gardening, nature

The creation of a thousand forests…

The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Yes. I know I often quote Emerson, but I was reminded of those thousand forests this afternoon when my puppy drug in the largest acorn I think I have ever seen.

burr oak cap

Sorry. No adorable puppy photo. But I was able to save the acorn cap to measure and photograph. It got me thinking about the bur oak tree… And how a long-time friend, Tamara, says that the bur oak tree is the “oakiest” of all the oak trees.

Indeed. It has the largest acorns.

Quercus macrocarpa – The bur oak’s latin name. Macrocarpa means “large fruit” in Ancient Greek. (Photo below is a slight exaggeration.)

oak ornament

It has the largest leaves.

burr oak leaf

The roughest corky bark.

burr oak bark

And. Truly. If the creation of a thousand forests is contained in a single acorn, then a million forests must be contained within a bur oak acorn.

burr oak with house

Someone’s sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago. ~ Warren Buffett

I have read mixed reports of the bur oak’s rate of growth, but from personal experience, I would rate it as a fast grower.

We have two bur oak trees on our suburban lot. One planted by the developer 25 years ago and the other planted by a squirrel 15 years ago. Both trees now tower over our house. (Photo above and below.)

oak tree2

Trees are poems that the earth writes upon the sky.  ~ Kahlil Gebran

The bur oak, which in the white oak family, is native to much of the United States, including North Texas. It is sometimes appropriately called “mossycup oak.” (See photo below.)

burr oak acorn

Bur oak trees can reach 100 feet tall and live to around 200-300 years old.

The care of the Earth is our most ancient and most worthy, and after all, our most pleasing responsibility.  ~ Wendell Berry

November 1st is Arbor Day in Texas, so plan now to plant a shade tree so future generations can sit in its shade and wax poetically about forests and acorns.

Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree oak tree. ~ Martin Luther

gardening, nature

Buttonbush for pollinators

When I broke ground on my first garden area 23 years ago, I knew I wanted to create a habitat for butterflies and birds, lizards and toads and such. But specifically bees? Pollinators? It wasn’t until the European honey bee’s population started to decline from Colony Collapse Disorder around 2006 that our pollinators gained some much deserved attention.

buttonbushbee

Eleven years ago, the U.S. senate voted to mark a week each year to address pollinators’ declining populations. What started as an American initiative is now a worldwide movement to “promote the health of our pollinators, critical to our food and ecosystems, through conservation, education and research.” (Mission statement from Pollinator Partnership.)

This week is National Pollinator Week. Somehow a week hardly seems enough time to celebrate our pollinators, so vitally important to our world’s food supply. Currently, about one third of the food we consume is reliant upon pollinators for production.

Pollinator Partnership reports there are 200,000 species of pollinators, with only about 1,000 of those being hummingbirds, bats and small mammals. Bees, ants, beetles, butterflies and moths make up the remaining pollinators.

buttonbushbutterfly2

After all these years of gardening in North Texas, I have several plants that I now recommend for attracting wildlife, specifically butterflies and bees. But one plant, in particular, is my favorite – and it is also one of the unsung natives that, like pollinators, deserves more attention.

Buttonbush – Cephalanthus occidentalis

This plant – large shrub or small tree, depending on how pruned – produces white perfectly spherical globes of nectar.

buttonbush3

Butterflies, bees and other beneficial insects dine on the nectar, with birds eating the fruits in the winter. Buttonbush is also a host plant for several species of butterflies and moths.

buttonbush2

Buttonbush is native to many areas of the United States and can be found naturally growing in wet areas. Thankfully it is highly adaptable and will grow in any soil type and in a traditional garden setting. It likes full to partial sun.

buttonbushladybug

To attract pollinators, it is important to select a variety of plants so your garden features blooms throughout the growing season. Native plants are preferred, whenever possible. Be sure to include larval host plants, such as milkweed for monarchs and fennel or dill for swallowtail butterflies. And. Avoid pesticides!

Please visit Pollinator Partnership for additional information and ideas on what you can do in your own backyard or corner of the world to support pollinators.

pwgraphic-for-SM-post

bibliophile, gardening, nature

The Praying Mantis

In the insect world, there are good bugs and there are bad bugs. And then there is the praying mantis. The indiscriminate hunter. The dinosaur of the insect world. The hunter and the hunted. Both intriguing and deadly.

Watching a praying mantis stalk its prey feels a bit like Jurassic Park. They will sit still, waiting the perfect moment to ambush the unexpecting. Insect. Lizard. Small bird. They don’t care. They will take down a nasty grasshopper just as easily as a beautiful butterfly or a beneficial honeybee. They are carnivores, eating meat instead of vegetation like many garden insects. The mantis: both good bug and bad bug. All in one fascinating package.

Mary Ann, a child’s picture book by Betsy James, was a favorite at our home when my son was young.

elf on mantis 2

Amy, sad that her best friend Mary Ann moved away, told her daddy that she wished there were hundreds and hundreds of Mary Anns. “Then if one ever moves away, it wouldn’t matter,” she says. When Amy finds a praying mantis in her clubhouse, she names the mantis Mary Ann and puts the mantis in a terrarium inside their home. Every day the mantis gets larger and larger, until one day, “when summer was over, she pushed a ball of foam out of her tail, onto a fern stem.” This foam hardens, thus protecting the eggs inside. Mary Ann, the mantis, passes away after laying her eggs, as often happens in the insect world. Time passes, and the lid falls off the terrarium. Then.. one day… the family returns home to find…the egg has hatched!

“Look at all the Mary Anns!”

Hundreds and hundreds of Mary Anns.

mantis2

Mary Anns in the teacups. Mary Anns on the toaster and the telephone, under the soap, behind the vegetables! Mary Anns all over the house! “I had hundreds and hundreds of Mary Anns,” the excited girl in the story exclaims!

And such it is when a praying mantis egg hatches. A small hard foamy egg about the diameter of a quarter, home to hundreds of babies!

mantis5

The babies, about the size of half a grain of rice, emerge in bunches, by the hundreds.

mantis1

It is an amazing sight to behold.

The female mantis lays one egg case in the fall – a foamy capsule, generally attached to a small stem or branch. She then dies. Come spring, the egg case hatches.

Praying mantis egg cases may be purchased from science supply companies, online garden sources or at some local nurseries. Place the egg case in a (well!) covered terrarium (so you don’t have Mary Anns in your teacups!)  Make sure the terrarium is out of direct sunlight! And then…wait patiently…ever so patiently…until one day you will notice – movement! The egg case is…covered…with itty bitty baby praying mantis.

There are around 2,000 species of mantis around the world. Depending on the species, one praying mantis may lay up to 400 eggs.

mantis4

The praying mantis has an incomplete metamorphosis, meaning that the nymph (young insect) that emerges looks like a mini replica of the adult praying mantis. Triangular head. Bulging compound eyes. Elongated body. Large forelegs, perfectly adapted for catching prey.

elf on mantis 3

Fierce hunter, right from the beginning. Once hatched, the terrarium lid needs to be removed so the mantis can scatter. They are hungry and ready to eat immediately and, if not able to find other food, they will turn cannibal.

praying mantis

Insects that go through incomplete metamorphosis have three stages of life – egg, nymph and adult. They will shed their hard exoskeleton as they grow, molting, discarding one exoskeleton for another, several times throughout their short lives. Most of the praying mantis species in our country grow to about three inches in length.

Never pick up a praying mantis, as they are easily injured. However, you can place your hand near them and they will walk onto you. No need to worry about being bit.

Whether they are beneficial to an organic garden or not is debatable, but hatching a mantis egg is a fun spring-time science experiment for children – of all ages!

elf on praying mantis

bibliophile, nature

Mr. Crinkleroot

I would like to introduce another long-time friend of mine.

Mr. Crinkleroot.

I could tell you all about him, but I think I will let him speak for himself. “Crinkleroot was born in a tree and raised by bees.” How cool is that? “He can whistle in a hundred languages and speak caterpillar, salamander, and turtle, too.” I want that Super Power! But most importantly, “he knows all about wild animals, even the ones that live around your house.”

Mr. Crinkleroot, you see, is a rugged naturalist, a creation of Jim Arnosky, self taught writer, artist and natural scientist.

arnosky books1

My son and I first met Mr. Crinkleroot when my son was just a wee thing, maybe preschool or kindergarten age. We had read this wonderful book called Owl Moon by Jane Yolen and my son wanted to learn more about owls. A library catalog search led us to All About Owls by Jim Arnosky, which led us to dissecting our first of many owl pellets and thus began a long relationship with Mr. Arnosky and Mr. Crinkleroot.

“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire,” wrote William Butler Yeats. Lighting that fire, raising the curiosity, that is what Mr. Crinkleroot did in our household and what he has done for a great many other children.

Our family has kept a nature collection for many years. Throughout this post, there will be photographs of Mr. Arnosky’s books, along with items from our nature collection. For us, the two went hand in hand. The more we read about and studied nature, the more we discovered, even when we weren’t looking for it. Suddenly that dead moth on our driveway wasn’t just a dead moth on our driveway. It was something to observe, something to admire, something to collect. No animals or insects were harmed in the making of our nature collection. (The tree was harmed, but it needed to go and a dozen better adapted trees were planted in its place. The turtle shell was found on our property as is. I fear it was our neighbor’s turtle that escaped their yard several years before I found its remains.) Please be sure to look at Mr. Arnosky’s art work in the photographs. The attention to detail is what drew us into his work.

nature collection

We now own more than a dozen of Mr. Arnosky’s books. Don’t be impressed by our collection. He has written and published more than 130-some books! I obviously have more book collecting to do before I even make a dent in his publications.

Besides Mr. Arnosky’s amazingly detailed illustrations, the drawings are often life size.  Thunder Birds, in particular, has fold out pages that show the real size of a pelican’s beak and an osprey’s wing span. Did I mention he is a self-taught artist?! That fact is even more impressive when you see his illustrations on that larger scale.

arnosky book turtle

Big Jim and The White-Legged Moose, thankfully, is not drawn life size. The tall-tale was inspired by Mr. Arnosky’s real life encounter with a bull moose in the fall of 1987.  “Big Jim dropped his art supplies and climbed a nearby birch. With the bull below, Jim prayed, as if he were in church.” I won’t give away the ending, but it is a fun book worth seeking out.

arnosky snake

Crinkleroot’s guide books inspired a great many nature hunts and explorations of us. Crinkleroot’s Guide to Knowing…  The Trees… Butterflies and Moths… Walking in Wild Places… Animal Habitats… These books are very informative, with practical information like how to identify poison ivy and poison sumac. Crinkleroot’s Guide to Knowing Animal Habitats details the three most common types of wetlands – marsh, bog and swamp – along with drawings of what animals might be found in each place. As with many of his drawings, every butterfly and moth featured in Crinkleroot’s Guide to Knowing Butterflies and Moths is shown real size. His information – as detailed as it is – is always presented in such a way that even the youngest child can appreciate.

arnosky tree ring

Mr. Arnosky’s books reflect his admiration of other naturalists before him, such as John Muir and John Burroughs. Field Trips, a book that continues to inspire me to grab my binoculars and field guides and head out on a hike, was dedicated to the great ornithologist, Roger Tory Peterson. Field Trips, like all of his books, is a treasure trove of his art work – more than 300 drawings and 175 identification silhouettes.

arnosky shells

If you are looking for a book for an older child, or even for yourself, Nearer Nature is Mr. Arnosky’s reflections and observations of life on his Vermont farm. Secrets of a Wildlife Watcher is another great book for older readers, as it explains how to find and observe wild animals in their various habitats.

arnosky books dragonfly

“When you witness an intimate tidbit of a wild animal’s private life, glean all you can from the experience. Pay attention to the details, and wonder about what you see… Don’t just look. Observe…You can always be sharpening your powers of observation.” (page 44 of Secrets of a Wildlife Watcher) Whenever I read that quote, I am reminded that some medical schools today require their students to study art, as that power of observation, being able to look and find the smallest detail, is fading away, yet it is an important skill to have and to hone.

I would like to end this post with a direct quote, as I couldn’t say it better myself. “(Crinkleroot) can find puzzles hidden among the leaves and stories written in the snow. There’s nothing he’d like better than to share them with you.” ~ Jim Arnosky

bibliophile, gardening, herbal fare, nature, vintage

the melodious garden, explained

An orchestra pulls in many elements to make a wondrous song. The conductor. The musicians. The instruments. The acoustics of the performance hall.

And so it goes with gardening. A gardener pulls together plants, the elements, the sights and sounds of nature, to make a harmonious garden… a melody.

And such, the melodious garden is born. I seek to pull together the sights, sounds and textures of life, to pass along my love of books and gardening, beautiful creations and flowers and nature.

the melodious garden is coming together in pieces and parts. This blog. My garden boutique at The Grapevine Antique Market. (Booth U16, in “The Loft.”) Selling used books on Amazon. There are a few more garden related adventures on the horizon that will come together in time. My lovely sister-in-law, Kerri, is joining me on part of this journey, as she will be selling her floral creations in my garden boutique.

I have no idea where this path will lead, but life is always an adventure.

 

bibliophile, gardening, herbal fare, nature, vintage

The journey to the melodious garden


I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
by Robert Frost

Not one to take the well-traveled paths in life, I start this blog and business adventure to mark a new beginning. My days as a stay-at-home mom less justifiable now than ten years ago, my fiftieth birthday fast approaching, I look ahead with wonder and excitement. Which path should I now take? The road is diverging.

Always a list maker, I start out. I know I want to be surrounded by nature and beautiful things and I want to work the soil. Return to an office job? No. Never again. My list of wants grows longer: flexibility, not doing the same thing day in and day out. I want to work with books and promote literacy. I love the design and functionality and beauty of vintage dishes and pottery. I love the texture and smell of wood and want to build and create. My list of wants grows longer still. But how to ever tie them together?

A melodious owl enters my life. Like the father and daughter out listening for owls on a cold winter night in Owl Moon, I hear the owl calling. “Overhead he heard the cry of what might have been a melodious owl, but it wasn’t a melodious owl. It was a flying saucer from Tralfamadore, navigating in both space and time, therefore seeming to Billy Pilgrim to have come from nowhere all at once.” (Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut)

And so it goes.

the melodious garden is born.