Monday, January 31, 2011

Deer Country Extra: Maple Loss, Deer Gain

Browsing on maple buds

The news about our Ancient Maple, already in natural decline, is not good. Last week’s nine-inch, heavy snow broke several of the tree’s significant, younger limbs.

Bad news about Ancient Maple, however, means good news for deer confronted by a largely snow-covered food supply. Groups of two to six come regularly to browse on the buds of the fallen limbs.

Stream bed: Snow-free walkway
For deer to find food in a snow-covered landscape must be challenging. On Friday I watched two does in our woods using their front hooves to try to find dried leaves through the snow.

Travel in the deep snow is less challenging. I watched six deer repeat what I had noticed deer doing during last year’s Snowmageddon—using the bed of our spring-fed stream as a snow-free walkway.

Tough life.

Smart deer.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Deer Country 8: Four Resistant Shrubs

Let’s not get into an argument here about the differences between a shrub and a tree. Let’s just define shrub as a multi-stemmed woody landscape plant under 20-feet tall. Of course, deer find short shrubs perfectly convenient for eating or rubbing, as I described in “Deer Country 6.”

When I surveyed Howard County Master Gardeners about “deer- resistant” shrubs, they listed four: boxwood, heather, lilac, and butterfly bush.

Boxwood (Buxus sempervirens) is a slow-growing evergreen that has been part of landscape plantings for generations, often as foundation plants or hedges that grow to about six feet. The one I’ve planted in an island bed to hide the vent of our septic system grows only a couple of inches a year, but I celebrate every time I look out my study window because our bambits continue to pass it by. I’ve seen deer sniff it, but they’ve never taken a bite.

Heather (Erica spp.), sometimes called heath, is another slow-growing evergreen that blooms over winter, from about Thanksgiving through May here in Maryland. I suspect deer don’t relish its fine, needle-like leaves. My eight-year-old specimen is an attractive mound about five feet across and 18-inches high. It grows well with limited water and, like its relatives blueberry, azalea, and rhododendron, thrives in acid soil.

Lilac (Syringa spp.) is a traditional backyard shrub favorite that deer don’t nibble or rub. If you still have dim memories of American Literature, you probably recall the most famous lilac poem of all, Walt Whitman’s “When Lilacs Last in the Door-yard Bloom’d,” the poet’s “Memories of President Lincoln.”

Butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii) grows to about five feet tall and, yes, attracts butterflies by the scores if not hundreds. We have three ‘Pink Delight’ butterfly bushes that seem almost to flutter at times because of all the butterflies sipping nectar. This shrub blooms on new growth so should be cut back to one foot or so in winter. Yes, deer don’t eat it, but occasionally a buck cannot resist rubbing it to remove dead velvet from his antlers in the fall. Note that some states consider some varieties invasive.

Since this is a blog and not a book, I’ve made no attempt to identify the scores or hundreds of varieties or cultivars of the four shrubs nor to detail their growing habits and requirements. If you want to do in-depth research, I recommend any of Michael A. Dirr’s excellent books on trees and shrubs, which are available at some libraries and, of course, at book sellers. If you don’t want a Master’s degree in the shrub of your choice, you can research shrub sellers online or visit a plant nursery this spring and discuss you needs with experts there.

The books and brochure I mentioned in “Deer Country 3” list many other shrubs you may want to consider. The Soderstrom book, for example, has four pages with more than 100 recommendations.

I must give you the most famous gardening warning of all: Just because a shrub is listed as “deer resistant” doesn’t mean the deer in your neighborhood have read the list and agreed not to eat it.

If this is the first “Deer Country” posting that you’ve read, I invite you to click on the blue “Deer” label at the end of this posting and read earlier “Deer Country” segments.

Next week in “Deer Country” I’ll write about deer-resistant trees.

To see my heather blooming in January snow, CLICK HERE.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

January Bluebird Visitor

Spring is coming! Spring is coming!

This male Eastern Bluebird’s almost phosphorescent feathers signal that it soon will be time to stake out and defend his territory for the 2011 mating season.

Bluebirds visits us throughout the winter, and this one checked out our bluebird houses on Friday morning, to make sure, I suppose, other birds haven’t tried to take them over.

What do bluebirds eat in winter, when the ground is snow covered and they must find it next to impossible to find insects and other invertebrates that make up two-thirds of their diet? The answer: fruit, including dogwood drupes, wild grape and sumac seeds, and blackberry, honeysuckle, Virginia creeper, cedar, and poke berries or seeds.

Some friends of birds put mealworms out as wintertime treats, something I’ve been meaning to check into for years.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Dear Mom … Love, Lacey


Dear Mom,

I miss you. I’m sad that Granddad passed away and you and Dad and the boys had to go away. Give Grandmom a hug and kiss for me.  Please hurry home. I want to sit by your side and keep you warm and lick your hand to let you know I feel your sadness.

Love, Lacey

P.S. Bob and Ellen are treating me like the princess that I am. Bob even lets me nap on the fleece in his blue leather recliner.

Snowy Landscape: Beyond the Beauty

Japanese maple

Wednesday night’s “thundersnow”—it started with lightning and thunder—dumped just over nine inches of fluffy but wet snow here at Meadow Glenn. The fluff was beautiful at first look Thursday, but it damaged many of our trees and shrubs.

The Japanese maple on the north side of our house was beautiful—the spaces between its reddish branches almost filled in with the white stuff.

Flowering plum
Our flowering plum trees looked like fluff balls in Thursday’s morning light, but many of their branches, which I keep trimmed so the lowest is about seven feet above ground so I can mow under them with my Kubota tractor, touched the ground. They may spring back a little over the next few months, but I fear I’ll have lots of pruning to do in the spring.

Butterfly bushes—about four feet high before the storm—lie smashed to the ground. They bloom only on new growth, so I was planning to prune them to about one foot next month, but I fear I’ll find lots of split branches that will call for more drastic pruning than I had planned.

Where's the food?
As I looked out our front windows early Thursday morning, I saw that our bird feeders were encrusted with snow, and put that at the top of my “must do” list. As I looked at the strange sight, juncos arrived for an early breakfast of nyjer and sunflower seeds and tried to figure out how to reach the seed through the white crust.

After a fast breakfast of oatmeal on fresh, sliced strawberries, I put on my boots and winter work clothes and went to work.

Job 1: Brush off the feeders and refill them. As soon as I moved off, three pairs of cardinals jockeyed with juncos for breakfast. Song and white-throated sparrows soon arrived, along with chickadees and titmice. A female downy woodpecker pecked away at the block of suet.

Job 2: Snowblow the driveway. Thursday was one of those days that it’s great having a snowblower. The snow was heavy, so this Ancient Gardener could have “overdone” it quite easily.

As I leave the house to do jobs that are labor intensive, Ellen usually says, “Now don’t overdo it.” That’s not a cliché. She means it. I have overdone it in the past.

“Of course not, dear.”

The problem with overdoing it is that you often don’t know you’ve overdone it until you’ve already overdone it.

But I am getting more realistic about such things. In my 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s I thought nothing of working until I could work no more. In my 60s I began to wise up a bit, to keep track of time and, well, not to overdo it.

And in my 70s, I often spread a job over several days—a half hour today, a half hour tomorrow. Snowblowing, of course, isn’t really a job that you can spread over several days, as the snow might turn to slush and then ice. So I’ve traded my snow shovel for my snowblower, and I let the snowblower do the work. I don’t wrestle with it, don’t try to force it to do something a little bit faster. I don’t push and pull. I let the gears do the work.

Snowblowing today took about three hours. I cleared our 600-foot driveway and more in about three hours.  The “more” was at the end of our driveway, where the county road crews had stacked about four feet of snow and ice.

Yes, I let the snowblower chew and spit and throw at its leisure. A neighbor used his shovel to help break it up. And then I helped that neighbor clear his driveway. And then a third neighbor needed help clearing his stack of snow and ice. Working together—with two snowblowers and one snow shovel—we got the job done in reasonable time.

This week’s “thundersnow” soon will be but a memory. Believe me, I slept well last night.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Damrosch: Europe Plugs Its Own Leeks

Mention leeks in a conversation and many Americans think plumber. But in Europe, leeks are a time-honored garden favorite.

Leeks, though, are part of a growing political controversy in the European Union, where historic, open-pollinated varieties are being edged out by varieties, often hybrids, registered by seed companies.

To read Barbara Damrosch’s view on the issue in her “A Cook’s Garden” column in Thursday’s Washington Post, CLICK HERE.

Growing Tomatoes Atop Ice

As I look out the window this morning at 10 inches of snow that fell last night, I have no thought of going out and planting some veggies.

But tomatoes, cukes, and lettuce do grow atop the South Pole ice pack.


No, scientists at the United States South Pole Station grow a variety of veggies and herbs and a flower or two in a remotely controlled greenhouse that the manager calls a “growbot.”

Take three minutes to read Ann Posegate’s “A garden grows at the South Pole,” from Wednesday’s “Kids Post” page of the Washington Post.

To take a fast trip to the growbot, CLICK HERE.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

One Endangered Species Saved

You may strongly support the Endangered Species Act, or give it two thumbs down. Remember the politically divisive spotted owl controversy years ago?

But put aside your argument and listen up to some good news.

In 1985, the known population of the Maguire daisy, a native mountain perennial in the West, was seven plants. Yes, that’s right—seven plants—and the daisy then was listed as an endangered species.

After 25 years of conservation effort the plant population is more than 162,000 plants, enough to take it off the endangered list.

Let’s give one cheer for the Endangered Species Act—one native perennial flower saved for future generations of humans who admire it and insects and other animals that interact with it in its mountain habitat.

To read the Washington Post’s news note about this success, CLICK HERE.

Beauty or Beast? English Ivy

English ivy has long been planted as a ground cover. On my morning drive to the Glenwood Community for a little exercise, I pass a 30-foot tree covered with English ivy with stems nearly two-inches wide. Some consider it beautiful. Others consider it beastly.

Patterson Clark’s “Urban Jungle” column in the Science Section of yesterday’s Washington Post in eight paragraphs presents the argument that English ivy is “Jekyll and Hyde”—and what to do about that. To read his “Urban Jungle” article, CLICK HERE.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Old Brain, New Challenge

It’s lonely out here in blogland, even though I know lots of you are reading my postings. I check on Ancient Gardener’s statistics from time to time. Several hundred of you checked out the two holiday greetings. Between 70 and 80 of you are following “Deer Country” postings. But near zero of you have posted a Comment.

Now I’ve gone through much pain and agony and added a “Reactions” line under each of the postings. You can now just click on “Like” or “Dislike.” In addition to the general “page views” statistics, I’ll get some feedback about what kind of postings you appreciate.

It sounds so simple—that I added the “Reactions” line. But it took me about a month to work that out, not because of the complexity of how to do it but because of my kindergarten-level computer abilities. I speak various professional jargons, but not “computerlingua.”

I first noticed the problem when I discovered that you were commenting about specific blogs on my Facebook page scores of more times than you were on my blog. Why? The obvious answer, to me anyway, is that Blogger makes it “uneasy” to post a comment. Blogger continues to improve, so maybe there’s hope the software someday will make it as easy to comment on my blog as it is to post a comment on Facebook.

But over time I tried to figure out how you can post an opinion on my blog without using words, something like Facebook’s “Like” button. Well, it took me a while to discover on the Blogger “Help” pages that there is a Blogger “Reactions” widget that works like the Facebook “Like” button.

I carefully studied the directions and followed them—and saved the changes on my template—just like the instructions said. “Reactions” refused to appear. After a few days I reread and redid—nothing. After another week I reread and redid—nothing.

Then I went back to the “Help” pages and discovered lots of Blogger users have had that problem—for several years. I looked in awe at the suggestions posted by users. Go to the HTML and delete this and add that after this but before that. No, no, no—not this Ancient Gardener. As far as I knew, HTML means His Template Made Lethal.

Tonight I went back and reread all the “Help” postings on the problem and noticed that one is labeled “Best Advice.” All I had to do was to backup the blog and reset the defaults.

Backup the blog?

Reset the defaults?

Is that English? Well, for lack of a technical translator, I had to research each of those directions. I’d never backed up a blog before—but I did it. I’d never reset defaults before—but I did it.

I held my breath and hit the preview button.

There it was, the “Reactions” line—and where I wanted it.

Heavy sighing. Deep breathing.

Did I really do that?

Yes, I did it. And it only took four weeks.

Smile, you young-uns who grew up with computers.

But please do me a favor when you read one of my postings and don’t want to post a Comment. Just hit “Like” or “Dislike” on the “Reactions” line below the posting.

I’ll like that—even if you dislike the posting.

High-Living Mouse

Meadow Glenn's top mouse locator

I was drafting a posting three weeks ago when I heard a new noise. I stopped typing and cocked my head to focus my ears. No, it wasn’t a heating vent expanding or contracting. No, it wasn’t a PVC pipe letting me know water was flowing to the hallway bathroom. It was light scratching by a small animal, likely small claws on a piece of paper.

I listened from time to time but heard it no more that evening. A week later I was again typing and the scratching began again.

A mouse. Yes, it had to be a mouse. We have mice here in rural residential—white-footed mice, voles (meadow mice), and, I suppose, plain mice mice. On January 3 I posted “Snap Goes the Mouse,” about buying traps that I had placed at strategic locations to catch this winter’s crop of home invaders. To date those traps have caught a total of, well, zero mice.

I figured the scratching was coming from the storage closet in my study. I slid open the mirrored doors and glanced around. “That’s strange,” I thought. “There’s no backdoor for mice into the closet. The walls are solid sheet rock.”

I closed the door and resumed typing. Fifteen minutes later—the scratching in the closet resumed. I open the doors again and checked more thoroughly. “There’s no place for a mouse to hide,” I thought, “but it has to be in there somewhere.”

Armed & ready
The next morning I baited a new Victor snap trap with peanut butter and put it in the closet. Every day for a week or more I checked the trap. Every day I found—a baited trap armed and ready.

Last weekend I was again typing, and Teddy, our vacationing granddog, was curled near my recliner. He growled and looked up, and I realized he was growling at the scratching. I again opened the closet doors, but Teddy didn’t seem interested.

Yes, Teddy wanted to check out the peanut-butter smell, but I thought a Maltese with a mouse trap hanging on his nose wouldn’t be a happy Maltese.

The evening after I took Teddy home, I again was typing, and I heard the scratching. Suddenly my mind added 1+1 and came up with—2. Teddy had looked up when he growled. The scratching wasn’t in the closet. It was in the attic. It added up—made sense.

The attic? The only way into that crawl space—which is filled mostly with fiberglass insulation, insulated heating ducts, wiring, and frigid, winter air is by ladder via two small ceiling doors, one at each end of the house.

On Wednesday I went out to the shop and brought in a 6-foot step ladder. I got a piece of cardboard to put on top of insulation near the ceiling door in the hallway just outside my study, retrieved the snap trap from my study closet, and in short order had the trap set in the attic.

Thursday I brought in the ladder again to check the trap. “Hmm,” I thought, “no mouse. Did Teddy lead me on a wild mouse chase?”

Friday I brought in the ladder again. Yes—one mouse—a male white-footed mouse—had been killed by the snap trap. I took the dead mouse out to the yard for recycling by a nighttime visitor, most likely a fox, but it was gone within the hour, perhaps brunch for a neighborhood crow.

Then I reset the snap trap. If I caught a male mouse, is there a female—or a whole litter living up there?

Mice in our attic have no imaginable food or water supply unless they're dining on brown marmorated stink bugs.  I’ve had traps set in the kitchen and in the laundry room for months—and have caught nary a mouse. If mice can live in our attic two storeys from a regular food supply, I suppose we humans could live on the moon—or could we?

I've checked the reset trap several times, and I've caught no more mice.   It's time to disarm the trap and take the ladder back out to the shop.

If you want to read my earlier mouse posting, “Snap Goes the Mouse,” CLICK HERE.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Frugal Gardener: Build a Light Stand

Thinking of buying or building a light stand to start your veggie, herb, or flower seeds this spring, so you can select the varieties you want and save a few bucks in the growing?

How much do you want to spend?  $460.95?  $324.95?  $229.95?  $143.90? $ 60.00?  $17.98?  $9.74?  Nothing?

To check out common possibilities, I paged through what’s probably America’s most popular seed catalog, Burpee. Burpee has a variety of light stands—single and double deckers—available in price from $460.95 to $143.90. All utilize 48” shoplights and include cool-white or wide-spectrum fluorescent bulbs. A Burpee customer for many years, I’ll assume quality is top of the line. Got the $$$ but not time to build your own, go Burpee.

If you want to save some dollars, build your own. A recent weekly email from the Vegetable Gardner website, which is affiliated with Fine Gardening Magazine, included a link to Greg Holdsworth’s article, “DIY PVC Grow Light Stand.” Greg gives a list of what you need and then tells you how to make an adjustable light stand, all illustrated by 12 numbered photographs. He estimates cost of PVC and hardware, including a 48” shop light and bulbs, is $60.00

Want to save even more? All you need is a 48” shoplight and a place in a warm room to hang it. I just checked availability of 48”, 2-light, utility fluorescent shoplights at Lowe’s online and found two available, one at $17.98 and one at $9.74. Of course, you would have to buy two cool-white fluorescent bulbs, which cost just under $7.00. To be fair, let’s add the bulb costs to up the barebones shoplight possibilities to $24.98 and $16.74. Still, those prices are a long, long way from $460.95. Smile, you Frugal Gardener.

And how can you set up your light stand for nothing? Go out in the garage or shop and take down a shoplight and use it for a month or so as your light stand. Or borrow one from a neighbor or friend.

The photo at left shows you how for many years I used two shoplights to start seeds in our utility room, right next to our furnace, where even in these days of cut-back temperature settings, the seed-starting setup stays about 72°F, just a couple of degrees below the optimum temperature for starting tomato seeds. I now use a double-decker light stand that friends gave me a couple of years ago when they were “cleaning house,” but frankly my old shoplight setup on the luggage shelves next to the furnace worked just as well.

To link to the Holdsworth article, “DIY PVC Grow Light Stand,” CLICK HERE.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Deer Country 7: Protecting Shrubs & Trees with Fencing

Caged tree

How do I protect shrubs and trees that aren’t “deer resistant” from browsing and rubbing? I do it with fencing. I make cages out of posts and wire fencing and have created what I call the Clarksville Shrub & Tree Zoo, where plants are caged and deer run free.

There is one difference of note between shrubs and trees that I cage. The shrubs—by definition woody landscape plants relatively short in height—generally don’t outgrow their need for protection from either browsing or rubbing. Most trees, by contrast, eventually grow tall enough that deer cannot reach their lower leaves and have trunks that are too large for bucks to rub efficiently.  That's why my tree cages generally are smaller in anticipation that trees will outgrow their need for the cages, and my shrub cages are generally larger in anticipation that shrubs will not grow large enough to eliminate the need for protection.

Caged shrubs
After 15 years of trial and error of dealing with bambits here at Meadow Glenn, here’s how I fence my trees and shrubs.

I use light-weight, 5-foot iron posts that I buy at hardware stores, mainly because the 5-footers are reasonably tall and relatively inexpensive. Taller, heavy-duty posts cost significantly more but, of course, are more resistant to bending by the deer.

Yes, deer at Meadow Glenn bend light-weight iron posts at ground level when I use plastic fencing or “chicken wire.” The deer learn that if they lean in on the soft fencing, it gives. They lean in still more to reach more edibles, and at some point leverage bends the iron posts at right angles at ground level. Wooden, aluminum, or plastic stakes often are nearly as expensive as the more resistant iron posts and generally aren't designed for attaching wire.

Deer-wrecked iron post/chicken wire cage
Because deer don’t respect soft fencing, I now use 48”-high welded-wire fencing with 2”x3” squares. Yes, deer still try to reach over or through it, eat any leaf that grows outside, and each year bend a few posts, but in two years no deer has breached the iron-post/welded wire combination. I buy the fencing in 50’ rolls at hardware stores, but 100’ rolls are available. Some stores carry plastic-covered wiring, and others carry rolls without the green plastic. The plain rolls are generally about $15 cheaper, and from a distance, I don’t notice much of a difference. Frugal Gardener.

After lots of trial and error and wrecking early-model cages with my lawn mower, I generally make larger, rectangular cages for shrubs and circular cages for trees, with the fencing beginning about a foot above ground, which gives my Kubota's mowing deck room to cut fairly close without tangling with and wrecking the cage. With five-foot posts and four-foot fencing, protection extends about five feet above ground level.

The "browse line"
Is five feet significant? Generally, yes. Deer browse as they walk through your landscape, usually from ground level up to where they can reach without too much stretching. That upper limit is about five or six feet above ground level and is called—surprise, surprise—the “browse line.” Your goal with young trees is to protect them until their lower limbs are above the browse line so you can remove the fencing. Yes, deer occasionally and awkwardly rear up on their rear feet to reach leaves, but that’s generally when lower food sources are covered by snow and deciduous trees don’t have leaves to tempt deer.

Experience also has taught me that two iron posts per caged tree work better than one iron post and a less expensive plastic or wood post.  The iron posts are designed to have wire attached, and the more stable cage weathers summer and winter storms better and endures deer exploration better.  I've also learned that I should space the iron posts three to four feet apart when I make a rectangular cage for shrubs.  Longer distances between posts yield a more "giving" cage that deer will be tempted to breach.

But don’t forget the second problem—rubbing. Your shrub cages are permanent, so no problem there. But if in time you remove cages from growing trees, remember to protect their trunks until they’re of sufficient size to discourage rubbing. I see rubbing on 3”- to 6”-diameter cedar and tuIip poplar trunks in our woods, though the bigger the diameter, the less chance the tree will be terminally damaged by rubbing. I make trunk protectors from hardware cloth, but plastic protectors of various designs are available commercially.

In Deer Country 8, I’ll focus on deer-resistant shrubs, and in Deer Country 9, I’ll do the same for trees. 

If this is the first Deer Country posting you've read and you want to learn more, I suggest you click on the "Deer" label below.  You'll get a list of posting that have mentioned deer.  I suggest you start with "Deer Country 1" and read your way through the "Deer Country" series.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Burpee Catalog: Tomatoes & More

The cover of Burpee Gardening 2011 catalog—probably the best-known catalog to North American gardeners—sets any tomato lover’s salivary glands into action—four large red and yellow tomatoes weighing in at 4 lbs. 6 oz. Yes, I’ve got to get down to business and figure out what I’m ordering this year.

For blog readers who prefer browsing a digital catalog instead of one made of pulverized wood chips, the home page of Burpee’s website features a horizontal list of tabs leading to vegetables, flowers, perennials, herbs, heirlooms, fruit plants, organics, seed starting, and gardening supplies. A tab at the bottom lets you order the 148-page print catalog.

The homepage also contains multiple links to helpful educational information, including six short videos (5 about flowers, one about garlic) and 50 short guides on how to grow everything from artichokes and arugula to watermelons and zinnias.

In addition to seeds, Burpee over the last several years has added seedlings ready for setting out in your garden. I’m a seed starter, but for those who want to start with plants ready to set out, Burpee is happy to oblige. I the Frugal Gardener might buy a packet of 30 seeds of Big Beef Hybrid tomato at $3.95, but you might prefer three plants at $12.95.

A new tomato offering caught my eye, Mountain Magic Hybrid, an indeterminate variety with 2 oz. fruit, described as a “scrumptious campari tomato” that “withstands the big three threats besetting tomatoes…: late blight, early blight, and fruit cracking.” Unfortunately, it’s available only as plants at $14.95 for three, not as seeds, so I won’t try that one.

Price of a sample seed order: Packet (350 seeds), Detroit Dark Red beet, $3.25. Packet (30), Big Beef Hybrid tomato, $3.95. Packet (50), Queen Sophia marigold, $4.95. Shipping: $6.95. Total: $19.10. Plus applicable taxes, of course.

To go to the Burpee website, CLICK HERE.

Dirty Little Secret?

Would you be healthier today if you made mud pies when you were a kid?

In her “A Cook’s Garden” column in the Washington Post, Barbara Damrosch wonders whether we’d be a lot healthier if we weren’t so clean.

Radical thought?

Damrosch isn’t against sanitation as we generally know it. She just thinks we’ve gone overboard with super-clean living and now may be paying a price.

To read her seven paragraphs, “The dirty truth: We may be over-sanitized,” CLICK HERE.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Mapping Life's Journey

Benjamin Franklin supposedly said that nothing in this world is certain except death and taxes. Most of us ante up in due course to pay our taxes, but few of us seem comfortable discussing death and about how we’d like to get from today to our last minute.

Part of that discussion, of course, would be how we want to be cared for and who will make our financial and healthcare decisions when we are no longer able to do so. Wise seniors think through those issues, discuss them with family, and sign off on legal documents—called advanced directives—to guide family members and care-givers as they help us through our final days.

Yes, Ellen and I each have advance directives—a medical directive and a power of attorney. We took copies of our powers of attorney to our bank more than 10 years ago. Last week I stopped by the bank and asked if they still have the photocopies they made and filed. “We’re 10 years older now, and we just want to make sure everything is in order,” I said.

Click, click went the assistant branch manager’s computer keys. “Hmm,” she said. “We don’t have any indication of POAs for you and your wife in our computer system.” Somehow the contents of that old manila folder didn’t make it into the computerized system.

This week I took our current POAs to the bank and the assistant explained how the bank would relate to us and our designated representative in the future as circumstances change.

Even though we have advance directives, I find it still helpful to read current articles about them and occasionally to review my documents to make sure they’re still what I want. The most recent article I’ve read is “Life-or-death decisions call for advance planning,” by Michelle Andrews, published recently by the Washington Post in collaboration with Kaiser Health News.

Most articles about advance directives seem to me to be pep talks to encourage people to make sure they have them, but this article went beyond the rah-rah-rah and discussed issues that I found meaningful, and you may too.

For instance, what kind of person would make the most effective surrogate decision-maker? What could happen if your scenario doesn’t fit the words of your advance directive?

The article also points out something important to Internet readers: Names of advance directives sometimes vary from state to state, and state laws about advance directives vary, so you should get local legal advice.

Regardless of your age, if you don’t have advance directives, read the article to find out what they are, and, really, isn’t it about time you start a discussion that ends with your signing off on your own documents?

If you have advance directives, great. But do read this article—and review your documents.

To read the Post/Kaiser Health News article, CLICK HERE.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Teddy: A Favorite Guest

We enjoyed having Teddy, our east-coast granddog, as a house guest over the holiday weekend while our daughter and her two sons went skiing at Seven Springs Mountain Resort in Pennsylvania.

Teddy, a Maltese, seems to enjoy his short vacations at our place in the country. He growls and sometimes even barks when he sees a browsing deer, overworks his black nose tracking squirrels, and refreshes his favorite piddle spots on every possible occasion.

Teddy doesn’t mind cold and wind, but Tuesday morning brought ice-covered snow, which he doesn’t enjoy. He walks well on the slippery stuff, but he doesn’t waste a minute between his last piddle and his return to the house.

Teddy works us hard when he visits. He would sit beside us for hours if we’d pet him that long. If we stop petting him, he turns and gives us his “please continue” look. If we don’t resume, he gives us a little bark to encourage us to continue. And several times a day he challenges us to a tug of war with “Blue,” his favorite toy, which he sometimes wears as a necklace. The tugging game begins when he comes growling and shaking “Blue” and Ellen or I take up his challenge.

This visit I also learned that Teddy actually is in control when there’s a leash between us. On Friday when we walked up driveway to get our mail, I went to the box, but Teddy stopped short—exactly the length of the leash—and sat down to await my first couple of steps back up the slope toward the house. Perhaps he thinks I have a senseless habit of walking to the black box every day and then turning around and walking back to the house.

When we took Teddy back to his home Tuesday afternoon, he paused a moment to piddle on his front lawn and then dashed up the front steps and waited for us to open the door.

Good-bye, Teddy, it was a great holiday weekend.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Icy Morning at Seed & Suet Fast Foods

Our landscape this morning is January Piedmont Maryland —ground covered by an inch of snow topped by a quarter inch of frozen rain. Icy green needles of pine boughs kiss the ground. Schools are closed. Offices are opening late. Parking lots are ice rinks. Road crews salt the roads, though antiquated “salt” apparently has been replaced by “treat with chemicals.”

A morning like this calls for extra black oil sunflower seeds for the birds. I creep along the slick asphalt toward the bird feeder, a full scoop of seed in my right hand, both arms slightly extended in an attempt to maintain balance.

I fill the feeder, and toss a handful of sunflower seeds here and there under nearby shrubs—the Russian sage, the butterfly bushes, the Blue Princess holly, the two Montgomery spruces.

Back in the warm house, I watch. Which birds will arrive first? The sun has yet to rise behind the white pines and storm clouds, but within minutes juncos and cardinals, alpha-types trying futilely to protect their feeding areas under the shrubs. A song sparrow flies to the feeder, then a house finch, and a chickadee or two. A titmouse pecks at the suet in our upside-down feeder.

The small birds scatter—momentarily—as a huge, black shape swoops in—a crow. But something’s different about this crow. It hops instead of walks. Its right leg doesn’t work at all, stiffly stretching along the bird’s right side.

I wonder what life is like for a one-legged crow. Can it land and perch on a limb to scan the landscape for food, or to roost at night? Does its black-feathered family assist somehow?

And then a gray, furry critter arrives, again momentarily scattering the birds. But they soon fly back and search for seeds just inches from the squirrel.

I wonder how a cardinal knows the squirrel isn’t a predator—that it’s not one of the feral cats that roam the neighborhood and stalk the birds—and the squirrels, I suppose—that come to dine at Seeds & Suet Fast Foods?

Perhaps I’ll never answer such questions. If you have thoughts that might help me, please post a Comment.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Vultures: “Birds of a Feather, Disgusting Together”

Vultures riding the air currents are a common sight in our neighborhood. We get closer views on nearby roads when they pull apart dead deer as we drive by. And just up the street last week I saw two vultures apparently searching for a sliver of meat on the discarded bones of Kentucky Fried Chicken as they picked apart a trash bag as three intimidated crows waited nearby.

After my folks moved here in 1997, my dad one day mentioned he saw a vulture that morning sitting on the split-rail fence just outside the front door of their apartment.

“I told him I wasn’t ready yet,” Dad quipped.

Late Thanksgiving Day afternoons I used to put the remains of our holiday turkey out for the foxes to enjoy—until one day I noticed the vultures beat the foxes to the treat. Now I put out the treat only after dark, when the vultures are roosting.

Increasingly vultures use the ridges of neighborhood rooftops as roosts—two or three vultures here or there—in the morning wings outstretched for the sun to dry nighttime dew before they slowly flap off into the cool morning air in search of road-kill venison brunch.

But what if vultures—protected by federal law—come to your neighborhood by the hundreds or thousands? Then you might not consider them just somewhat interesting and definitely ugly. Homeowners in Staunton, Virginia, have lots of words for the flocks that use their city as a warm, wintertime roosting area: disgusting, stinking, mean.

Darryl Fears writes about Staunton’s struggles with wintering vultures in “Birds of a feather, disgusting together,” in Sunday’s Washington Post. Warning: Parts of this article are graphic. To link to the article, CLICK HERE.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Deer Country 6: Eating & Rubbing Shrubs & Trees

Browsed shrub

Deer impact shrubs and trees in deer country landscapes in two ways. They eat them and rub them. For the first, all deer are guilty. For the second, only antlered males, the bucks are guilty.

I had great dreams for landscaping when we moved to Meadow Glenn nearly 15 years ago. One of my first purchases was three Nellie Stevens hollies that I planted at an angle going out from the front, south corner of our house—a line of ever-greenery that I envisioned would eventually frame our house for visitors driving down our driveway.

Imagine my shock when I went to water the plants one evening and discovered three sets of woody stems with a total of about four leaves. Hoof prints indicated the defoliators—deer. Welcome, Bob, to Deer Country.

I replaced the ever-green framing dream the next year with three eight- to ten-feet red maples, so large that I paid about $200 each to buy, transport, and plant the young forest.

Imagine my irritation when I went to water the three maples one day that fall and discovered the trunk of one with severely damaged bark about 15 inches above the ground. The culprit—a buck who had “rubbed” my new maple.

Tree healing one year after rubbing
Eating defines itself—and I explained in Deer Country 2 why deer prefer the tender new plant growth. Rubbing is different. In spring and summer, bucks grow their antlers for that year. At first, the antlers are covered with what’s commonly called “velvet.” In late summer, the blood supply to the antlers dries up, the velvet begins to flake, and the bucks rub their antlers on shrubs and trees to remove the flaking velvet. The bucks are polishing their antlers to impress the does—or competing bucks—in the fall breeding or rutting season.

When the bucks rub, they seem to prefer long, small-diameter stems or trunks with some “spring” in them, so they get added polishing action when they rub. If the buck rubs around the whole stem, he may remove enough bark to kill that stem. If he puts too much pressure on a stem, it may break. Rubbing victims here at Meadow Glenn include red maples, sumacs, butterfly bushes, dogwoods, American hollies, tulip poplars, and red cedars.

How can you try to prevent eating and rubbing? If you have just a few shrubs or trees, perhaps a deer- repellent spray will work. I discussed those in Deer Country 4. A practical answer is that you can cage shrubs or young trees with wire fencing and metal or wooden posts.

That’s what I use—cages. Welcome to the Clarksville Shrub & Tree Zoo, where plants are caged and the deer run free.

Posting Deer Country 7 will explain how I make cages for shrubs and young trees that deer love to browse. Deer Country 8 will show you several shrubs that are deer resistant, and Deer Country 9 will do the same for trees.

To review the Deer Country posting about repellents, CLICK HERE.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Confidential: Brian & Lynn, Read This

Some subjects are so sensitive and potentially painful that we tend to shy from discussing them.  For anyone approaching age 70 or beyond—or has a parent in that category—the subject of “senior freedom” can be about as welcome as finding a landmine in the rose bed.

Everyone seems to agree that higher decades of life bring changes and challenges. Not everyone is comfortable discussing the implications of decreasing physical abilities or increasing mental disabilities.

I remember that when my folks moved here years ago, they kept little “secrets” from us about their increasing challenges, secrets that we sometimes didn’t find out about for weeks or months.

“You dad fell down again in the yard today,” my mother once said at supper.

“Again?” I was shocked. “What happened?”

“Oh, it wasn’t anything,” my dad explained. “I know how to fall without getting hurt.” An excellent athlete in high-school years, he probably did “know how to fall” then—but in his 80s?

Questions abound. When is it time to surrender a senior’s prime symbol of freedom—the driver’s license? You may know someone 90 who is a sane and safe driver, but you may also know someone 73 who is a driver straight out of hell and a menace to himself or herself and everyone else on the road.

Are bills getting paid on time and prescription medicines taken on time? When is it time to get a little extra help for lawn and housework or even the daily routines of life?

What would you add to this list?

Everyone wants to be the “good guy,” not the “bad guy,” in such situations. So we sometimes think about such issues but stop short of having serious, two-way conversations about them.

The front page of the Washington Post yesterday featured a story about an older couple and their family’s grappling with such problems. The story is tragic. Could something like it happen to you—or one you love?

Ellen and I both have read the story. It’s sparked an interesting discussion about how we grapple with life in our 70s. We both thought I should post a link to the Post article.

A daughter of the couple in the Post story commented, “We didn’t realize it was time to do more. We didn’t realize it was time…. Oh, the second-guessing that is running through our minds.”

If you’re approaching 70 or are already beyond, read the story and ask your children to read it too. Take note, Brian and Lynn.

Better to think and talk now than to second-guess later.

To read the Post article, CLICK HERE.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Just Dreamin’ of Veggies

I’m just dreamin’ of veggies—veggies past and future—while snowflakes arrive on the north wind and I’m comfy warm under my new “Grow It Eat It Nap Quilt.”

I’m the MG in the family—Master Gardener. Ellen is the MQ—Master Quilter.

When Ellen dropped in to check on some quilting fabric at Seminole Sampler, a fabric shop in Catonsville, not far from BWI Airport, I tagged along. While Ellen was looking at bolts of fabric, I stumbled upon a sale table with a box of fabric called “Farmer’s Market,” with designs of veggies and small fruits.

Next thing I knew I was selecting fabrics with fruits and veggies I’ve either raised or would like to: green- and red-leaf lettuce, large-red and cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, blackberries, strawberries, carrots, broccoli, potatoes, garlic, and onions.

“Found something interesting?” Ellen said when she found me.

“Look at these,” I replied, showing her my collection, “--veggie and fruit designs. I’ve grown most of these.”

I could all but hear her brain kick into gear. “Bring those fat quarters so we can look for some sashing and backing fabric.”

Soon the deal was done. A dozen fat quarters of “Farmer’s Market” plus the complementary fabric.

On Tuesday Ellen finished hand-sewing the binding of the nap quilt. After lunch I found it neatly folded on the back of my blue recliner. And an hour later, while snowflakes started to fall, I pushed back in my recliner, pulled the quilt up under my chin, and tested it out.

When I woke a half hour later, I declared the nap quilt a grand success. It was the right weight—just the right warmth—to keep away any winter chill.

And think of the promises it holds—of more winter naps—and of dreams of veggie gardens past and future.

Thanks, love.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

This Morning’s White Fluff

What a beautiful sight this morning—just a flake over two inches of fluffy white snow. Yes, I fired up our snowblower and cleared our long driveway—and part of a neighbor’s too—quickly, in an hour and a quarter.

The wind was starting to pick up, blowing sheets of fluff from our neighbor’s pines. I paused a few minutes to record the fluff before the wind whipped it into the next county or the sun, which was rising above the eastern line of white pines, softened it to mush. Fat chance of the latter, I thought, with high temperature today forecast to reach about 32° F.

In the back yard I paused to admire geometric snow designs in the niches of a red concrete-block retaining wall. The wall faces south, so the red concrete likely will absorb enough solar heat to melt the snow designs before the sun surrenders again to a frigid night.

Then I photographed a coneflower seed head with a fluffy white cap that disappeared in a gust of wind as I watched.

I don’t deadhead or cut perennials to the ground after hard frosts in October or November. I let them stand. I think they add character to gardens during the bleak winter months.

Ellen enjoys watching chipping sparrows dine on the seed heads of our fountain grass in early winter. The small birds hop onto a seed head and peck away as the long stem slowly curves to the ground. Several species pilfer seeds from the coneflowers in fall and early winter—goldfinches, house finches, song sparrows.

But I suppose birds weeks ago have eaten all the fountain grass and coneflower seeds. I’ve got to think about cutting back last year’s perennial remains someday soon—perhaps some warmer day—in February or March.

Pink and Yellow Blooms in Your January Garden?

What’s blooming in your yard this week?

Nothing, you say. This is January. The ground is frozen, covered with two inches of snow this morning. The leaf tips of next spring’s positive-thinking daffodils already are frost burned.

One shrub is blooming here at Meadow Glenn—and it’s been blooming since Thanksgiving. I went out this morning and took a photo of some of its flowers peeking through last night's snow.  It's a heather I bought at Home Depot in 2002, according to my garden diary. I didn’t buy it because it bloomed overwinter. I bought it because the tag said deer don’t eat it, and they haven’t, perhaps, I’ve thought, because of its needle-like leaves.

Where heathers stop and heaths begin is a matter of debate. The tag said “heather,” but Michael A. Dirr’s authoritative Manual of Woody Landscape Plants lists it as a “heath,” a close relative. They agree, however, on its Latin name, Erica x darleyensis ‘Furzey.’ Its “lilac pink” blooms endure the coldest months, November through May. As an 8-year old plant, it’s an attractive mound about 5 feet across and 18 inches high.

Though heather may not be a common landscape plant, it’s often described as an excellent ground cover that thrives with limited water and in acid soils. Its cousins include cranberry, blueberry, huckleberry, azalea, and rhododendron.

Can you name other outdoor plants that bloom in freezing weather? Patterson Clark featured three cold-weather bloomers in his Urban Jungle column in yesterday’s Washington Post. To link to “January’s golden bouquet,” CLICK HERE.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

FrugalGardener: Plant Tags as Bookmarks

After noting important information from the plastic tag of a newly purchased plant, I sometimes use the tag as a bookmark.

Recently, though, I had a very sad thought: people who buy an ebook and read it on a Kindle or similar electronic reader can’t use a colorful plant tag as a bookmark. They’ll not experience pleasant gardening memories when they remove a plant tag at the page where a chapter begins. They’ll not wonder why they’re wandering in the kitchen and looking for a blueberry muffin to snack on.

Sad thought indeed. I think I’ll continue buying “old fashioned” books in which I can place real bookmarks. How frugally quaint, but those ground-up trees don’t ever need recharging, and you can pass them on to a friend to read after you’ve enjoyed them or give them to a charity for recycling.

For curious readers, despite the book cover in the posted photo, I am a grammarphile, not a grammarphobe. I also smile at my own, spell-check’s, and other writers’ misspellings, such as the recent Internet news story by a Baltimore TV station calling the clients of physicians “patiants.”

So logical, I thought as I smiled, so wye knot? It could have been “patience.”

But back to “grammarphile” and “grammarphobe.” Do you fit yourself into one of those classifications? And why?