Gardener's Grapevine 2012.03.14

Written by David Green.

Saturday afternoon I went to a very nice baby shower in Adrian. When I arrived home around 2 p.m., I sat in the car enjoying the beautiful weather with the sunroof down.

The magnolia tree that the kids gave me for Mother’s Day about seven years ago is beside our drive, and a pair of juvenile cardinals flew into it. I’ve been watching the cardinals at our feeders for the past four years and it has come to my attention that they must raise their young over the winter. In December the young are small and don’t have red feathers, their feathers are brown with a pinkish cast.

All winter I watch them grow and change color. The females don’t change a lot, they just darken up, but the males are glorious to watch change. The males change color from front to back and the tufted crown on their heads becomes very prominent when they are almost full grown.

The pair in the magnolia were very close to being full grown. The male was a very vibrant red with just his tail feathers still brownish pink. It isn’t often that you get very close to these birds. They don’t like to feed when other birds are at the feeders and they are skittish with noise and activity.

The odd thing about our cardinals is they tolerate the squirrels. They will be at the feeder with a squirrel feeding on the ground under them.

As I write this, it is Sunday afternoon. My husband is building a new garden fence and I am sitting in an Adirondack chair beside him. It is lovely out and just like the country song says, “it’s what I like about Sundays.”

There is a very old maple tree between our drive and the neighbor’s drive. It is in awful shape and a third of it came down in last May’s high winds. This tree probably should have been taken down years ago due to decay, but it is home to so many animals we all tolerate it. At the present time, it is alive with birds and squirrels. A red headed woodpecker has residence in it and he is working very hard today. The ratta-tat-tat of his drilling for bugs is an interesting and soothing sound.

Our other old maple tree out front has a great horned owl that lives in it. We have seen him on rare occasions in the summer evenings and we often hear him calling out in the night in the summer. Living on Main Street you hear a lot of traffic noise, but I have grown accustomed to ignoring that and focusing on what really matters—the sounds and smells of nature. By smells, I definitely don’t mean that semi full of hogs that goes through town every so often.

This has been the perfect weekend to be outside and do all the clean-up and fix-up we can’t do in the long winter months. Please, fellow gardeners, resist the urge to uncover and prune your plants. Let sleeping plants wake up slowly and give Mother Nature a little time. I know things are greening up—my crocus bloomed and my sedum is putting up green shoots—but they need the cover of the dead tops and leaves to protect them against Mother Nature’s final hurrah. Trust me, she’ll have one more at least, she always does. If it’s a hard, cold one it can burn tender plants. 

Fix the fence, pick up the blown in trash, clean up the debris in the lawn but leave your babies covered a bit longer. However, and I know I’ve said it before but here’s another reminder, it’s time to trim the lavender back and pull the dead raspberry canes out. The dead canes are the gray brittle ones. They will not bud or produce anything and they will bite when you pick your fruit, so get them out now prior to every good cane leafing out. Do these two things now and be happier in June when they look great.

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