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Monday, August 31, 2009


Monday, 8:00 AM. 56 degrees, wind NW, moderate. The sky is clear, the channel wrinkled. The barometer predicts partly cloudy weather. Local weather forecasts had called for lows in the thirties in our region last night.
The plant pictured is Juniperus rigida, a Juniper of Asiatic origin, which has an unusual branching habit. The only reason I mention it, since I don’t care for its aesthetics, is that the one other place I have ever seen it growing is The New York Botanical Garden. The folks up the street, whose yard it resides in, are members of the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum and have received a number of unusual plants thereby. This is a good example of how people move plants around the globe, from one continent and ecosystem to another. This Juniper is merely an oddity…plants that have greater utility or beauty migrate even faster and farther, and these plant migrations have been going on since the first farmers carried seed from one slash and burn garden plot to another, or in pouches and baskets on their continual migrations to find a better or safer place to live. Plants, like people, are always movin’ on.

Sunday, August 30, 2009


Sunday, 8:00 AM. 53 degrees, wind W, modest with stronger gusts. The sky is cloudless except for a few on the eastern horizon. The rainy weather has blown out to the east, and the barometer predicts partly cloudy skies. The rain gage holds another .7” of rain.
Asters are the iconic wild flowers of the fall. The wild asters, also called Michaelmass daisies because they bloom around the time of the Feast of St. Michael, comprise a mostly North American genus in the Composite family. There are some 250 species. They are perennials with mostly blue, violet to purple, red, pink or white ray flowers. The center, or disk flowers are red, purple or occasionally white (one species, A ptarmicoides, is yellow). They are mostly plants of prairies, meadows and woods edges.
Since there are so many species, they can be difficult to identify, although some are well known. We have already mentioned the big-leaf Aster of the woods, and soon the showy New England Aster will bloom. The two pictured are, I believe, A. azureus(blue) and A. ericoides, the heath aster (white).
Fall is on the doorstep when the Asters bloom.

Saturday, August 29, 2009


Saturday, 8:30 AM. 52 degrees, wind W, light with stronger gusts. The channel is obscured by fog and it is drizzling. The rain gage holds .4”, and the barometer predicts more.
The mountain ash pictured is, I believe, one of the two species native to our region. I think it is Sorbus decora, but in any case, it is a particularly handsome little tree. One difference between it and the European species (Sorbus aucuparia) is the winter buds of S. decora are gummy, those of the European species are not. I will check that out as winter approaches. Another is the more compact and rounded form of decora, which this tree definitely exhibits. The birds are flocking to the two feeders that I filled with seed yesterday.

Friday, August 28, 2009


Friday, 8:00 AM. 58 degrees, wind W, very light. The channel is mostly wrinkled, and the sky is overcast. We received .2 “ of rain last night and the barometer predicts more.
I have been collecting and shelling more beach peas for the Condominium project and I am fascinated by their similarities to garden peas in characteristics of the flowers, the pod and how it opens, and how the peas resemble garden peas although smaller. They even taste like garden peas, although more mealy.
According to Moerman’s Native American Ethnobotany, the beach pea, Lathyrus japonica, was used by several tribes for food or medicine. Although the Inuit considered them poisonous, the Iroquois used the stalks for food and to treat rheumatism, and the Mokah (Pacific Northwest) ate the immature seeds as peas. There is no reference to use by our local Ojibwa.
The garden pea, Pisum sativa, has been cultivated in Europe for thousands of years, and probably collected for food long before written history.
The common view of prehistoric or stone-age man as a lesser being than modern, technological man ignores the fact that virtually all our foodstuffs and until very recently all our medicines were derived from the curiosity, industry and experimentation of early, non-technological humans and their cultures. All progress is evolutionary, and we owe great debts to our prehistoric ancestors who developed and used sophisticated survival knowledge.
There are few modern people who could survive in the wild for more than a few days without their technology, and most of us do not even know how our technology actually works, or would be able to produce any of it.
So here’s to the first naked, hungry human who ate a pea! As the bumper sticker says, "Visualize World Peas!”

Thursday, August 27, 2009


Thursday, 8:00 AM. 55 degrees, wind W, very light. The channel and the Island are obscured by fog, and the sky is blue except for the fog that rises to great heights over the lake. We are being treated to a concert of dueling foghorns from ferries and docks, each of which has its own tone and pitch.
Some of the questions most frequently asked of me regard the lumps, bumps and pimples which may occur at this time of the year to disfigure tree leaves and branches, particularly those of willow, silver maple and sometimes oaks . These are galls caused by insects, often tiny wasps, laying their eggs under the epidermis of tree leaves, the larvae then feeding on the leaf tissue. The galls, which often have very characteristic shapes and colors, are the response of the host plant to the irritation. These galls usually do no great harm and nothing much can or should be done about them. Raking up fallen leaves and composting or burning them can minimize the next year’s infection.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


Wednesday, 8:15 AM. 61 degrees, wind W, light. The channel is patterned; glassy in the lee of the bluffs, wrinkled further out. The sky is cloudless and the barometer predicts partly cloudy skies. Today is a “perfect ten.”
The hated Japanese knotweed is in bloom, quite beautiful. I believe it should be controlled, but that it is foolish to try to eradicate it.
The American chestnut on Tenth and Mannypenny has a lot of fruit, not yet ripe. The stigmas of the female flowers, which receive the pollen, are still prominent on the developing chestnuts.
The first plant is terribly invasive, brought to our continent as a misguided introduction by the USDA; the second is a valuable native tree, now very rare because it has been devastated by a foreign disease introduced through commerce. “The best laid plans of mice and men oft gang agley."

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


Tuesday, 7:45 AM. Wind W, light with stronger gusts. The channel is wrinkled, the sky overcast and the barometer predicts rain. The dark and quiet atmosphere emphasizes the beauty of an incipient storm.
Spending a lot of time on our back porch the last few days makes me realize anew how valuable an outdoor living area is in almost any climate, even if it is only used seasonally.
The term “outdoor living room” has been around for a century at least, and now has become “outdoor living area.” There have always been sheltered outdoor areas associated with the home, or nearby in the garden, whether called gazebos, pergolas, colonnades, patios, ramadas or whatever, adapted to the climate and architecture of most cultures. Greco-Roman classic home design often was more outdoor than indoor, given their Mediterranean climates.
The populating of California and the Southwest also sparked interest in “outdoor living” in garden design and architecture, and the converse, homes with large glass areas to “bring the outdoors in” became very popular wit h modern architecture and the advent of plate glass.
Today’s architecture and decorating have gone a step further, usually too far, in creating outdoor kitchens, bars, pizza ovens, fire pits, spas, and huge party areas, much of which is overtly lavish and ridiculously expensive.
I prefer a porch, large enough to be comfortably furnished and able to hold a small dinner party. We have several decks, but they don’t provide the shelter, comfort and sense of security of a porch. Here are my criteria for a suitable and affordable “outdoor living room.”
Covered and sheltered from the most of the sun and rain environment, with a sense of enclosure, while preserving air circulation
Suitable furniture for the style and economy of the home.
Plenty of rugs, cushions and colorful tablecloths.
Ceiling fans.
A simple heat source if possible.
Views and/or focal points in several directions, even if within a small or enclosed yard.
An area for a grill, and easy access to the kitchen of the home.
Lots of potted plants and flower arrangements.
One needn’t spend a fortune or inhabit a castle to enjoy “outdoor living.”

Monday, August 24, 2009


Monday, 8:30 AM. 60 degrees, wind S, light to moderate. The sky is cloudless with some haze over the Island. The barometer predicts partly cloudy skies.
Many plants are bearing ripe frit and seeds now. The highbush cranberry fruits (not actually cranberries) are a bright red, and will remain on the plants far into the winter as a “last resort” food for the birds. The cones of the blue spruce in the front yard are large and glistening with exuding sap. The early apples are in at the orchards and fall is approaching fast. I have never seen the mountain ash bear so heavily, and I am tempted to make beer from them.

Sunday, August 23, 2009


Sunday, 9:00 AM. 52 degrees, wind SSW, light. The channel is obscured by fog, the sky otherwise almost cloudless, and the barometer predicts partly cloudy weather. We got another inch of rain in the last few days.
I collected seeds of the beach pea for the beach restoration project at the Reiten Boatyard Condominiums yesterday. They are hard little peas, several in a pod, and when ripe the pod dries and “explodes” with a twisting motion, catapulting the BB sized peas a short way from the plant. It wouldn’t seem a very effective method of distribution, but it must be, since it exists.
The folks on the corner of Tenth and Wilson, just up the block, have let a part of their yard grow into a meadow, the dominant plant of which is hardy oregano. I don’t know if they planted it on purpose or if it spread from the garden, but it is very pleasing.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


Tuesday, 8:00 AM. 59 degrees, wind W, moderate with gusts. The channel is wrinkled, the sky is partly cloudy, with some clouds scudding along at high altitude. The barometer predicts rain but I doubt it. It is a fine, fine day.
The cloud formations have been beautiful, as have the sunsets (this one taken at Little Sand Bay).
We had camp dinner last evening with the Larsens and the visiting Matthiaes, no photos as my camera ran out of juice. The dinner was superb: rotinni with elk meat sauce courtesy of Paul, Joan’s pickle salad and Kohl slaw, and Judy’s fresh Dutch oven apple-blueberry pie. Truly all the bounties of the earth.
I collected a couple of handfuls of false Solomon’s seal on Mannypenny Avenue this morning that I will scatter in the front yard.
There will be no posts for a few days as I will be indisposed.

Monday, August 17, 2009


Monday, 8:00 AM. 61 degrees, wind WSW, very light. The channel is wrinkled, the sky clear with some haze and the barometer predicts sunny skies.
The Reiten Boatyard Condominiums design and installation has turned out quite well, although it needs another year or two to mature completely. The project started two years ago with a proposal to renovate the old landscape plantings on the west side of the complex, and grew to a proposal to landscape the east side as well, which abuts a city beach, park and the water. My design concept was to make the complex look like it was “at the beach,” which it did not relate well to at that time. I used mostly native plants, in arrangements that would have the essence of a south shore Lake Superior beach. Such beaches are quite varied and often very ephemeral, so the design was by necessity an esthetic approximation of such a beach. One concern of the owners was that the design retain a look of care and control, so the plantings have a semi-wild, semi-formal look in front of the buildings. A large area was seeded to mature to a more natural appearance further away from the buildings, with some mowed lawn in between. Most of the grasses and wildflowers were obtained from Wildflower Woods Nursery in Washburn, and the woody plants from Northwoods Nursery in Rhinelander. The native plant seeds are from Prairie Moon Nursery in Minnesota.

Sunday, August 16, 2009


Sunday, 8:30 AM. 70 degrees, wind W, light. The channel is calm, the sky overcast and hazy, the Island enshrouded in haze and mist.We got .75” of welcome rain last night, and the barometer predicts more. It is still humid, but the heat spell (all things are relative) seems broken. The garden is colorful and happy this morning.
Recognizing the law of cause and effect, I accept responsibility for the storm, as I watered heavily yesterday, both at home and at the condominium project. If I had washed the car as well we may have had a hurricane.

Saturday, August 15, 2009


Saturday, 7:30 AM. 71 degrees, wind NNE, calm. The channel is glassy, the sky very hazy. The barometer predicts rain. If the wind picks up from that direction it will alleviate the hot weather we have been having.
The genus Hydrangea has a great many valuable ornamental species and cultivars. Most are Asiatic in origin, but there are some southern North American species of value, such as the oak leaf Hydrangea, probably not hardy this far north. The plants pictured are varieties of Hydrangea paniculata grandiflora, the old “mop head” Hydrangea. In times past, Hydrangeas were coaxed to bloom white, pink or blue by adjusting the pH of the soil with acid or alkaline fertilizers, but modern cultivars usually don’t need that assistance. In any case, when purchasing Hydrangeas one has to really know what one is getting, or possibly be very disappointed.
The Johnson’s (the recent planting job) over on Catholic Hill heard a slow moving, persistent police siren a few days ago, looked out the front door and saw a very large bear being given a police escort out of town. Mr. Bear was reportedly in no hurry, stopping to investigate several berry bushes along the way.

Friday, August 14, 2009


Friday, 8:00 AM. 71 degrees, wind SSW, calm. The channel is glassy, the sky clear but hazy.
The planting of the Johnson’s wall went very well, all the plants looking good in spite of the heat. Lots of water in each planting hole and a light misting during the heat of the day did the trick.
The design purpose is to take a very awkward bank facing the house and make it appear natural and in scale with the restored residence, which is not suited to a great deal of formality. Using all native plants, the wall and plantings will create an anchor for softening and naturalizing the rest of the landscape.