Saturday, March 27, 2010

First up: Ladykiller

'Ladykiller' pushes through a mess of leaf litter and reaches for the sun.
Break out the bubbly -- the season's first crocus is blooming at sillydoggarden. Crocus chrysantha 'Ladykiller' showed its handsome white and purple petals on Wednesday and, oh yeah, I was swooning for the rest of the day. It's a diminutive crocus, one of the species or snow varieties, but it's early, classy-looking and so easy to grow. It's a small patch just north of the front door so it doesn't make a big statement -- we'll leave that to the bigger and flashier Dutch crocus (C. vernus) on the berm near the road. Later, after the blooms are finished, 'Ladykiller's' ripening foliage will be hidden by hostas. It's a happy relationship.

I didn't expect to find this Friday afternoon.
I've been monitoring the Dutch crocus, watching as their slender leaves poke through the ground and sprinkling Milorganite to try and keep the rabbits and deer at bay. And on Friday, I was surprised to see one just barely flexing its petals. There's no denying it, crocus season is open. I'll have another glass of champagne, please.

Anticipation: This is a small portion of the crocus berm. With luck, we'll have a mass of purple, yellow and white in a few weeks.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Windowsill walkabout

One of the great things about spider plants is their ability to pro-create. Plop the babies into water and you'll have roots in no time. These are destined for a life outside in some mixed containers come summer.
"Fools!" the weather gods seemed to be saying today. "Did you really think late-springlike temperatures were here to stay?" Well, no. I think we all knew better but, still, this 30-degree day isn't much fun after a week of 50s and 60s.

So, prodded by this post from Gayla Trail, it seemed a good time to retreat indoors and assess what's growing on the windowsills. It's still too early to start many seeds here, and many of the plants I've been overwintering are showing the wear and tear of indoor life in the winter (low light and low humidity). But, despite the legginess, chlorotic foliage and droopy attitude there are signs that many of them are poised to turn the corner and get growing again.

The south window in the dining room is winter headquarters for many plants that will return outdoors in May or June. At lower left is an out-of-control Puerto Rican oregano. In the box are a peppermint-scented geranium, cordyline 'Red Sensation', another peppermint-scented geranium and an umbrella palm water plant. The big plant at right is a banana and the dish garden on the floor holds a selection of succulents. The tall plant at left behind the cacti is a ficus. The ficus and the cacti stay inside year-round.

Downstairs, we have another window with southern exposure. On the windowsill are a rose-scented geranium, bay plant, another scented geranium, plectranthus and abutilon. On the bookshelf you can see more Puerto Rican oregano, a struggling upright fuchsia, amaryllis and Swedish ivy. 

It's true -- I can't seem to get enough of scented geraniums. This is part of a tangled mess of potted plants and cuttings that I took early last fall that are ready to be potted up. They're under lights in the plant room.

Also under lights in the plant room are some lettuce seeds, agave and heliotrope. The leeks (back) already have sprouted.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Headlong (footlong?) into spring

Rubber boots are the footwear of choice as we reacquaint ourselves with the feel of gravel and wood chips under our feet. The main walkways are mostly free of snow and ice. 

It's practically balmy out there. The National Weather Service reports that we've hit 18 consecutive days with a high above freezing. It's the first March since 1878 in which the first 15 days of the month have recorded a high temperature above freezing at Duluth.

And we're lovin' it.

More signs of spring:

Rubber boots keep the feet dry when traipsing through the woods to the stream.

The stream at the back of the property is gorging on snowmelt, rumbling through the trees and providing a soundtrack that travels especially well at night when the rest of the world has quieted and it's just you (and the sillydog) standing in the dark by the deck.

The sillydog is giddy at being able to run again on something other than snow. He's so full of himself that no log is too big for him to try and move.

The first itty-bitty tips of crocus are starting to show on the berm out front. (And we've already trapped and relocated one hungry rabbit. Sigh.)

And there are wet, muddy pawprints at the door. Bring on the towels for wiping off a dog every time he comes back inside.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Well-thymed meals

Snowbanks receded enough to reveal a couple of thyme plants with some fresh green leaves among the old stuff. A good handful found its way into dinner.

Talk about a lucky intersection of seasons -- the last of the 2009 parsnips found their way into a meal fragrant with 2010's first harvest of thyme. Here's how the resident chef made Sunday's Thyme-stuffed Chicken Thighs with Parsnips. (And the leftovers were just as delicious a couple of days later.)

Make a stuffing of bread cubes, wild rice, onion, celery, chicken stock, salt, pepper and lots of fresh, chopped thyme. Stuff six to eight boneless chicken thighs. Slice peeled parsnips lengthwise into planks and then layer the planks in a baking pan. Drizzle with some oil and season with salt and pepper. Place the stuffed thighs on top and sprinkle with some more fresh thyme. Bake at 350 degrees in a convection oven for 30 to 45 minutes until the skin is nice and golden and crispy.

The skin was golden and crispy and flavored with thyme. The asparagus, alas, wasn't ours; it came from the grocery.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Seventh Day March up for viewing

There's still plenty of snow, but it's good to see the earth on a southfacing slope. On a sunny day, the log is a good place to make plans for this year's garden.
We're starting to shake off winter at sillydoggarden. Full-blown spring is still a ways off, but we're seeing the tops of shrubs we haven't seen for months and, if you look hard enough, there is some green besides the conifers. Sound is a big part of the charm this time of year. The tinkle and thump of snowmelt running through the gutters and downspouts, the songs of hungry or sex-crazed (or both) birds and the loud rat-tat-a-tat of pileated woodpeckers, among the coolest birds around here. Check out the photo gallery (sorry, no woodpecker, but not for lack of trying) in the sidebar, top right.

The video (below) isn't much to look at, but it does give a taste of the early spring soundtrack we're hearing from the backyard deck -- the water, the birds and, about 11 seconds in, a pileated woodpecker.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Along the squirrel highway

This is one of the main routes the squirrels follow.
Being the industrious, focused creatures that they are, our resident red squirrels have transformed the backyard into their own efficient highway system. They have dug tunnels through snowbanks, excavated other hidey-holes/rest stops and packed the snow into easily discernible roadways that give them direct routes from the more vulnerable open area around the bird feeder to the safety of the woods.

Like us, the squirrels use their highways to move goods. They take sunflower seeds from the feeder or cones from the pines and carry them to corners around the yard for safekeeping. Like us, the squirrels use their highways for pleasure. We take joy rides and they run and chase each other back and forth and up and down. Perhaps there was something more going on. The Minnesota DNR says red squirrels engage in dizzying courtship chases.

The squirrels have been especially active the last few days -- spring is taking a few tentative steps. Longer days, the sun moving higher in the sky and temperatures warm enough to begin melting the squirrels' highways -- until next winter. 
One of at least four resident squirrels surveys the rodent road system from a perch on the deck.