Cool Birds

1991-08 Karin & Teri in sprinklersAs my grandmother always said, “Horses sweat. Men perspire. Women glow.” How do we avoid this sticky situation? Kids run through sprinklers and adults head for the air conditioning, but what do the birds do when the thermometer climbs? They don’t sweat they can’t take advantage of the A/C. However, that doesn’t mean they just sit there and bake, either.

Because birds have relatively high body temperatures—a Golden Kinglet’s temperature was measured at 111° F!—it’s critical that they avoid getting too warm. Many essential proteins begin to break down at temperatures just a few degrees higher, so overheating could easily be fatal. Thankfully, birds have all sorts of ways of beating the heat.

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Fabulous Fernbush

Chamaebatiania millefolium - Fernbush_XG_20090720_LAH_7320From a distance, a blooming fernbush (Chamaebatiaria millefolium)  resembles a lovely white lilac bush, but no lilac would be in bloom at this time of year. Growing to seven feet high and wide, these shapely shrubs are covered in upright sprays of showy white flowers from June through August. Individual blossoms are reminiscent of single roses, and attract bees and butterflies. Come autumn, the flowers are replaced by russet seed heads.

A closer inspection reveals reddish peeling bark and the aromatic, finely dissected leaves that give Fernbush its common name. Even in our cold climate, these leaves stay on the bush for most of the year; branches are bare for a mere three to four months each winter. Fall foliage is an attractive copper color.

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Beyond Spring

Malus 'Branzam' Brandywine_Crabapple_DBG_LAH_5147Most landscapes look terrific in May and June. The leaves are fresh and new. From pink crabapples to purple lilacs, it seems as if everything is in bloom. The contrast with the lifeless browns and grays of winter is enough to send you cavorting across the  glowing, emerald green lawn.

It’s tempting—irresistible, really—to rush to the local garden center and buy everything with flowers on it. I’ve been subjected to Facebook photos of flowers since March (I have a lot of friends in California), and finally it’s our turn!

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Season-long Harvests

Kohlrabi_ColoSpgs-CO_LAH_4863You’ve been hard at work all spring. First you started some seeds indoors, then you hardened them off so they will withstand the rigors of Colorado weather. You set your transplants in beds you carefully prepared with just the right amendments and fertilizers. Then you seeded some other crops (such as bush beans and squash) outdoors where they are to grow, and now you have cute little seedlings, putting out their first true leaves, on their way to providing you with some delicious eating.

Finally, it’s time to take a break, sit back, and snooze in your hammock (in between chores such as watering and weeding), and wait for your crops to mature.

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Help! My Lettuce is Blooming!

Flowering lettuce_BlkForest-CO_LAH_5932My lettuce is blooming. Instead of sweet, tender Buttercrunch and crisp red Prizehead, I have leaves so bitter, even my hens are spurning them. Rats.

At this time of year, it’s common for leafy greens to bloom or, as it’s known in garden-speak, bolt. Long hours of sunlight, combined with torrid temperatures induce flowering. In most cases, there’s nothing to be done. It’s simply time to pull the plants that haven’t yet been harvested and add them to the compost pile.

For example, spinach blooms when days last more than 14 to 16 hours. (Interestingly, spinach will only bloom when days are long.) Warm temperatures will accelerate this process. Dorothy Hinshaw Patent and Diane E. Bilderback explain why this happens in The Book of Garden Secrets:

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My Favorite Summer Squash

zucchini-home-2008sept23-lah-250The fun thing about growing any kind of summer squash is that no matter which variety you choose, you’re likely to be blessed with a bumper crop. Not only that, but zucchini tastes a lot like patty pan which tastes a lot like crookneck which tastes a lot like the new globular introductions. It’s hard to go wrong.

However, there are subtle differences. I’ve trialed a number of varieties. Surprisingly, some varieties succumbed to a heat wave, hail storm, or torrential downpour, while others persevered.  Others took too long to produce a crop. I find the days to harvest given in the catalogs have little in common with what actually happens in my garden, probably because our nights are so cool.

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Cool Wildflowers

alpine-paintbrush_mtevans-co_lah_4409We’re in the middle of summer, that season I’ve waited for all year. All those December dreams of dahlias, March musings of marigolds—and now it’s too hot to go outside! A friend and I have been planning, then delaying, a trip to the Denver Botanic Gardens for several weeks, hoping for a cooler day that will allow for a more enjoyable visit and better photos. Meanwhile, what’s a sweaty flower lover to do?

Head for the hills!

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