A Final Chapter for Oscar & Opal Osprey

I’ve postponed writing this update on our old friends, the Naval Academy Osprey, Oscar & Opal. As you may recall, I’ve been observing this handsome couple since 2001. They have come and gone from nests on the 3rd and later 4th light post on the Academy’s football field for 20 years, arriving around St. Patrick’s Day and leaving for the south in mid-September.

Last July 2021, when I returned to my Academy morning walks after a 2yr hiatus due to the Pandemic, our amazing couple was already comfy in their 2-story nest with its traditional pendent of fabric blowing in the breeze. They had already hatched two fledglings – one of which seemed distressed, preferring the nest over learning to fly and fish for itself. Opal took the healthier chick out for training flights while Oscar stayed near the nest, watching over the weaker chick. In mid-September, Opal and the strong fledgling left, as was customary. But Oscar stayed behind with the weaker fledgling, and they left about two weeks later.

When March arrived this year, I waited nervously for Opal and Oscar to return. St. Patrick’s Day came and went, and the 4th light pole remained unoccupied. Then, on March 19, early in the morning, I heard the strong call of an Osprey as I approached the football field. There, on Pole #4 was one Osprey. I determined it was Opal by her size – large and rather more full-bodied than Oscar – she had always been the chatty one. She seemed to me to be calling her mate home, but this morning she was alone. I didn’t worry; Oscar was probably out gathering twigs for their nest or fishing for breakfast.

Opal waited for her mate for two mornings, that I could see, then she too was gone.

It has been 10 days, and neither Oscar nor Opal has returned to claim their nesting site. However, as is true of springtime everywhere – there is hope of renewal. Yesterday and today, a pair of Osprey, younger and smaller than our old friends, have claimed the 3rd light post for their own. I suspect one of them, the male probably, is an offspring of Oscar and Opal. I believe the young pair may be Pablo and Pearl, the couple that for the past 6 years has nested on the less-advantageous soccer field light post. (See my blog posts of the summer of 2015.) This pair is trying to build their nest; large twigs are strewn everywhere beneath the 3rd light post. We will have to see if they can successfully claim their progenitor’s kingdom.

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Here’s the latest buzz:

Luring Pollinators to Our Gardens

BY JANICE F. BOOTH 

MAR. 05, 2022

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Spring is on our doorsteps and wisps of delights-to-come are floating through our gardens and with some of these March winds, racing through. And we’re often gladdened now by early crocuses, snow drops, and the green stems of soon-to-be daffodils and tulips poking up, growing hour-by-hour. In our gardens, pollinators—those helpful bees, beetles, and even a few moths—are making their way among the awakening plants, sipping any nectar that may be available and carrying pollen from bud to bud, flower to flower. 

Let’s consider how we can improve our gardens and help the pollinators who help our gardens glow with life and color. What is pollination? Who pollinates? What’s the importance of pollinators to us? How can we make small and large changes in our gardens to support these busy birds, bees, and other animals?

Pollination Defined: 

To produce flowers or fruit, plants require the addition of pollen; insects and some animals collect pollen on their bodies from male plants and deposit that pollen on female plants of the same species. 

Types of Pollinators: 

Bees are our most prolific and efficient pollinators. Birds (particularly Hummingbirds), butterflies, moths, beetles, and bats distribute the pollen clinging to their bodies among the plants. Even some small mammals do their part to move that pollen around, capturing pollen on fur and snouts. 

So what? Just a few facts about the impact these sometimes-pesky little bees, beetles, and birds have on our lives:

• 75 percent of Earth’s flowering plants rely on insect and animal pollinators.  • Healthy plants of all types clean the air, stabilize the soil, provide oxygen, and support wildlife.  • That’s approximately 180,000 types of plants, 1,200 of which are food crops.   • One-third of the food we regularly consume depends directly on the efforts of pollinators.  • In the U.S. alone, pollination by Honeybees accounted for $19 billion of our nation’s crop productivity, according to the 2010 National Parks Services records. An additional $10 billion in crop productivity was attributable to other pollinators.  • Add to our nation’s agriculture productivity, approximately $700 million flowed into the economy from U.S. Honeybee products and services. 

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But there are big problems facing our tiny pollinators:

• Tragically, Honeybees have diminished by over 50 percent since 1974. According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services; a great part of that loss of our bee population can be traced to Climate Change.

• Monarch Butterflies, those beautiful, golden creatures that travel over 3,000 miles in their fall migration, have decreased in 25 years from counts of 383 million to 4.5 million; that’s a loss of 88 percent of those glorious butterflies. 

That’s only a bit of the big picture on pollinators. You may be wondering what all this information has to do with us and our flowerbeds and gardens here in Maryland? Well, possibly quite a bit! In our own small ways, we may be able to support and protect our pollinators, even encourage their adaptation and survival. Here are some easy garden adaptations that can make a difference:

• When you’re shopping for a few new plants to add to your beds, consider “host” plants, such as parsley and fennel, that are favorite eggs laying locations for moths and butterflies. 

• Avoid introducing and remove invasive plants; they choke out native varieties. Among those culprits are some all-too-familiar plants; burning bushes, pampas grass, and golden bamboo. Even rose-of-Sharon and butterfly bushes are problematic.

• Add a water feature—a birdbath, a small pond, or simply a dish of water that can supply insects and birds with fresh water on warm days. 

• Avoid pesticides since their purpose is to destroy insect populations. Even microbial and botanical pesticides are going to kill insects. Instead, why not add insect-repelling plants to your garden? Here are a few safe choices:

• Anticipating trouble with flies and mosquitoes? Plant basil.

• Moths and fleas worry you? Lovely lavender can help.

• For mosquitoes, lemongrass and marigolds are effective repellents. 

• Long-blooming and big-blossoms plants are two big favorites with pollinators. Our state flower, the Black-Eyed Susan, zinnias, hydrangea, coreopsis, marigolds, and many more will please you and your helpful pollinators. 

 A little bit messy is good: This may be a tough one to stick to, but avoid over-tidying, keep some light garden debris—fallen leaves, tiny sticks, and other detritus. They can serve as nesting material for birds and as hiding places for the tiny beetles and ants who can help with pollinating your plants’ blossoms. 

When you implement some of these simple suggestions, you’ll be joining over 50,000 landowners across the country that have completed over 60,000 Habitat Restoration Projects on more than 6 million acres, under the leadership of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. You may want to join that project; check it out at fws.gov, or learn more at the Pollinators Partnership nappc.org

BY JANICE F. BOOTH

MAR. 05, 2022

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4 Tasks to Keep your Houseplants Looking Great

BY JANICE F. BOOTH 

FEB. 12, 2022

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Winter is well and truly ensconced, and, if you’re lucky, you may be packing up for some days in a warmer clime. But, before you leave, or if you’re settling in for a cozy month with a fire in the fireplace and lots of books to read…consider taking a few minutes to spruce up your indoor garden. All those pretty plants that add warmth and color to your rooms may be in need of a bit of extra TLC right now. 

So, here are four suggestions for small tasks that will help keep your houseplants healthy and attractive. Maintaining plants indoors is similar to those tasks your outdoor plants require, only smaller in scope and time. 

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Watering: As you’ve probably noticed, indoor plants need less water, in general. They’re in pots and jars and bowls that are usually less porous and sometimes have no drainage hole at all. Be careful, if the drainage is poor, consistently wet roots may rot. 

Water less but maintain humidity; you’ve probably been giving your plants water only once a week or so. But now, with furnace and fireplace going, you may want to moisten your houseplant by misting the leaves and even adding a humidifier—good for your skin as well as your plants.’ 

Humidify: If you don’t have a humidifier, try some shallow dishes or bowls layered with tiny pebbles or glass drops. Add water to cover the rocks, and cluster some of your plants in this pretty, moist climate bowl. 

Avoid fertilizing your plants now. Give them time to go dormant. They’ll be gathering in the spring sunlight soon enough.

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Repotting: Now may be a good time to move some of your plants into fresh soil and larger containers. If a particular plant has been in the same pretty pot for several years, or even one year where it has flourished, the roots of that plant may be a bit cramped. Gently coax the plant out of its original pot and try to loosen and free the roots from the tired soil. Then, situate the plant in a larger pot and fresh potting soil and give the plant enough water to moisten both soil and roots. Note: Watch for tiny pests that may have hitched a ride on plants brought in from outdoors. Here’s your chance to get rid of them.

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Cleaning tasks: While you’re doing plant-maintenance, look around at the leaves of your houseplants. The leaves collect all that lovely sunlight; they need to be clean to do that. 

Leaf Shower: Using regular tap water or some milk, sponge off the leaf surfaces with gentle strokes; hold one hand beneath each leaf for support as you remove the dust and grime that may have settled on those leaves. If the leaves are very small, try using a paintbrush instead of a sponge. 

Debugging: Here’s another opportunity to watch for any pests—spider mites are notorious for hanging out under the leaves of plants. Mites can usually be gotten rid of with a simple spray of water and dish soap. You may have to spray the undersides of the leaves more than once to be sure you’ve gotten all the mites.

Primping & pruning: Remove any scraggly or dead leaves that may be clinging to the plant. If you’re courageous, you can take a sharp scissors to some of the gangly stems that may be marring the symmetry of your plant. I call it gardener’s “tough love.” 

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Lighting: Your plants need approximately eight hours of light each day. Since late winter tends to be rather dark and light comes from such an oblique angle, you might want to give your plants a bit of extra help with their photosynthesis now by checking that the windows are clean and/or providing some artificial light. Plants need light that provides red and blue wavelengths. The red waves encourage leaf production and growth. Blue waves affect the plant’s response to light and photosynthesis. You have two options that will provide both the red and blue waves, grow lights or LED lights.

Grow Lights: Grow light bulbs are usually installed in stands that focus the light down onto the plants below. Some provide a balanced light spectrum while others give only red or blue waves. Be sure you have a full-spectrum grow light bulb, such as a fluorescent tube, a High-Intensity Discharge bulb (HD), or High-Pressure Sodium bulb (HPS). Grow lights give off heat—the good news, they’ll help keep plants warm if you have a chilly house. The bad news is they can burn plant leaves if the plant grows too near the bulb. 

LED Lights: LED lights are more expensive to purchase, but they require less energy to use (and you may need them on up to eight hours/day), and the bulbs last longer. LED lights are very efficient, converting 80 percent of the energy they use into light. They burn cool, so they won’t burn your plants. 

After completing these four tasks, your houseplants will thank you by continuing to splash color and freshness throughout your winter rooms. 

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Ridding the Garden of Invasive Species

“You’re Not Welcome Here”:

BY JANICE F. BOOTH

JAN. 12, 2022

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With a new year before us, you may be organizing, clearing out the detritus that collects in closets, desk drawers, and cupboards. Let me suggest that while you’re in this frame of mind, it’s a good time to plan for some spring cleaning of unwanted and unnecessary stealthy invaders of your garden. 

Look over your garden notes, your photos, and memories of last year’s garden. Where were the trouble spots? What got out-of-hand? Let me review with you some of the unwelcome or troublesome invasive plants that you’ll want to keep an eye on or eliminate all-together if they show up in your garden. 

Here’s a review of the characteristics, the types, and the most familiar of these sneaky invaders. 

Characteristics 

Invasive plants can damage, even eliminate the healthy growth of other plants in your garden. 

Here’s how to identify them:

  • Rapid growth and maturation
  • Prolific seed production 
  • Successful seed dispersal, germination, and colonization. (I know; this sounds like something out of a low-budget Sci-Fi movie.)
  • Rampant vegetative spread. (That’s right; they are hardy plants and eager to spread-out in your flowerbeds…and beyond!)
  • Out-compete native plants, syphoning off the moisture, nutrients, and sunlight from nearby plants.

This troublesome vegetation sneaks into your garden as seed, root, runner, or rhizome (sturdy stems that travel just below the surface, from which new shoots spring up) and proceeds to have its way with your garden.Expand

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Types

Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has come up with a WANTED List. You can print out your copy at Dnr.maryland.gov/wildlife/documents/invasive-plants. 

The DNR identifies two designations of invasive plants:

Tier One: These are plants which may not be sold and should be eradicated. (Bamboo and amur honeysuckle are examples). Tier Two: Plants that may be sold but only with clear warnings to the buyers. They’re likely to grow out of control at the first opportunity. (Japanese wisteria and Scotch broom are examples).Expand

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Familiar Invaders

 The DNR identifies familiar plants that we often see here in Maryland in open meadows, along stream banks, and even—dare I say it—in our own gardens. If you’re harboring some of these in your garden…BEWARE. Note: invasive plants have evolved to survive, no matter what. One sneaky adaptation they have is to start slow, and over time pick up speed! For example, you may have a lovely clump of silver grass along a path for years, and then, one spring you look in amazement as that pretty clump emerges as a huge, indestructible mound of silver grass. 

Bamboo: great for privacy and fishing poles, but its rhizomes (sneaky horizontal roots) travel everywhere, and bamboo shoots will pop up from the rhizomes anywhere they please! Once they emerge, the new plants will send out their own rhizomes, and the bamboo becomes very difficult to control or eradicate.

Garlic Mustard: this plant is toxic to butterfly larvae. Its delicate-looking leaves and tiny white flowers harbor roots that change the soil’s chemistry, making it inhospitable for other plants for years and even permanently.  

Chinese Silver Grass: as I mentioned previously, this plant is seductive; it wants to be admired with its slender leaves striped in pink and silver and its graceful, feathered stalks that bend and nod in the breeze. Before too long, its root mound will grow like the Blob in that sci-fi movie.

Fig Buttercup or Lesser Celandine: these shiny, heart-shaped leaves and bright yellow flowers might show up along your stream bank or boggy area. They’re sweet, pretty plants, but their roots mat, and before long they choke out surrounding vegetation.Expand

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Pale Yellow Iris: you may have these delicate-looking iris in or near your pond. Beware: as you may already have learned, their sap can be irritating to your skin. (So, wear long gloves if you pull them out.) In addition, they’ll sicken any animal that tries to eat them.

Autumn Olive: this sneaky shrub can be any size and produces pretty, creamy-yellow flowers from February to June. (Tempting, I know, for those early months in the garden.) And the Autumn Olive gets its name for its pretty, red berries in fall. But, if you try thinning out the plants, you find there are thorns along the branches. It does not want to be disturbed!

Japanese Barberry:  this shrub’s thorny branches are a delicacy for birds, believe it or not. Birds eat this barberry’s late-summer, red berries and its thorns. The barberry’s small leaves turn purple in the fall, making them a tempting addition to gardens. But, beware. They’ll take over.

Bradford Pears: yes, I know, at one time the State planted them along roadways. They’re noted for their profuse, white spring blossoms and red leaves in the fall. But these soft-wood trees propagate seemingly by magic and will appear anywhere they like. 

There are other, equally enticing and sneaky plants that may win your heart at first, but give you nightmares over time. If they’re pretty and they seem to grow effortlessly, there’s probably a reason. Invasive plants have evolved and adapted to stay alive in the garden or wild, with or without your permission.

BY JANICE F. BOOTH

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My December column for What’s Up? Magazine

Inspirations: Great Gardens in Great Art

BY JANICE F. BOOTH

DEC. 20, 2021

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Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s Terrace and Garden of an Italian Villa (c. 1762–1763)

With the holiday events whirling around us like colored lights from a sparkler, I thought I might offer you inspirations to ease your mind, gifts for your eyes and spirit—images of gardens in beautiful art and paintings of lush flowers in gardens, bowls, vases. These glowing canvases may sooth your spirit and maybe inspire you to create a Monet or Pissarro garden of your own. 

Perhaps you haven’t considered a cut-flowers garden; the Flemish and Dutch Masters’ creations of exuberant bouquets may capture your imagination. Or perhaps you’ll simply enjoy contemplating these glorious works of art.

We are fortunate to live in close proximity to renowned art collections in Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York City, where beautiful paintings of gardens and flower-filled vases reside in hushed galleries. But for our purpose, I will invite you into the quiet, gorgeous gardens and flowers at the National Gallery of Art in Washington (nga.gov).

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Jan Brueghel the Elder’s Flowers in a Basket and a Vase (c. 1615)

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Georges Seurat’s The Watering Can–Garden at Le Raincy (c. 1883)

Jan Brueghel the Elder’s Flowers in a Basket and a Vase (c. 1615)

Located in the West Building, Gallery 44. There’s nothing more elegant and fascinating than still life paintings of flowers and fruit done in glowing oils. Flemish artist, Jan Brueghel was given the moniker, Flower Brueghel because of his brilliant and, at the time, avant-garde paintings of flowers. Two of the many things you may notice as you linger before this painting: first, the flowers are the focus, the main and only subject of the work. That was startling in 1615, when the painting was exhibited. Brueghel the Elder was one of a small group of artists who dared to give over an entire painting to the natural wonder of flowers. A second point of interest is the detail lavished on each flower. Brueghel had a botanist’s eye for the structure of each flower, every petal. His tulips and peonies seem to pour out of the canvas into the viewer’s world.

Jan van Huysum’s Still Life with Flowers and Fruit (c. 1715)

West Building, Gallery 50. Wander down the galleries to number 50. There, among other still life paintings, is a lush work by Jan van Huysum. Peaches, grapes, and nectarines are piled in grand profusion and over the fruit tumbles a wildly beautiful disarray of tulips, carnations, jasmine, and more. You may want to replicate this still life as your holiday centerpiece—a change from more traditional arrangements. 

Claude Monet’s The Japanese Footbridge (c. 1899)

West Building, Gallery 85. From centerpieces to center-stage, Monet’s beautiful garden at Giverny needs no introduction. Nothing could better whisk away your stress and waft you into a more peaceful state than this scene of the arching bridge’s tracery, limpid lily pads, and lush reeds in shades of blue, green, and lavender. While few of us can hope to replicate Giverny’s elegance in our own gardens, we can attempt to capture the spirit of quiet, natural elegance and the color palette that Monet made famous. Expand

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Claude Monet’s The Artist’s Garden at Vétheuil (c. 1881)

Claude Monet’s The Artist’s Garden at Vétheuil (c. 1881) 

West Building, Gallery 85. Now here’s a garden we can all achieve, should we wish to. Towering sunflowers, cool blue-willow urns of decorative grasses, a gravel path, a child and small dog—if you’ve got the space, Monet has the garden design. Next summer your child or grandchild could be wandering along a similar path in the sunshine.

Gustave Caillebotte’s Dahlias, Garden at Petit Gennevilliers (c. 1892)

West Building, Gallery 85. In the same gallery, turn to enjoy the array of coral and gold dahlias in Caillebotte’s French garden. That woman and her dog might be you or your friend wandering in that lovely, summer haze of color and light. Perhaps a few dahlias in your spring planting plan? 

Camilee Pissarro’s The Artist’s Garden at Eragny (c. 1898)

West Building, Gallery 88. Wandering down a few galleries brings us to an entirely different garden view. Pissarro’s kitchen garden, bordered with pink camellia and rose bushes, and towering, golden sunflowers offer a glimpse of the beauty of ordinary things. The brick farmhouse, tidy rows of plants, a woman bending to harvest her vegetables, and the fruit trees swaying in the afternoon’s breeze. 

Georges Seurat’s The Watering Can–Garden at Le Raincy (c. 1883)

West Building, Gallery 88. The garden’s distant wall, the climbing vines, the path and its stone border, and the sturdy watering can—all familiar, bathed in the bright light of summer. Seurat’s close-up look at a small garden contrasts with Pissarro’s more practical one. In part due to Seurat’s use of Pointillism, you can almost feel the prickly warmth of Le Rainey’s summer garden.

Let’s now slip quickly over to the East Building for just a few more glimpses of glorious summer gardens:

Pierre Bonnard’s The Green Table (1910)

East Building, Ground Floor, Gallery 103E. Moving into the 20th century, Bonnard’s garden appears to be carved out of a sandy hillside, with blossoming fruit trees along a path, and a table laden with a few items left behind in the garden. Bonnard’s idea of gardening seems a bit looser, wilder—easier to maintain.

Emil Nolde’s Flower Garden, Kneeling Woman with Hat (c. 1908)

East Building, Mezzanine, Gallery 217A. Hop on the escalator or climb the grand, marble stairs to the Mezzanine and let Nolde’s garden take your breath away. In this gray season, what a treat to see the mass of pink, blue, red, and lilac flowers—and the lovely lady in her straw hat seated among the blooms. Perhaps a clustering of flower pots next summer could provide a similar experience of a riot of color? And the last stop on our in-person tour of gardens at the National Gallery (caution: this is not a “pretty” picture—in case you’d rather not trek to the Upper Level).

Joan Miró’s The Farm (c. 1921–1922)

East Building, Upper Level, Gallery 415B. I’ve concluded our tour with this surreal depiction of a farm to supply a contrast, taste of sherbet to refresh the eye, if you will. The harsh, blue sky, brown earth, and withering plants suggest how our gardens sometimes appear when we return from a month away on vacation.  

But I haven’t forgotten my promised virtual gardens tour, dear reader. All of the above-mentioned paintings can be seen online. And here are a few other treasures if you want to let your computer do the walking:

  • Claude Monet’s The Artist’s Garden in Argenteuil (c. 1873)
  • Pier Bonnard’s Stairs in the Artist’s Garden (c. 1942–1944)
  • Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s Terrace and Garden of an Italian Villa (c. 1762–1763)

And, from the Phillips Collection, on-line (phillipscollection.org/library-archives):

  • Gifford Beal’s The Garden Party (c. 1920)
  • Pierre Bonnard’s Early Spring (c. 1908) 
  • Joel Meyerowitz’s photographs: Garden, Truro (c. 1983) and Provincetown Garden (c. 1983)

Enjoy! Happy holidays to one and all.

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