Saturday, May 31, 2008

Wildlife Comes Alive at Pittsgrove Farms

New Jersey gets a bad rap for being a mafia ridden, wasteland of industry and highways. Those of us that live here know why it is affectionately called the Garden State.

We have always embraced the nature of Hunterdon County. This year more than ever (probably because we are outside more than ever) we have seen all kinds of wildlife. From orange-winged orioles to the occasional fox, we get to experience the wonders of Mother Nature beyond the blooming iris, peonies, and other perennials though they sure are nice too.

Just today we came across a running box turtle, (very slowly running, but running nonetheless by turtle standards), a flying gray heron, many many frogs, and a nesting Killdeer.

The Killdeer, which is named for its loud piercing "kill-deer" call, is a rather unusual bird as it is comfortable nesting close to humans and often make nests on the ground. What makes this bird even more interesting is its broken-wing act. When humans or predators come near, the Killdeer will pretend to act injured in an effort to draw the predator away from its nest. Despite the evolutionary genius that has help ensure that its young survive, it is quite funny to watch as it looks something similar to a country line dance by a bar patron who has had a few too many.

Can you find me? The Killdeer remains camouflaged in the overgrown daylily beds. Pardon the weeds, but how would you like it if someone started ripping up your home?
The Killdeer, who has made a home in our daylily fields, lives close by to the frogs. The frogs have made the small pond near the driveway home. For years, the area next to the entrance to Pittsgrove Farms was a natural wet spot that filled after even a short drizzle. Instead of letting it remain as an overgrown ditch, we have transformed it into a pond filled with waterlilies and frogs, and surrounded by Siberian iris, Japanese iris, water iris and wet tolerant perennials.

A pretty nice ditch - the water lilies have just started to bloom next to the pot of very old papyrus. In the foreground, Ruffled Velvet Siberian iris comes into bloom.
In hopes of making the area an even greater refuge for our plants and animal friends, we plan on extending the natural pond by simply defining the edges more and adding some plastic to maintain the water during the dry season. After all, isn't it nice having company in the garden?

Rippit! Ribbit! A frog sunbathes on the rock behind some blooming iris laevigata variegata.

Creeping Jeremy sneaks up on the frog for an extreme closeup, as it sits on a rock laced with water-loving Creepy Jenny.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Intermediate Iris in Bloom

Intermediate Iris Bed
It's almost Memorial Day in New Jersey and we are still wearing sweat shirts at Pittsgrove Farms. The cool weather means all of our plants are flowering a little bit later than normal, the good news being that we can enjoy them longer into the spring and early summer.

Honey Glazed

Star Woman

Our intermediates are now in full bloom and budded up and started flowering just as many of our dwarf were beginning to fade.

Devil May Care

We were delighted to see many of those that were new to us this year, for as you know, seeing the real thing is so much better than just looking at a picture. Here are pictures of some of our favorite intermediates.

Now that the sun has finally graced us with some warmth, our tall bearded and our peony plants are also showing color and soon we expect an explosion of color. We can't wait!

Dr. Alexander Fleming

Wine Angel

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Back in the Pond

Knowing that I try to photograph each variety of flowers that we grow as they come into bloom, John excitedly told me to grab my camera to get a picture of a new iris since it might be my only opportunity this year. He is also aware that I get "up close and personal" in trying to capture the individual characteristics of each flower. So, I swear he eagerly anticipated my return venture into our pond to capture Iris Laevigata, "Snow Drift".

This variety is a wetland iris white in color with a touch of blue and is good for pond edges. A true "Japanese iris", it will grow equally well submerged in shallow water or on the edge. It requires full sun and an acid soil and in its wild form, grows in Japan, Korea, and China. Blooming time is May to June, depending upon Mother Nature's whims and ours came into bloom in mid-May.

Laevigata Variegata, sister plant to the above, hasn't bloomed yet and I'm sure that as soon as it does, John will use it as an opportunity to get me back in the pond. These are both new additions to Pittsgrove Farms and we hope to propagate them so they will be available to you next spring.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Gardening Goes Wild - Gorilla Gardening

Gardening has become militant, undercover and may perhaps be coming to a weed-filled public dirt patch near you.

Gorilla Gardening is sweeping the nation, heck maybe even the whole world. A revolution that began in the UK is now hitting the US and growing faster than a plant with an overdose of Miracle Grow.

Gorilla Gardening is the illicit cultivation of blooming plants in an effort to beautify unsightly public places.

The idea is pretty simple:

1) find an ugly overgrown area
2) get cheap plants
3) recruit a group of plant-friendly friends
4) wait until nosey neighbors go to bed
5) hit the dirt with an arsenal of shovels
6) plant that plot before the police interrupt the garden party

The official tips are here.

The website includes ideas like how to make seed bombs, which are essentially grenades for gardeners. The beneft is that seed bombs can be thrown to areas that are too difficult to reach otherwise.

This gardening is not for the weak of heart. Gorilla Gardening is the equivalent to Fight Club for gardeners. There is even a Gorilla Gardening community, which helps eager illicit gardeners find each other to start new gorilla chapters.

Who knows maybe we will soon be planting iris by the light of moon in a desolate parking lot before you know it?

Monday, May 12, 2008

Small But Mighty

Topping out at 5'2" tall, for most of my life I've been what some people consider "height challenged." I got a reputation as a "goody-two-shoes" since the seating in school was often shortest to tallest and sitting directly in front of the teacher made it difficult to get away with much. But like the West Highland White Terriers we have owned, I often have not perceived myself as little and once thought my daughter-in-law, Melanie and I were nearly the same height (she is 5'7"!). Our Westie, Lady, once stood her ground on a lonely beach when she was charged by a Black Lab, causing the Lab to turn tail and run in the opposite direction. The heart throb of our current Westie, Sassy is Alex, a German Shepherd that towers over her. Like my dogs, I've never let my size stand in my way and I can hold my own in basketball with my 6'2" tall son, Jeremy. Which brings me to the subject at hand --- Dwarf Bearded Iris.

Baby Blessed Dwarf Iris

Many gardeners may be unfamiliar with dwarf iris since they are generally only available by mail order. These sturdy little plants are the first bearded to bloom in the spring which in our location in New Jersey coincides with the blooming time of tulips. They are available in a wide array of colors, similar to their tall bearded cousins. Their diminutive size make them excellent border or rock garden plants.

Prank Dwarf Iris

As with other bearded iris, shallow planting with good drainage and at least a half day sun are a must. Since they are shallow-rooted, winter heaving may be more of a problem than with their taller relatives, so it is helpful to apply a light mulch after the ground has frozen.

Pele Dwarf Iris

They should also be protected from encroachment from other vigorous perennials in the rock gardens. Although delicate in appearance, these hardy plants hold up well under light frost even in bloom. Varieties such as Pele, Sarah Taylor, and Gimmick may be small, but they can have a big impact in your garden.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Washington Tulip Festival

Tulip Festival Fun

Last week the brothers were able to get together. Jeremy and his lovely bride were able to take some time off and visit with Garrett and his brood in the Pacific Northwest. Among the many adventures they had was a trip about an hour north of Seattle to Skagit County for the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival.

Tulips as far as the eye can see

There were fields of daffodils and tulips of many different colors. We went to one grower named Roozengaarde. According to their literature they have over 1200 acres of field blooms making them the largest tulip grower in the world. We don't think we have quite those aspirations for our farm, but you never can tell where this journey will take us. They had a three acre display garden to showcase the different variety of tulips they grow. Some picks of the display gardens. They charged an admission fee to see the gardens. We'll have to teach Mom Gulish to juggle or belly dance and then maybe we can charge for Pittsgrove Farms.

Roozengaarde Display Gardens

We also stopped by the other very large grower in the area, Tulip Town. They had a magnificent field of colorful tulips that accounted for all the colors of the rainbow (well not really blue, but that is more of a function of the iris than of an oversight by tulip town). Between sleepy kids and a function I had later, we did not explore Tulip Town other than from the periphery, but we did sing "Won't you take me to.....TULIP TOWN" in our best Lipps Inc. impersonations.

We have great memories and great pictures of our visit to Skagit County. We highly recommend it as a side trip if you are visiting the Seattle area during the spring.