Monday, May 27, 2013

Memorial Day 2013: Remembering Black Hawk Tail #57.

Honoring Black Hawk Tail #517 ~ You Will Never be Forgotten.
Memorial Day has come to have very special meaning for us. 

As members of Soldiers' Angels, we have supported many, many soldiers who served in Afghanistan and Iraq with cards, letters, care packages, and holiday gifts since we first joined the group in 2006.   

In 2010, we adopted an entire unit of 35 soldiers who were members of the 101st Airborne Combat Air Brigade, 101st Airborne Division.  This unit was based at Fort Campbell, Kentucky and had been deployed to Afghanistan where they were stationed at Kandahar Air Base.

In addition to the soldiers of the 101st, we also supported another platoon of 12 soldiers, members of a combined joint special operations task force serving in Tarin Kowt that our CAB unit delivered mail and supplies to.    

Capt. Nick Craig
Our unit of the 101st CAB brought mail, food, and supplies to  groups of soldiers stationed in the mountainous region  near Kandahar and served as the extraction team for any NATO troops in that region who were either in extreme danger or who had been injured or killed.  It was grim, dangerous work.

Our main contact for both units during the deployment was Capt. Nick Craig, one of the Black Hawk pilots in the CAB unit we were supporting.   Nick relayed messages to us, letting us know what kinds of food, clothing, and toiletries the special forces soldiers needed, and what the soldiers in his own unit needed as well.  

We sent cards and letters every week and more than two dozen care packages every month, including complete meals, toiletries, and snacks for the special forces soldiers.   

We also sent each of our soldiers a Christmas stocking stuffed with goodies from their "Wish List". (That was a major production but we pulled it off!)   And we sent each one of them one of the "US Flag" T-shirts we are wearing (above photograph).

On September 21, 2010, the U.S. suffered one of the most devastating losses of the entire war when one of the unit's Black Hawk helicopters, tail #517, crashed, claiming the lives of 9 soldiers and sailors. 

While we were grateful that Nick was not flying that day, the five soldiers who perished were members of the 101st CAB.   The other four troops who died in the crash were sailors, members of a special forces combined group.  Three were Navy SEALs and the fourth was a Navy cryptologic technician assigned to a Naval Special Warfare unit. 

Their unit emblem, sent by Nick, shortly after the crash.
Nick sent us an email about the crash and a couple of days later, when names were officially released, sent along their names as well as photographs.  He helped in the recovery of the remains of soldiers who he knew and flew with.  We can't imagine how difficult that must have been for him and for the entire unit.   

Despite not having met any of "our" soldiers or knowing them personally, the loss was very personal to us.  We held every one of them very close to our hearts. 

Nick organized a memorial to honor the soldiers who died and single-handedly raised the funds to build it.  The memorial was dedicated at Fort Campbell on my birthday, January 6, 2012.    

We couldn't be there for the dedication, but Nick sent us a certificate commemorating the day and acknowledging that a flag was flown in our name by a Black Hawk over Afghanistan.  We were very touched by the honor.  He also sent us their unit emblem which hangs in our kitchen.  

As we have done each year since this tragedy occurred, today on Memorial Day, we are remembering and honoring the soldiers and sailors who perished in the  crash of Black Hawk #517.  

In 2011, we dedicated the circular rose and cottage garden in front of our home to the memory of these soldiers and placed American flags around  the circle, one for each soldier and sailor lost.   We left the flags flying in place until it was time to close the garden for the winter.

Last year,  we  erected a permanent memorial in the form of a figure of a soldier bearing a flag.   At night, the statue and flag are lit by a solar powered spot light that shines from dusk until dawn.   

We are grateful for the safe return of the many soldiers we supported over the past nearly 7 years.   For those who gave their lives to this effort, we have pledged to honor their memory.  With this garden, we will never forget. 

Here is our garden tribute to the soldiers and sailors who died on September 21, 2010 in the crash of Black Hawk Tail #517.

Red roses, white iris, blue catmint, and (off to the side out of view) peonies are in bloom.
Close-up of the statuary.


Remembering the Soldiers and Sailors 
from Black Hawk #517

Chief Warrant Officer Matthew G. Wagstaff
Sgt. Marvin R. Calhoun Jr.
Chief Warrant Officer Jonah D. McClellan
Maj. Robert F. Baldwin
Staff Sgt. Joshua D. Powell
Petty Officer 2nd Class Adam O. Smith
Lt. Brendan J. Looney

Senior Chief Petty Officer David B. McLendon
Petty Officer 3rd Class Denis C. Miranda

Author's Note:  Much of the content of this post is taken from our previous post about this courageous crew which we posted on Memorial Day, 2011.  You can read the previous post HERE. Photos were sent to us by Capt. Nick Craig shortly after the crash.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Invasion of the Cherry and Apple Snatchers

A common European Starling, in our cherry tree, December 4, 2012
Despite what I find to be attractive markings on their plumage, for all of their handsomeness, starlings are generally regarded as "pests" in birding circles.

Not native to North, Central, or South America, according to Wikipedia, they were first introduced in the United States in 1890-1891 by the American Acclimatization Society.  Eugene Schieffelin, then chairman of the organization, felt strongly that all birds ever mentioned in the works of William Shakespeare should be present in North America as well.  I am mystified as to what motivated him in this regard but he was apparently instrumental in bringing starlings and other birds to the continent. I wish he'd thought this through a little more carefully.

November, 2012 -- Starlings eating pokeweed berries on a brief stop during migration
I confess that prior to this year, I had little exposure to starlings.  I'd seen a few birds here and there, even seen some small flocks from time to time when the birds are migrating in autumn.  But mostly I saw them from a distance and if they stopped at our feeders or at any of the fruit producing trees or vines, it was only a few of them and they were here only briefly.  In fact, I recall wondering if the many reports I'd heard of the problems they can cause might have been exaggerated.

As part of the Cornell Birdwatch Program, I was watching and counting birds at our feeders and in our fruit trees, and over the course of the fall months, the most starlings I ever saw at one time was a group of nine birds that flew in briefly, fed on some knotweed berries, and then flew off again.

Nearly every branch of every tree was lined with starlings.
On December 4th,  I heard a deafening sound that was so close, my first thought was that the low flying Medevac helicopter that ascends overhead on departure from the local hospital was flying precipitously low or having some kind of engine problem - a very frightening concern.  But almost instantly I dismissed the thought -- the noise was different, strange, and the dogs were all barking as well. The Medevac helicopter is such a normal part of our day, we almost never "hear" it any more and the dogs wouldn't bark at it in any event.

When I went to investigate the source of the cacophony, I was stunned to find that every tree in our yard and on the adjacent property had been invaded by a massive flock of starlings that, based on counts we were able to make from a series of photographs I took at the time, numbered over a thousand birds.

Inside the house, the noise was loud, but standing outside on the deck, it was deafening.  Birds filled nearly every branch of every tree and flew in clouds between them.  Moreover, their distinct call sounded very aggressive and threatening.   I called the dogs and our cats into the house and began locking doors and windows.  Then I started laughing at myself - this wasn't Hitchcock's "The Birds", I told myself.  Clearly, my imagination was getting the better of me.

I was standing at the kitchen slider watching the flock flying in formation over our gardens when a small group of birds swooped over the deck.  A couple of the birds hit the sliding door to the kitchen and fell to the deck, momentarily stunned, but then rejoined the flock.  I continued to lock doors and closed the damper  over the grill in the kitchen to chimney.

Starlings flew in several large flocks
Every tree was densely covered with starlings.  The noise was deafening.
The cherry and apple trees were covered with fruit that would have fed the local birds and squirrels all winter.  I took this photograph the day prior to the visit from the starlings.  Here, a mockingbird is about to nibble a cherry.
The starlings picked the cherry tree nearly clean of fruit and ate almost a third of the apples in the apple tree as well.
The starlings picking away at the last of the cherries. 
A solitary starling perches on a branch after the cherry tree was  picked nearly clean of fruit.
Starlings cleaned up the cherries that fell to the ground beneath the tree. They clustered on the driveway, in the flower beds, and in the shrubs that grow under the two trees.  They also devoured the seed from the two bird feeders that hang in the cherry tree, as well as every other bird feeder on the property.
It took less than two hours for the birds to pick the cherry tree nearly clean of fruit.  I'm not sure why they favored the cherries over the crab apples - the trees stand side by side in front of the house and the fruit are similar in size and color.  Moreover, the cherries were not fully ripened, were as hard as the apples, and have a bitter taste compared to the apples.  Although they clearly preferred the cherries,  the starlings did manage to eat a sizable number of the crab apples.  When I compared photographs taken a day or two before, it looked as though a third of the small apples had been eaten.

They also descended on all of our bird-feeders.  Because we are so involved in the BirdWatch program, we have more than a dozen large bird-feeders and I had filled them all early in the day, the same day that starlings arrived.  It takes me almost 25 pounds of seed to fill the feeders, which I do about every 4-5 days.  After they were gone, I was startled to discover that every one of them was either totally empty or nearly so.   This is one of the larger feeders and one of only two that had any seed remaining in it whatsoever.
I had a hard time taking photographs as the birds flew in large flocks in and out of the tree, , throughout the back yard where they invaded all of our feeders, and swirled near the steps of the porch where I was standing.  They were frightening and more than once I dashed into the house, although none of them actually threatened me in any way.  I had never seen so many birds at one time.  

The one good thing that came of this was that many cherries fell to the ground during the feeding frenzy and starlings fed on the cherries that fell into the garden and onto the driveway.  Already, many cherries had been knocked to the ground by our resident squirrel and these cherries eventually sprout in the garden and between the pavers in the driveway and are a nuisance to have to weed out in the spring.  After they flew off, there was hardly a cherry to be found on the ground.

We didn't see any more starlings for several weeks.  Then, in the late afternoon of  January 11th, we were visited by another  much smaller but equally voracious flock.  Steve was working at home that afternoon and I went and interrupted him so that he could come out and witness the spectacle. As before, there were birds perched on all of the trees, although not as densely as before.  Periodically, they would fly from the trees in formation, swooping down over the meadow.
The starlings flew in several dense oval flocks like this one - their ability to move en masse without bumping into one another is amazing
They made dramatic figure eight arcs over the adjacent meadow, at one point briefly setting down in the meadow, ostensibly to look for food.  They quickly realized that the trees were a much better source of nourishment and headed back to the trees.
Eventually, they settled in the apple tree where, to the dismay of the mockingbirds and robins, they began to feast on the crab apples.

Starlings eating the crab apples.
It didn't take long before the starlings were picking the branches of the crab apple clean, in much the same way as they had eaten all of the fruit from the cherry tree just a month before. This photograph and the one above it were taken barely fifteen minutes apart.
Until this experience, unless it was defending its nest,  I had never seen a robin show aggression toward another bird.  In fact, in our yard, all of the birds seem to co-exist quite peacefully.   At one point, there was literally a screech-fest,with the starlings and robins cawing at each other. 
Several large robins, probably from Hudson Bay, had migrated south and wintered over in our yard.  They perched in the tree and screeched at the invading starlings.  The robins were not about to be chased from the tree nor let the marauding starlings make off with their entire supply of winter food.
Things finally came to a head when our resident mockingbirds joined the fray.  The mockingbirds love to sit in the top branches of the the trees and meow to the cats, who dutifully climb up the trees, looking for the "cat" friend who is calling to them.

In the midst of the uproar on this afternoon, three mockingbirds settled into the top branches and being to meow.  Our cats, hearing the call of the mockingbirds, made a dash for the tree and climbed to the lower branches.  The starlings flew off, leaving the robins behind. My guess is that the mockingbirds were attempting to defend their tree along with the robins and had no idea what an effect their particular call would have.   Hearing the "meow", the cats climbed up into their favorite low branch and the starlings flew off, leaving the robins and mockingbirds behind.   I was surprised that this large flock would be so afraid of two small cats!

As the cats climbed along the lower branches, the starlings took off, leaving the robins.  The mockingbirds and  robins have no fear of our cats, who frequently climb the trees when called by the mockingbirds. The cats have never shown any signs of aggression toward their feathered friends.  Out of view are the mockingbirds in the uppermost branches and the cats on the lowest one.

This was the last big flock of starlings to come through, and along woth our bird feeders, the fruit that remained was adequate to sustain the brids and squirrels

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Gobble Gobble Guests

The 40 acre meadow behind our home, woodlands behind the meadow.
This winter, for the first time ever since living here, we saw wild turkeys.

Our half-acre piece of heaven abuts a large tract of conservation land, about 80 acres in total, divided between a meadow and woodlands.  Much of it is wetlands at least part of the year.  Extending from the northern border of the meadow is a large horse farm which I've been told is another 55 acres.

With this much open land so close to us, even in a small city, the variety of wildlife we see is amazing.  Especially when you realize that our front door opens onto one of the busiest streets in the city, we are literally positioned between the best of both worlds.  Our yard is a haven for birds and we enjoy watching them year round. This year, for the first time, we participated in the Cornell University Ornithology Department's "Birdwatch" Program.

In the meadow we've seen deer,
Four does who were following a buck across the far side of the meadow, March 2013
fishercats, raccoons, skunks, foxes, woodchucks (groundhogs), coyotes, and turkey vultures.  The smaller rodents (voles, moles, mice, chipmunks, and rabbits) and snakes frequently invade our garden.

Although we support "wildlife" and are careful not to use any chemicals on our property that might leach into the wetlands and affect the abundant creatures who reside in the woods and meadow.  We are also concerned about protecting the bees, butterflies and birds that visit the yard.  But we find that good fences make good neighbors when your neighbors include a lot of wildlife.  Ours is reinforced with chicken-wire buried deep enough to thwart the burrowers.  Yet, with all of the wildlife surrounding us, we had never seen wild turkeys. 

Then, on Sunday, February 24th, shortly before noon, the snow had just begun  to fly for yet another of our typical New England winter storms when my son shouted to me that there were turkeys in the front yard.  Turkeys.  In our yard!  Our front yard!  This is the part of the yard facing one of the busiest streets in the city!

Certain he was mistaken, I ran to the front door and looked out to see three large turkeys stroll up the walk past our front door, then circle through the driveway, and loop back to head down our walkway to the back gardens where they headed back off into the meadow behind our home.

With only a pair of socks on my feet, I slid both of my feet into my husband's boots and stepped out onto the front porch to try to get a closer look, then headed for the deck off the kitchen where I watched as they meandered along the trees behind the houses next to us and disappeared from view.  It was a bit of excitement but I figured we'd seen the last of them.

Of course, my camera wasn't handy either, but as soon as they were out of sight, I retrieved it and photographed and measured their foot prints. The middle of the print measured 7.25 inches (18.4 cm) in length.  Mighty big feet.  Mighty big turkeys.

Some time later, I heard my son shouting again, calling me to come immediately.  Apparently, the turkeys had scouted the yard and reported back to the rest of the flock that there was a veritable buffet here, and they had returned en masse.  Eleven of them.  Eleven turkeys feasting on the sunflower seeds I had strewn on the snow for the mourning doves and on the remaining crab apples in our apple tree.  At one point, there were six large turkeys in this one tree, gobbling up [sorry, bad pun] the tiny apples while others picked the sunflower seeds out of the snow.

Wild turkeys scavenging for sunflower seed in our front yard. 
A turkey nibbles one of the crab apples in the tree.  The dark shape behind him on the left is another large turkey.
Two turkeys in the tree feasting on the crab apples.

Two weeks ago, four of the turkeys appeared again in the meadow.  I was happy to see them in the field, but relieved that they stayed there.  I admit, birds this size are a little bit intimidating, and I've been told that they have been known to fly over fences into backyards to eat in this area.

Three of the four turkeys congregate during their foray into the meadow.
In this photograph aken from across the meadow, a wild turkey forages for food.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Suddenly Spring, Part II: May 2013 Garden Blogger's Bloom Day

The forsythia and cherries are starting to wind down, but the bulbs continue to provide a burst of color everywhere you look.
It's almost mind boggling that most of the blooms featured in today's post were in bloom in time for the April Garden Blogger's Bloom Day post last year.  Granted, spring came very early last year and has been late in arriving this time around, but when the weather finally turned, almost overnight, color burst forth everywhere in the garden.

Ordinarily, the spring bloom occurs slowly and gradually from mid-March through the beginning of June.  This year, most blooms were at least 2-3 weeks behind (although we've almost caught up completely), and many things that ordinarily bloom sequentially like all of our apples, cherries, and crab apples) bloomed nearly simultaneously.

The hellebores were late and most of the earliest spring bulbs were also late -- ordinarily, the crocus and daffodils bloom weeks ahead of the tulips.  But I'm not complaining!  The garden is gorgeous, so lets take a quick stroll through some of the beds and see what is blooming -- or about to be -- on this sunny Garden Blogger's Bloom Day.

In the front cottage garden, most of the petals have fallen from the flowering cherry, but the sand cherry has once again blessed us with a wonderful fragrance and gorgeous sprays of delicate pink flowers. Considering that we nearly lost this tree (you can read about that HERE), we enjoy every minute that this lovely tree is in  bloom.

The fragrant blooms perfume the entire front yard.  Note the golden blossoms of the geum growing over the curbing in front of the shrubs.
The red eyes of the sand cherry blossoms are stunning.  The delicate blooms of the Mountain Geum (Geum montanum) are a bright contrast to the dark foliage.

The sun cottage garden is a riot of color and perfume. The last of the forsythia shines brightly in the background while creeping phlox, columbine, tulips, daffodils, and grape hyacinths fill the foreground.  The apple tree blooms in the upper left corner and the sand cherry puts on yet another amazing display this year.

The columbine has started to bloom and I am excited that most of my favorite colors have come back this year.  Since columbine hybridizes and self seeds freely, I am always worried that the original plants, although perennial, won't come back and the seeds that sprout won't resemble the original parent plants.  Many more varieties are just beginning to bud, so we will be enjoying these beautiful little blossoms for weeks to come.

The red columbine are among my favorite, second only to the powdery blue triple blossoms and the solid indigo blooms.
The shade cottage garden hasn't peaked.  While the pink and white bleeding hearts and all of the hellebores are blooming, the rhododendrons, Solomon's seal, variegated Jacob's ladder, and coral bells are still a week or two away from blooming.

Brunnera macrophylla "Jack Frost" and the hellebores are dusted with cherry blossom petals.
Candytuft blooms in the foreground.  White dicentra will provide a lovely backdrop for the variegated Jacob's ladder that is a few days away from blooming.  The hostas have transformed from tiny spears poking through the earth to dense clumps in a matter of only 3-4 days. Missing is the dense ground cover of my favorite spring bloom - violets - which were carefully weeded out (in error) by a too helpful friend.

The mauve hellebores are among my favorites.  The deep burgundy ones are hidden between the mauve and white, hard to capture in a photograph, but stunning nonetheless.
Veronica "Georgia Blue" in the foreground and blue forget-me-nots make a stunning ground cover under the pink dicentra.

Heucheras in every color are forming soft mounds in and among the remaining tulip, grape hyacinth, and daffodil blooms.  The petals of the cherry blossom fell like confetti in the brisk winds this week. Veronica is visible in the background.

Our blueberry bed is under-planted with spring bulbs, and the blue forget-me-nots add even more color in this small but colorful bed. Although the spring bulbs have been in bloom for several weeks, there is no shortage of color.

One of the blueberry shrubs, covered with the nondescript blooms that will become berries in a few months.
Blueberry blossoms aren't particularly attractive but like strawberry blooms, they tell of sweet things to come.
The dicentra is particularly stunning this year, as are the apple blossoms.

Blue and white is one of my favorite spring color combinations.  Here, miniature white tulips, grape hyacinths, white snowdrops, and white creeping phlox create a colorful contrast to the Japanese barberry and New Dawn climber (out of view in this photograph).
The yellow magnolia Yellow Bird blooms weeks after our saucer magnolia and our other yellow magnolia, Elizabeth.
Yellow Bird's blooms are a deep, lemony yellow, in contrast to Elizabeth's paler, butter yellow blossoms.  Against a bright blue sky, the effect is striking and dramatic.
This is my favorite white lilac.  From Select Lilacs Plus in Canada, it is one of the few shrubs that is blooming earlier than usual;  it usually blooms after the common lilacs.  It has a lovely vanilla scent.  It opened over the course of three days against the colorful backdrop of the quince, also in bloom.
The flower plumes and individual blossoms are twice the size of our other lilacs, the fragrance equally heavenly.
The flowering quince makes a stunning display in spring.
The bright coral blooms are exquisite.
On the island where we have our Black Hawk Tail #517 memorial, the peonies are budded and daylilies and tall phlox have grown a foot in the past week.  Foliage of the daffodils that bloomed earlier provide a backdrop to the flag.  Peaking in from the left is the catmint, which is a colorful and graceful companion plant to the roses on the island, once the spring flowers have finished blooming.
But our huge Blushing Knock-Outs, which anchored the right side of the island, were dealt a serious blow by a well-meaning but overzealous friend who reduced the five foot high and wide shrubs to a cane or two.  The Zepherine Drouin that once cascaded over the mailbox suffered a similar fate, and our beautiful white honeysuckle was also cut down at its base, just as it was about to bloom.

Also blooming on the island right now are our first of the taller iris.

The miniature iris bloomed a month ago - they are among our first harbingers of spring.

Most of our the tall bearded iris and rebloomers are little more than green spike just finding their way to the sun.  But these beauties, which seemed to barely have started to grow just a couple of weeks ago showed buds on the weekend and the first two blooms opened Wednesday morning, just in time for the Bloom Day photographs.

The Zen garden is also starting to come alive.  The dicentra is blooming and the hostas grow inch by inch, day by day. We still have to move the large urn that serves as a tranquil fountain from storage and set it up over the reservoir, another chore planned for this weekend.

Above, the ajuga has come into its own as well, creating a beautiful ground cover along the front of  the Zen garden where a short walk leads to the front patio.  You can see a few blossoms of the raspberry pulmonaria on the left, which makes a dramatic contrast with the ajuga in this bed.

The silver-spotted leaves of the pulmonaria "Raspberry Splash" are as gorgeous as the beautiful coral-purple shaded blooms.
 Dicentra, lungwort (pulmoneria) "Raspberry Splash", ajuga in the Zen garden.

From the Zen garden, an undulating swath of sweet woodruff  (Galium odoratum) grows along the path that leads down the hill from the cottage gardens to the all white shade garden, forming  a scalloped border along the hostas that also mark the border of the walkway.

These columbines are a unique pale blue with an unusual double to triple blossom.
Our shade gardens have been temporarily in far less than partial shade  since the stand of large weeping willows on the neighboring property was taken down over the past two years.

Hopefully the shade will be restored by the tulip tree that sprouted in the shade garden, which we had moved to a more appropriate location next to the shade beds but not quite as close to the house as where it originally sprouted.

Unfortunately, digging up and removing the tree resulted in some significant damage to the perennials surrounding it, so we will be replacing them later in the month.  But I was able to protect the powder blue double columbines that have become my favorites.  (Yes, I know, powder blue in our supposedly "all white" garden.)

These columbines bloom later than the others and are just now sending their flower spikes shooting skyward.  When they were originally planted, they were white, but my guess is that they self-hybridized and self-seeded and the resulting plants now produce the most exquisite baby blue almost ruffled flowers.  I am loathe to move them for fear they won't survive transplanting and anything else that sprouts won't be the sweet blue blooms I have come to adore.

Usually the lilies of the valley have bloomed by now and while other spring perennials have at least caught up and in some cases, are blooming ever so slightly ahead of schedule, these gals are lagging behind.  The white ones are just budded and the pink ones have not even sent flower spikes up yet.

The good news is that both varieties have continued to spread in the areas where we wanted them to, and in a few years, we should be able to pick bouquets!

Every now and again, a spot of color shows up in the all white garden.  We acquired some "end of season sale" bulbs that were deeply discounted.  Some had no tags, others, we found, were tagged incorrectly, such as these remains of red tulips that were mis-tagged as white tulips .  We'll move them in the fall.

Entering the back gardens through the gate next to the walkway is akin to entering another world.

The honeysuckle on the fence (Lonicera x heckrotti "Gold Flame"first bloomed several weeks ago, just as the leaves were beginning to bud.  I trimmed it back a little at that time (it does tend to get unruly) and it is now once again covered with fresh growth, abundant buds, and happily, no aphids.

Despite it's tendency to attract aphids, which are easily treated with a spray of soapy water,  this honeysuckle has been a stellar performer since we first planted it in 2004. Gentle trims (mostly to keep it under control) after each bloom cycle throughout the growing season are rewarded by even more fragrant blossoms.

I've noticed that some people are not as fond of the perfume as Steve and I are.   While we find it sweet and aromatic, several guests have asked at various times what that "smell" is.  I don't fully understand how fragrances can be perceived so differently, but at least for us, it's a gorgeous, pleasantly fragrant vine.

Even after a period of extremely cold weather and heavy "killing" frosts, if the weather warms even slightly, Gold Flame will come out of dormancy and reward us with a few fragrant blooms. And this spring, she did the same when we had a preview of spring in early April.

One thing I have noted, however, is that the color of the blossoms on our Gold Flame seem more softly muted and less harsh than both the tag that was with the plant when we acquired it and the on-line photographs I've seen.  I was initially reticent to purchase this vine based solely on the photograph on the tag tbecause I thought the color was too close to a scarlet to blend well with the other blooms in the area where we wanted to plant it.  However, whether it's because it grows in partial shade or because of some subtle mineral effect in the soil, I find the blooms to be a much softer magenta-pink than most photographs suggest.

Just inside the gate under the honeysuckle and next to some lilacs, we planted the beautiful shrub Daphne x transatlantica "Beulah Cross".  

In full bloom, the intense fragrance of the Daphne reminds me of jasmine and gardenias and combines with the fragrant lilacs to create an exquisite natural perfume.

"Beaulah Cross" is the variegated sport of Daphne x transatlantica "Jim's Pride".  Jim Cross was a well-known and highly acclaimed plant propagator and hybridizer and the daphne "Beaulah Cross" is named for his mother.

"Beulah Cross" is our second Jim Cross daphne.  Several years ago, a lovely azalea that bloomed along the curve of our sunny cottage garden was destroyed by an overly aggressive snow plow while our driveway was being cleared during a winter storm.  

The owner of the plow service, Dave, was also the landscaper, who did such a wonderful job with the hardscape in our garden. Dave felt very badly that his employee had ruined the shrub and later that spring, he surprised us one day by digging out the dead azalea and replacing it with our first daphne, "Summer Ice". 

"Summer Ice" is also a variegated shrub with white blossoms brushed with pale pink.  Even in cold New England,  "Summer Ice" blooms from early spring through fall.  It's fragrance is as lovely as Beaulah's but a little spicier (just my humble opinion).   Unfortunately, "Summer Ice"  suffered the same fate as the azalea.  After two glorious seasons of fragrant flowers, she fell victim to the snow plow, even though we had carefully marked the boundaries of the bed with tall florescent orange plow guides.  We learned our lesson, however, and replanted the area with perennials that won't be at the mercy of the plows in winter.

Daphne x transatlantica "Beulah Cross"
Behind the daphne are white and purple lilacs which we received as a wedding gift from my mother in 2003.  Two small shrubs in gallon containers are now over ten feet tall and glorious.

The swimming pool pump, filter, and heater are located here as well amid a thick bed of strawberries and are camophlaged by a trellis covered by climbing hydrangea and several clematis.

The walkway into the back gardens from the gate had been edged with a thick border of Palace Purple heuchera, but they were likewise casualties of a misguided but well-meaning friend of ours who decided to move several of them to another area of one of the gardens.

We will re-plant this year as the heuchera were very effective in keeping the strawberries from wandering out of their bed into the walk.

Strawberries and lavender make a wonderful border around the base of the clematis on the trellis, keeping the roots cool.
The herb garden is greening up nicely.   I had been concerned that the mints and lemon balm would not survive the winter.

At the end of the summer,  we moved them into whiskey half-barrels that we partially buried in the bed and I was concerned that we had done this too late in the season for them to be established.  I needn't have worried.  The herbs are confined in their new homes and the entire garden is flourishing.

Opposite the daphne,  New Dawn grows enthusiastically along the fence.  It's a favorite haven for sparrows that have built several nests there.

Last fall we also planted several clumps of allium and grape hyacinths to add a dash of color to the bed in spring. I don't know the variety (they weren't labeled) but they are deep purple early bloomers whose flower heads opened well before the garlic chives whose buds are still very tight.
Purple allium contrast well with the lambs ear.  The purple and gray-green color combination is one of my favorites.
Garlic chives make a wonderful substitute for ramps and scallions in salad and
Wild strawberries, Fragaria x ananassa, make a colorful ground cover in the herb and rock gardens. The berries produced by this variety are small but very sweet and tasty and a favorite treat of the dogs, who routinely scour for ripe berries.
The perennial beds are still awash with color with mid-season daffodils and tulips.   Above, Spirea bumalda "Anthony Waterer" sits quietly in the background waiting for his turn to bloom. The spirea usually begins to bloom  in June and then continues off and on through the summer.

Roses and peonies are leafing out.  Many of the peonies have developed buds, but they are still weeks away from blooming.  Near the fence, another clump of allium is budded but they aren't in bloom yet. 
All of the beds in the formal garden are edged with a Munstead lavender hedge.  In the early spring, the hedge looks gray and lifeless but left to its own devices, the lavender slowly starts to green up.  We have found that early pruning is a huge mistake -- it's impossible to know what is dead and what is dormant -- so unless something is obviously damaged and broken, we don't prune the hedge until Memorial Day and we are usually rewarded with our first crop of lavender blooms four weeks later.

Munstead lavender slowly transforms from a gray and lifeless looking shrub to a vibrant gray green with bright green new growth.  With Munstead, new shoots often have soft, very long atypical narrow leaves that are easily confused with weeds. You know it's lavender as you can trace the shoot's origin to the parent plant and if you pull off a leaf and sniff it, it has the characteristic lavender fragrance.  As the shoot matures, it becomes more twig-like and the leaves become more typical.

The flowering crab apples and dogwood fill the tree grove with color.  From late March - early April thorugh latge October and sometimes into November.  At left is a Coralberry crab apple.  In center is another flowering crab.
The flowering fruit trees wrap the yard in color this time of year.  Usually we see the cherry trees bloom first along with the Cleveland pears, then the Santa Rosa plum and quince, followed by the crab apples and the big old apple tree.  This year everything bloomed nearly simultaneously which made for a striking display,

Blooms from the coralberry crab apple are a blend of pink and white petals opening from deep coral pink buds.
 The common lilacs opened first, followed by the hybrids.  The early hybrids are blooming now and the mid and late season shrubs should be a mass of blooms in another week, judging from the buds.

One of my favorite hybrids is this fragrant mauve lilac with double blooms.
The wisteria began blooming this as well.  We have both a lavender and a mauve Chinese wisteria (Wisteria sinensis) growing together.  The racemes of the lavender wisteria are fully open.  The mauve, which is my favorite, is not quite in bloom this week but will be following quickly behind.

The mauve blooms are just beginning to open.
The lavender blooms have been open for a week or more.
The grape arbor is also  starting to come alive.  We planted kiwi in this area last year as well (more about that later in the season!) and it over-wintered quite nicely.

Our English Laurel also known as Dwarf Cherry Laurel (Prunus laurocerasus) surprised us with early blooms this year.  Last year it bloomed twice,  and I won't even guess at what it will do this year.  These shrubs were headed for the trash pile at a gardening center when we rescued them in 2006. They bloomed for the first time in 2011 despite being grown in nearly full shade.

English laurel, also known as Dwarf Cherry Laurel "Otto Luyken".  The shrubs are now more than 2 feet high spreading 3 feet across.
This is the earliest we've seen them in bloom; usually they bloom the first week of June,
The water garden is slowly waking up as well.  Usually, it has been cleaned and the plants repotted by this time, but the late spring has delayed the official "opening" (and cleaning).

Back to front, the cat tails, water mint, and varigated Siberian iris are thriving.
The bog beans (marsh trefoil) are among my favorite bog plants.
The woodland garden is never more beautiful at any other time of the year than it is in spring.  When we planted it, our goal was to always have at least one tree or a shrub in bloom from spring through fall.  We've definitely accomplished that, although we've had our share of fits and starts.

Seen through the branches of other trees in the woodland grove, the red blossoms of the native American dogwood, Cornus florida "Cherokee Chief," are beautiful, even in the rain.  Last year, we bought a "Cherokee Brave" which we planted in one of the perennial beds to help soften the effects of the sun.  We acquired it mid-season, long past the time for flowering, so we are eagerly awaiting blossoms this spring.
In addition to the early spring blooming shrubs and trees, the magnolias, crab apples, viburnum, dogwoods, and azaleas, our pride and joy, the trillium, never fail to thrill us.

It appears, however, that we have probably lost our yellow lady's slippers, and that is quite a disappointment.  They had not bloomed for the past two years but seemed to be thriving nonetheless. 

We're watching the spot where they usually appear each spring, but unless they poke their heads up very late in the season, I don't expect to see them again.  Both trillium and lady's slippers are protected in Massachusetts and it is illegal to harvest them from woodlands here in the state to move into one's garden.  We purchased most of ours from a  Canadian grower, Select Lilacs Plus, in 2006.  

We acquired some of the white grandiflora trillium at a member's only plant sale held as a benefit for the Trustees of the Reservations, which manages large tracts of public open lands and some historic estates here in Massachusetts.  They had been cultivated in Connecticut and made available for sale here.  We arrived very early for the sale and were fortunate to be able to acquire two of the few available at the sale.  Both have thrived and multiplied, but not with wild abandon.

I can understand why they need to be protected.  The purple, red and yellow ones were added more than 5 years ago and are just now beginning to self-propagate and spread under the trees, but there is something so very special about these gorgeous plants when they begin to bloom in spring.

Here, they grow nestled in  euonymus "Emerald Gaity" and a red azalea where they are protected from inadvertently being trampled by our dogs and cats who enjoy playing in the tree grove.
A bloom of one of our red trillium. 
They were slow to bloom and spread, but now they carpet the area under one of the variegated willows.
The yellow trillium are among my favorites.
Purple trillium and azaleas provide spring color under one of the variegated willows.
A path meanders through the tree grove and after a sharp turn around a sturdy southern magnolia, you come upon this lovely little sitting area where Steve and I enjoy reading and relaxing.  The temperature in the shade of the tree grove is often as much as 20 degrees cooler than the rest of the yard on a very hot sunny day.
Many people raised their eyebrows when we planted these araleas in the shade of the tree grove. Since we first planted them, they've bloomed enthusiastically each the spring and been a haven for birds who have built nests in them from time to time.
The bloom of the Shooting Star, Dodecatheon meadia
Shooting Star, Dodecatheon meadia, is a spot of color in deep shade.
Another shade-lover, foam flower, tiarela
Canadian wild ginger and Japanese painted fern
The blooms of both the Canadian and the European wild gingers are inconspicuous and close to the ground, hidden under the leaves.  They are easy to miss unless you watch for them and check every few days in the very early spring.
Under the canopy of the trees in the wood grove is a world completely separate from our other garden beds.  In the spring, the floor of the tree grove is filled with the blooms of bleeding heart (dicentra), Jacob's ladder, azaleas, trillium, wood and labrador violets, lily of the valley, tiarela, shooting stars, hellebores, viburnum, and lilacs.
In addition to all of the wonderful plants, shrubs, and trees growing in our gardens, there are also the less welcome, uninvited garden visitors.

The rainy days of the past couple weeks have resulted in an explosion of weeds, which occupied us most of this weekend.

Fortunately, Steve and I enjoy weeding as a relaxing pastime. But this large common burdock is definitely one over-the-top monster.  It actually does a nice job of camouflaging the ozone equipment for the pond, and I would almost be inclined to leave it if it didn't cause so many problems.

Besides seeding and spreading everywhere, it produces nasty burrs that the dogs get into.   And a very deep tap root makes it tough to eradicate.

Each month, on the fifteenth day of the month, gardeners from all over the world share what is blooming in their gardens with a Garden Bloggers Bloom Day post.  Hosted by Blotanist Carol of Indiana, you can find links to visit all of the gardens that participate in this monthly bloomfest on her blog at May Dreams Gardens.