Saturday, May 16, 2009

Sambucus 'Black Lace'

New from Proven Winners a few years back, Sambucus 'Black Lace' almost didn't survive my ruthless culling after it's second season in the garden. I relented at the last second and, because it had shown some signs of promise in its second year, I decided to give it one last chance. Today, I'm thrilled that I had a change of heart and let it stay.

Because most cultivars of the European elderberry don't appreciate the heat and humidity of our southern summers, I had honestly written the plant off before it ever got its roots in the ground. But it was new--and it sure was pretty in the pot--and because I've grown to trust the Proven Winners brand, I decided I needed to give it a try before I cold-heartedly wrote it off without giving at least one season to prove itself. I have to say, that first season was pretty lackluster, but being a knowledgable plantsman and gardener I knew better than to pass judgment after the first year. Sometimes a plant needs a season to settle in. So I pruned sparingly, fed copiously and waited for the results.

By spring of its second year, it was showing a little more promise. It had grown a few long and somewhat wayward shoots the previous summer, but I left well enough alone, only trimming the tips of the branches to (hopefully) help promote some additional side branching and basal growth. It did grow, albeit slowly, and it did have one or two clusters of blooms in its second spring. By autumn, though, I was growing impatient. I liked it, but did I love it enough to give it a third season??? Hmmmm...

For weeks I walked past it in the garden, each time thinking that its day had come and that I would give it a good shovel-pruning and add it to the compost pile where numerous other plants who hadn't made the cut would now feed next year's new garden additions. But every time I raised the shovel, I just couldn't go through with it. Something stopped me and I finally gave in, allowing it one more season to turn my head and show me what it really had to offer. If, however, it wasn't spectacular by the end of the third summer, into the compost heap it would go--no relenting!

I didn't have to wait for the end of the third season because 'Black Lace' has come into its own at the beginning of its third year and has proven once again to this somtimes impatient gardener that once in a while, you just have to hold your horses. Be patient. It's ferny black foliage and soft pink flowers are gracing the garden as we speak--and this little plant has proven to be t-o-u-g-h!!! If you look at the Proven Winners website and read the cultural information for the 'Black Lace' elderberry, you'll see that they say full sun and plenty of moisture, but I've actually had the opposite experience.

My trial plant is located in part shade--good morning sun, actually (which I think is better for it in the South) and is planted immediately under a 12-foot tall sweetbay magnolia (Magnolia virginiana) that sucks every drop of water from every plant within a 10-foot radius. Neighboring plants include Agave parryi, Agastache aurantiaca, Juniperus 'Gold Coast', numerous Sempervivums and Dianthus 'Bath's Pink'--all of which are immensely drought tolerant and growing within 6 feet of the water-sucking sweetbay. 'Black Lace' is not only holding it's own under these conditions, it's thriving. For the first time, the entire plant is covered in clusters of pale pink-white flowers and the new growth is showing tremendous vigor. Strong basal shoots indicate that it's really going to "bulk up" this year and by the end of summer I fully expect that it will be as beautiful as I had cautiously hoped it would be.

I sure am glad it isn't sticking roots-up out of the compost pile!

Bluebird Blog #2

The babies are growing by leaps and bounds. It has been 3 weeks since the eggs were laid and the babies are now approximately two weeks old. They've grown from very scrawny and sort of ugly little naked chicks into bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, pin-feathered and very hungry little chirpers. Their instincts are really quite amazing, and they certainly see me as a very large and scary threat. I was lucky to get a photo with one holding its head up. Usually, as soon as anyone comes around, they bury their heads in the bottom of the nest, lie perfectly motionless and don't make a peep!

Mother and father bluebird are extremely busy with four little mouths to feed and it has provided endless hours of entertainment watching them fly back and forth across the yard catching insects, returning to the nest periodically to (I'm sure) regurgitate a fabulous high-protein, gourmet bug meal for the young 'uns.

My guess is that the little guys and gals will fledge the nest late this coming week--certainly by very early the following one. I'm hoping that since this brood came along fairly early in the season that mother and father might nest again. We'll see. I'm hoping I'll be lucky enough to be at home when the babies leave and, if so, will try to capture some photos of the big event.

Coming next... a plant that has gone from the "I'm-not-so-sure-I-like-it" list to being one of my faves! Stay tuned!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Bluebird Blog #1

I have put off posting for a brief period because I've been having photo software problems with the computer and didn't want to do the first bluebird post until I had some pictures to share. However, the issue is still not resolved and if I don't get busy blogging, the baby birds will have grown up, fledged and flown the nest before I get Bluebird Blog #1 posted. So... here goes.

It was my lucky, lucky day about three weeks ago when we were sitting on the screened porch one Sunday afternoon and I noticed one of the three pairs of Eastern bluebirds flying in and out under the awning of the garden shed. Sitting atop a great old potting bench are several birdhouses, two of which are open-fronted A-frames with baskets in the bottom of them. I could have sworn that those bluebirds were checking out one of those nesting boxes, but surely not. The box wasn't the right dimensions, the hole (there is no hole) wasn't the right size, it wasn't facing the proper direction.....all the things I'd always heard that bluebirds demanded of their nesting spot were wrong. As fortune would have it, this pair of bluebirds apparently had not read the nesting manual and the rules governing where they will and will not nest. So I watched.

Yes! Sure enough, the female bluebird was definitely checking out the open-fronted A-frame on the left--the one that was slightly obscured by some pots sitting in front of it. After a couple of hours of watching her rather intently, she took off to fetch an insect or two for supper and I took the opportunity to very quietly sneak over and check out the nesting location. The nest was there--perfectly built, but as yet unoccupied. I would wait.

Monday morning dawned sunny and beautiful and again I snuck out to very quietly and unobtrusively take a peek. Gold! One gorgeous little egg. By late that afternoon a second egg had appeared and by Wednesday morning, two more for a total of four. And so the waiting began.

I'm happy to tell you that, two weeks later, we have four absolutely perfect baby bluebirds and they are growing by leaps and bounds. Right now, they're all beak and skin. They're actually sort of ugly--but ugly in the most beautiful way! I noticed today that they are beginning to get a good layer of down on them now, which is good, given that we've had some cooler temperatures the past few days! Their eyes are still shut, but their hearing is incredibly acute. With even the slightest noise, four gaping beaks appear at the top of the nest and it is an absolute joy to see. I am taking pictures when I can, as long as I feel that I am not disturbing either the babies or the parents--so far, so good. As soon as I get this camera software running properly again, I'll post some pics so that you can see the precious young 'uns.

Until then, I'll just keep sneaking out from time to time to see what's going on. And I'll keep you posted!