Late summer in black and white (and gold)

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In the twenty years since I started gardening seriously, I don’t ever remember such a summer for wild fruits–such abundance. The birds can’t manage to eat them all. The branches of the black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa–above) are bent down from the weight of the fruits. Elderberries and grey dogwood berries (next two pictures) actually remain ripe on the bushes instead of being snatched by catbirds and robins and jays at every opportunity. There’s a continual screech of catbirds as they dive-bomb into the elderberry and raspberry bushes.

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Fruits of grey dogwood (Cornus racemosa)

And the plums! In the past, each tree has ripened maybe a dozen plums, which were devoured unseen during the night. But this year there are untold numbers of fruits, slowly, teasingly, turning from green to yellow to gold and soon to red and then purple. We may actually get some this year. I’m told they’re very good. (If there are any other devotees of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Little House books out there, you surely remember a scene in which Laura and her Ma pick and preserve wild plums. It’s probably this species she’s describing.)

Plums (Prunus americana) finally ripening

Each year, goldfinches arrive in my garden in late summer. These tiny beams of light rear their nestlings late in the season and depend on the seeds of wild flowers to feed them (and, I suspect, on the multitude of pollinating insects that still swarm over the perennial beds), so we always see them just as the perennial sunflowers begin to open and the Rudbeckias begin to ripen seeds. Right now I can’t walk out the back door without disturbing at least a dozen of them feeding in the perennial garden. They squawk loud in irritation and take off, like flashes of sunlight, for the shelter of the hemlocks across the yard. Look closely among the Rudbeckias:

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The big picture (and a close-up)

This article on today’s NY Times op-ed page captures the big picture–the relationship between the  local environment and the large-scale ecological system:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/09/opinion/save-the-wolves-of-isle-royale-national-park.html?ref=global&_r=0

As you read it, think about our local environment: what human-made changes are  bad for the overall environment? How can we help mitigate those changes? Will those further changes have unforeseen consequences?

And now for the close-up: it’s still raining, and here’s a picture of Viburnum trilobum (native cranberrybush viburnum) just coming into bloom.This shrub is right outside our back door:

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Notice the outer ring of showy florets, which are sterile and just there for visual attraction (attraction for pollinators, not for us). The inner, fertile flowers will be tiny and fuzzy when they open, and they will have a light, subtle fragrance. The plant will attract pollinators by the score when it’s in bloom a few days from now. Those insects will in turn attract birds, seeking to feed their hungry nestlings; in the winter, more birds will eat the bright-red fruit. Contrast this in your mind with a showy nonnative viburnum, such as a Korean spicebush or an old-fashioned doublefile viburnum–you know, the kind you can buy in any garden center. The nonnative plant will be much showier, but it will not play a useful role in the ecosystem–those gorgeous, extremely fragrant flowers will not attract pollinators, and there will be no berries to feed the birds in winter.

Now think again about the NY Times op-ed piece and about the choice the scientists must make about wolves in Isle Royale National Park. On a very small scale, this is the choice you make every time you select a new shrub or decide how to care for your lawn. What will the consequences be? We don’t always know–in fact, we rarely do. But it’s important always to realize that there are consequences. It all adds up to the big picture.

Update on my herb garden: Critters have devoured every single parsley, dill, and chervil plant and most of the salad burnet. They are also eating the flower buds off downy phlox and the new shoots of most of my asters. What our local ecosystem needs is more carnivores!