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Archive for March, 2012


Hummingbirds and Honeysuckle

Friday, March 23rd, 2012partner

Friday, March 23rd, 2012



I never could keep those hummingbird feeders clean. Periodically I’d buy one with all good intentions, mix the red liquid according to the instructions, hang the darn thing, and then promptly forget about it. Next thing I knew, the elixir had gone rancid, or ants had had their way with it or it would be empty, with hungry hummingbirds darting hopefully around the brightly colored plastic. As a dedicated birder wanna-be, I knew a neglected hummingbird feeder was bad business;  it could breed disease. I also was aware that if one starts to feed birds, one should continue and not leave our avian friends high and dry.

So, for the hummers at least, I decided to go the natural route and provide food as Mother Nature does. I made sure I had bee balm and columbine in my garden, as well as penstemon, phlox, nasturtium and petunias.

It was clear, however, that the favored flower of my visiting hummingbirds was a honeysuckle vine. I planted ‘Alabama Crimson’ on the arbors over the backyard steps and it quickly drew a host of hummingbird visitors. They sip the nectar with their long tongues as soon as the vine flowers in mid-spring, and continue all season, as honeysuckle remains in almost constant bloom.

If you choose to grow honeysuckle make sure you’re using native trumpet honeysuckle, lonicera sempervirens, not the invasive japonica, which rapidly becomes a shrubby mess that takes over if given half a chance.

Trumpet honeysuckle is a sturdy, perennial, non-fragrant twining vine which grows to some 15 feet. It’s deer resistant, and bears large, trumpet-shaped flowers which are characteristically reddish-orange, appearing in abundance in spring, and less prolifically throughout the remainder of the growing season. The flowers give way to small berries which are attractive to birds. It’s a perfect companion for sun-drenched arbors, trellises and fences, and can be shaped by pruning. The plant is afflicted by no serious insects or diseases, but give it humus-y, rich soil with good drainage.

With my many hummingbird-attracting flowers, the lovely creatures now whiz by my head as I work in the garden, dance playfully through the sprinkler when it’s in use, and drink from the various blossoms throughout the yard. Ruby-throated hummingbirds, the species who visit my Bethel garden, seem fearless. Tiny as they are, they are adventurous and will chase off presumed interlopers.

One memorable day several years ago one became trapped on our screen porch, which is adjacent to the honeysuckle. Panicked, he couldn’t find his way out the open door, and so I determined to save him additional stress. I stood on a chair and gently cupped my hand around his diminutive body, carried him out the door and to the safety of the backyard. I’ll never forget the tiny hammering of his heart, and the warmth in my hand. I’d like to think that he and his progeny are a part of the colorful hummer scene in my garden each year.

Remember, in order to have happy hummingbirds in your garden, it’s important to provide shelter and nesting sites as well as food and water. Their nest will be constructed of plant down and spider webs, and camouflaged with lichen, making it virtually impossible to spot. Hummingbirds generally lay two pea-sized eggs, and incubation takes approximately fifteen days.

Hummingbirds add grace, interest and color to your garden and are well worth attracting.  So if you’re having trouble keeping up with the plastic hummingbird feeders, go natural!



The Very Best Tools for the Very Best Garden

Friday, March 9th, 2012

March 9th, 2012

Garden Tools


Every gardener has his or her favorite tools, those that fit well into her hands and carry a tale of garden triumphs and woes, past and present. If the gardener is organized, these implements are wiped clean after each use, hang neatly in their designated places on a pegboard when not in use and are sharpened every winter.


I’m not that gardener.


Oh, I have beloved tools, ones I won’t be without in my digging endeavors. But they rarely get replaced into their proper locations, and certainly aren’t honed in the off-season. This doesn’t mean I value them less, it simply attests to my gardening laziness.  Despite my cavalier attitude towards the care of my garden implements, here are the ones I must have:


Trowel. My sturdy trowel has been with me for decades, purchased from a yard sale in New Jersey. Its wooden handle rests comfortably in my palm, and since the blade is attached with metal rivets it never bends. It’s large enough to upend a goodly sized chunk of earth, and has become a dear friend.

Pruners:   For years I’ve used Felcos # 2 but as arthritis stiffens my hands, I’m considering changing to Bahco, whose handles rotate and which I’ve heard are easier on aging digits.

Compost fork:  Not a shovel, spade or pitchfork, this is also called a manure or silage fork. It grabs a nice load of black gold without losing it between the tines, and with just a bit of gardener muscle, deposits the cargo into the wheelbarrow or bucket.

CobraHead:   This snazzy little weeder is a last summer addition. (goes to show that even old gardeners can learn new tricks) Its metal head is curved with a triangular tip, and with a simple pull parallel to the ground beheads nasty chickweed, velvetleaft, and other nefarious weeds. Read all about this tool atwww.cobraheadlc.com

Shovel:  I’ve had the same shovel for thirty years, purchased from Sears when that venerable institution was still called Sears, Roebuck. It comes in handy at mulch time, and has dug many a hole for bulbs as well as helped transplant many a tree, shrub and  perennial.

Spade:  When a straight cut is needed, such as when digging in an established bed, nothing is more delicate than a spade. For even finer work, grab a transplant spade.

Tool belt with holster. This one took me a while; wearing a belt seemed too masculine somehow. But subsequent to misplacing yet another set of clippers, I bit the bullet and consulted my 20-something daughter who knows all about women wearing belts with their jeans. I now wouldn’t be without one.

Edger:  After reading a fascinating magazine article about the ease of electric edgers, I purchased one, but never could make it perform. Reluctant to ask my overworked and underenthused spouse, I hung the tool in the shed, where it remains to this day, gathering spider webs. I continue to edge my beds with a half-moon shaped step-on tool, which is why my borders are so crooked.

My hands.  It goes without saying that for the most delicate work, nothing beats skilled hands, the better to pluck tiny weeds, assay the texture of an ailing plant or sift fine soil.


The above list  demonstrates that in gardening adventures almost anything can be a tool. During these last few weeks before spring, put on your thinking cap and consider how you might best streamline your garden work this year.




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