree (Morus rubra) again.  At ground level the berries still look green but the birds are finding the riper ones up in the tree.  The mulberry tree is absolutely wonderful for attracting all kinds of birds.  If nature didn’t give us one at the edge of the forest we would have had to plant one.  In the last couple of mornings I’ve seen the Red Bellied Woodpecker, Bluebirds, Mockingbirds, Cedar Waxwings, Blackbirds, Goldfinches, an Indigo Bunting, Robins, House Finches, and Catbirds.  The Cedar Waxwings, with their perfectly coiffed feathers, come in bunches.

Cedar Waxwing family moment - one was feeding the other

Red-bellied Woodpecker


Bluebird in Mulberry Tree

Northern Mockingbird

The Mockingbird puts on a singing show for everyone.  But as it turns out another accomplish singer is the Indigo Bunting.  Although it would not pose directly in the Mulberry tree, it did go to the top of the Pine Tree and put on quite a singing show.  This one was fully colored and it’s a shame I couldn’t a closer shot of those beautiful blue feathers.

Indigo Bunting










The Birds are Coming

Yellow-rumped Warbler

We’ve reached that time of the year when one can start to look for new and different birds to show up in the garden.  Even knowing that I was very surprised to see a Wild Turkey in the pasture last week.  It flew off so fast that I only got a blurry picture as it headed for the trees.  I had seen him in the woods just a few days earlier so maybe we have a new resident.  It is a big bird when you see it take off.  However, it’s not as big as the Great Blue Heron that flew across the garden just a about 15 feet off the ground and maybe 25 feet away from me.  Think of someone you know turned sideways and slowly moving across your view.  It was startling as the bird gained momentum in front of me.

Later in the same day a little Ruby-crowned Kinglet came by to announce that spring was officially well under way.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet female

I also saw a female Twohee which was a first for me.

Eastern Towhee female

Today we took a little hike at Worthington Farm in the Monocacy Battlefield National Park to look at the fading Bluebells.  My ulterior motive was to see what birds might be out as well. I was rewarded by two Warblers down near the river.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Palm Warbler

There may be more warblers in that area so I need to return.

The bluebells were pretty much done but we did see Star of Bethlehem and Spring Beauties to extend the hike to the horticultural side as well.

Ornithagalum nutans

Pink Spring Beauties (Claytonia virginica)

Spring is in the Details

Jeffersonia dubia (twinleaf)

One of the fascinating things about this time of year is watching the progression of little plants and bulbs as they emerge.  Many times as a reminder that ‘oh yes, I did plant that last year after all…’.  The Jeffersonia above was a gift from the kids last year and I’ve added others since it’s definitely a winner for the woodland garden.  I was surprised to discover that I had put another little treasure in the midst of the snowdrops.

Anemonella thalictroides ‘Shoaf’s Double’

I guess my thinking was that they wouldn’t compete but after seeing the number of snowdrop seedlings I’m not so sure.

It is truly an Hepatica time of year.  Each one of them is a study in elegance and I can see why they have developed a devoted following.  The little one that I have in the woods is worth watching each day as it emerges.

Hepatica acutiloba in bud

And the ones in the Camellia garden get a regular inspection.

Hepatica acutiloba light purple

Hepatica acutiloba light purple

One of the plants that I picked up at Plant Delights this spring is a ground covering Iris that has very distinctive flowers.

Iris japonica 'Eco Easter'

I’ve always liked the foliage on the species Peonies, in particular the Molly the Witch,

Paeonia mlokosewitschii (Molly the Witch)

but I’m beginning to realize that with the deer resistance and general hardiness I should be planting more and more Peonies.  I added some from Edelweiss Perennials this spring.  One in particular has striking red undersides to the foliage.  Really pretty.

Paeonia cambessedesii (Balearic Peony)

Since this is a native of the Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean I’m not certain it will survive here, but It’s more than worth giving a try.

One particularly pretty little Tulip is Persian Pearl.  It’s small enough to fit right to the front of the perennial garden.

Tulipa humilis 'Persian Pearl'

There is so much happening around the yard right now that it would difficult to capture it all, but I would be remiss in not mentioning the Trout Lilies that are now flowering in various forms.  We’ve got several species coming up but the old stand of Erythronium americanum are still the most striking.

Erythronium americanum 'Trout lilies'

They freely naturalize in woodsy soil and we have about 5 different colonies now in the woods, not flowering yet but I’m confident they will.  We’ve also added a couple of Yellow Trillums in the side yard which will mix nicely with the Pagoda hybrid of the Erythroniums.

Trillium luteum

And while I’m discussing yellow I should flash a picture of the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker that came to visit yesterday.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Note the large circular holes that he drills around the trunk of the Pecan tree.  This happens every year at various levels on the tree (other trees too but especially the Pecans) and the tree seems to survive it.  My son sent me this reference on the Sapsuckers?  I guess I’m not alone in seeing Sapsuckers at work…

Back from the Tropics

Cattleya skinneri, the National Flower of Costa Rica

We are just returned from a week in Costa Rica where we sought warmth and refuge from the winter cold.  We went through multiple climate zones in Costa Rica and sought out as many of the country’s birds, flowers and other wildlife as we could in such a short time.  All told our guide counted 117 birds species in our various explorations.

Slaty-tailed Trogon

But more about Costa Rica in subsequent posts.

Meanwhile, back in Maryland, the weather gods reacted by providing a serious warm spell while we were gone.  When I looked around this morning it was still cold and dreary but almost all the snow had melted and things were starting to grow.  The Winter Aconite were among the first to show color, which is usually the case.

Winter Aconite (Eranthis hyemalis) popping out

The first two Crocus have popped up in the lawn.  I don’t know the variety but it’s like a white and purple species type.

First Crocus of Spring

This is appropriate to see because my first son was born 35 years ago today (Happy Birthday Jonathan!) and I remember seeing the first crocus on that day 35 years ago.

The snowdrops have been having a field day.  They are multiplying in the woodsy little area that I put them in.

Snowdrops multiplying

However, now that I see them fully open, it’s clear from the petal markings that they are the Giant Snowdrop type rather than the nivalis as I have them labeled.

Giant Snowdrop (Galanthus elwesii)

Or maybe the rest will be nivalis — we’ll have wait and see.  We can’t lose in either case.

The plants that went from barely visible to fully out were the Witch Hazels.  Once they start to unfold the petals it happens really fast.

Chinese Witch Hazel (Hamamelis mollis) at full bloom

Witch Hazel (Hamamelis x intermedia) 'Diane'

Even with all this growth starting the fickle weather people have given us snow again this evening.  It’s calling for 8 inches and I’m voting for much less.  We are right on the edge of the snowstorm and it could go either way…

Wanna Get Away?

Aoife's Bench in the Snow

Last weeks snow was one of the heaviest I’ve ever seen.  All the tree branches were dragging on the ground creating eerie sights the next morning.  We lost a few branches, but it could have been a lot worse.  Many people were without power for 2 to 3 days and, while we had a brief interruption that forced us to watch a movie on the iPad, the power folks pretty much kept the juice flowing for our road.   As it happened, I was on my way to California, and, with only a slight delay, I spent the weekend in the Riverside area.

It was nice to walk around without my heavy coat and while I can’t quite say I was basking in the sun it was at least an opportunity to see flowers growing outside again.  The camellias that my dad planted at the side of the house are a reliable a long term performer every year.

Camellias at the side of the house

There are two varieties, both japonicas with names long ago lost to history, and they are almost intermingled.  One a pure single fuschia red and the other, nearly identical in color is fully double.

Camellia #1

Camellia #2

These plants were part of my inspiration in planting Camellias here in Maryland.  Suffice it to say, if you can plant Camellias you should.  And if your climate zone says you shouldn’t plant them, you should probably give it a try anyway.

In the back garden I noticed that calendulas have self-seeded and are springing up like wildflowers.

Calendulas self-seeding

It’s not quite the California springtime, but getting really close.  I saw a few poppies by the roadside.

In Riverside the classic plant is the Washington Navel Orange.  The parent tree for the whole navel orange industry is still growing on Magnolia Avenue in a place of honor.  Prior to the explosion of suburbs around Riverside the surrounding countryside was all citrus groves.  At one time you could not drive on the backroads without encountering orange or lemon trees dropping their fruit on the roadways.  Consistent with all this history and because they grow pretty easily in the area, I planted a dwarf Washington Navel in my mother’s back yard and it now fruits pretty regularly.

Washington Navel

I also have one of these in the basement in Maryland waiting for a greenhouse to show what it can do…

Around in the front yard is a lovely large Rosemary that is flowering at this time of year.

Rosemary in SoCal Winter

Although we can get them to survive outside in Maryland we haven’t managed flowering yet.

When I returned this week the snow was hanging in there with more sleet and ice in the offing.  Despite this I saw several Robins downtown who apparently know something about the weather that the forecasters haven’t foreseen.  Or maybe not…