Archives for February 2013

Cooper’s Hawk

Late-winter Visitor

Late-winter Visitor

There was a persistent kik-kik-kik sound in the backyard Sunday. I ignored it for a while, but it got increasingly loud. Turns out, it was a cooper’s hawk (Accipiter cooperii), sitting within the bare, criss-crossed branches of a large Japanese maple.

Cooper hawks have a fierce, intent look in their eyes — all the better to watch the small birds and mammals they prey on. This young hawk was probably eyeing chipmunks: they’re always scurrying around, looking out for seeds that fall from the feeder attached to the eaves of the house. Since I had just tossed out several cupfuls of safflower seeds, they were probably intercepting those too.  Squirrels don’t usually like safflower; chipmunks don’t care if it’s that or the most prime selection of black oil sunflower. If it’s edible, they go for it.

This is the first cooper’s hawk I’ve seen on our property — at least upclose. They’re  probably regular visitors, but either blend into the background or stay too high in the treetops for us to see or identify.

Immature cooper hawks (like this one) have yellow eyes and white chests with thin, brown streaks. Their backs are usually dark with white markings. They nest near the edge of deciduous or mixed woods like ours. Coopers are fairly common in Tennessee, more so during the months of September and October.

I hope this hawk comes back. I want to learn its call so, next time,  I’ll recognize it right away.

Note: Wish I could have gotten a better shot of the Cooper’s Hawk, but it was taken from a window and without appropriate camera lens.

Tree Planting 101: The Reckless Approach

Nurtured Trees

Nurtured For a Long Time

Many professions have licensing requirements and uniform standards for quality and compliance. In Tennessee, there is no state certification or licensing process for someone in the landscape profession, as there is for a builder, electrician, auctioneer, or cosmetologist. A landscape company can submit a low bid, get a contract for a project, then execute it with the poorest of professional and ethical standards — all without penalty, it seems.

Everything from planting to pruning to pest control requires knowledge and judgement, yet both are often sacrificed for the quick-fix and a signature on a contract. This sub-quality work comes at a price — to consumers, the environment, and the quality of neighborhoods. I just shake my head when I see large, beautiful trees dying, simply because someone didn’t know (or care) if the most basic planting standards were met.

A few weeks ago, I was driving down a side street and saw these glaring (and jarring) examples of how NOT to plant a tree:

Plant 'Em High

Plant ‘Em High

Plant 'Em Low

Plant ‘Em Low


Plant ‘Em Crooked

And finally, we have the ultimate example of Oh. My. Goodness. How could you possibly do that many things to one tree?

A Good Tree Sacrificed

A Good Tree, Sacrificed

A lot of resources go into growing a tree from seed or a cutting: water, labor, fertilizer, and plain old worry, especially if you’re a nursery owner in charge of seeing your plants through the challenges of drought, freezing temperatures, wind, and insects. For a young, thriving tree to meet its demise through human carelessness is just plain wrong.

Glory Bower Vine. My Springtime Valentine.


Clerodendron thomsoniae – Glorybower or Bleeding Heart Vine

Right now, most of my house plants are lush and green — a welcome compensation for the starkness of the outdoor landscape.  One indoor plant, Clerodendrum thomsoniae,  is bare and brown — a woody vine without leaves or flowers. I wonder why I’ve allowed it space in the limited sunny space in the house.

Then I remember the transformation that clerodendrum, also know as glory bower vine and bleeding heart, undergoes in spring. A few months after the vine leafs out, red and white heart-shaped blooms burst forth, reminding me of Valentine’s Day and little paper lanterns at the same time. The red part of the flower is the corolla and the white the calyx. After blooming is complete, each calyx turns pink and remains for several more weeks until falling. (What’s the plural of calyx? Calyxes? Calyces? I think it’s the latter).


Latter stage of bloom

Glory bower vine is native to Africa; its hardiness zone is 10-12. In warm states like Florida, it thrives outside. From what I’ve read, the vine can be highly invasive there; a good alternative is planting it in pots on a patio or deck. In my neck of the woods, glory bower should be cultivated as an indoor plant. It goes into a dormant stage in winter and it’s best to cut it back then. Since it blooms on the current season’s growth, this won’t affect flowering. I’m getting ready to do some heavy pruning today, so we’ll see.

Glory bower is supposed to be a heavy feeder when blooming (I never have fed mine) and needs lots of water during that period (that’s for sure). There are many species in the clerodendrum genus – most of them large shrubs. The ones I’ve seen have showy flowers; both leaves and form can look ragged in the landscape.

There is a variegated form of glory bower vine. To me, that would conflict with the showy, bountiful flowers, but some people go for anything variegated, I think.

The Blue Planter and Fresh Produce (Supposedly)


Late last summer I was walking down a sidewalk in Asheville and noticed a vibrant blurb of periwinkle blue in the distance. As I got closer, the blurb evolved  into a beautiful planter, chock full of leafy, multi-textured herbs and annuals. The planter sat in front of a large window painted with the words Fresh Produce. I walked faster — with anticipation — figuring the store sold plants, or seeds, or something garden-related. Maybe even produce.

I didn’t notice the words behind the ornamental grass in the planter. I stepped inside and saw that the shop sold …. clothes and accessories. Nice clothes and nice people, but no food, plants, or garden-y things. A bit of a disappointment, I must admit.

I figure it’s best to accept most things as they are, but why do people name their business something that has nothing to do with what they actually sell? The name Meander is pretty vague, but the blog isn’t called Meander Machinery or something that might lead to different expectations if you landed there by mistake. Oh well … there’ll be plenty of garden and produce places later on. And I wish the clothing shop nothing but success.

No matter what, that blue planter was awfully nice. I’m buying some paint — that same color, I guarantee.