Sunflowers and More!

I  never know what will happen when I throw seeds in the ground in the spring.  This year I was pleased with the sunny sunflowers that grew up in my un-mowed “meadow.”

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Sunflowers and coneflowers grow in grassy area.  Zinnias are on the right and Joe Pye Weed in the background.

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Sunflower and purple coneflowers.

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Sunflower with bee.  I saw a lot of different bees and flies on these flowers.

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I planted dwarf sunflowers called “Elves Blend,” and I liked the variety.

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By now the goldfinches have removed the petals and picked away at the seed center on this flower.

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I shot this American goldfinch picture from the kitchen this evening, working on a coneflower.

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This very small butterfly or moth was working on the Joe Pye Weed, which also attracts a lot of pollinators.

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The giant zinnias are looking good now and they are loved by the goldfinches and butterflies.

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Swamp milkweed with black-eyed Susans and Russian sage in the background.

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Black-eyed Susans and Miscanthus ornamental grass ‘morning light.’

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The yellow cherry tomatoes have been fantastic this year.  They are so sweet!  This time of year I spend more time with the vegetables than flowers.  I am picking them and making salads or cooking them and eating them…..

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I usually plant three or four varieties of tomatoes and see which ones are best.  These Bonnie Originals have been wonderful this year.

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Zucchini

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A rabbit has moved into the yard, but mostly seems interested in eating the clover in the grass.

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Our next door neighbor called us over to look at the snake they found sunning in front of their house.  We wondered what kind it was for a while.  It turns out it was a python and a neighbor in the area collects snakes and it must have escaped.  I am glad I did not come across it in our yard….and glad it got safely back to the neighbor!

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Northern Cardinal at the birdbath.  The day lilies add some color.

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In July this bird was in our yard for a while.  I think it is a juvenile Baltimore Oriole.

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One day some northern flickers came for an ant meal.  This handsome male was poking around this tiny bird house I call my bug house.

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I snapped a picture of a cicada on the pole beans.

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The black chokeberries on the bush I planted in the spring seem to be ripening now.  Apparently they are edible, but need a lot of sugar, so best in jellies and jams, which I probably will not make.  Let’s see if the birds like them.

Monarch

Flowers are blooming and butterflies are visiting.

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From the kitchen window I caught a glimpse of a monarch butterfly on the swamp milkweed.

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Thursday morning I saw the first monarch caterpillar I have seen in the yard in a long time, chewing on the swamp milkweed flower, as far as I could tell.  However when I went back in the next hours I could not find it.  I am hoping it made it to safety….

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We have a lot of hungry juvenile robins, as well as juvenile starlings and a lot of other birds in the yard.  I read that soldier bugs are predators for monarch caterpillars, though maybe that is when the caterpillars are tiny, not huge, like the one above.

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We have had grackles in the yard this week, visiting the bird bath.

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A noisy blue jay has started visiting the yard this week, checking on the acorns on the Chinquapin oak, which are still tiny.

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On this day the bird bath was almost empty and not very clean, after a large group of starlings had a pool party.  The blue jay did not take a drink or a bath…  I have to change the water frequently in this hot weather.

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I really enjoyed the raspberries this year, but I think they are all eaten now!


Blue Beauty

Sometimes you have to stop and smell or take time to enjoy the flowers!

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Baptisia australis, blue false indigo.

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Close up of blue false indigo flowers

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Veronica spicata Royal Candles (spike speedwell)

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‘May Night’ sage, in the salvia family

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The sage is often in the shade, but gets some sun in the morning.  The yarrow is just starting to turn yellow.

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‘Blue Hill’ sage, max frei geraniums, and penstemon digitalis (foxglove breadtoungue)

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Digitalis purpurea foxglove

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Meadow sage

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Clematis jackmanii

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The birds hang out on the tomato cages near the bird bath.  The clematis, virginia creeper, and soon the tomato vie for climbing space on the fence and cages.

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The garden is planted.  The zucchini, which just popped out of the ground, the cucumber, and the zinnias will fill up the open space on the right.

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Enjoying fresh greens each day

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Tomato flower

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Ajuga and coleus

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Blue fescue ornamental grass. In the background are cone flowers, coreopsis verticillata ‘Zagreb’, and asclepias incarnate – swamp milkweed.  Those flowers should be blooming before long.  The Russian sage is trying to pop up everywhere, too….

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I just planted the little bluestem grass on the right, and the sunflower seed I planted is getting going on the left.  I have another little bluestem grass that is more established and the grass looks bluer.  The great part  of this grass is the orange/red color in the fall.

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Blue damselfly on rhubarb leaves

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The day I took this picture Dan said:  “This is the most beautiful day of the year!”

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Iris.  I think I got rid of my blue irises because I really like these red ones best.

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We pulled out Rick’s old tent, that we have never used on a trip, and it looks like it will work for Stephanie’s first camping trip.

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Last weekend, on our walk around Lake Katherine, we watched this turtle laying her eggs.  She was on a mission and dug a hole on the side of the path where people were walking and running.

 

Black Chokeberry and Lilacs

It was a busy week in the garden!  Dan offered to help on Saturday morning and on the spur of the moment dug up two viburnum dentatum “Chicago Lustre” bushes that were chewed up by the viburnum leaf beetle worms.  So then I had to go hunt down something new to plant in their place.  I was looking for a spicebush, but could not find one, or other native shrubs I was interested in, at the garden centers I visited.  I stumbled upon some ‘Viking’ black chokeberry shrubs and decided to get two of them.

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Aronia melanocarpa ‘Viking’ black chokeberry.  From what I read this is a small to medium shrub that suckers.  It has edible fruit and shiny green leaves that turn red in the fall.  So it seems like it will be good for the birds and I might eat a few berries myself.  To the right is the clematis getting ready to bloom soon.

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This shrub had already flowered this spring and is setting fruit.  I am not sure if it needs two plants to have fruit, so I bought one bush that had flowered and one that had not.  We will see what happens next year.

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Here are the two shrubs with the dying daffodil leaves in between.  I will put some annuals in to fill the void this summer.  Maybe some coleus…

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Syringa vulgaris, common lilac.  This flower is on our oldest lilac tree, which almost died, but has branches coming back slowly.  The fragrance was heavenly for a few weeks!

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Charles Joly lilac

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The common lilac on the right is our newest lilac and it is an excellent barrier plant to what is happening in neighbor’s yard.  However, what you can’t really see in this picture is that we have two hornbeam trees on either side of the lilac that are being crowded out and are almost invisible from this vantage point, though our neighbors can enjoy them.  I may have to drastically cut back the lilac or eventually remove it.

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The crabapple blossoms seemed to come and go very quickly this year, so not sure if much fruit will be produced.

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The red, bronze and then green leaves of the crabapple have been looking healthy this spring, so I am really hoping we can keep the disease at bay that has bothered this tree the past two years.  This spring has mostly been a nice balance of sun and rain, which helps.

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We love it when some migrating warbler stops in our crabapple, or any of the other trees, even though we often cannot identify it.

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Little blue bulbs add color to the mostly very green garden.

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The chives by the compost pile are blooming.

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Next to the chives the strawberries are blossoming and berries are starting to grow.

As I was writing this I remembered that there was an asparagus shoot coming up next to the strawberries and I went out and ate it raw!

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This buttercrunch lettuce is looking great!

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Eggplant flower

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The columbine is starting to bloom.

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Little bluestem native grass.  The unmowed “meadow” area did not look so good this spring.  We left the tall grass long in the fall and it seemed to kill a lot of the roots under the dying grass, so things were a bit bare.  I found a couple of these little bluestem grasses, put in some sunflower seeds, planted a small monkshood, and will add a wild bergamot plant soon.

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Wild bergamot and zinnias still to be planted.  As I write this the temperature is 47 degrees F.  I am not very interested in going out to plant in these cold wet conditions, but maybe later in the afternoon it will warm up.

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Yesterday we took a walk in the forest preserve and the mayapples (podophyllum peltatum) were blooming.

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A toad near a stream in the forest.

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Rose-breasted grosbeak.  We came upon a group of birders in the forest who were identifying all the warblers in the trees at McClaughry Springs Wood.  The warblers are hard to get pictures of, especially with the poor light yesterday, but Dan was able to get a picture of this bird.

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Catbird in the forest preserve

Happy Spring!

American Plum Blossoms

We have a native American Plum Tree.  The plums are not great, but the blossoms are so fragrant and beautiful.  That is a perfume I would wear!

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Blossoms on American plum tree.

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Each branch is full of fragrant plum blossoms.  The petals are starting to fall now.

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This was taken when the blossoms were just starting.  I would not recommend this tree if you are really hoping for plums.  It attracts a lot of bugs, so it takes some effort to get plums that are edible, and then they are a bit sour, so I have to peel off the skin to eat them.  But the bugs are what the birds love.  This is one native tree that is recommended as really helpful to the bugs and birds in the neighborhood.  I often have a good number of lady bugs taking advantage of the smaller bugs during the summer.  Also, this tree suckers, but you can mow most of the suckers down quite easily.

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Across the street we enjoyed the magnolia tree and the mighty oak that is starting to leaf out.  I like the dark sky on this picture.

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The EZ straw project worked great and we have a lot of grass coming up now.  It took exactly 7 days before I started seeing the first grass come up.

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I was not so sure how things would turn out when I saw this big raccoon digging in the straw one day!

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Time to plant vegetables!  I started the lettuce and spinach before the last snowfall and just had the ground covered with straw.  Now I have planted a lot of other plants including the swiss chard, lettuce, parsley, basil and kale in this picture.  Next week I will get some bean and zucchini seeds in the ground.

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There have been a lot of migrating birds.  This is a palm warbler and they regularly visit the garden in spring and fall, hopping around to catch bugs.

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Most of the time we miss getting pictures of the birds as they jump and fly out of the picture.

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I think this is the first yellow warbler I have ever seen and I was glad to get a quick shot of it in the spicebush.

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Sometimes I can’t identify the birds, or do not have time to thoroughly investigate what I am seeing.  Can anyone identify this bird?

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Here is another shot of the mystery bird.  Pretty cute, huh?

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On Sunday we did some birding at Lake Katherine and there were a lot of interesting birds there.  This was the best shot Dan could get of the Baltimore Oriole that was singing.

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A black and white warbler was hoping around the tree trunk searching for bugs.

This is a busy time of year for me, so I will stop here.  Hope you are enjoying spring!

Lawn Repair, Daffodils & More Birds

A lawn is part of American life, and is the easiest way to deal with certain parts of the yard.  But I have to say I do not like lawn work, so this year we hired a landscaping crew to come in and repair a bad area on our front lawn.

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We had three low bare spots in front of the house, so on Monday we replaced that area with sod and flagstones for our mailman to walk on.  And, yes, it needs a lot of water to get the sod established and we will need a weed whip to cut the grass around the stones….  As you can see in the bottom left corner of the picture our old lawn currently has violets blooming in it, so I imagine it will infiltrate the new lawn at some point.  We could use weed killer, but so far we have avoided herbicides and pesticides on our lawn.  I don’t like lawns in general, but I think this new sod looks nice!

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Then Friday I got a hair brained idea to fix a patch of the lawn in the back yard on the north side of the house.  I pulled up all the sod, because it was mixed with some weird kind of grass that was not attractive.  It was a big mass of thatch.  I put down some EZ straw that is mixed with seeds, I guess.  So now I am watering on the front AND back side of the house twice a day or more.  As you can see part of the straw/seeds is in the sun most of the day, so that will need more water than the part in the shade.  I will give you a report in a few weeks on whether it germinated.  The sparrow are interested in the seeds and the robins in the worms in this area.

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Speaking of lawns, I have to throw in a picture of a beautiful dandelion.  I am digging them up and out wherever I see them, but they are pretty!  I noticed a small bee on a dandelion this afternoon.

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My favorite daffodils are the large yellow trumpet ones.  I think a bought these and a few other varieties from Breck’s a while ago.  We have about 10 bunches of daffodils in the back yard.

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Under the crabapple tree, and next to the daffodils, the irises are getting ready to bloom in about a month or so.  The hicksii yew shrubs are in the center back, and I think a pair of northern cardinals have a nest in there.

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New red leaves on ‘Profusion’ crabapple tree.

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The white daffodil is usually the first to bloom, though it was delayed with the snow this year.

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I like this white trumpet daffodil with a yellow center.

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Double white daffodil.  They look best when the bloom first opens.

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I am not sure if these double yellow daffodils have a name.  They are a little heavy for their stems.

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Also currently blooming is the spicebush – Lindera benzoin.  I have not figured out how to get my camera to take a good close up of a small flower yet.  This shrub is now maybe 10 -12 feet tall.  I think if there were another spicebush in the neighborhood I might get berries.

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It snowed within the last two weeks and I still had dark-eyed juncos feeding on the last of the coneflower seeds.

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I spotted a little brown creeper on the oak tree one cold day.

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I thought this might be a fox sparrow, but I really don’t know my sparrows…

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I managed to get a shot of a ruby-crowned kinglet where you can see the little red spot on the head.

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I think this is a yellow-rumped warbler.

Yesterday Dan and I visited Orland grasslands – south and did some birding.

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Greater yellowlegs shorebird at Orland grasslands – south.  Dan was shooting pictures of this shorebird when we saw a birder with binoculars come up and tell us he was looking for the yellowlegs that was seen in the area.  We told him we had just seen it, so we chatted a bit.  Always fun to talk to an expert birder.

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We noticed a killdeer along the path.

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It was a little chilly and the killdeer was resting in the grass.  I think there are a lot of different birds in these grasslands that I have never seen before, so hope to get back here sometime.

Lettuce update:  In my last post I planted lettuce and spinach seeds, covered with straw, and then it snowed.  I am glad to report that my seeds germinated and I have spinach and leaf lettuce getting going!  I can’t wait for the garden salad!

Yellow and Red

Daffodils are a transition between winter and spring.

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The first mini daffodils are making an appearance!

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These mini daffodils will be a welcome place for the first tiny bugs and pollinators.

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The yellow crocuses are fully opened and the purple crocuses will appear soon.

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Male northern cardinal at the frozen birdbath.  For mating season males show their brightest colors and sing beautiful songs.

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We noticed a male house finch singing in the oak and moving back into the neighborhood with some bright red feathers…

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The rhubarb plant is popping out of the earth!  It is almost April!