Monday, February 27, 2012

Birds of a feather flock together

I was out and about in the garden looking for a touch of spring on a cold, bright day. Sure enough snowdrops and golden crocuses, the stalwarts of late winter, were there piercing through leaf litter and the duff. It is always satisfying to push back the winter debris from them and with my hand crush brittle oak leaves into mulch.

A raucous squawking, squeaking (and was that a “kon-kar-reee”?) made me look skyward into the bare branches of a tall oak tree. There had gathered a large flock of grackles and two interlopers, which were indeed red-winged blackbirds. The birds looked their finest, perched up there so high with the backdrop of ethereal blue sky and with winter sunshine for their iridescent feathers and bright red epaulettes. They flitted about re-positioning themselves,  “cheks” and “chuks” punctuating their chatter. Until all of a sudden they fell totally silent. Then every bird was still, heads cocked as if listening intently. Was there perhaps a hawk about? After a few minutes the danger had passed and the flock resumed their noisy conversation. Spring was in the air that day and the blackbirds have returned from their wintering grounds!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Pulling Ivy

             Ivy Ghosts
English ivy (Hedera helix) is a fellow ex-pat. but not a well-behaved one in my garden! This plant shows restraint in its homeland, but on this side of the Atlantic it has no natural enemies and becomes invasive. Woodland areas overrun with ivy are known as “ivy deserts” because nothing else can grow through it. Also, it does not provide habitat for wildlife, except perhaps for rats. Recently, I spent a mild winter afternoon trying to save two large trees (ivy ghosts) from being strangled by the stuff. I cut through the ring of large woody stems (some with the thickness of my forearm) near the base of the tree trunk and released the vines by pulling them up and away as far up as I could. Days later the ivy left on the tree is still green and not dying at all! It seems that the vine’s adventitious roots continue to absorb water from the tree bark. An arborist will have to finish the job for me. 

At ground level, pulling ivy is also a year-round battle. I use a method recommended by 
Ivy Out and roll it up into large logs. Indeed, the soil exposed after rolling an ivy log appears to be dead and dry. A layer of leaf mulch is essential to stop erosion and to build the soil before I can begin to restore the area with native plants.