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!

Snow Crocus and Vernal Witch Hazel

I can’t resist taking pictures of the first signs of spring.

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Yellow snow crocus opens on a sunny afternoon.

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I love the lines and design on the outside of the snow crocus.  These flowers get a lot of afternoon sun.  I don’t think it will be too long before the other crocuses start to form flowers.

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The vernal witch hazel flowers have been blooming for a while.  I had a lot of trouble getting a picture that focused on the flowers and not the background, but I think that just shows that I need to learn more about my camera.

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What crazy looking flowers.  I really like the leaves on this shrub, but looking back through my pictures it does not look like I took many pictures of the leaves.  My witch hazel shrub is often hidden behind the lilac or the ornamental grass.  I will have to make a point to take pictures of the leaves this year.

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We pruned the American plum tree to get rid of branches that hung down when trying to mow the lawn.  I think we did the final pruning to get  rid of lower branches on the chinquapin oak tree.  We try to prune when the temperature is above freezing, but it freezes at night.

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I bought six different kinds of sedum plants a few years ago and the dragon’s bloom sedum is mixing with this other variety now.

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Among the dead Alchemilla mollis lady’s mantle leaves a new fan-shaped green leaf appeared.

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I thought the curly parsley finally died at the end of January, but it does not look quite dead yet.  During the fall and winter I tried to chew a little piece of parsley whenever I went into the garden, just because the green seemed like winter vitamins.

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Hardy strawberries look like they need some thinning and straw around them in order to have good fruit this spring and summer.  It is not quite time to do that yet.

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Dan went out and completely turned the compost leaf pile.  There were some wet spots from kitchen scraps and quite a few dry spots where it had burned to ash, and it really needed a good mix to speed it up again.

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The mini daffodils have a sunny spot and we should have tiny, yellow flowers blooming before long.

Plum, Serviceberry and Water Striders

Spring is happening everywhere you look now.  I took so many pictures this weekend I will try to put them in two different posts.

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The American plum tree is blooming now and the fragrance is wonderful.  This is a great native tree to attract insects and birds, and a great boost to the ecosystem.  The down side is that it suckers a lot.  But we just mow over the new shoots in the lawn or clip them back.  The fruit has sour skin, but tastes good inside.

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Red admiral butterfly on plum blossoms.

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Amelanchier laevis, Allegheny serviceberry. This is a small tree, but a favorite in our yard.  If we don’t eat the small June berries the birds will, so they are never a mess.  Serviceberries like partial shade.  I wish more people in our neighborhood had this lovely tree, but the nurseries don’t do much with native shrubs.  We got this at Possibility Place in Monee when it was less than 2 feet tall.

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We also have three small Regent’s serviceberry cultivars on the west side of the house.  They should not get over 6 feet, but they are not quite 3 feet yet.

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Close-up of Regent’s serviceberry blossoms.

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Yesterday we went to the Palos Forest Preserve at Cap Sauers Holdings, where I have been volunteering with a team to remove invasive honeysuckle.  I wanted to show Dan where we have been working, so we came in on the trail and then headed up a hill off the path.

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It was a beautiful morning and we came to this stream where we listened to the morning bird noises and observed the flowing water.  All the shrubs with green leaves are the honeysuckle bushes that we are in the process of removing to open up the forest to more sunlight and native species.

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The trees, which have not quite leafed out yet, were reflected in the stream.

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We noticed a lot of water striders in the water, and they mostly seemed to be in the process of mating.  I think I sometimes call them pond skimmers.

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Here is a closer look.  There are two of them here and you can see the extra legs….

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We wandered down a horse trail we found that was sometimes very muddy.

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This looked like a cozy hollow log for some animal.

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Can you see the moth?

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We often stopped to look at huge old trees.

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Soon these branches will be filled with leaves.

If I have time today I will put out another post with all the wildflowers and birds I saw this weekend!  Happy Easter!

Witch Hazel, Sandhill Cranes and Swans

Have you checked your vernal witch hazel lately?  As I write this the temperature is 69 degrees Fahrenheit in Chicagoland on February 18th!  Our vernal witch hazel has been blooming for a while now…

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Hamamelis vernalis, vernal witch hazel.

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Close-up of vernal witch hazel flowers.

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Back on February 9th we had a thin layer of snow that soon melted, but we have not had much more than that since December.  The cyclamen continues to bloom in the greenhouse window all winter.

img_6971Last weekend was a good weekend for pruning dormant trees and shrubs, as it was warm during the day, but freezing at night.  We completely removed one of our two American plum trees.  You can see the little stump in the forefront.  The foliage had just gotten too thick and we wanted a little more space and sunlight.  Besides we only had plums on the tree that we left standing.

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We just put all the branches and twigs on the patio.  I am not sure how soon the village will send around the truck to mulch branches in the spring.

img_6972If I had more time and energy I would do some winter gardening.  I have the fittings in place in the ground, so I would just need to put back the plastic tubing and the clear plastic cover over it to get the earth warmed up and get some lettuce planted.  Maybe when I retire….

img_6974I went out at lunch yesterday to enjoy the sun and noticed the garlic turning green.  There were a few green bottle flies that flew by.  Then I heard bird calls and looked up.

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There were about 50 sandhill cranes circling above me and then they flew off to the northwest.  An hour later I saw 20 more and today I saw another 40 flying northwest over Palos Hills.

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Last Sunday morning I sat in our living room and watched a Cooper’s hawk sitting at the top of the oak tree across the street from us.  I wonder what it found for Sunday brunch.

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This morning we took a walk around Lake Katherine and were pleased to see two mute swans.

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Most of the time the swans looked like this while they worked on breakfast.

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I hope we will see some little swans before long.

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Steph stopped to sit on a warm bench on a warm winter day.

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A downy woodpecker perched near the lake path.

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An unidentified sparrow seemed to be eating buds off the branches.

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A female mallard posed for a portrait.  A little water glistened on her feathers.

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A flap of her strong wings shook the water off…

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The male mallard was busy working on a meal.

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This afternoon the warm weather drew us outside again for a walk on the north side of the canal where we saw a lot of deer and coyote tracks.  It was great with no bugs!

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Dan is always looking for some ridge to climb.  I waited below near some sunny rocks.

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Where the rocks were warm small plants were emerging.  I heard the song of first red-winged blackbird I have heard this year.

Global warming:  I think this is record-breaking weather today.  Even though we really enjoyed the warm weather there was something strange about it, too.  We may have more snow storms before spring comes, though we have had mostly rain the past two months.

Autumn Colors, Grasses and Birds

It has been fun watching the fall colors peak in the yard this past week.  We had our first frost last night on November 11th.  I don’t remember such a long growing season before, and the frost may not have been a killing frost for the tomatoes and peppers.

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Carpinus caroliniana, with common names American hornbeam, blue beech or musclewood.  The top leaves turned pink/orange a few weeks ago and fell off earlier.  This picture was taken on November 8th.  The other American hornbeam we bought from Possibility Place Nursery turns yellow in the fall, so maybe they are variations of some type.

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American hornbeam fall color.

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Dwarf fothergilla bush, possible ‘beaver creek.’  I replanted this bush at this location in the spring and hope it will settle in to its new location this coming year.  This bush started turning color weeks ago.

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On November 6th the other fothergilla bush was still green, with the second American hornbeam, on the left, and the spice bush, on the right, very yellow.

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By November 8th the yellow leaves had mostly fallen and the chinquapin oak leaves on the right were turning color as well.

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Today, November 12th, the fothergilla leaves are just starting to turn.  They should turn brilliant colors over the next week.  I enjoy watching these changes out my office window.

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Quercus muehlenbergii, chinquapin oak tree, starting to turn color on November 3rd.  I put these date up so that I can compare year by year as the weather gradually warms.

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Here is a close up of the chinquapin oak leaves on November 10th.  Today we mulched up a lot of them when we mowed the lawn and started the fall compost leaf pile.

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The American plum trees are nothing special in the fall, though stunning when they blossom in spring.

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The neighbor’s maple tree is always beautiful in the fall.

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MIscanthus ‘morning light.’  The was a great growing season and this miscanthus ornamental grass is well over 6 feet this year.  The seed heads on our zebra grass seemed to be 8 or 9 feet high.

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Out the kitchen window I caught a glimpse of the little blue stem grass that has turned red in the fall.

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When I finished working in the garden today a few dark-eyed juncos got to work poking around on the ground.  They are winter residents.  The garlic plants I did not harvest earlier have grown back in bright green shoots.

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On Wednesday morning I did a little birding and managed to capture this sparrow in a picture.  I am not sure if it is an American tree sparrow or another kind of sparrow.

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I think this is a pied-billed grebe, though the bill does not look quite right.  Anyway, I love the fluffy feathers and the reflection! This was at Lake Katherine on a morning walk.

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The nasturtiums and marigolds have been so beautiful in the yard this year.

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I have had a fresh pepper for my lunch salad every day and there are still quite a few left to eat, so I feel blessed.

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Beans soaking for tomorrow’s soup.  These were from the pole beans that I left to dry on the vine.  After we had a ton of green beans in the fridge, and the mosquitoes were killing me, I stopped picking the rest of the beans.  This past week I finally pulled down the pole bean structure and shelled a lot of beans.

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I am really enjoying reading this fascinating history book about Alexander Von Humboldt and his exploration of nature.

Hope you enjoy these weeks and it won’t be long before the snow flies!

House Wren and Ladybug Larvae

Summer residents are back in our yard this year.

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I think this is the second year a house wren has moved into our bird house.  This little guy sings his intricate song all morning.

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House wren in the birdhouse I bought to attract bluebirds.

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This little hummingbird was perched on the clothes line flapping its wings in the rain to get a birdbath.

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The butterfly weed is blooming.  Will we see monarchs soon?

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Ladybug larva.  In an earlier blog post I mentioned that something on the plum trees was attracting a lot of ladybugs.  Now the plum trees have a lot of ladybug larvae and the trees are looking in better shape.

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Ladybug pupa.  This is the next stage in the ladybug lifecycle before the ladybug emerges and can fly.  There are a lot of these pupa on the plum trees now.

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Plums on American plum tree.  There were a lot of terrible looking plums on the tree earlier.  I put a drop cloth down and removed a ton of diseased or insect filled plums.  The rest of them look pretty good, so I may get some edible plums yet.

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Dragonfly blending into the meadow.  I understand that dragonflies are predators for ladybugs.

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Nearby in the meadow is a false sunflower.  Last week Dan saw a small snake sunning, intertwined in the grasses in the meadow.  There are damselflies here and there but they take a lot of work to photograph, as they are so small.

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Also in the meadow is the hickory the squirrel planted.  We are still trying to determine exactly what kind of hickory this is.

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Starling gets a shady rest on a hot day.

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We have had many predictions of rain, but not that much has fallen.  The plants still look healthy, but we will need more rain if the heat continues.

June Blooms

There is a lot of color in the garden now.

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Achillea (Yarrow)

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Pulling back you can see the yarrow under the oak tree along with other blooms.  I forgot to stake up the yarrow and it can get kind of messy later on, but it is beautiful this time of year.  I just cut it way back when the blooms die.

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Heliopsis helianthoides false sunflower ‘summer sun’

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False sunflowers keep blooming for months as long as I cut back the dead flowers.

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The gaillardia blanket flowers started blooming this past week.

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Zooming in for a close up, it looks like a very little spider has been busy and caught a tasty meal.

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Dark red iris

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Cranesbill geranium ‘Rozanne’

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Digitalis purpurea foxgloves.  The foxgloves cheer us up and are favorites for bumblebees and hummingbirds.

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I went to check on the raspberries, which are just behind the foxgloves and came across this insect.  It looked a bit like a dragonfly, but close up it also looks like a mosquito.  It might be a crane fly.

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Our America plum trees are sticky this year with some kind of aphid or something.  Anyway a large number of ladybugs have arrived and are scouring the leaves.

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Although we had a lot of plums last year, unfortunately that is not the case this year.  The plums seem to be gradually being destroyed by something.

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We have been picking many romaine lettuce leaves.  In the back left is a large wild kale plant that I planted from seed last fall, so that it would be ready this spring to eat.  The potatoes on the left came up unplanned.  I guess I missed harvesting a few last year.  You might be able to see the large mint plant behind the lettuce.  I pulled a lot of mint up out of the garden this spring and am always whacking it back.

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My Arab garden friends were not impressed with my mint.  Apparently it is the wrong type for mint tea.  So they brought me the correct type of mint, which I put it in a pot in the ground for now.  I might pull up my old mint and get this new variety in the garden….when I get time.

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I have a lot of tomato cages up getting ready for the coming vegetable action.  We put the pole bean structure up and the beans are growing.  The clematis is blooming on the back wall.  June is here.

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See the bunny?  It is watching us.  Dan and I are trying various things to get rid of this little guy, but have not been successful yet.  I am hoping we get it outside the fence before it eats too many new plants….