It’s Not Over Yet

By the time October arrives, I’m tempted to “throw in the trowel,” especially after a summer as hot, dry,  and smoky as this one has been. I’m tired of hauling the hose to water the containers on my deck. I’m tired of pulling weeds that manage to stab my hands even inside of gloves. I’m even tired of eating chard, chard, and more chard. (Note to self: five or six plants is plenty!) I’m ready for fall, with its orange leaves,  warm days, and brisk nights, but I’m not at all ready for winter’s drab colors and bare branches.

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They Leave…

Violet-green Swallow, a summer visitor to my yard.

“To all of you who, like me, have become bird watchers during these months of sheltering in place, I’ve got some bad news: They leave.”

The article in the Democrat & Chronicle, a Rochester NY newspaper, continued with author and new birder Jim Memmott complaining that he has “fed them, adored them, and photographed them endlessly” only to have his backyard birds migrate. As he explains, he’s dealing with abandonment issues.

I highly recommend the article—it made me smile as I identified with his disappointment over the disappearance of so many birds, at least for the winter.

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The Worrywart & The Rearranger

Last week I talked about The Collector—the passionate gardener who has to have one of everything, to the detriment of their landscape design. Today I want to address two more kinds of crazy plant people and the mistakes they make: The Worrywart and The Rearranger. Do either of these sound familiar?

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The Plant Collector

You’d expect an avid gardener to have a lovely garden, full of healthy, well-cared for plants, arranged in pleasing combinations. And yes, most are a delight to the senses. However, even the most dedicated gardener can make mistakes. Here are three foibles common to many a crazy plant person. Can you relate to any of these?

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Haystack Rock

I really wanted to see the puffins.

Haystack Rock, in Cannon Beach, Oregon, is well-known as a nesting site for the Tufted Puffin. According to eBird, the puffins are in residence from late spring through mid-August. I’ve been there many times, but always in the winter months when the birds were feeding out to sea. Now we were finally going to be there on a summer day—August 23. That was cutting it awfully close, but the trip involved too many scheduled meetings and couldn’t be moved. I’d just have to wait and hope for the best.

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Perennials for High(er) pH

A visit to the Pacific Northwest makes me pine for acid-loving plants—Japanese maples, azaleas and rhododendrons, to name a few. But I live here in Colorado, where the soil is often highly alkaline. Our pH runs over 8, much too high for many landscape plants popular in Oregon, Washington, and other areas with high rainfall and acidic soil.

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A Not-So-Common Black Hawk

Sometimes you can wait for hours, poke into thorny bushes, hike through snake-infested fields, get tired and dusty, become overheated or risk frostbite—and never find the rare bird you’ve come to see. And other times, you park the car, climb out, look for the crowd with binoculars and floppy hats, and know you’ve hit the jackpot. On Saturday, my friend and I were blessed to not only see the rarity, but to get up close and personal.

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A Hidden Garden Near Seattle

I just spent a couple of weeks in Western Washington. While most of my time was filled with giggling granddaughters, a good friend and I managed to sneak away to visit a tiny gem of a botanic garden, one I’d never heard of in spite of our frequent visits to the area. Located in a quiet neighborhood in Federal Way, just north of Tacoma, PowellsWood is well worth a stop. (It’s also conveniently close to one of my favorite Indian restaurants, East India Grill. But I digress… )

I’m thankful that I can call Colorado home, as there’s no place I’d rather live, but my second choice would  definitely be Washington. I don’t mind clouds and rain, and all that water, plus a relatively benign climate, results in gardens that can only be described as stunning. PowellsWood is no exception.

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Fall Frustrations

While some species are easy to identify, many birds present challenges. Look-alike species such as scaups (below), sandpipers, gulls, and the notoriously difficult Empidonax flycatchers, are enough to keep birders working to improve their skills for years to come.

But as if that wasn’t hard enough, just as we begin to feel confident, fall arrives. Birds are migrating, males become drab and the world is flooded with a new crop of immature birds. It makes me feel like a beginner birder, all over again!

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