Sunday, January 31, 2010

Hydrastis canadensis

I've finally finished going through all of the photos I took last season, quite a few thousand of them, and have added them to the website. As promised, my first series of the year will be on medicinal plants. I was recently reading an old book that I had on my shelf as I was supposed to be straightening up - you know how that goes, find an interesting book you haven't looked at for a long time and that's the end of the straightening project. Anyway, the book is 'Using Plants for Healing' published by Rodale Press in 1963. Not sure if it is still in print. At any rate, that's where most of the information comes from, along with my own observations on growing these plants. For anyone new, all photos come from my gardens.
Today we have Hydrastis canadensis or Golden-seal. It is also called Yellow Root around here. It was made know to us by the Cherokee Tribe and was listed as an official drug until about the mid 20th century. Increasing scarcity in the wild may have been the reason for taking it off the list. It was widely distributed in rich woods and was grown commercially here in Ohio at one time.
The roots which are definitely very yellow, have been used as a dye. To use this plant, they dried and powdered the root (hence the problem with wiping out the wild colonies as is was difficult to sustainable harvest it). The powder would then be dissolved in boiling water. It was used as a tonic. It was reported that the Native Americans used it for ulcers and arrow wounds. An older reference stated that it could be used for "dyspepsia, erysipelas, remittent, intermittent and typhoid fevers, torpor of the liver, ophthalmia, ulceration of the mouth and spermatorrhea."
Another source says "it may be given alone or in combination with other suitable medicines and it promotes digestion, improves the appetite and acts as a general stimulant to the system. In convalescence it is highly beneficial." That is more along the lines of how I have heard of it being used.
It is a lovely plant for the shade garden and blooms in late spring or early summer. The clump is slowly spreading and reliably comes back every year, just a little larger. It is about a foot tall and each stem has one leaf and one bloom.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

First Bloom of the New Year

We have always said that there is something blooming in the gardens every month of the year, and this year is no exception. We had dianthus and pansies blooming in December and now I have seen the first Hamamelis (witchhazel) bloom over at Lake Amanda. It will take a few weeks of temperatures that are a bit warmer than the below freezing ones we've had for the past few weeks, but it is so nice to see color on something out there. As a matter of truthful disclosure, the photo is one I took last spring since the blooms are just now starting to open, but the color is visible from a distance and that is always a good thing in January when the garden is composed of mostly muted shades. Even the wonderfully colored conifer, despite colors of yellow, gold, white and blue, presents an overall sort of grey to the garden from a distance.
Even more that the bright colors of the witchhazel is the wonderful scent which can fill the whole garden on a sunny afternoon. It will be a few weeks before we can enjoy that, but anything to look forward to gardenwise this time of year can only be a good thing. We have been looking through catalogs for a few things to add to the gardens and will probably finalize those orders today in between more work on the website. For those who have been waiting for the new photos there, the hosta and daylily sections are finished as are those sections of the catalog. I'm working on perennials now. I added almost 500 new daylily photos. I had no idea I had taken that many. I know now that my focus for this year will be the hostas since I'm really unhappy with a lot of the photos there - old and degrading. Wish I knew how to keep the digital photos from degrading over time. Anyone know how to do that - please post to let me know.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

For the Birds

I've been thinking for awhile about adding some bird photos to my collection, but never seem to have the time during the busy gardening season to just sit quietly and wait for a bird to pose properly for a portrait. Anyone who knows me will tell you I'm not much for sitting still (except after supper with my knitting - and by then the birds have mostly gone off to bed). This seems to be a perfect time, as long as I keep my windows clean enough to take pictures through. Much too cold and snowy lately to spend a lot of time out of doors.
The little guy is a Downy Woodpecker (female - the males have a red splotch on their heads). They sure do like their suet this time of year. We have 4 kinds of woodpeckers here, mostly year round. There is one that is about half again as large as this one with the same coloration that is called a Hairy Woodpecker. I'll have to look into where that name came from sometime since it makes no sense just looking at the bird. Our larger woodpecker is a Red Bellied. I thought that was strange since when you look at it the head is red, but now that we have the suet feeded, you can see it's belly and it does indeed have some downy red feathers there. Not a lot, but they are definitely red. Our largest woodpecker is the Pileated. They are the ones that look like Woody Woodpecker from the cartoons - and sound a lot like that too. They don't come into feeders which is a good thing since they are really huge and would surely scare away all of the other birds. We do see them flying across the yard frequently, though.
We feed birds year round from a number of feeders around the house - something like 50 pounds of seed every 2 or 3 weeks this time of year. I like having them here because they are such a help at keeping the insect population down in addition to being so pretty. And feeding them doesn't keep them from eating other things as some would fear. It just supplements their diet this time of year when food is scarce so that they can make it through this really cold and snowy weather. We have very few mosquitos despite the number of ponds we have, virtually no Japanese beetles and far fewer caterpillars. We do feed year round, but can always tell when their other food is plentiful because they always prefer it to the things we offer and mostly ignore the feeders. There is always a spike in eating when there are new babies though and they are so much fun to watch as the parents try and teach the babies how to pick up seeds on their own instead of waiting on a branch to be fed.
As the gardens have grown and matured, the number of bird species has really grown. It seems like every year we discover a new one. The list is actually quite huge at this point as compared to our bird feeding when I was growing up when we had sparrows, pigeons and the occasional cardinal.
Back to plants next time even though we have about 8 inches of snow on the ground and it is really cold out there. The witchhazels have very swollen buds as does the February Daphne, so it won't be long before things are blooming again in the hollow.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Maples in the Fall

I am finally getting through with organizing all of the photos I took this fall. Some of the best color, not unexpectedly, comes from the maples. This is 'just' a seedling, Acer palmatum purpureum, and though the red leaves hold all summer on this one, it is the fall color in the late afternoon when the sun seems to illuminate the leaves from within, that it just takes over the garden. You can get some idea of how this one lights up from the photo, but you'll just have to believe me that in person it is really unbelievable.
This next one, with a rich yellow/gold color in the fall has green leaves in the summer. We don't know its name since it was one that had lost its tag at some garden center many years ago and which we got for next to nothing because of it not having a proper name. It has turned out to be quite beautiful with it's spreading shape making a canopy over a small pond. It has taken some shaping over the years to achieve this shape. We expect it might be a cultivar called 'Waterfall', but without a tag, we can never be really sure.
The name of this one escapes me at the moment, but I do know that it is the only one we have that gets this outrageous color. This isn't a fake or retouched picture, but the actual color each and every fall. I love dependable plants. It is a rather small maple, maybe 6 feet tall after a dozen or so years.

This is a closeup of the leaves from the first picture.
This last one is the fall color on a fullmoon maple, Acer shirasawanum 'Aurea'. The color for most of the season is gold/chartreuse or some variation on those colors. Fall just lights this one up too.

More fall color on other plants in my next post.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Let the Sun Shine In

The title for this post isn't really as off base as it seems when you look at the pictures. The story is thus: We had a large white pine tree along the road at the front of our house. Last winter's bad ice storm broke a number of branches off and made it so heavy that it developed a decided lean towards the road. We expect that the weight of all that snow and ice broke a root. At any rate, we began to notice that it seemed to be leaning a bit more, then more, then more. Although I was thankful that it wasn't leaning towards the house, it was, unfortunately, leaning towards the electric lines. Not a good thing for us or all of the neighbors should it decide to fall down. It took a couple of weeks after we called to them to actually show up to do the job, and every day we watched to see if it was leaning more or if we were just imagining that it was leaning more - and hoping that we didn't have heavy snow or ice before it was taken down.
Now, I hate to lose a tree, especially one that is that old and tall. It was between 90 and 100 feet tall and eventually I'll get out there and count the rings on one of the largest logs to find out how old it is. We think it is probably about 70 years old from what former owners told us about their tree planting. I can't say enough nice things about the Asplundh guys who came to work on it. It was a day long process - a full work day - and they worked hard. We got two huge piles of wood chip mulch out of the branches and about 25 eighteen inch tall, almost 2 feet wide logs which we will use for seating eventually, once the sap has gotten out.

I'm glad it wasn't me up in that bucket. I don't really mind heights, but he was about 60 feet up and it wiggled more than I would have liked. They were using it as a training thing for one of the new guys because we have almost no traffic and they could take their time.
First they started at the bottom and took off all of the branches. As he cut them and dropped them, some of the others ran them through the chipper. It was a cold day, but we spent a lot of time outside watching. I think the noise from the chipper was a lot worse than the cold.

I'm glad they knew what they were doing since you can see just how close that electric line is to the tree - just on the other side of the road.

They put a rope on the top of the tree and the guy in the bucket cut it as high as he could, which meant that about a 30 foot piece would come down first. They were so good that they only broke just a couple of small branches on a small shrub. Pretty amazing when you consider how much wood came down. The rest of the trunk came down in 18 inch long chunks which we hauled off the next day, across the road to be edging for our parking lot, at least for now. I wish we could have used it for the woodstove, but pine isn't good for woodstoves because of the high sap/resin/whatever you call it in the wood.
As for the title of my post - this pine tree was on the south side of one of our hosta gardens, so there are some hostas that are going to be a lot more sun this summer. I hope that the extra water they get because the huge tree is no longer sucking up so much will compensate for it, but we shall see. In the meantime, I'm getting used to a large hunk of the sky showing and almost being able to see the sun rise.