It's always exciting to see the first blooms of summer pop. The picture above is the Chicago Fire daylily and it's a first! Every year the plant produces lots of buds, but just before the flowers open, deer eat every one. Thanks to liberal use deer repellent (which smells awful), the luscious red Chicago Fire is blooming.
Cat's Whiskers are very hard to find so this spring I ordered some from a Louisiana nursery. They sent very nice, healthy plants and this is the first one to bloom. Don't the curved stamens really look like cat's whiskers?
In a few weeks the Rose of Sharon will be covered in blooms, but for now this is the only flower on the tree.
Purple Hearts are supposed to be annuals, but this is the fourth year mine have survived the winter. The rich purple leaves are dotted with delicate lavender flowers--a beautiful combination.
Hydrangeas are quintessential summer flowers. Everyone recognizes the classic blue mophead, but there are pink and white mopheads as well. The blue hydrangea in the picture above is the “Endless Summer".
The white one below is the “Annabel,” a snowball variety. Its leaves are a little smoother than the mophead and it looks surprisingly like a snowball viburnum. The flowers open a light green and mature to a crisp white.
Don’t be surprised if you buy a pink hydrangea and the next year its blooms are blue. They are very sensitive to soil ph and minerals. Acidic soil produces blue flowers; alkaline produces pink. This "Endless Summer" hydrangea has one pink bloom among the blue.
This is the elegant Oakleaf Hydrangea. It's cone shaped blooms start out green then turn a creamy white. As the flowers mature, they turn a lovely pink. The leaves really do look like oak leaves.
Hydrangeas are large shrubs, growing 4-8 feet high, but don't despair if you have a small space. The "Pink Elf" French hydrangea below is a miniature and tops out at about 2 feet.
And finally, here is my variegated Lacecap hydrangea. It features showy blooms surrounding a center of tight buds.
You can see I have lots of varieties in the yard and could even call my interest a "habit." Even though I'm always looking for another variety, I still prefer the classic blue mophead. It reminds me of the ones that ringed my grandmother's porch. I still remember lazy summer days spent lying in the swing with the fresh laundry scent wafting through the air. Those were the days!
The goslings are almost grown and are getting their adult coloring. Sadly, one disappeared over the weekend, leaving three. I don't know what happened--whether it fell prey to a predator or sickness. I always hope that once they get bigger, they'll be safe, but that' not nature's way. Mother and Father geese did a great job raising their family. It was only about a month ago that they were just yellow fluffy babies.
When I spotted this bird with a huge wingspan flying low over the backyard, I thought an Eagle had decided to visit. The big brown bird made a dozen low circles, then landed in the marsh. When I saw the red featherless head, I knew it wasn’t an Eagle; it was a Turkey Vulture.
Turkey Vultures, also known as Buzzards, have an impressive 5-6 foot wingspan. These carrion fowl find dead animals with a highly developed sense of smell. In fact, they can even locate carrion through the forest canopy. Turkey Vultures must have a highly developed immune system, too, since they can feast on all sorts of dead things without contracting salmonella, cholera, or anthrax.
I don’t know what the Turkey Vulture found in the marsh, but it must have been something small. He devoured his meal quickly and flew away. Even though these interesting birds have an important role in the ecosystem, it’s still unnerving to see one circling my yard because it means something has died. Needless to say, I was very relieved when all the ducks and geese showed up later that day.
What a great day!! Today was my first sighting of a Red-headed woodpecker in several years. Two families used to visit my bird feeders—they love peanuts and hulled sunflower seed, but they left one fall and never returned. I’d almost given up hope of ever seeing them in the backyard again but this one landed on the hulled sunflower feeder a few minutes ago.
Red-headed woodpeckers have distinctive markings—a scarlet head, black back and wings, and snowy white underbelly. They are cavity nesters and favor dead trees and branches. The female lays 4-7 eggs and both the male and female incubate them for about two weeks.
Red-heads aggressively defend their territory and are the most omnivorous woodpecker. They eat seeds, nuts, fruit, insects, nestlings, bird eggs, and mice. They can catch insects on the wing like flycatchers.
It’s too bad that the Red-headed woodpecker population has declined in recent years and these beautiful birds are now considered near-threatened. I hope whatever caused them to leave the lake
has been fixed because I sure missed the Red-heads.
I've never been happy with the steep slope of the backyard, but I'm over it. Being on high ground has its advantages. Thunderstorms rolled through early Sunday morning dumping lots of rain and flooding the marsh and part of the backyard. Our overflowing lake was even on local news last night. No wonder the lake was the highest ever--we got 6-8 inches of rain in 4 hours.
But that's not all--a nearby lightning strike set off the smoke detectors. A couple of very nice firemen checked out the attic and gave the all clear.
Thankfully the worst is over. Water has receded leaving behind mud and debris but Mama Mallard and her brood don't seem to mind a bit.
These magenta beauties are Louisiana irises blooming in the marsh. It’s a hardy variety that thrives in moist locations. I originally planted a few at the edge of the lake but several years ago the beaver replanted some of the rhizomes when he built his little pond. After he left, the water level dropped and the area became a lush marsh which is the perfect place for these iris to multiply. I wish I had the nerve to head into the marsh and dig up a few rhizomes to move to the edge of the lake, but meeting a snake isn't on my agenda this spring.
A big congratulations of Mama Mallard on an incredible job raising her 11 ducklings. All are still with her and now have their adult coloring. She must be pretty savvy for her brood to dodge the usual high mortality rate for ducklings. I'll bet Mama Mallard is really tired because the ducklings still run in 11 different directions which makes getting a whole family portrait impossible.
Roses are filling the garden with color. Despite their reputation for being finicky and high maintenance, these beautiful shrubs are worth the effort. The picture above is the splashy Fourth of July rose. Below is a true heirloom, my grandfather's favorite red climbing rose.
Roses do best in a spot with well-drained soil and at least 6 hours of full sun. They should get about one inch of water a week. A nice layer of mulch is essential. This is the pink Sweetheart rose. Isn't the delicate bloom divine?
Now there are varieties of roses that defy the conventional wisdom roses are fussy and hard to grow. Knock Out roses were developed by William Radler, a Wisconsin botanist. He was looking for a hardy, disease-resistant rose and succeeded brilliantly. These lovlies are also heat tolerant which makes them perfect for Georgia. This is my double red Knock Out.
This is an heirloom pink Floribunda rose, passed down from my grandmother to my mother to me.
And last but certainly not least is the lovely Lady Banks rose. This vigorous climber only blooms for a couple of weeks in the spring, but what a show!! The Lady Banks lives a long time and can grow to a huge size. In fact, there’s one in the Tombstone, Arizona, that was planted in 1855 and covers a mind boggling 8000 square feet!!
Salvia is usually an annual, but this is the second winter the red and blue salvia survived. What's the secret? A mild winter and I didn't cut down the dead stalks in fall. The bed looked a bit ragged over the winter, but it was worth it. Now the plants that line the walkway are about 3 feet high and covered in blooms. Hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies love the flowers.
The blue salvia has delicate trumpet-shaped blooms.
If you're looking for a plant to attract hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees, a salvia is the ticket. There are hundreds of varieties to fit any yard and the best part? Salvia is almost maintenance free.
Would you believe that a Sandpiper is visiting an inland Georgia lake? It’s true--I spotted this one on the lake a few days ago. Although we usually think of sandpipers as beach birds, the Solitary Sandpiper inhabits fresh water lakes. They’re big travelers, breeding in the woodlands of Alaska and northern Canada and wintering in Central and South America. Solitary Sandpipers often stop at lakes and ponds along their migration route to hunt for insects, insect larvae, spiders, and aquatic invertebrates such as worms and tadpoles.
In the video, you can see the Sandpiper’s distinctive markings-- a brownish olive back with small spots, a white underbelly, and a white eye ring. He has a comical bobbling walk.
This is the third spring I’ve seen a Solitary Sandpiper on the lake. He's lingered for almost a week enjoying a little well-earned rest from his long trip back to Canada to start a family. I'm glad we could offer some Southern hospitality to make his migration easier.
The four goslings and eleven ducklings are still doing well. However, watching the ducklings has caused me to rethink my attitude toward this untidy part of my yard, a marshy area covered with grasses, Cattails, and weeds. Why the ducklings? Last year I had the landscaper cut back the whole area in late winter. The marsh looked cleaner, but there were no ducklings the following spring. I was going to do the same this year, but persistent rains made the area too wet to work in. This spring we have ducklings.
Coincidence? I don’t know, but it’s enough to make me question the wisdom of mowing the marsh. The tall grasses and weeds provide concealed nesting areas for ducks and seeds for birds. Even the invasive Cattails serve a purpose—ducklings swim among them for cover while foraging. The boggy area doesn’t conform to the suburban ideal of a manicured yard, but there is beauty in the marsh’s wildness.
I know that other, less savory, creatures inhabit the marsh, like rodents and snakes, but they’re part of nature, too. And it gives
them a place to call home that’s far from my house.
Even though I still dream of beautiful flower beds and a pristine lawn stretching to the lake, a manicured marsh wouldn’t seem like an improvement to the birds, waterfowl, and other creatures. The natural look is here to stay!
This bold Mockingbird must have a nest nearby because he mounted a determined attack to drive the Crow from the backyard. At first I thought the Crow might have grabbed one of the nestlings, but he was actually eating a toad. Earlier in the day, I saw the Crow near the lake and the Mockingbird dive-bombed him until he fled.
The Mockingbird is right to want that pest to leave. Crows are notorious bird nest robbers, stealing the baby birds or eggs. They eat just about anything—seeds, grain, insects, birds, mice, earthworms, fish, baby turtles, carrion, and garbage. Crows often steal food from other birds and animals.
Mockingbirds are very territorial and will aggressively defend their nests against much bigger animals and even against humans. This Crow doesn't seem to realize that even though the Mockingbird is small, he's capable or unleashing lots of mayhem on an adversary.
More excitement! Bright and early this morning Mother and Father Goose showed off their 4 newly hatched goslings. The backyard was alive with activity as the Canada Goose family was joined by Mama Mallard and her 11 ducklings. Congrats to Mother Goose who incubated her eggs in an open nest for 28 days through rain, cold, and storms.
These delicate white flowers belong to the Hawthorn, the last fruit tree to bloom in spring. Bees are swarming the trees now, in fall the Hawthorns belong to the birds. Serviceberries and cherries produce fruit in late spring or early summer, but red Hawthorn berries, called Haws, don’t ripen until fall when there’s not much fruit around. In late October, the tree is swarmed by birds plucking the tasty berries.
When the leaves drop away in winter the reason for the Hawthorn name becomes obvious. You can see it’s covered in spiky, dangerous-looking thorns, which are about 2 inches long. In fact, it’s wise to take off the branches that are low to the ground so you won't inadvertently get tangled up with those thorns.
Hawthorns aren’t a common landscaping tree here in Georgia so they’re hard to find. Luckily, I now have two—a lush Washington Hawthorn in the backyard that my landscaper found and a sapling Winter King Hawthorn in the front. This is the first year the Winter King has bloomed which is a big relief. I ordered the tree two years ago from an out-of-state nursery and it was shipped as dormant, bare root stock. I wasn’t sure it would survive, but surprise—the Winter King is thriving.
All those blooms mean a bumper crop of fall berries. Even though other trees have more brilliant fall foliage, seeing Cardinals and Waxwings nimbly navigating those thorny branches and gorging on the scarlet berries makes the Hawthorn the best fall tree in the garden.
The Bearded Irises are flowering in a rainbow of colors. These late spring bloomers have three upright petals and three that curve downward. They’re called “Bearded” because the hanging petals have a fuzzy strip on them like a beard. Irises grow from rhizomes which are like long, thin potatoes. They multiply quickly and can be separated, so after a few years you’ll have lots of them.
These two are true heirloom plants, handed down from my grandmother to my mother to me.
True blue Iris.
If you’re looking for an incredible spring flower, try the Iris. Not only are they practically maintenance free, but you also won’t get a backache planting them because the rhizomes are planted near the surface.