June 24 2016: Fireflies, Fritillaries, and Flowering Milkweed

June 24th 2016 : Fireflies, Fritillaries and Flowering Milkweed

Another delightful and enchanting and seemingly magical element has begun; the fireflies are back seeking their mates through light signals like dancing stars or Tinkerbells, just making me happy to be among them, to witness that they are still with us.

For those who say they don’t see fireflies anymore, turn off your outside night lights so the fireflies can see each other. If you can, take an evening’s stroll by a river or stream and be delighted.

There is a small stream at the back of our property, yet the fireflies dance all through the gardens. In the nearby town of Phoenicia, there is a stretch of quiet road next to the large Esopus creek. Every year I walk through a galaxy of twinkling lights, the air so filled with fluttering lights that I’m filled with awe.

The hundreds of milkweeds on our property are starting to flower; soon their sweet aroma will infuse the air with their intoxicating aroma. Not only do monarchs need milkweed to lay their eggs, but many species of butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds nectar at its flowers.

Challenges: Oh Dear the Deer are Here

This year there are just more deer that have to be repelled from my gardens. My heart breaks when I take my early morning walk around all the gardens to see who needs what. It’s then I see not only what I have to do, but the damage the deer have done. They are eating things they never ate before, including sedums, little white and yellow begonias, butterfly impatience, black eyed susans and other rudbeckias, in addition to the monarda, echinacia, phlox, butterfly bush, elderberry leaves, branches, and flowers, hollyhocks, ladies’ mantle, coral bells, hydrangea and others. Oh my.

I’ve been making my concoction of egg, garlic, cayenne, peppermint oil and a dish of dish soap, but I last put it out a week ago. Since there are many more deer this year it seems, I need to spray that stuff around every few days. It’s exhausting.

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June 2016: Eating Roses

Rose petal jam and hummingbird nectar, in my kitchen Monday morning. …………haiku by Maraleen

It is with immense joy that I can once gain make rose petal jam, this time from my very own rosa rugosas.

Way back in the 1970’s when I lived in Provincetown, on the tip of Cape Cod, and where I had a gallery, Chrysalis, A Place for Dreamers, every June I would bicycle about ten miles through a beech forest to the dunes by the ocean.  All along the tall dunes were thousands of rosa rugosas, wild roses, in the first bloom of summer. The smell of  these fragrant roses, mixed with the salty, briney scent of the sea, is indelibly embedded in my memory and soul as one of the more divine scents ever.

I would gather rose petals, carefully snipping off the white cuticle (it’s bitter), and when I had filled two bags, balancing them on my handlebars, I’d  bike back to make rose petal jam from a recipe by Euell Gibbons in his book, Stalking the Healthful Herbs.

For your pleasure, here’s the receipe:  prepare one cup tightly packed petals (cuticles removed as you gather them). Put in a blender with 3/4 cup water and juice of one lemon. Blend until smooth, then gradually adding 2 1/2 c sugar while the blender is running and the sugar well dissolved. Stir one package powedered pectin in 3/4 cup water and hard boil for a minute, constantly stirring.  Running the blender on low, slowly dribble the pectin into the rose mixture and mix till thoroughly blended.  Sterilize little jars, baby food jars will do, and let cool.   It will keep in the refrigerator for a month or you can freeze them and open at Thanksgiving or Christmas for a marvelous taste of summer.  A jar of jam was part of my holiday presents to friends.

All these many years later, now living in the Catskill mountains for thirteen years, four years ago I was able to plant and protect a few rosa rugosa bushess (the deer love them)*.  In addition, a friend gave me an English rose, like a many petaled rugosa, and all of them are blooming profusely this year for the first time.  Perhaps it’s the banana peels I’ve been digging in around the roots; apparently roses like the natural potassium this affords them. As I said, its thrilling to make  rose petal jam and now I don’t have to bicycle twenty miles to do it.

* when I brought two rosa roagosas home from the nursery, I put them by the side of the front of the house, till I could plant them the next day.  Those cheeky deer nibbled the plant down.   As the plants were recovering in their home is the ground, the deer once again found them, not only nibbling, but marking the plants with their poop.  Finally, my husband put up deer fencing on either side of our moon garden where the roses reside, and they are growing, blooming, and spreading.

Speaking of divine scents, have you ever smelled a tuberose?  I overwintered a tuberose in our studio.,  watering it once a month. On the moon deck now, it is flowering.  Oh my, absolutely enchanting.



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Beautiful Month of May 2016: Challenges and Remedies

The Beautiful and Challenging Month of May 2016

The days are cool enough to work hard in the garden, cleaning, hauling, amending with compost and mature cow manure, and shoveling mulch wheel barrel by barrel from the 3 cubic foot pile nestled discreetly by the forsythia which hides the electric meters.

Once it gets too warm, the heavy lifting and digging become too onerous. I truly become a puddle when the temperature soars over 90 degrees with high humidity. Heat is one of the few things that stops me cold, or should I say, stops me hot.

Last year, so many hours over so many days were spent digging out barberry bushes whose deep yellow roots run deep and far and wide and are tenacious. Barberry is an invasive that harbors ticks that spread lyme disease since its long and sharp thorns keep the ticks out of reach of predators. So off with the barberry’s roots and branches with fierce thorns, knowing the sneaky and successful plant will appear here and there again and sure enough it has. I have to wait for the moment when I have the fierce and determinedly sustained energy to spare to tackle them. My energy is going to preparing and planting and tending and nurturing the gardens, a much preferred focus.

In the place of the well-established barberry that finally was totally taken out, in comes poison ivy. Great. Donning special chemical spill proof gloves, my hound dog digging tool, and my dandelion root digger, the task of pulling out the roots, which go for miles under rocks, is another task that awaits till I have the time and energy to go to battle.  After a poison ivy pulling session, I wash my gloves and tools in Jewel weed juice, the antidote.  Every summer when the jewel weed is flowering, I gather big bunches with leaves, immerse in water in a soup pot, and boil till the bright orange liquid is condensed. After cooling, I put the concentrate in ice cube trays, which, after frozen, I put in ziploc bags in the freezer, ever ready for use.

That patch of poison ivy is just next to a butterfly goddess garden where a new problem has arisen. Gophers or moles have been digging deep holes under this special garden.

Remedies for gophers or moles:

– The first line of defense was garlic oil in little tubes that I bought from a garden supply store. Following the instructions, I covered the holes with soil and then heavy rocks.rocks. I soon ran out of the garlic tubes as the gophers dug new holes. Since the store was out of them, I went to plan B; I put a few freshly peeled garlic cloves down each hole, which I again covered.

I read more on the internet about non toxic solutions, so I dropped coffee grinds mixed with peppermint oil drops into and around the holes. And I sprayed a mix of witch hazel and peppermint oil around the perimeter of the garden. It is a mix I made for keeping mice out of our vehicles since the little devils caused $300 of damage to my car last year and this year my husband had close to $600 damage to his car from mice eating this and that wire or whatever.

The last remedy I tried was making a mixture of 1 cup water, ½ cup castor oil, chopped garlic, splashes of tobasco and some dashes of cayenne powder for good measure and shook, not stirred, before pouring a little into all the holes for good measure.

I can’t say which was the most effective, but together they solved the problem. Gone, yea team. Whew! I am so glad they moved out because if none of that worked, I would have had to call upon a neighbor who hunts to come on over with his shotgun. I’m glad it didn’t come to that. Hither and yon around the many garden beds, I see some new gopher activity. I need to get more castor oil.

Soon to come will be the challenge of slugs; I’ve seen baby slugs around. Time for putting out the crushed dried eggshells I’ve collected all winter, having peeled the inner film from the shell, which I put in the compost bin, before drying and saving the shells. Lining the outer borders of the Butterfly Goddess garden and a few of the six raised vegetable beds planted with lettuce, kale, and other tender morsels that the slugs adore and demolish.

By the time it took me to write this, a few days lapse, the slugs have already grown substantially. Oh my.

Another deterrent is surrounding a garden with copper. My husband and I save copper pennies all winter, but again, there are never enough, which is why I got ten dollars worth of pennies at the bank yesterday.

And then one has to be ruthless with slugs, those slimy, disgusting, I guess they must be good for something, but not in my garden, so off with their heads. I also stomp on them when wearing my muck boots or crush them between two rocks, or easiest and most ruthless, with my garden knife, I just cut ‘em in half and toss. Yuck, I hate doing it, but it’s them or all my hard work and beautiful plants would be eaten to nothing.

Since the Rosa ragosas and English roses are blossoming, I am keeping an eye out for the soon-to-come Japanese beetles, those beautiful green iridescent, but destructive creatures. When the onslaught begins, in the mornings or late afternoons, I’ll fill a coffee tin with soapy water, put it under them and push them in. They have two defense mechanisms, fly up and off quickly, done efficiently in the afternoons, or fall quickly, thus be prepared to catch them. When I don’t have a can of soapy water handy, I have ‘killing gloves’, old garden gloves dedicated to my murdering ways. I’ll crush the beetles between my fingers and ruthlessly fling them away.

There are always surprises in the gardens, both fabulously amazingly wonderful and challenging destructive enemies from which the plants must be protected. Who knows what’s next. Expect the unexpected and it’s always a surprise. Tending a garden is like life: immense joys balanced by continuing challenges interspersed with tears and frustration and wonder and awe. And exhaustion. And satisfaction.

May 24 2016

Yesterday I worked to weed and clean up leaves from the stone patio that surrounds the moon deck that once was the pool.   I built the stone patio by hand, one bluestone at a time, from around the property. It pleases me to see it uncovered from its winter hiding.

I saw a lovely little brown wood nymph butterfly yesterday and last week a few Eastern tiger swallowtails each day,  a Mourning cloak, a painted lady, a spring azure and a few hairstreaks. I believe there are fewer swallowtails than last year. We’ll see.

The hummingbirds have been arriving in larger numbers. From the time the first male arrived on May 5th, when it took ten days before I needed to refill the feeders with sugar water, till now when a refill is needed every other day and some feeders every day is a big change! Yea, an abundance of hummingbirds; however; when the temperature soared the last week of May, the hummingbirds ceased activity, nectaring neither at the flowers nor the feeders.



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May 5 2016

Every year the migrating ruby throated hummingbirds return to our home between May 2nd and May 9th.  Since this first week of May has been cold, rainy and generally dreary, I thought the hummingbirds  would be delayed.

As I walked from the studio across the yard to home today, I heard him before I saw him, a lone male circled around my head, landed on the rustic arch a few feet away and then took off into the forest. Right on time. I had been saying for a couple of days that I needed to make up a batch of their food.**  Another lesson/reminder to listen to my intuitive voice.   I immediately made a batch and filled the five feeders around the house.       ** proportionately bring 1 cup of water and 1/4 cup of sugar to a boil for a minute, let cool, and fill your feeders

Hummingbirds are truly amazing but sturdy creatures, migrating to Mexico and Central America every fall through the winter and then returning to the exact same spot each year. And there’s another one at the feeder now.  They arrive slowly, a few scouts at first and then the numbers will increase greatly. I hope it’s a banner year for them, with hundreds flying through our gardens daily.

Fiddlehead ferns are delicious and quite expensive.  We inherited a field of ferns leading into wetlands on the far side of our property, but they were not fiddleheads.  Only last year did I discover that the ostrich ferns I had brought from my garden in Brooklyn thirteen years ago are fiddleheads as they emerge in spring.  Since they are happily spreading, I had my first half dozen freshest ever fiddleheads sauted in a little olive oil and my own grown garlic.  Truly yummy and so deeply green.

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May 2, 2016

Tis cold, dreary and raining, hovering around 40 degrees F.  Yesterday, the first of May felt like the beginning of March and today there is a hint of spring with dashes of lightening and rolling peals of thunder.

At least on Saturday, the 30th of April, I amended two of my raised vegetable beds with compost, added rich black mulch and planted the seeds of lettuces, spinach, beets, carrots, dill and onion bulbs.  We got to taste the first spinach and lettuce that I planted in March under my hoop houses covered with a  white cloth that lets in moisture and 85% of the light. Fresh from the garden, the greens need no dressing, they are exquisite just naked.

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Spring 2016

Everything is affected by everything else.

How different this spring has been.  With hardly any snow and much milder temperatures, the bears awoke on March 16th this year, contrasting with April 28th, an extraordinarily cold last year.  My indicators are my bird seed feeders, which get ripped off and flung about when the hungry bears awaken. What better appetizer than handy trail mix, black oil sunflower seeds?

The geese started honking and streaming overhead in a graceful northward formation on February 29th.

The wild turkey clan took a stroll around the back of our property, near the stream, on March 23rd.  Last summer the family of seven were almost a daily part of the landscape, pecking around the periphery of the property.

The wasps have awakened.  I saw the first ones on March 24th.  We live in peace.  I don’t bother them and they don’t bother me.  We’re cool.

April has seen a slow yet persistent awakening, the weather more March-like, as March was more April-like weatherwise.

Our lawns are a tapestry of colors now at the end of April. Voilets, from deep purple to pale lavender and every hue in-between, grace the ground, little white wild strawberry flowers have started,  purple heal-all,  a/k/a creeping jenny with its tiny lavender orchid like flowers,  purple myrtle and dandelions glisten with millions of tiny rainbows from the early morning touch of the sun as the early bumblebees hungrily buzz from flower to flower.

Viburnums are in early flowering while the sweet smelling plum blossoms are fading and the forsythia just starting to emerge. It truly amazes me how life bursts forth from seemingly dead plants.  It is such a great awakening time, the energy of life rising from the deep sleep of renewal.

I can still see the mountains all around me as the trees are in bursting bud mode, soon to leaf out becoming the glory of our vista, mountains disappearing just like that.


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June 2015

Bears have good memories.  Since they raided the bird seed in late April, they returned only to tear down the hummingbirds feeders a few days ago.  Oh no.  Yes, there are many flowers for the hummingbirds here, including the fabulous orange honeysuckle in full blossom, but I miss them just outside my window.  I miss hummingbird highway in the back yonder as they flit from feeder to flower.  Someone suggested I try putting out the feeders during the day and taking them in at night.  I will try it, but just put in a little liquid nectar daily since the feeders kinda leak when you move them. Always a challenge and there is nothing that is easy.

This morning, June 11th,  on my walkabout through my gardens, I encountered a very handsome toad whose skin would have looked awesome on a cowgirl boot, but we just said hello and I walked on by. On the other side of this one circular garden was a relatively young garden snake, about two feet long.  Good morning.

The friendly black and white dragonfly who had hung out with me yesterday and allowed me to photograph her, stopped by to say hello.

Eastern tiger swallowtails indulging on the late blooming lilacs then flying high among the tree tops grace the property every day.

Little spring azures, a few sooty wings, many skippers and an early hairstreak butterfly have made their appearances, gracing my gardens.  A black swallowtail or a spicebush swallowtail (it’s hard to tell the difference) was nectaring on the marigolds that outline the butterfly goddess garden.  It went up and down the line of marigolds for at least the ten minutes I was watching.

Wasps are making their nests everywhere and many types of bees are buzzing around.

The Japanese dogwood blooms intensely every other year.  This is the year.  Oh my, it is glorious as it unfurls  its hundreds of creamy white flowers.  Sitting on the studio porch the other day I noticed that it is truly in the shape of a huge butterfly taking flight.  Really.


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The Merry & Dry Month of May 2015

Roots are deep for the trees and perennials since they are all flourishing in various shades and textures of green and many flowering even though it has hardly rained at all this May.

On May 10th our views of the surrounding mountains disappeared till late next autumn.

The white viburnum tree is glorious, the azaleas are fading as are the pink and white bleeding hearts, but the columbines are opening and the wild phlox perfumes the air.

Usually, the hummingbirds return  between May 2nd and May 9th.  This year they returned on May 5th, the first scout demanding food upon his arrival.  Luckily, I made a batch of nectar the night before in anticipation, and it was just in time.

Last week I was working in the gardens near a large white pine tree.  I was fortunate enough to witness a chickadee courtship dance.  The male spread his tail feathers impressively, tweeting and dancing in front of a coy acting female who flitted from branch to branch enticing her suitor to follow.  He obliged.  And then they continued their dance among the many trees.

Two little painted ladies were acourting as they nectared on the flowering marigolds this morning.  I also saw a few Eastern tiger swallowtails, some spring azures, a Mourning cloak and a little Sooty wing.  And the symphony of birds completed the tableau when sitting with my morning cappuchinno  on the chair my husband Steve built by the stream at the edge of the woods.



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April 2015

April 10th:  At dusk, I went to our local supermarket five minutes from home that is nestled next to the mountains.  I saw a funnel of at least 100 vultures gracefully soaring on a warm thermal whirlwind.  Even though some vultures overwinter here in the north, I just found out that many migrate.  I was told they were probably not hovering above a kill, but just enjoying the rising warm air currents and stretching their wings.  And that they were a harbinger of spring. Who knew vultures were harbingers of spring?

April 9th:  While sipping my cappuchino and gazing out the window this morning, another grey, wet, cold and dreary one, I saw that something was amiss.  I realized that none of the four squirrel-proof bird feeders were hanging.  Donning hat, coat and boots, I went out to investigate only to find that not only were they down, but they were gone, nowhere in sight.  Ahhhh, I waited just a little too long to take in the feeders;  the bears have awoken and they be hungry and bird seed is like easy pickins trail food.   I found only one feeder near the stream out back.  It was just too wet to explore far and wide to find the others. That will wait for a warmer and sunnier and drier day. These feeders weren’t cheap either and they really kept the  squirrels out, who got quite enough from the leavings scattered on the ground;  birds are really sloppy and picky eaters.

April 2nd:  Finally 55 degrees, I sat on the porch of the studio that my husband Steve built and listened to the symphony of at least a dozen different birds whistles, songs and calls.  The owls were hooting.  The woodpeckers were pecking.  The robins were hopping all over the lawn still covered in many patches of snow. The squirrels were chasing one another.  The chipmunks scurrying over the snow mounds with their little tails in the air.  Wafts of the heady earthy smell of Spring were floating in the air.  Spring is slow in arriving, but it is definitely on its way.

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June 25 2014 in the garden

There is so much beauty, drama, mystery and challenges in my garden, that the world fades to the distance.

The wisteria planted three years ago has just created her first magnificent and fragrant purple flower.  My husband Steve and I also built a third section of a rustic arch to accommodate her. The hummingbirds, phoebes, tit mice and other birds instantly started perching on the tips of the arch.

Every day there are subtle and not so subtle changes, growth, blossoming, loss, and renewal.

The weather has been without too much humidity and in the 70’s and 80’s, perfect temperature for working 12 hours or a more a day in the gardens, doing the heavy work that the heat would make impossible.

Flowering white and purple foxgloves appear in unexpected places, making me pause in amazement.  Three tall white ones caught my eye in the light of the setting sun.  They were to the left of my garage, at the edge of the woods.

Hundreds of milkweed blossoms are about to open. The first one in the meadow is leading the way, its clustered bloom opened this morning, releasing  a sweet and intoxicating fragrance.  Soon, the others will follow, releasing their aroma embracing me as I walk around.



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