Sunday, August 30

Signs that Autumn is Just Around the Corner: Critters, Sedums & Locks

A turtle made of found objects soldered together by a friend; my cracked pot of hens & chicks seemed the perfect thing to slip into the wheel to complete his shell. See the orange pyracantha berries--already!--in sprays behind him?

I love autumn; it's my favorite season of the year, from the rich smells of decaying, earthy leaves and acrid, smoky bonfires to the glorious last blazes of color in the garden. Once the calendar hits August, I usually start thinking fall. I look forward to pulling out sweaters for brisk walks, plan for a visit down to the local apple orchard, and vigorously rid the house of summer's whirlwind mess the way that most people do spring cleaning months earlier.

But this year... well this year, I'm just not ready yet for fall! Maybe that's because I've been so busy (I made only 19 posts in all of 2009 so far? Yikes!) or maybe it has more to do with the fact that summer seems to have forgotten us this year. Either way, the signs of an impending autumn are undeniable... and I'm not particularly happy about finding a lot of them in my garden this weekend.

A ladybug by the same friend, made out of an old pipe cap and some other spare parts. I am seeing less ladybugs, and many more grasshoppers and other "late summer" bugs, in the garden these days.

For one thing, the 'Matrona' sedum that I love in every other stage but bloom... is blooming. I know that many people have asked in the comments about why I don't keep it from blooming, or replace it with something else. Two reasons: 1) I love the dried flowerheads. 2) The bees love the blooms!

I tried to count the bees on one of my two 'Matrona' plants today, and I was up in the 30s before I lost track of the number!

My summer-flowering sedums, like 'Fuldaglut,' 'Red Dragon,' and 'Voodoo' are all spent. Some are coloring up nicely, and still look full, but the ones that get a bit of shade--like the one below--start to look scraggly at this time of the year:

A couple of sedums are still in bud, though. Here's a variegated (unnamed, bought at a plant sale, but probably sedum alboroseum) one that prefers a bit of shade:

Sedum alboroseum (I think) nestled in with horehound at the base of sorghastrum nutens 'Sioux Blue'

And here's the sedum that I showed in my bloom day post, still nestled up against the warm brown of the nearby rock:

Sedum cauticola 'Lidakense'

By the way, if I ever do get rid of 'Matrona' it will be to replace them with more of this wonderful sedum that I bought last year from Plant Delights as 'Hab Gray' sedum telephium:

Sedum telephium (bought as 'Hab Gray') with a 'Sky Pencil' Japanese holly, red cabbage and blue fescue in the background

I'm kind of convinced that I have something different, though, because Tony Avent's notes on 'Hab Gray' say that you can expect "clusters of pink flowers"... and these are more of a yellow flower. That's perfect for me, so I'm not complaining! Also notice in the photo above how the flower buds continue all the way down the stems--very nice.

And as if that wasn't quite enough, check this out:

'Maybe Hab Gray' (as I think of it) sprouting up amongst the cutback stalks of drumstick allium

Awww... it's a little baby! In fact, I have at least 6 of these little guys sprouting up within 3-4 feet of my 'Hab Gray,' and that's fine with me. I'll be transplanting a few of them to various spots around the Lock Garden next spring, assuming they overwinter okay. (They're so little, and none of them will hurt anything where they are now, that I'm leaving them alone until spring.)

Speaking of the Lock Garden, I finally got it weeded, mulched and cleaned up. That's another sign that autumn is just around the corner--I always save this area for last, since very few edibles are grown here and the plants that do reside in "the locks" are tough cookies. Some areas are filling in very nicely already:

Sedum sieboldii, 'Metallica Crispa' ajuga, silene, 3 kinds of thyme, a self-seeded blue fescue and some random baptisia foliage in the lock garden.

A close-up of the sedum, silene, ajuga, and thyme--which is the beautiful 'Clear Gold' from Mulberry Creek--meshing together underneath one of the metal industrial shelves that serve as "bridges."

A few of the plants, like this lavender thyme, were a little too happy and needed to be cut wayyyy back. You can probably tell by the way his branches are draped that I chopped about half of the plant out toward the bottom of the lock:

Cutting back thyme (and other herbs) is always an enjoyable job, but this garden will need some "real" work within the next year, though. Where the clumpier sedums reside, the sides of the locks have caved in a bit, burying some of the stone that I culled (with permission) from work) to line the lock. Their roots aren't vigorous enough to hold the soil in place the way the roots of the thyme and creeping sedums do:

And I still have some framing and pebbling (technical term... ;) to do under the shelves that are either fully or partly resting on the ground. Here's one of the frames--made from cedar, and filled in with pebbles and a small sedum album that I love and let wander a bit--that I built last year:

That frame is a simple one, so the 2-3 identical ones that I need to make for the land part of the pathway should be easy. The shelves that partly hover above the ground will not be so easy. I will have to artfully construct two separate boxes--one for each end--for shelves like these:

Two of the "bridges" over locks in the Lock Garden that will need box ends to support them. The bridge in the foreground is over the sedum/silene/thyme/ajuga combo shown above. That's part of my asparagus bed (which is beneath a small 'Himrod White' grape arbor) falling onto the pathway on the left, and self-seeded blue fescues on the right. The second bridge goes over two different types of blue-leaf sedums.

I imagine that I will either need to shore up the end of the frame that abuts the plants in the lock with stone (or maybe a full plank of cedar?) before I can pebble them, to make sure that the pebbles stay where I want. It will definitely be an engineering job, but once the frames and pebbles are in place they will stay there for a long time... only the blue shelves get lifted off of the frames and stored in the garage for the winter.

I'm trying not to panic just thinking about how much I still want to get done in the garden this year--not to mention the need to finish my fence painting, too! And I don't have very much time.... after all, autumn appears to be just around the corner. :(

Friday, August 14

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day August 2009

It's Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day (hosted by Carol of May Dreams Gardens)... and it's a typical August weekend here in Northeast Ohio. We are finally hot and muggy--yes, I mean that WE are hot and muggy, just like the weather!--and the gardens are in their midsummer doldrums, where most everything looks a little worse for the wear and the annuals try to catch their second wind before they put on a good fall show.

There are a few exceptions to the doldrums, of course, and I think that this time around I'll show off the backyard blooms first before I move around to the front. But only because the star of my garden right now is the lovely verbena bonariensis, a.k.a. "tall verbena," "Brazilian verbena," or verbena-on-a-stick:

Verbena bonariensis, an anual that doesn't quite reseed as freely as I would like, backed by sorghastrum nutens 'Sioux Blue'

Most of my spring bloomers are long gone--and even some summer blooms, like the drumstick allium, have called it quits--but my silene is still blooming off and on:

Silene uniflora maritima 'Compacta' putting out some more blooms and mingling with 'Metallica Crispa' ajuga and one of my golden-leaf thymes... incidentally, I know that I had promised someone seeds of this last year, but I don't have any clue who that was. If it's you, email me to let me know!

Okay, this one isn't quite in bloom yet, but many of my sedums look really pretty in bud, too:

I'm pretty sure that this is sedum cauticola... the leaf color just looks more purple than blue because it doesn't get as much sun as my truly blue-leaf versons do!

... and here's one that I actually prefer in bud, 'Matrona,' (which flowers... ugh... pink!) alongside Russian Sage:

Love it now... but hate it when the 'Matrona' sedum blooms cotton-candy-pink against the already-sweet purple of the Russian sage.

In the shade garden by the driveway, 'Othello' ligularia sometimes pouts and droops its leaves in the heat... but it's still blooming away in a bright cheddar-y yellow:

'Othello' ligularia with golden creeping jenny, 'Jack Frost' brunnera, ferns, 'Chocolate Chip' brunnera, black mondo grass and the brick-y orange of the bamboo pot to break up the monotony

Keeping 'Hopi Red Dye' amaranth confined to one corner is working out fairly well so far... as is having that area be Coco's Corner, since the ones she happens to bend over fall artfully into the also-blooming 'All Gold' hakone grass:

'All Gold' hakonechloa macra, 'Hopi Red Dye' amaranth, and foliage from hellebores, goatsbeard, ligularia and sweet woodruff

Moving on to the front yard, there are more annual reseeders to be found. Nestled amid the catmint (which I need to cut back again for a little more rebloom) are some red-toned snapdragons that were allowed to stay--the white and pink ones are always weeded out for bouquets!

Random red snapdragons with 'Walker's Low' (probably, but a passalong) catmint

'Summerwine' achillea would reseed for me, except that I keep them deadheaded fairly well in order to get more bloom. This one needs to be trimmed a bit for both rebloom and to help it stand upright again--I put a little too much compost and manure on this bed in the spring, which the heucheras love but which makes the yarrows a bit indolent:

A lot going on here by the front porch! Plants from left to right: 'Garden Dwarf' culinary sage, Northern Sea Oats, 'Chubby Fingers' sedum album, 'Peach Melba' (I think?) and 'Obsidian' heucheras, 'Summerwine' achillea, bergenia cordifolia 'Bressignham Ruby'

On the other corner of the porch, the 'Purple Dragon' lamiums are starting yet another rebloom, entirely unaided by any gardener's work:

From top of picture to bottom: Japanese maple, 'Purple Dragon' lamium, Japanese bloodgrass, the foliage of (Spanish foxglove) digitalis parviflora

I've decided that my neighbor has the best view of all of my anemones, since they show up so nicely against the Japanese maple (as seen from her driveway):

From top of photo to bottom: Japanese maple, 'Northern Halo' hosta, golden marjoram/oregano, various Japanese anemones

I DO have a pretty good view of these dahlias, though, as I come down the stairs every morning:

I love this dahlia and wish I knew which one it was, but it came into the garden center without any tags as a spontaneous purchase from a regular supplier. Behind it you see variegated ginger, 'Frosted Curles' carex, 'Amber Waves' and another unnamed heuchera, 'Ivory Prince' hellebore foliage, and a blue haze of catmint blooms.

**EDITED TO ADD A BIG THANK YOU: To Chris, the wonderful photographer and blogger behind Digital Flower Pictures, for the comment that led me toward an ID (I think!) of this dahlia. I believe that it's 'Gallery Art Deco' and you can check it out on Dave's Garden via that link to let me know whether you think I'm on target! ***

And here's the last thing I notice before I get into my car. The lovely blooms on my oakleaf hydrangea:

At the top of the shrub, you can see a new, creamy white oakleaf hydrangea bloom... and in the middle bottom of this same picture you can see the browned remains of an earlier bloom, mixing in with the hazy purple-brown of 'Hameln' pennisetum flowers. Plants in this photo, from left to right: The blue foliage of crambe maritima, variegated iris spears, the oakleaf hydrangea and the pennisetum in front of it, culinary sage, and 'Golden Sword' yucca

That wraps up my highlights of this month as far as Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day is concerned. Go to Carol's August 2009 GBBD post to see more of what's in bloom all across the world!

Also in bloom here in my garden in August: 4 different hosta, 'Caradonna' salvia, salvia plumosa, ceratostigma plumbaginoides, my blackberry (weird... I'm eating berries already, and there are still branches in bloom?) and my strawberries, allium senescens var 'glaucum' and an unknown white-flowered allium, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, basil (oops!) and marjoram, golden marjoram, 'Rotstrahlbusch' panicum, 'Aureola' hakone grass, my wavy-leaf blue (unnamed) echeveria, bronze fennel, 2 kinds of thyme, 'Grosso' and 'Munstead' lavender, unnamed calendula, 'Tequila Sunrise' calibrachoa, 'Vancouver Centennial' geranium, annual salvias, 'Vodka' wax begonias, echonops ritro, and (the coral honeysuckle) lonicera sempervirens. Pyracantha and 'Albury Purple' hypericum have pretty berries, too.

That's (Aerial, Slug) Amore!

Anyone who sticks around here for very long soon discovers that this is not strictly a gardening blog. I am fairly easily distracted and I sometimes go off-topic, especially where nature or science is concerned. As a fair warning: This is one of those off-topic posts. And it might make a few people go "Eww!" (But it's also pretty amazing! :)

My boyfriend Steve often joins Miss Coco and I for our nightly walks, after volleyball games or after we have dinner at my place. Lately we have noticed quite a few leopard slugs making their way across the sidewalks in little trains of two, hooked together in the middle, like this:

Slug "train" on my front sidwalk... my hand is included for scale so you can see how large the slugs are around here!

We suspected that this was part of some kind of mating ritual, or maybe a precursor to... and after a minute or two of Google searching, we discovered that we were right. Apparently, if a slug wants to mate, it will change some of the secretions in its slime trail to advertise its desires. If another slug picks up on this special scent and is amenable to the idea, it will follow along closely behind the first slug, touching, to let it know that its invitation has been accepted.

I had seen pictures of leopard slugs mating before, but during our research Steve and I also found a couple of videos that showed slug sex--you can see one at the Animal Planet site, here, or search YouTube for the British clip. I wondered aloud where the slugs on my front sidewalk were going to fulfill their quest... but we agreed that we were not likely to actually witness slug sex in my yard until my trees get quite a bit older.

And then, on Tuesday, we walked up to the house after volleyball and saw this:

A tangle of two slugs. On a vertical surface. With a big blotch of slime sturdy enough from which to hang their trapeze rope. I was convinced that it could only be one thing: "Steve, look! I bet we're about to see Slug Sex!"

After coming over for a quick look, he turned to me with a grin: "I think you're right! So... we need to watch this. You're going to go get your camera, aren't you?" (See why I like him?!) By the time I fetched the camera--and the dog--the slugs had already started their descent:

They didn't dangle nearly as far down as I'd expected. And for most of the descent, they stayed curled up like this:

Once they were about 2-1/2 bricks' height down from the ledge, they stopped making their trapeze and started to uncurl and stretch out:

Then their male sex organs started to emerge. Slugs have both male and female sex organs, but they are not able to fertilize themselves--hence the need for these aerial acrobatics. The area of their bodies where all of the reproductive organs are located is called the mantle, and is located close to what we would think of as their "neck," as you can see here:

The male sex organs get longer fairly quickly, and start to drop straight down as they look to entwine with each other and swap sperm:

Unfortunately, I am not quite used to taking night photos on my parents' camera, so I didn't get a close-up shot of the entwined organs that wasn't blurry. Here is the best I could do:

In the "slug sex documentaries" we watched, after the transfer was complete the slugs dropped down off of the slime trapeze and onto the forest floor. Maybe dropping onto concrete was a less hospitable idea to these slugs, maybe they've adapted to city living over the years, or maybe they're a slightly different species than the ones in the video clips. Whatever the reason, they curled back up once they were finished and their organs were fully retracted...

... and then proceeded to "climb" back up the slime trail, to the top of the brick column:

Once they arrived back at their starting point, one slug rested on the vertical slime blotch for a while, while the other continued a short distance onto the horizontal top of the stone slab to take a rest. (And probably to fertilize the eggs.)

As I zoomed in on this last photo to make sure that I hadn't missed anything, I noticed a small circular "hole" in the top slug. A slug anatomy page told us that was the pneumostome, an opening to the slug's lung. The pneumostome is not usually open--the slug breathes through its body/skin normally, but when the slug is involved in strenuous activity the pneumostome opens to allow more surface area for air absorption. It's just about the size of the dot a pencil eraser makes if you dip its tip in ink, and you can see it just about 3/4" above the slug's head if you look:

Well, that's all that I know about Slug Sex in my garden... and I'm sure that this post has left its readers with at least two key questions. So for the gardeners out there who are wondering: Yes, I peacefully coexist with the slugs in my garden. I rarely (if at all) see slug damage on leaves, so they only annoy me when I accidentally touch one and get that slime all over my hands. The slime is very hard to wash off... and now I know why: It's apparently strong and sticky enough to double as a slug trapeze!

The answer to the second question is also Yes: Steve and I did jokingly wonder if being camped out on the front steps, snapping photos of the big slug sex event, meant that we were now voyeurs! Lol.

But seriously, I am beyond excited about witnessing this amazing mating procedure, and being able to share it here on my blog. I hope that you all found it interesting as well... and that nobody was particularly grossed out. (Sorry, Mom! :) If you're not particularly amused at digressions into crazy animal behaviors, don't worry: I have been taking lots of pretty garden pictures this week as well, so we'll be returning to our usual green-and-growing theme here very shortly! Have a great weekend...