Wednesday, April 29, 2009

ABC Wednesday: Looking Up

Oh, it is Spring! Looking through my files of photos, I do have some O's for this week's ABC post.

First, we have Oleander. A common shrub across the world from the Mediteranean region to southern China, this particular plant was photographed in Arizona.

Oleander shrubs are seen everywhere in Arizona from home landscaping to highway plantings. They can even grow as trees as in the picture above. As beautiful and long-blooming as they are, I'm not sure I would want them in my own backyard. A member of the dogbane family, oleander is highly toxic.

I don't have to look beyond my yard, however, to find the next O--my grand old oak tree that I've determined is over 200 years old. I've used this tree before in several posts, including an ABC post last fall, using its botanical name Quercus Macrocarpa. This photo was taken last summer, however; it's just beginning to show the faint signs of green leaves right now.

While the majestic old oak is my favorite tree, in the spring I'm partial to the redbuds. I've discovered, though, that capturing the almost fluorescent lavender of its spring blooms is nearly impossible on a sunny day, and a cloudy day isn't much better.

After a beautiful but windy weekend, the clouds rolled in with rain for the past two days. You can see the redbud to the right in this picture. Yes, in the springtime it's my favorite tree . . .

. . . or maybe this pink flowering crabapple is my favorite. Once all the blooms open up, it's magnificent.

Of course, it's hard to choose between the pink crabapples and the red ones. (There's a sprig of redbud to the left that shows its color!)

But there's also something to be said for the white crabapple. Oh, it's so hard to choose--I just love them all!

This week, as April moves into May, is one of my favorite times of the year as all the flowering trees burst into bloom, and the long lane leading to our house looks like something out of a fairy tale. Sadly, though, this year the fairy tale didn't end happily ever after. I took all these photos on Saturday and Sunday, and by Monday I noticed many of the blooms had blown to the ground and no new ones were opening up. The red crabs bloomed for two days at the most, and the pink ones had only a few blooms. The white crabapple looks pretty good above, but it's at least a week earlier than last year and not nearly as full of blooms.

Last year this is what my driveway looked like on the first of May, with the white crabapple still waiting to blossom. Beckie and I were talking today about the lack of flowering crabapple blooms this year. Another local blogger, Joyce, commented last week that her crabapples had been hurt by the cold winter. It makes me sad to think this year I won't see the same view as above. But at the same time, Beckie commented how much better her plum tree looks this year, and I've noticed that all the magnolia trees seem to have blossomed earlier this year without the all too often damage from frost. I guess it just shows that Mother Nature can surprise us at any time.

Speaking of surprises, by far the biggest surprise this spring has been the two old apple trees--they are literally bursting with blooms. I have never seen them bloom like this; I wonder if that means if they will have even more apples this year? Actually, I hope not--I still have a freezer full of applesauce:)

What's even more surprising to me is that one of these apple trees is still standing. You can see the huge hollow area in its lower trunk; I'm worried that a strong storm one day might be the end of this apple tree. But then again, one never knows--Cheryl also posted about her beautiful old apple tree on Monday, complete with a similar hollow.

While I've spent sunny days lately looking downward, digging in the dirt and looking for new growth in the garden, it's good to look upward and see blooms sent from above.

To see more ABC posts, you can visit here.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Blogging Blips and Tulip Trends

I've noticed in the last few weeks a rather strange phenomenon--Blogger has been slowing down. No, I don't mean the entity "Blogger," but rather the blogging community itself. Some bloggers are not posting as frequently as they once were, or their posts are shorter than usual. Comments are fewer in number, not only on my blog but on others' as well, and some bloggers are making shorter, if any at all, replies to the comments received.

One of a collection of tulip bulbs called "Color Magic"

I have decided that such an anomaly is worth careful study. You may question the need for this, but a short time ago I received an e-mail from a graduate student asking me to participate in a research study on whether bloggers' personalities are reflected in their blogs. I didn't have time to respond to this study, but I think if this was a worthwhile research project, then a study of cutbacks in blogging is certainly just as worthwhile.

"Pink Impression" hybrid tulips

I have spent some time collecting data and analyzing it. After much study and careful review, the finished research project is ready for publication. In the spirit of patriotism and a concern over the current economic crisis, I am publishing my findings at no cost, thereby saving our government from another huge expenditure. For the sake of brevity, I will offer here just the salient points of the project.

"Pink Impression" tulip

"Diminished Blogging Time: A Quantitative and Causal Analysis."

"Replete" daffodil

1. In any scientific study, factors which cause deviations from the norm must be identified and omitted before arriving at a general hypothesis. For example, some bloggers may be working extra hours at a job, or they may have family obligations that suddenly consume more of their time. Because this affects only a fraction of bloggers at any one time, this cause has been factored in as a standard deviation.

Unnamed Narcissus

2. Other causes, however, affect the entire blogging population. On the Saturday preceding Easter as well as Easter Sunday, for example, blog posts were noticeably fewer in number. Of those posts appearing that weekend, many were pre-scheduled. Thus, one valid conclusion that might be reached is that on holidays, bloggers are too busy to read or write blog posts.

"Pink Charm" and ruffled yellow daffodils

3. However, in order to determine a clearly identifiable cause for the general decrease in blogging in recent weeks, I had to use the scientific method. By reading many, many posts over this course of time, I made several noteworthy observations:

"Prince" tulip collection

A.There have been many sunny days in the past three weeks.

Orange "Color Magic"

B. Temperatures are rising.

"Color Magic" blooms

C. Spring bulbs have burst into bloom.

"Color Magic" closed blossom

D. New growth in the garden is apparent.

Flowering crabapples taken today

E. It is time to plant vegetables, trees, shrubs, and in some cases, perennials.

"Color Magic" again

F. I also noted that one blogger even has added a note to her comment box that she may not be able to respond to comments as frequently because she is spending as much time as possible in her garden. Of course, one person makes for a very small sampling, but it could be indicative of a more widespread attitude.

Fully opened "Color Magic"

From all of these observations, I finally reached a hypothesis:

In the springtime, Garden bloggers would rather spend their time BEING in their gardens than reading about them.

Almost ready to bloom--from a collection called "Monet"

Some may question the validity and reliability of this study, and I will freely admit that I am lacking any scientific background and that I have never taken a course in statistics. But I believe so strongly in this hypothesis that I am willing to conduct a second, more thorough study if warranted. While I would remain the head of this project, I could enlist more professional help. Youngest daughter works for a prestigious institute at the University and is experienced in setting up experiments and collecting data. Financial analyst Son and Senior Accountant Daughter-in-law could aid in interpreting data and compiling statistics. Of course, they would need some compensation; thus, expanding the research team would require some government funding; I think a mere $100,000 would be sufficient, though we might be able to make some cutbacks and shave off 10 or 20 thousand.

Still to open--"Sunrise"

If you believe that this is a crisis worthy of further study, I ask you to write your representatives in Congress and urge them to support funding for this project. People all over the world would benefit from the findings, as evidenced by the global nature of our blogrolls. I would start on a smaller scale and seek funding for a state-wide study instead, but unfortunately our former free-spending Governor Blago is no longer in office and is currently awaiting trial on corruption charges and also busy trying to land a role on a new reality TV show. Our new Governor is cutting all non-essential expenditures, so any funding for new research studies is doubtful. Thus, the need to go national.

Any feedback on this study is appreciated, but it may be some time before I can complete such a follow-up study. As further evidence to support my theory, rather than reading my regular blogs this morning or posting this earlier as intended, the sunny skies and temperatures soaring into the 80's today beckoned me into the garden instead. Future research may have to be delayed until a rainy day . . .

On a final note, I want to wish everyone a Happy Arbor Day! I am spending the evening with dear friends celebrating Arbor Day, as has been our tradition for more than 20 years. We'll toast our favorite trees, like the old hackberry above, and might even plant one as well.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

ABC Wednesday: Enjoying Nature

It is ABC Wednesday once again, and I almost didn't make it. Besides having to work today,a painful, weird hand cramp last night made it difficult for me to type last evening. All is better now so I bring to you this week's letter N . . .

. . . Nest

It's that time of year: the robins, cardinals, and other birds here at the Prairie's garden are all busy making nests. However, I had to travel to Arizona to get an actual photograph of a bird's nest. And you'll notice it's not just "any" bird, but a hummingbird! Last summer I tried countless times to photograph a hummingbird in my garden, finally getting one rather far-away shot.

But the hummingbirds at the Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum were anything but shy. Housed in the hummingbird aviary at the Museum, these hummers were obviously used to human company, sitting placidly on a nest while cameras clicked all around them. Other exhibits at the museum included a raptor display and a reptile exhibit; native wildlife roamed the trails.

However, other than the reptiles, which we viewed behind glass enclosures--thankfully--the only wildlife we saw in Arizona were these metal art pieces for sale at the Botanical Gardens . . .

. . . and, of course, the gentle giant Bear.

While visiting my Daughter, most of my sightings of wildlife were much closer to home. A daily walk from her apartment took me to a nearby small lake.

Apparently, the ducks remembered me from my visit last December, as they eagerly came ashore and walked up to me without any fear. Or maybe it was that leftover sub roll I brought with me . . .

"Hey, lady, you brought only one roll for all of us?? "

I wish I had had a copy of Birds of Arizona, to identify some of the creatures seen here. This guy was seen accompanying a mourning dove, but I have no idea what kind of bird he is.

Nor can I identify this bird. He wasn't as trusting as the ducks or doves; even the enticement of some bread crumbs wasn't enough to let me get closer.

The swans were camera-shy as well and usually flew
to the farther bank to avoid human ogling. This little lake is just one sight on a long walkway/bike trail that winds through Phoenix and Scottsdale.

I walked for only a short part of the trail, but it is a wonderful place for residents and visitors alike to walk or bike and enjoy viewing some other denizens of the city.

Whether in Arizona or Illinois, there's nothing quite so uplifting and calming
as taking a walk and enjoying the simple joys of Nature.

Happy Earth Day, everyone!

"Every day is Earth Day."

--Author Unknown

ABC Wednesday is sponsored by Mrs. Nesbitt: more posts can be seen here.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Scenes from Arizona

New daffodils are opening up, and every day a new tulip surprises me. The redbuds and flowering crabs are sure to put on a show any day now.

But before my garden bursts into bloom completely, I wanted to share some sights from our Arizona vacation two weeks ago. I've finally sorted through the 400-plus photos to pick out just a few . . . and I promise not to be my usual chatty self, so you can just enjoy the photos:)

The main reason we waited until March to visit my daughter rather than leave in the colder months of February or January was to be able to take in a couple baseball games. The Chicago Cubs, along with many other MLB teams, hold their spring training games in sunny Arizona. We managed to arrive just in time for the last two games, including one at the Cubs' home stadium for the Cactus League at Hohokam Park in Mesa. Spring training is so much more laid back than during the regular season. Tickets are inexpensive, and the parks are much smaller so that you can sit close to the action. At our first game we sat just a few rows behind the Cubs' dugout (this photo was taken from the mezzanine, not our seats), and at the home game we sat on the grass behind the outfield. Ah, this is the way a baseball game should be--with no offense to the tradition of Wrigley Field. A lazy afternoon, soaking up the sunshine on a blanket, seeing the players close-up, no pressure or yelling at the umpires, no thoughts of another World Series disappointment . . .

But baseball was just a small part of our trip. Our main purpose, of course, was to visit Daughter and her family. Luckily, she had several days off, so one day we drove down to Tucson. Just outside of the city, located on the Tolono O'odham Indian Reservation, is Mission San Xavier Del Bac. Founded by the Jesuits before 1700, the mission building was constructed in 1783-97 by the Fransciscans.

Called the "White Dove of the Desert," the AAA travel guide describes the structure as "an impressive example of Spanish mission architecture" complete with "domes, carvings, arches, and flying buttresses." You can see the Spanish influence in the nearby courtyard with the typical fountain of this style.

The grounds were landscaped with native plants, including cacti in bloom and this unusual plant, which I don't know the name of.

After visiting the mission we drove a few miles to the Sonoran Desert Museum. Signs at the entrance and along the trails warned visitors not to go near any wildlife that might be seen, including javelinas and coyotes. Unfortunately, by the time we arrived, we were hot, tired, and very hungry, so we didn't walk any of the trails. Instead we spent most of our time in cooler areas, including the reptile exhibit, a cave, and an aviary with hummingbirds (more on that on Wednesday). There is also a raptor display that I really wanted to see, but we didn't--check out Shady Gardener's latest post for some photos of this.

Although we didn't walk too far on the trails, we still saw some interesting sights, including this strange cactus called a senita.

I believe this senita was one I saw later at the Botanical Gardens in Phoenix. I'm sure I had seen them before, but I don't remember their hairy-like appearance. Perhaps these are their March "blooms"?

Another strange sight was this tree also spotted at the DBG in Phoenix. I could not find a tag, so I have no idea what it was.

Here's a closer look at its unusual branches.

Of course, I was interested throughout our stay in seeing the different plant life. Springtime comes to Arizona, too, as all kinds of plants begin to bloom, even the cacti. The green-trunked palo verde tree was beginning to bloom everywhere. I didn't realize that these yellow blossoms later open up into lovely flowers--you can see just how they look today by checking out Nature Girl's most recent post.

But I didn't have to go far to see plants in bloom. A walk around Daughter's nicely landscaped apartment complex revealed these blooming trees and . . .

. . . the ubiquitous, but beautiful nevertheless, bougainvillea, here surrounding a palm tree.

The grounds include several fountains; this one was bordered by a door (leading where, I have no idea) covered in a yellow-flowering vine.

Veg Plotting has been writing a series of posts for the past month about public plantings. I couldn't help but notice this office building just down the street from Daughter's apartment.

It was such an eye-catching landscaping that I purposely walked down the street one morning to take some photos. Unfortunately, the sun was already so bright that I was disappointed in the resulting pictures. Lots of bougainvillea and oleander, of course, but with additional plants that made it stand out from the ordinary.

Here's one example of a small part of the curbside planting.

Again, I don't know what this is, but I liked it!

Back at the apartment complex, here's proof that you don't need an acre of ground to be a gardener.

Naturally, I couldn't leave Phoenix without a visit to one of my favorite places, the Desert Botanical Gardens.

The works of Chihuly looked somewhat different surrounded by blossoming flowers.

I first saw the Chihuly Exhibit in December, shortly after it opened, so I didn't spend as much time looking at all the artwork or photographing it as I did then. If you'd like to see more of this exhibit, you can check out this earlier post. However, to my surprise I did see a piece I missed the first time around, this "Orange Hornet and Eelgrass Chandelier." From the first time I saw this exhibit, I wondered how all of these pieces were transported and put in place without breaking any of it. What I hadn't thought about was how it was kept clean . . .

. . . Now I know: a little window cleaner and a duster are all that's needed:)

There is so much to see at the DBG! This time I wanted to focus on parts I had missed on two previous trips--the butterfly exhibit and the blooming plants, both of which can only be seen for a few short months of the spring. The bee garden is open year-round, but this time I was thinking of Cheryl as I hunted for our friendly pollinators.

I didn't have to wait long--notice the bee coming in for a landing at the top of the photo.

I bet you never thought of planting a cactus to attract bees!

Apparently, though, these guys like cactus blossoms as well as my coneflowers and salvias.

Blooms were abundant throughout the gardens from annuals to cacti to native perennials. Unfortunately, some of photos of the more spectacular displays didn't turn out so well--the sun was very bright, and the camerawoman kept fiddling with the settings without the benefit of her reading glasses.

But photographs or not, seeing a prickly pear actually blooming was a sight I won't soon forget. I enjoyed the sights of Arizona, but you know, a daffodil or tulip blooming in Illinois looks just as good to me right now!