Archive | September 2012

Not All Grass Needs to be Mowed!

Purple Fountain Grass

Purple Fountain Grass

(Click to Zoom)

“If the sight of the blue skies fills you with joy, if a blade of grass springing up in the fields has power to move you, if the simple things of nature have a message that you understand, rejoice, for your soul is alive.
–Eleonora Duse

Don’t you just love ornamental grasses?  So many beautiful ones to choose from these days, though a lot of them don’t do well in central Florida.  Still, pink muhly grass and purple fountain grass are among the ones we CAN grow, and they are such wonderful accents in the garden.  The stand of purple fountain grass above is as tall as I am, or close to 6 feet.  When it is blooming and the morning light shines through it, it’s just beautiful.  Do you grow any grasses that don’t need to be mowed?  Being a non-lawn person, myself, those are my favorite kinds!

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Garden Blues…Sorta.

Blue Chair behind Iris

Black Gamecock Iris and Blue Chair

(Click Any Picture to View Full Size)

I just love to use an accent color throughout my garden.  Since we moved into this house in 2004, I’ve been using my favorite color, blue.  I painted the shed door with my favorite shade, added chairs, painted a few benches, and used lots and lots of blue pots.  I just like touches of blue scattered all over the yard to tie it all together.  I get plenty of other color in my plants, including lots of purple, lavender, pink, yellow and red.  But I think by adding touches of blue, it seems cohesive, instead of chaotic.  Here are a few pictures for you.  Some of them were taken a couple of years ago, so you might notice that not all of the brickwork is down yet.  The yard today is mostly a courtyard with big, free form flower beds.

Blue birdhouse and pot

Blue Roofed Birdhouse & Cobalt Pot with Pink Rose

Blue Garden Bench on Patio

Recycled Bench Painted Blue with Blue Daze in Vintage Planter

Blue Urn Water Feature or Ali Baba Fountain

Blue Urn Makes a Great Ali Baba Fountain With Water Cascading Down Sides

Raised Herb Garden

Blue Pot Anchors Raised Herb Bed

(You can see brickwork in progress)

Blue Glass Bird Bath Behind Belinda's Dream Rose

Cobalt Glass Birdbath and Pale Blue Gazing Ball in Flower Bed

Blue Plumbago

Blue Flowers Like This Plumbago Add to The Look

Do any of you like to have a particular accent color?  Do you plant coordinated beds, or do you prefer an anything goes approach?  I’m curious  about what other gardeners like, and I really enjoy seeing pictures of other gardens, too.

Happy Freya’s Day In The Garden!

Pile of Pumpkins

Happiness is a Big, Orange Pumpkin

Hope you are enjoying this beautiful day you’ve been given, and making the most of every moment of it!  Just wanted to point out my new poll.  My very favorite time of year is approaching, and I was just wondering what YOURS is?  Are you an autumn person, crazy about cool, crisp weather, frosted pumpkins, and falling leaves?  Do you love the winter, with days on the ski slopes, or making snowmen, and mugs of hot chocolate after?  Is the season of rebirth, spring, your favorite time of year?  With daffodils in every yard, and birds returning home to nest?  Or are the long, hot days of summer, cookouts on the patio, and heading to the lake for the weekend your idea of paradise?  I’ve already voted for pumpkins and falling leaves, myself.  Waiting to see what you think!  And I know there are only four seasons, but I couldn’t make the “Other” option disappear, so if you love all seasons equally, I guess you can use that space to write “All of the Above.”  🙂

Happy voting!  And as I was reminded on my other blog, Bookin’ It, today is the last day of summer, officially.  ENJOY IT TO THE MAX!  That’s an order from your Granny!

Favorite Fall Bloomers #1 – Goldenrod

“The goldenrod is yellow,

The corn is turning brown,

The trees in apple orchards

With fruit are bending down.”

     –Helen Hunt Jackson

Seaside Goldenrod in My Garden

Seaside Goldenrod In My Garden

(Click to Zoom on any Picture)

Well, they tell me fall is fast approaching.  In some parts of the country, it’s actually getting cooler.  Hard for me to believe either of those things when the mercury is still topping out at 93 degrees each day around here.  It’s a shame, too, because autumn is really my favorite time of year.  I love everything about it, especially when I’m lucky enough to spend a week or two in the mountains.  Crisp, cool mornings, with the smell of apples and frosted pumpkins in the air.  *sigh*  Bliss!!

However, Florida does have the advantage of offering year-round gardening, with some annuals and vegetables that actually perform better in the winter than at any other time.  So I guess you take the good with the bad.  And this time of year, we do have some fall bloomers that begin to perform well.  I have several that I really enjoy, but probably my favorite of all is goldenrod.  I love it!  And there are so many wonderful varieties to enjoy, with different shapes to the bloom heads, different heights, and different leaves.  But as far as I know, they all sport glorious sunny yellow flowers that attract bees. 

Roadside Goldenrod (Unknown species)

My personal favorite is seaside goldenrod, shown at the top of the page, which has low growing basal rosettes of large, leathery leaves, but sends up 6 and 7 foot tall bloom spikes that are covered in bumblebees for weeks.  It self-seeds in my garden, though not in an invasive way at all, and I wouldn’t be without it.

Close Up of Goldenrod with Beetle

Photo from Backyard Biology (Thank you, Sue!)

Check out Sue’s post featuring the picture above and a whole series of wonderful goldenrod and prairie pictures.  They’re great!  And by the way, don’t worry about goldenrod causing allergy problems.  They have gotten a false rap all these years. Turns out their pollen is too heavy to float on the breeze, and they’ve been getting the blame for problems caused by ragweed.  Ragweed blooms are inconspicuous and often share the same field with the showier goldenrod.  People go, “I’m sneezing.  Look at all those yellow flowers over there.  They must be the cause.”  But trust me.  You can grow all the goldenrod you want with impunity!  If you haven’t added any to your wildflower or butterfly garden, you really should try it.

What fall flowers do YOU love to grow?  I’d love to hear from you!

Check It Out!

I was checking my “Blog Stats,” a couple of days ago, just taking note of where visitors to the blog are from and various other interesting tidbits that help you run your blog smoothly, when I noticed that I was getting a lot of hits from South Africa.  Now, I see hits from all over the world coming in, so that isn’t necessarily a surprising thing, but there seemed to be quite a few of them in one week.  I found a link back on one of the visits and out of curiosity, clicked on it myself.  It took me to a really nice e-magazine from South Africa, and an article on cool ways to use leftover bricks.  I was happily taking note of some of the projects and saving the pics for my husband’s use, when I happened to come upon something that looked very…familiar!  Imagine my surprise when I got to picture #6 in the article!  Check it out, here:

E-Mag Article on Ideas for Decorative Uses of Bricks

I really enjoyed the article, got a few new good ideas, and was very flattered that our pond had been included.  The little link below each picture that says “Via,” is a linkback to the blog or website where the photos were obtained, by the way, and some of them are worth checking out, too.  I was very happy to have a link back to my blog, and it is obvious that I’ve had visitors generated from this article.  What a nice surprise it was!  The world of blogging gets more interesting to me every day.

Road Trip Miracles September 15, 2012

For years, I’ve played a little game whenever I start out on a road trip.  I consciously look for omens, which I like to think of as little miracles, to cheer me on the way.  Once I’ve seen one, I always feel like it’s a personal message from my own guardian angel that I will travel safely on my journey and back home again.  My husband scoffs, but I don’t care.  My little miracles make me feel good, so for that reason, I believe in them completely.  I’ll GET there, and BACK, darn it!  That’s my story, an’ I’m stickin’ to it.

Today, I headed out to Leesburg to visit my good friend, Nicki, and I started looking for my little Road Trip Miracles as soon as I pulled out of my driveway.  And guess what?  I didn’t make it half a mile before I saw my first one.  The coolest rainbow, EVER.  It spread from horizon to horizon, but was very low lying, in a way I’ve never seen before.  The closest picture I could find online is this one, which gives you an idea of how low and wide it was.

low-lying rainbow

Low-lying Rainbow

Of course, the rainbow I saw was visible from end to end, almost, and it wasn’t a double like this one.  But I just couldn’t get over how low on the horizon it was.  Now I ask you…is that not a miracle made visible?  Any rainbow makes me smile, and one as unusual as this morning’s made me feel good all over.

As good as it was, the rainbow was not the only treat in store for me this morning.  As I headed west on Hwy 46, just a few miles past the busy I-4 intersection, I spotted a flock of about 15 wild turkeys right on the side of the road, grazing in the grass.  I just love wild turkeys.  They are such interesting birds, and so clever.  (Unlike their farm-raised cousins that end up on our Thanksgiving tables.)  The flock looked very like this one.

flock of wild turkeys

Wild Turkeys Along Side of Road

And lo and behold, about another mile down Hwy 46, I spotted yet another flock of turkeys, this time, with half grown young mixed in.  The young birds looked very much like the one in this photo.  I wish I had been able to stop and take my own pictures, but there was too much traffic and nowhere to pull over that wouldn’t have scared the birds away, anyhow.  The funny thing is, on the way home tonight, I spotted what looked like the same family group in the same place.  Yeah, another Road Trip Miracle, for sure.

Young Wild Turkey

Young Wild Turkey

And two weeks ago, on our way to Gainesville to pick up my 7-year old granddaughter for the weekend, I finally, after more than 30 years of looking and hoping, saw my first Florida black bear along the roadside on Hwy 19, just south of Hwy 40.  Now I know there are lots and lots of black bears in these parts.  People see them all the time.  A friend of mine who lives in the Ocala forest area has trouble keeping them out of her bird feeders and ponds.  But for some reason, I have hiked MILES of Florida trails for years, and never spotted one.  I was so excited to see a young, maybe half grown, bear standing next to the woods, I almost ran the car off the road.  I couldn’t get a picture of him, but I promise you, he looked just like this.

young Florida black bear

Young Florida Black Bear

Now I know that many might think that while it’s nice to see some wildlife and rainbows here and there, there’s no reason to consider them miracles.  And it’s okay if they prefer to view it that way.  But for myself, I like to think that there are miracles all around us every day, if we just open our eyes and look for them.  I try to do that regularly,  but never with more vigor than when I’m starting out on a road trip.

Hope you remember to look for some Road Trip Miracles the next time you head out on the highway.  It makes the journey a lot more fun!

Cardinalis cardinalis

Male northern cardinal

Male Northern Cardinal

Aaah, don’t you love it when I’m bilingual?  I do!  As if you haven’t guessed, Cardinalis cardinalis is the Latin name for what is likely the most popular bird in American gardens, the northern cardinal.  This bird is so popular, it is the official bird of seven different states!  Almost everyone recognizes the bright red male with his black mask, orange bill,  and perky crest.  And most of us have probably observed that the female is a soft brown version of the male.  But did you know that all young cardinals, male or female, start out looking just like the female, except they have black beaks instead of the bright orange beaks of the adult birds?  Here are a few more interesting facts about cardinals:

1.  They do not migrate.  The cardinals in your yard will stay there all year long, whether you live in Florida like I do, or in Maine.

2.  The cardinal’s range extends westward over almost 2/3’s of the United States, but the far western states do not have them.  They have a bird that appears similar, but without the striking red coloration, called a pyrrhuloxia, or desert cardinal.  You can definitely see the resemblance, but I’m kind of partial to our nice “redbird,” as we southerners used to call them.

Pyrrhuloxia

3.  The heavy, finch-like bill of the cardinal is designed for cracking seeds, and I can attest to the fact that you do NOT want to get any tender bits of skin caught in it.  I used to take care of injured and orphaned birds for Florida Audubon, and a cardinal bite HURTS.

4.  I don’t know about all of the cardinal’s range, but around here, cardinals are the first birds to sing in the morning, and the last ones singing at night.  And they have a lovely song, in addition to the heavy “chip” call they use when visiting the bird feeder, or “talking” to their babies.  Go here to listen to 4 examples cardinals chipping and singing.

Cardinal Songs

5.  The cardinal was named for his bright red color, which early settlers in the New World thought looked like the scarlet robes of the church’s cardinals.  But the cardinal is NOT the only bright red bird in the eastern United States.  Less common, especially at feeders, are the solid red summer tanagers, and their black-winged cousins, scarlet tanagers.  These birds are primarily insect eaters, but for some reason, a male summer tanager showed up at my feeder in the company of a painted bunting two summers in a row, and ate seeds for days before moving on.  Notice that the beaks of the tanagers are not designed for seed crushing like the cardinal’s, but rather for insect catching.  Summer tanagers have a real penchant for eating wasp larvae right out of the nest, and will work that beak into each little cavity to pull out the young.

Male Summer Tanager

Male Scarlet Tanager

Cardinals are constant visitors to any feeder with fresh seed, loving sunflower seeds most of all.  They will readily eat just about any other kind, too.  In addition to seeds, they also eat some fruit and insects.  And they will even strip the fleshy leaves off of certain succulents.  Guess they like some salad now and then.  They build their nests in shrubs and small bushy trees, often only 5 or 6 feet off the ground; and they will raise multiple clutches of young each year here in Florida, as long as the weather stays warm. 

female northern cardinal

Female Northern Cardinal

Immature northern cardinal    Immature Northern Cardinal molting into adult male plumage

Immature Northern Cardinal on left and Immature Male molting into adult plumage on right.

(Click to zoom on any image)

Cardinals may not be rare or exotic, but they are certainly one of the most beautiful of garden birds, and I hope you enjoyed learning a little more about them.  Next time you are in the garden as the day draws to a close, listen for their evening songs.  And if you have spotted any other birds in your garden or elsewhere that you’d like to know more about, please let me know.  I’ve been around ornithologists for many years, and have learned quite a bit from them.  I’d love to share, and know where to get answers if you ask about a bird I’m not familiar with.  I’m not bad at ID-ing birds from photos, too.  Just give a holler.  And look for more posts on birds and other garden critters in the weeks ahead.

Pictures found online.

Taking the Poll

Don’t forget if you do take part in my polls, and you choose the answer “Other,” you have a blank field directly under there to write your “other” answer in.  That way, I’ll not only have my curiosity satisfied about which plants you love, I’ll also know more about what ALL my visitors might want to read about. 

Thanks to everyone who has taken the poll so far, and come on, the rest of you guys…surely there must be a flower you enjoy more than the rest?  Let us hear from you!  It’s fun.

New Poll

Rudbeckia triloba or Brown-eyed Susan

Rudbeckia triloba or Brown-Eyed Susan

I got the idea last night that having monthly polls would be fun, so I zipped over to PollDaddy.com and learned how to make one.  Still playing with the available color schemes, etc, but it seems to be performing well.   So I hope you’ll scroll down on the right side, and vote for your favorite garden bloomers.  I think it will be fun to see the differences in the things we love about our gardens, and I will be putting new polls up frequently.  Have fun!!

Rat-a-Tat-Tat! Woodpeckers In The Garden

“Even the woodpecker owes his success to the fact that he uses his head and keeps pecking away until he finishes the job he starts.”

   –Coleman Cox

Red-bellied Woodpecker on Tree trunk

Red-bellied Woodpecker

After seeing some lovely photos of downy woodpeckers at one of my favorite blogs (link below), I decided it would be fun to post about the 8 woodpeckers resident to central Florida, several of which are common garden visitors.

 The most common woodpecker in Florida is probably the red-bellied woodpecker (pictured above).  The red-bellied part of its name refers to the wash of red over tan that the males acquire during breeding season.  Red-bellies belong to a group of woodpeckers called “ladder-backed woodpeckers.”  If you notice the black and white horizontal bars on this bird’s back, you can imagine why.  One of the things I like most about this woodpecker is that it visits feeders regularly, supplementing its insect diet with lots of seed, especially sunflower and safflower.  The bird shown is a male.  Females have red on the backs of their heads, too, but it does not go forward all the way to the beak, like this bird’s does.  Red-bellied woodpeckers are medium sized birds, about the size of a stout robin.

Downy woodpecker on suet feeder

Downy Woodpecker

The smallest woodpecker in Florida is also a very common bird, though often hard to spot.  The tiny downy woodpecker is not much larger than your average sparrow.  It can be told from its very similar cousin, the hairy woodpecker, by the much shorter bill, and slightly smaller size, overall.  As you can see, downies will come to suet feeders, but in my experience, they seldom come to a seed feeder.  I frequently see downies chasing each other round and round a tree trunk, and their high pitched calls are very recognizable.  They are really cute little birds, and fun to watch in the garden.

Pileated Woodpecker on tree trunk

Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated woodpeckers are the largest woodpeckers in Florida (maybe in the United States), being about the size of a crow.  Pileated means “crested,” and you can see from this picture that they are well named.  The female has less red on her crest, and her “moustache” is black, so you can tell the bird pictured above is a male.  If you are old enough to remember Woody Woodpecker cartoons, you might be interested to know that Woody’s laugh was patterned after the call of the pileated woodpecker.  They are LOUD and really do cackle.  I see pileateds in my yard several times a week, and hear them even more often.  They are beautiful birds, especially in flight.

Northern Flicker Woodpecker

Northern Flicker

Another common woodpecker around these parts is the Northern Flicker.  The flicker is the only woodpecker in Florida that is primarily brown in color.  The spotted breast is very distinctive, as is the “V” shaped red mark on the nape of its neck.  This is a male flicker above.  The females have a red moustache, oddly enough.  It’s usually the other way around.  The flicker gets his name from his slow “wicka-wicka-wicka” call, and is the only woodpecker who is seen on the ground as often as on a tree.  They have an unusual habit of taking dust baths in anthills, and then picking up a large ant in the beak and rubbing it all over their feathers.  This is known as…ready?…anting!  The theory is they are spreading the formic acid the ant gives off, though I’m not quite sure to what purpose.  They are between the red-bellied and the pileated woodpeckers in size.

Red-headed woodpecker on branch

Red-headed Woodpecker

Surely the most beautiful of all the woodpeckers is the strikingly marked red-headed woodpecker.  I see fewer and fewer of them every year, and they are not common in most gardens.  They are the only woodpecker whose diet consists of large quantities of “mast” in addition to insects.  Mast is the term for acorns, so unless you have a lot of large oaks in your yard, you probably won’t have red-headed woodpeckers visiting you.  And these days, I see them only in more rural oak groves, for some reason.  They are roughly the size of  the red-bellied woodpecker, and it’s always a pleasure to catch sight of that beautiful black and white plumage darting through the trees.  Notice that the entire head and face of the bird is red, rather than just the crown of the head.  This is the only woodpecker in Florida patterned like that. 

Yellow-bellied sapsucker

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

No, it’s not just a slangy insult tossed around in old western movies.  There really is a bird named that, and the name is quite appropriate.  This smallish woodpecker has a wash of yellow over his belly, especially in breeding season, and he does “suck sap!”  Okay, he doesn’t suck it.  But the holes he drills in trees produce running sap that he actually eats.  Plus the sap attracts insects for an added bonus.  In central Florida, sapsuckers are winter visitors, and I’m expecting mine to show up in the next few weeks.

Sapsuckers leave perfect “bracelets” of holes girding tree trunks in neat rings.  If you see these types of woodpecker holes on your trees, you know for sure you have had sapsuckers visiting your yard.

Yellow-bellied sapsucker rings around tree trunk

Sapsucker Damage

The general school of thought is that unless the sapsuckers are staying in your yard all year long, their damage to trunks is merely superficial.  Honestly, I think it’s kind of cool, and I smile when I see these “bracelets” on my trees.

Red Cockaded Woodpecker

Red-cockaded Woodpecker

And finally, the rarest woodpecker in Florida.  The red-cockaded woodpecker is on the Endangered Species list.  They are very habitat specific, and logging and other stresses on their preferred habitat has been a factor in their decline.  Unless you are willing to hike far into the woods to a known red-cockaded nest, and sit down and wait for what could be hours for an extremely brief sighting of one swooping in from nowhere and disappearing into the tree cavity, your chances of seeing one are kind of slim.  This is a very handsome bird, with wide white cheek patches and a small red patch on top of its head that is often hidden under a black cap.  Its relationship to the trees is prefers is quite unusual, and if you are interested in such things, you might google it for a bit more information.

Hope you have enjoyed seeing these Florida woodpeckers, and maybe you’ll notice a few of them in your own yard.  Don’t forget to click on the images to zoom in, and if you would like to hear their calls, I’ve listed them below.  Also, drop by Backyard Biology to see some fantastic photos of nature and wildlife, and to read some pretty interesting facts, too.  It’s a fun blog!

Backyard Biology

Woodpecker calls and drumming sounds.  (Note, some of these links have more than one clickable recording).

Red-bellied Woodpecker Call

Downy Woodpecker Call

Pileated Woodpecker Call

Northern Flicker

Red-headed Woodpecker

Red-cockaded Woodpecker

All images found online.

My Other Blog

Since I can find no way to actually link it here, yet, I thought I’d just post about it, in case anyone is interested.  I have a second blog here at WordPress, called Bookin’ It.  It features book reviews, cover art, author information, literary quotes, and pretty much anything related to Readin’ and Writin’.  If you’d like to check it out, click here:

Bookin’ It

Or you can find a link by clicking on View Full Profile, at right.  Hope some of you who love to read will stop by and see what’s new!

Critters In The Garden #2 – White-Winged Doves

“Just like the white winged dove…
Sings a song…
Sounds like she’s singing…
ooo baby… ooo… said ooo”

Stevie Nicks, “Edge of Seventeen”

White-winged Dove

White-winged Dove (Zenaida asiatica)

While not everyone appreciates all the many critters that thrive surprisingly well in urban gardens, I enjoy most of them on a daily basis, from lizards and snakes, to possums, flying squirrels, butterflies and moths,  and of course, birds.  I’d venture a guess that most gardeners enjoy avian visitors, and many, like me, put out feeders and birdbaths to ensure their comfort.  Here in central Florida, we have a wide variety of  birds that will visit and nest in our backyards.  In addition to the usual songbirds, I have red-shouldered hawks that nest in my oaks, barred owls raising young across the street, and woodpeckers of several types.  I’ve had my share of white ibises foraging in the front yard, and even had vultures scrabbling over a piece of roadkill who fought their way up my drive way and onto the front stoop, once.  Occasionally, a bald eagle lands in one of our trees, and we often see and hear sandhill cranes flying over.  All of these visitors will be discussed in future posts, I’m sure.

For now, I’m thinking about the change in our local dove population.  Our most familiar dove has always been the mourning dove, which frequents backyard feeders in great numbers.  Most anyone who pays attention at all has heard their sad call, which is what they were named for:  “Oh, woe, woe, woe….”   But shortly after we moved into this house eight years ago, I noticed a much stouter and larger dove at my feeders, with a shorter, squared off tail, and bright white wing markings.  I was surprised to find out I had a pair of white-winged doves residing in my backyard.  These birds are primarily a western species, not originally native to Florida, but were  introduced here a few decades ago. They  are becoming more and more common throughout this area.  A year after we moved in,  I had 4 of them at my feeder, and the next year, 8.  Now there are more white-wings visiting than there are mourning doves.  I’m not sure that’s a good thing, ecologically, but I’m very fond of them, with their “oooh, baby, ooooh” calls.  Somehow I find them more handsome than the mourning doves, as well.  Perhaps that’s because I didn’t grow up seeing them everywhere, so they are still a novelty to me.  It remains to be seen whether their increasing numbers will affect the mourning dove population, which has always seemed more than just abundant to me.  For now, I will just enjoy the white-wings along with my other feeder visitors.

Here is a picture of a mourning dove  for comparison.

Mourning Dove

Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura)

Check out these links to hear the typical call of these birds. (Just scroll down until you see the sound bar & click on the “Play” arrow.)

White-Winged Dove

Mourning Dove

Photos found online.