Friday, May 29, 2009

Viburnum Pollination Blues

A huge chunk of my mental garden energy last week went towards good pollination. The bees are out there, both big and small, native and nonnative. Let’s just hope they were able to do their job well and to the best of their little bumble-ish abilities.

The reason for all this garden worry actually has a lot to do with the birds, so I guess this is a posting about the birds and the bees. You see, seven long years ago when I began work on this particular garden, I put in a long hedgerow of viburnum bushes, which I hoped would feed the birds with their plentiful berries.

The American Cranberries (Viburnum trilobum) I planted have done very, very well, producing huge numbers of red, translucent berries which the birds have readily devoured every year since.

But sadly, the Arrowwoods (Viburnum dentatum) I planted were not producing. Oh, we had arrowwod flowers by the thousands. But no berries.

Lots of garden sleuthing, reading and googling led me to the conclusion that I had made a mistake. I had planted all of one variety, a shorter cultivar called “Blue Muffin.” It is lovely for the flowers, but not so well known as a berry producer. But here’s why: viburnums won’t pollinate their own flowers, and all of the blue muffin shrubs in the US had come from one parent stock. Unlike other viburnums, arrowwood will not be pollinated by other viburnum varieties. So, despite the fact that they were growing well and thriving, the birds were still not getting those valuable berries that we had all hoped for.

Last year I located a website of similarly unhappy gardeners who had experienced the same trouble. I got this advice: plant another kind of arrowwood, but be careful to plant one that will bloom at the exact same time as “Blue Muffin.” Not as easy as you’d expect. Blue muffin’s bloom time seems to move around a bit depending on which region of the country you live in.

So, after lots of reading and phone calls to nurseries and website hunting I located an arrowwood cultivar called "Autumn Jazz," which is supposed to do the trick. I ordered via email, planted in late last October and having been holding my figurative garden breath and crossing my mental fingers ever since. Would they bloom together and make those berries? Only time would tell.

So this was the week. The blue muffins were in full force bloom and I began my watch over the Autumn Jazz. It did indeed bloom, but it seemed so small next to the bigger hedgerow…. was there enough pollen to go around and do the trick? We’ll see later this summer….

Monday, May 18, 2009

Wood Thrushes Back, Hear em along the Sligo

My favorite bird is back and making lots of lovely noise along the Sligo Creek right now.

Take a listen here at the Cornell Ornithology website and the next time you are out under the trees you'll know what to listen for....

There are few songs that match it for sweetness and clarity, even those that are composed by humans can't match it.

Follow the Birds, REAL BIRDS

You hear about migration, and maybe every once in a while if you are a stellar backyard naturalist, you are able to see one or two migratory species in your garden or on a nature walk in the spring. But did you ever wish you could just follow along and see exactly where that ACTUAL bird went?

Well, here's something that comes kinda close. Wetlands International invites you to Follow the Bird through their new online iniative. They've identified and named several herons in Europe in order to follow that individual's actual progress through its migratory path up the globe. " Unlike other traditional methods of studying bird migration (e.g. field observations or ringing), the combination of the satellite telemetry, remote sensing and the internet makes it possible for a wide-range of stakeholders to follow bird migration almost in real-time," boasts their website.

This is very cool. With very careful and clever usage of Google maps, you can also see exactly what each site was like. And, hey, if you happen to be in Morocco or Germany and take some great photos of those locations, you can even upload them to this website.

(photo courtesy of Wetlands International)

Caves closed in Effort to Help Bats

Since early March, the US Forest Service has been asking adventurers to stay out of caves in the Eastern US in an effort to help stop or slow the spread of the white nose syndrome in bat colonies, such as the little brown bats shown in a cave, above. That voluntary request has been turned into an order to stay out, according to an article in the New York Times earlier this month. One of the biggest challenges the agency faces is the independent spirit of most spelunkers. Very few of them, the paper reports, are part of organized groups or efforts, so getting the word out to help the bats by staying away from the caves may prove tough.

(photo courtesy of the New York Department of Environmental Conservation via USFWS website)

Tree Biology 101

On Friday I went to see Richard C. Murray's lecture at Brookside Gardens. Murray has just come out with a new book on tree biology, a kind of primer or reference notebook on this enormous, leafy topic titled, Tree Biology Notebook, An Introduction to the Science and Ecology of Trees.

Murray's lecture was great. The room was not packed, but as Murray himself quipped, anyone who is willing to sit through an hour lecture on tree biology for the fun of it is hardcore. Those that did attend stayed all the way through. It was anything but boring, with fun metaphors, and lots of tree parts to touch and feel and examine. He opted for a "no slide" presentation, and instead brought in a truck load of wood samples and held them up as he talked, using actual branches, stumps and twigs to illustrate his various points. The windows behind were open to the lovely view of Brookside's leafy hills, and that in itself proved illustrative a few times during the talk, as the he would point to certain trees for examples of growth habits or community groups or leaf patterns.

"Trees are my mentors," he said at one point early in the talk, noting that theyare more relevant now than ever given climate change and the emphasis on carbon sequestration.

Surprisingly, to explain how a tree functions and how it operates, he asked the audience to "think of a tree as a biological business," which manages its commodities, builds partnerships, and manipulates and specializes as it grows.

His book is worth buying, but this is not one for coffee table or nightstand. Rather, this is a reference book or refresher for those who work outside often. In fact, I would hope that some one connected with Montgomery County Master Gardening would make some of the chapters required reading. The sections on roots and the rhizosphere cover territory which is all too often ignored by those who do garden makeovers. Too many trees are lost at the root zone, when people mess around under their trees.

The book is for sale now at Brookside Gardens, and also at Audubon Naturalist Society in Chevy Chase.