Sunday, March 27, 2011

Exciting times ahead

Today I went on my first training for the NEPCoP. New England Plant Conservation Program, that is. A program run by the New England Wildflower Society, to monitor and sometimes maintain populations of rare, threatened or endangered species. We met on Cape Cod, at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, of which I know nothing, but I'm sure is very interesting.
Together with agencies from all six New England states they perform surveys where they go out and check on plant populations on private and public land. I am a beginner both in botany and conservation, and this will be a wonderful opportunity to learn about nature and to get to see some exciting, beautiful sites. And many of them are secret - both because they are on private land and because the plants are so endangered. We had to sign papers to promise that we would not disclose any of the locations.
I think the instructor said that in all six states they do up to 3000 surveys per year. That's lot of plants!
As a volunteer I will be given a list of sites and occasions and sign up for the ones I'm interested in doing. In my area there are a lot of us so I might have to travel a little further from town if I want to make sure I get to do it. There will also be plenty of chances to go out and clean up invasive species which I am really looking forward to. As a beginner I will be paired up with some more experienced NEPCoPs.

The drive to the Cape was smooth so early in the morning although I got horribly lost once I entered the village of Woods Hole - my own fault for not bother to print out the map and just keeping it in my iPhone, where it was completely illegible. That place might warrant a second visit - so quaint and cute!

On my way home I saw an enormous bird soaring over the land. I could see the colors were different from a hawk and I thought it might be an eagle. I have never seen one, so I was a bit excited.
At home I brought out my brand new Crossley ID guide and could right away see that the bird I saw was not an eagle but a juvenile turkey vulture. Well, I'd never seen that one before either! I also saw what looked like an osprey nest high up on a pole (thanks to my nature loving blog friends I now know what an osprey nest looks like).

In the morning before going I saw this little guy:

Not as imposing as the turkey vulture, but very welcome in his own way. The goldfinches at my feeder are obviously as ready for spring as we are and have started to molt their gray coat.

For my next post I will return to Puerto Rico and show some pictures I took in the rain forest state park El Yunque. After that, maybe spring will have come?

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Puerto Rico report

I am back from Puerto Rico, full of impressions and with lots of pictures. I had really hoped spring would have arrived in Boston by now, as it seemed to progress so nicely when I left, but not quite so.

I have to say though that I am happy to be back. I have lots of ambivalent feelings about PR. No offense to the lovely people I know that live there, but it is definitively not for me. It certainly could be so wonderful - instead, it's littered with trash. Broken down rusty car carcasses along the roads, mistreated animals, misused land, horrific traffic and a whole lot of junk food strip malls. I'm not blaming people for not caring but I do think it's sad and frustrating.

It is amazingly beautiful and if you are just the slightest interested in natural things you will get completely enchanted by the lush greenery everywhere. The island is covered in mountain ranges and narrow roads run like roller coasters up and down the hillsides. Homes are often brightly painted in pink, apricot, mint or blue and lots of flowering trees and bushes sparkle from everywhere. Mango trees, coconut palms, banana trees all grow on my inlaws' property and everywhere else. None of these are native to the Caribbean by the way, but has been incorporated into the flora, as have enormous bamboo stands that track the rivers and streams. My husband and his family are pretty clueless of the name of the plants that I found, but I have learned to identify a few on my visits there.

Red flowered ginger, also comes with smaller white flowers. For many years I had a white blossom ginger plant as a house plant (a secret that I brought back in my suitcase) that bloomed with delicate, honey scented flowers every other year in October. The roots look the same as the ones you can buy in stores to shred and eat, but I don't know if the Puerto Ricans ever do that. The ginger grows wild in the woods and you can also find it in many gardens.

Another plant that I learned the name of on this trip is Breadfruit, native to the island forests. You can see it everywhere and many are planted in gardens and parks because of the big decorative leaves. 

This shows the fruits high up in the tree tops, if you can see in the blur. I never got a chance to taste it but it's supposedly very starchy.

I also recognize Papaya trees.

Mango trees are native to South East Asia, but can grow in any tropical climate. The trees have a beautiful shape and the fruits are delicious. A few fell down right in front of my feet and I peeled and ate them when I got home.
Little fruits developing
Bigger ones hanging in rich clusters. It seems like they flower and fruit continously during an extended period since I saw some trees in bloom and others with ripe fruit.

Roadside coconut palm trees:

Bamboo stalks grow in perfect exponential curves.

I have no idea what this is. It looks like Mangrove but it didn't grow anywhere near water.

Spanish Colonial style baby blue house in Fajardo

and a flat, funny looking palm tree.

Back to nature? I guess this could be funny, if it wasn't so sad at the same time. Nobody will ever care to remove this piece of junk. Who in the first place thought it would be a good idea to leave it out in the wild?

Friday, March 11, 2011

Last days of winter?

Since I started gardening and following nature's progress I've always had a really hard time leaving home. I'm missing so much! This time of year, it's quite possible that I will miss that absolute moment where it tips over from winter to spring. I will surely miss the first hue of red of the silver maple buds and of all the other trees that are as impatient as we are now. And what if I won't see the first Oriole?

Having said that, I'm not regretting one bit that we are flying to Puerto Rico tomorrow to visit the inlaws. I'll be just as happy when I return to greet every new sign of spring. And I will be rejuvenated and thoroughly warmed up in and out!

I found the time for a quick walk in the Arnold Arboretum yesterday morning. It was grey and fairly cold and windy. I noticed that many trees and shrubs had winter damage as everywhere else in Boston. Many old favorites were missing branches that had broken off under wet heavy snow. We'll see how they recuperate - trees have ways of healing themselves.

From the path I noticed these silvery buds down by the wet areas.

The Pussy Willow buds were bursting and shedding their single bud scales.

Just unfurled - 

And so incredibly soft.

I have a thing for Silver Maples. They are so grand and romantic. Their old bark silvery and red.

This is one of the biggest I know!

To see Speckled Alder was to greet a friend from my childhood. We used to pick the little cones and save them as treasures.

Thanks to my blog friend Woodswalker I know that this pointy bud belongs to a Sugar maple.

Colors were sparse in the park this day

but I spent some time with this Robin.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Trip West, part 2

I wanted to show some more pictures from our Berkshire (foothills) trip. Before we packed up to leave the Bed & Breakfast (which I can heartily recommend) I took some photos of the old house and the village.

House exterior and interior
Across the street

In the yard

 tri-color Sumac

And I never get enough of those dogwoods.

After leaving we stopped by an apple orchard

The views were spectacular (yes, I'm running out of superlatives!)

Then we headed to an Audubon sanctuary called High Ledge

Small hiker. Big trees

 Pink Maple?

There were many old fantastic Mountain Laurels there. I will have to return to see them in bloom.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Surveying the garden

Whoops! almost all the snow is gone. For being so much of it, it vanished incredibly fast once we got a few days of thaw. Today temperatures are decent and the sun is warming, but in the shade it's still cold. I took a short walk in my back yard and down to the garden to see what's happening.
And with "the garden" I mean my community garden, Minton Stable Garden in Jamaica Plain. I was lucky enough to get a plot 6 years ago - now the waitlist is as long as there are plots in the garden, about 50.

And this is really how it started. From the very beginning I got hooked, and more and more so, and I spent as much time as I could there, and will continue to do, and now I have been on the committee for nearly 2 years as well.
The garden is a result of some very dedicated members of my neighborhood who wanted to create an urban oasis for the community. Hard work was invested, sometimes the discussions were heated, but the outcome is truly amazing.

In addition to the garden plots there are some community areas for play and recreation. A lot of thought went into the plantings and it's all natives lining the fences. Trees and shrubs such as arrowwood, elderberry, sassafras, viburnums and dogwoods, and many many others are now starting to produce flowers and berries. Some corners are kept unmowed to create little habitats for ground dwelling critters. I am very proud of this garden and would have a hard time leaving this neighborhood any time!

In my backyard I saw some little darlings forcing themselves through the remaining ice:

It's remarkable how some things seem completely undisturbed by having been buried under 3 feet of snow, and just bounce back to where they were before.

For once, a Rosemary that survived the winter.  Obviously snow is good for a lot of things.

My Swiss chard looks good already!

I always look out for these first...

Then I walked down to the garden. It was the same there: the leaves of my oriental poppies look completely fresh and green.

Looking out over the plots, it's hard to imagine the same place in 6 months. 
But it will be bustling and buzzing and blooming and exuberant and wonderful. There will be kids running down the aisles and there will be gardeners busy weeding and digging. Bees will buzz. Flowers will smell. You will see.

Monday, March 7, 2011

A great trip out West

At some point I will be caught up and start writing about the present, but I still feel I need to share a few memories from past year. We usually do a little family trip to a B&B or a camping trip every year, and this October we went to the Berkshires of Massachusetts where none of us had been before. By the B&B owner Diane I was informed that we were only at the Berkshire foothills - but to me it sort of counted anyway. The little village was called Conway and we couldn't have been more lucky with the main attraction - fall foliage.

We went to a butterfly conservatory in South Deerfield called Magic Wings. It was a fantastic place and we spent half our day just there inside the tropical enclosure or outside in the garden. If it had been in Boston it had costed a fortune to get in, and it would have been completely packed.
We saw some stunning creatures fluttering about in there, but it was rather difficult to photograph them - eventually I just pointed randomly at a bunch of them hoping that something would stick. Some of them were nice to sit still for a pose:
This one is called Rice paper.

Male Cairns Birdwing - where it originates I'm not sure.

This giant was almost too unreal: and see the parrot in the background!

 And this became my friend.

Outside was another attraction.

Some old rail road cars on a forgotten trail. We went to explore - there is a train fanatic among us.

Next to the tracks were an old sunny ditch, with Elderberries and Sumacs, Goldenrods, Asters, gorgeous red Dogwoods. The colors of this day are so vivid in my mind - it was absolutely perfect.

I counted many of these - hardened and empty since long.

An old barn on the neighboring field

The tracks, screws, nuts, and bolts were examined as well.

On the other side of the ditch were some fields and then the rolling hills.

The cars had Oriental Bittersweet growing on them. I thought that if I came back next year, maybe I wouldn't be able to see them anymore under the scraggly vines.

But as of now they looked beautiful.